Pewter medal of the storming of the Bastille and the Return of Louis XVI to Paris, by Bertrand Andrieu

Paris, France, AD1789/90

Revolutionary medals

Dissemination of 'propaganda' during the French Revolution was very important: through prints, which publicised events quickly after they occurred and on medals, a permanent form of commemoration. These medals were intended to form part of a set (never completed) that recall crucial events in the Revolution. They show two highly symbolic moments from the early stages of the uprising that represented the triumph of the people over the repressive monarchy.

On the morning of 14 July 1789, a crowd advanced on the Bastille, the state prison. Their intention was to ask the governor to release the prisoners (there were only seven) and weapons in the building. The governor was evasive and the people stormed the fortress. The medal vividly captures the scene, showing the garrison firing onto the crowd pouring into the building over the broken drawbridge and the National Guard opening a breach in the wall. The revolutionary government subsequently demolished the Bastille, reinforcing the idea of overturning the old order and the beginning of the 'era of liberty'.

The second medal commemorates another popular protest of October 1789, after Louis XVI's failure to approve decrees passed by the National Assembly calling for the destruction of the 'feudal regime in its entirety'. An angry crowd descended onto the palace of Versailles, including a band of some 6,000 women, who brought the King to Paris. This is the scene on the medal, where we see Louis XVI in his carriage in the Place Louis XIV, cowering before the statue of his illustrious predecessor. The medal was originally issued with an inscription from a speech by Bailly to the King: 'Sire, I bring your majesty the keys of his own good town of Paris. They are the same which were presented to Henry IV, he had reconquered his people: here it is the people who reconquered their king'.

Due to the size and detail of these pieces, Andrieu (1761-1822) had to strike the medals on one side only, using a soft lead alloy coloured to resemble bronze. His participation in producing works for the revolutionaries was limited, as he laid low until the rise of Napoleon. His two 'revolutionary' medals show the significance of the overthrow of the old regime; even to produce medals was an assertion of freedom, as it had previously been a royal monopoly.

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More information

Bibliography

M. Jones, Medals of the French Revolutio (London, The British Museum Press, 1977)

Dimensions

Diameter: 80.000 mm (Bastille)
Diameter: 80.000 mm (Bastille)

Museum number

CM 1947-6-7-538 (Bastille);CM 1906-11-3-1416 (Louis XVI)

CME13628

Gift of the family of Dr S. Fairburn (Bastille)
Gift of Dr F. Parkes Weber (Louis XVI)

Location

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