France Normal Travels

Paintings of The Day: La Prise de la Bastille (Storming of The Bastille)


Dear Reader,

I dedicate this post to France as today is one their most important historical celebrations: the Storming of the Bastille or else in French La Prise de La Bastille, which marks the anniversary of the fall of the Bastille in Paris, on July 14, 1789.

The first of today’s Paintings of the Day is byJean-Pierre Houel, which depicts the fuelled and heated response magnitude of the Parisian people during the pick of the French Revolution, which will lead to the abolition of the Monarchy and royalty and to the adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen.

'La Prise de la Bastille' by Jean-Pierre Houel
‘La Prise de la Bastille’ by Jean-Pierre Houel

The Bastille was originally built as a medieval fortress but it eventually came to be used as a state prison. In there you would find the political prisoners often held there for treason (against the monarchs) and those citizens detained by the authorities for trial. Some prisoners were held on the direct order of the king, from which there was no appeal. Although by the late 18th century it was little used and was scheduled to be demolished, the Bastille had come to symbolize the harsh rule of the Bourbon Monarchy.

Prise de la Bastille and the arrest of governor M. de Launay
Prise de la Bastille and the arrest of governor M. de Launay

On 19 May 1789, Louis XVI convened the Estates-General (1. Catholic Church, 2. Nobility, 3. Common People) to hear the their grievances, but the Third State, representing the Common People, was not allowed in the hearing, thus provoking their anger  and their decision to break away and form a National Assembly until their Louis XVI eventually recognised their validity.

The Parisian people though, still fearing that the royal guards would attack their representatives, stormed the Bastille looking for gunpowder and ammunitions. The Bastille not only had ammunitions and royal “threats” (meaning their political enemies) but also those prisoners whose writings had upset or displeased the royals in some way, thus becoming a symbol of the absolutism of the monarchy.

La Prise de la Bastille,
La Prise de la Bastille, La Liberté guidant le peuple by Eugene De La Croix

Only two months later, on July 14 a mob approached the Bastille to demand the arms and ammunition stored there, and, when the force guarding the structure resisted, the attackers captured the prison, releasing the few prisoners held there. The taking of the Bastille signaled the beginning of the French Revolution, and it thus became a symbol of the end of the ancien régime.

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