Sunday 20 September 2015

Assassin's creed - Unity

Released last year, the game Assassin’s Creed Unity, in the Assassin’s Creed series by Unisoft, is set in Paris during the Terror. “Point and click” is about my limit as far as gaming is concerned,  but I love this game's beautiful recreations of Revolutionary Paris.

Thursday 17 September 2015

Voltaire by Largillière - the case of the two portraits

Here is the magnificent Largillière portrait of Voltaire in the Versailles collection, prominently rehung in the Salle du Pape in January following the Charlie Hebdo shootings. Shame that it should ever have been hidden away!

Even though the painting is so well known, there is a certain amount of  mystery surrounding it.  The problem is that there are actually two Largillière portraits, this one in Versailles and one in the Musée Carnavalet, both of which have good claim to be the "original".  The prima facie case for the Versailles portrait is a strong one.  It  is clearly the superior painting in finish and coloration, and has the endorsement of Largillière experts such as Dominique Brême, who wrote the catalogue for the major Largillière exhibition at the Musée Jacquemart-André in 2003. But the Carnavalet portrait too has a well-established provenance.

Voltaire, the actress and the painting

Voltaire poses for the artist whilst the 
beautiful Suzanne looks on adoringly.
Illustration from a fanciful 19th-century account,  
HoussayeActresses and lovers (1852)
The only early reference to the portrait is a note in the Kehl edition of the works of Voltaire relating to the Epistle Les tu et les vous which was written in about 1729 and probably addressed to Voltaire's former lover Suzanne de Corsembleu de Livry, marquise de Gouvernet. Long ago in 1716, whilst in exile at the Hôtel de Sully, Voltaire had struck up a relationship with the beautiful aspiring actress.  Despite Voltaire's voice coaching she failed to excel on the stage, even when Voltaire secured for her the leading role of Jocasta in Oedipe.  She subsequently travelled with a troupe of actors to England,  acquired an aristocratic husband the marquis de Gouvernet, and, with Voltaire's aid, won a fortune on the lottery. In 1729 Voltaire was not amused when he found himself turned away from her door by a lackey.  A lifetime later in 1778, during Voltaire's final months in Paris, the former lovers, now both octogenarians, met once again. Voltaire discovered that she still possessed his portrait.
According to the note:

"At the time of his liaison with mademoiselle de Livri, M. de Voltaire had given her his portrait, painted by Largillière, and she had kept it always despite their parting, her change of estate and her religious devotion.  During their conversation in 1778, he let it be known that he wanted to offer this portrait to the marquise de Villette;  madame de Gouvernet consented, and Voltaire immediately carried it off personally to madame de Villette, who has possessed it ever since." 

The picture was sold as part of the Villette collection in 1865. 
Here is a notice:

Vente de Villette, 1865
Largillière. Portrait de Voltaire à trente-cinq ans. Habit bleu, chapeau sous le bras, la main gauche passée dans le gilet. Voltaire avait donné ce beau portrait à  portrait à Mlle de Livry ; plus tard il témoigna le désir de l’offrir à  Mme de Villette; Mlle de Livry, devenue Mme de Gouvernet, y consentit; Voltaire le prit et l’apporta lui-même à Mme de Villette. Depuis ce moment, il est resté dans la famille. Voir dans les Œuvres de Voltaire, une note à la suite de l’épître intitulée : "Les Vous et les Tu". 6,250 fr

[Largillière. Portrait of Voltaire, thirty-five years old.  Blue coat, hat under the arm, left hand in his waistcoat.  Voltaire had given this fine portrait to Mlle de Livry; later he expressed his desire to offer it to Mme de Villette.  Mlle de Livry, who had become Mme de Gouvernet, consented to this.  Voltaire took it and carried it himself to Mme de Villette.  Ever since that time it has remained in the family.]

This picture is almost certainly the one now in the Musée Carnavalet. It belonged to Jean-Baptiste Mariani, the former French ambassador in Rome (I am not sure whether he actually bought it at the Villette sale but, if not, it was always identified in the 19th century as the same painting.)  When he died in 1890, he bequeathed it to his brother-in-law Charles Floquet (one time Prime Minister of France), whose widow donated it to the Carnavalet in 1899. The picture is annotated in an 18th-century hand: "Fr. de Voltaire, peint par Largillierre en 1728, donné à la marquise de Villette en 1778" (It is interesting that both this note, and the sale details, place the painting in the late 1720s rather than 1718.)

No other copy of the work was  known to 19th century commentators.  Critics often complained that, since this picture was in private hands, no good quality  portrait of Voltaire was accessible to the public.  There was only an inferior copy prepared for the Académie française.  This still  exists at Versailles; the details of Voltaire's dress  - notably the red waistcoat and arrangement of buttons - show clearly that it derives from the Carnavalet portrait.

What about the Versailles Largillière?

We know that it belonged to Massimo Uleri - presumably the film producer -  who donated it to the Versailles collections in 1962.  Squinting at "snippet view" of the 2003 Largillière exhibition catalogue yields the information that this portrait too is identified as the picture given to Suzanne de Livry.  The earliest entry in the detailed provenance refers to the collection Evrard de Rhoné, which was the subject of a sale in Paris, hôtel Drouot, on 6-8 May 1861.  (I even found a sale catalogue on Internet Archive but, disappointingly, there is no mention of the Voltaire.).  The portrait subsequently belonged to several other collectors and was sold to M. Uleri in December 1961.

The  notice for the Carnavalet Voltaire offers one possible explanation:

"The existence of the version in Versailles, which is of better quality, has cast doubt on the authenticity of the portrait in the Carnavalet.  According to the research of Samuel Taylor, the portrait in the Carnavalet is indeed the original, and the portrait in Versailles, is a copy ordered by Voltaire from the artist in about 1740.  The difference in quality may be explained by Voltaire's fame - by 1740 Largillière was painting the most famous author in Europe."

Samuel Taylor is presumably Samuel S.B. Taylor, who has written extensively on both Voltaire and Rousseau. So far I haven't traced the reference.  However, there is clearly no absolute consensus among the experts. 

 It might be worth pointing out that we do not really know if the portrait given to Mlle de Livry was the "original" or the only one in circulation in the 1720s; would Voltaire really have surrendered the only copy to his mistress (or even ex-mistress), I wonder?


Versailles portrait:

Versailles (Musée de l'histoire de France):

Carnavalet portrait:
I can't see a way of linking directly to this notice for the Carnavalet portrait on this website, so here is a copy:
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris
Auteur/Fonction d'auteur/ Datation/Lieu d'exécution
Largillierre, Nicolas de (Paris, 10/10/1656 - Paris, 20/03/1746)
entre 1718 et 1724
Portrait de Voltaire (1694-1778) en 1718
Stade de la création
Ouvre achevée
Toile ovale.
Matériaux et techniques
Huile sur toile
·  80,00cm (Hauteur,Ouvre)
·  65,00cm (Largeur,Ouvre)
Voltaire (1694-1778) vers 1728. Le modèle coiffé d'une perruque, revêt un gilet, un jabot et un habit orné de larges boutons.
Marques, inscriptions, poinçons
Inscription concernant l'auteur
Au revers de la toile : "Fr de Voltaire, peint par Largillierre en 1728, donné à la marquise de Villette en 1778".
L'existence de la version de Versailles, de plus belle qualité, a fait douter de l'authenticité du portrait du musée Carnavalet, dont l'historique est pourtant assez sûr. D'après les recherches de Samuel Taylor, il semble que le tableau de Carnavalet soit bien l'original et que le tableau de Versailles soit une réplique autographe, demandée par Voltaire à l'artiste vers 1740. La différence de qualité peut s'expliquer par la plus grande notoriété du modèle en 1740 : Largillierre aurait alors pris plus de soin à représenter le plus célèbre écrivain de toute l'Europe qu'il n'en avait pris, vers 1720, à représenter un auteur encore à ses débuts.
Mode d'acquisition
Donateur,testateur ou vendeur
Floquet, Charles
Date d'acquisition
Numéro d'objet


Wednesday 16 September 2015

A little-known portrait of Voltaire

Anonymous portrait in oils of Voltaire; 91 cm x 71cm
Dijon, Musée des beaux-arts 
Portraits give an illusion of familiarity - it is faintly disturbing to discover a new one, especially of a subject you think you recognise and know  well....This Voltaire, which I have not come across before, is from the Musée des beaux-arts in Dijon.  It was formerly thought to be by Antoine Vestier but in 2004 the Sorbonne research student Michelle Despes argued that the artist was in fact the Flemish painter and Academician Jacques André Joseph Aved (1702-66).  This ascription is now accepted on Joconde.  Aved moved in the same circles as Voltaire in Paris.  He held a salon in his Hôtel des Théatins, rue de Bourbon (now rue de Lille)  knew Fontenelle and Titon du Tilleul, and frequented the gatherings of Madame de Lambert, the duchesse du Maine and Madame de Tencin.

In 2006  La Gazette des Délices published a piece by Michelle Despes in which she attributed to Aved an altogether better-known portrait, the Voltaire "at the age of twenty-four" acquired by Theodore Besterman in 1948 and given to the Institut et Musée Voltaire in 1953.  This picture is usually dismissed (quite reasonably) as an inferior copy of the famous portrait by Nicolas Largillière in Versailles. A manuscript note in a 19th-century hand on the back specifies that it was given by Voltaire himself to Charles Palissot, author of the comedy Les philosophes (1760).

Perhaps surprisingly, the curators at Les Délices have taken Michelle Despes's argument sufficiently seriously to outline her reattribution in their guidebook (Petite histoire des Délices (2013), p.33-34)

The case rests mainly on dating.  In 1718, Michelle Despes argues, the youthful Voltaire was too poor and lacking in standing to have commissioned a picture from the great Largillière, but was much more likely to have encountered Aved. (I worry a little that Aved, if he was born in 1702, was only sixteen at the time...?). This may be so, but on the other hand Voltaire is known to have possessed and cherished a Largillière portrait of his mother (a version of which was sold at auction in 1986)

The date of the Largillière portrait is in any case open to doubt.  According to the notice for the Versailles picture, the date of 1718 derives from a letter concerning the engraved version executed by Etienne-François Besson for the Oeuvres complètes de Voltaire, published in Paris  in 1785-9.  This specifies that the model was twenty-four years old when he posed. Voltaire appears older than this (though he clearly still has his teeth!)  and experts on Largillière feel,  based on the style and palette, that a date of 1724-25 is more likely.  This places the portrait at a suitable highpoint in Voltaire's career; he received a pension from the Regent in 1722, published the Henriade in 1723 and in 1725 was charged with theatrical productions for the marriage of Louis XV (1725).   His wig and clothing too are consistent with Regency fashions.

Michelle Despes would also clearly like to challenge the idea that the Les Délices Voltaire is a "mere copy".  In her view it represents a more natural style, showing Arouet with the dreamy distant expression of a young man in love, much more spontaneous and fresh than the "cold and impersonal" Largillière.  In which case, is the highly finished Versailles painting the copy?  How does the Les Délices  picture compare with the Dijon portrait by Aved?  It seems to me that there are lots of difficulties with this interpretation.  The conventional view, that the Les Délices picture is a later copy of the Largillière original seems much more likely.


Notice of the Dijon portrait on Joconde:

Lespes, Michelle, "Clin d’œil : Portrait de Voltaire à l’âge de vingt-quatre ans : une nouvelle hypothèse", La Gazette des Délices. La revue électronique de l’Institut et Musée Voltaire, 12, hiver 2006.

Flavio Borda d'Agua, ‎François JacobPetite histoire des Délices (2013), p.33-34.

Monday 14 September 2015

The "Triumph of Voltaire"

Even the reverential guide who showed us round at Ferney had to admit that Voltaire was no connoisseur of painting!  Most of the pictures in the chateau are mediocre reproductions of 17th-century mythological scenes which no-one could work up the motivation to pillage or sell.  Among the few originals is this monstrosity which nicely illustrates both Voltaire's lack of artistic discernment and his penchant for naive self-advertisement.  It is huge and truly horrible.....

The picture is the work of one Alexandre Duplessis, an otherwise little known artist. He came from Bourg-en-Bresse and later worked in Lyon where he died in 1797. In July 1775 Voltaire commended his work to François Tronchin in glowing terms, describing him as "formed by Rubens".  He confirmed that the painter wanted to paint for him a canvas with "ninety-one figures". A payment to Duplessis of 60 livres duly appears in the chateau account book for 25th January 1776.

Madame de Genlis recounts in her Memoirs that in the summer of 1775 she paid a visit to Ferney accompanied by the German painter Joseph-Mathias Ott.  Ott was scandalised to find an original Correggio relegated to an antechamber whilst this picture - a ridiculous enseigne à bière said Madame de Genlis - enjoyed pride of place in Voltaire's salon. The picture was "entirely the invention" of a talentless local painter from Geneva who had presented it to Voltaire; but how, Madame de Genlis wondered, could Voltaire have had the bad taste to display it so pompously for all to see?

Evidently Voltaire's sense of the ridiculous was beginning to desert him in old age!
Unfortunately, the composition was given greater currency by the appearance of an engraved version.  This proclaimed proudly that it was "Invented, drawn and engraved by Duplessis, painter and engraver of History, after an original he painted  himself in the cabinet of M. de Voltaire".  The rubric lovingly explains the details of the scene:

First, Voltaire's achievement as a playwright is lauded. Melpomene, the Muse of Tragedy, surrounded by the other Muses, presents Voltaire to Apollo to receive the Crown of Immortality. Behind her Urania, the Muse of Astronomy instructs Clio, Muse of History, to place his bust in the temple of Memory.  Clio shows the genies (presumably the little fat cherubs) the empty space in the Colonnade where it is to go; they hurry to place the bust there and to adorn it with garlands.  The leading cherub points out the place,  between the Ancient dramatists Sophocles and Euripides on the one hand and the great Moderns Racine and Corneille on the other.

Other parts of the tableau commemorate Voltaire's contribution to the cause of toleration. To the right of Apollo a personification of France presents Voltaire to his protégés whilst Russia and Prussia look on encouragingly.  Among the group can be recognised Mlle Corneille, the Calas family, plus Sirven and his wife. Above them the chariot of Apollo arrives, preceded by Aurore scattering roses. In the foreground Tolerance, a woman dressed in white to symbolise benevolence, holds a Caduceus or staff, emblem of Peace.  A young girl and several little children, one of whom has a wounded hand, clutch her skirts for fear of the ugly red monster behind them.  Holding a book and equipped with Mask, Dagger and Torch, this is clearly l'Infame - Fanaticism, Hypocrisy, Intolerance, Persecution - temporarily laid low.  The spirit of Philosophy lends a restraining hand, whilst the light of her torch sends Ignorance and Stupidity, with his ass's ears, scurrying for cover.

Voltaire disliked criticism. In the bottom right the three Furies lay into a hapless collection of his adversaries. The unfortunate gentleman  getting the drumming from the switch of snakes is identified as l'Ami***  -  would this be Fréron?  I'm not sure.

Voltaire chez lui:  Ferney 1758-1778  Editions Cabedita, 1999. p.94-9.

Friday 11 September 2015

Voltaire at Ferney - some holiday snaps

At Easter I at last made it to Ferney....

Apparently there are big plans to renovate next year, but I enjoyed it as it was, delapidated and deserted. It was decidedly colder indoors than out!

Thursday 10 September 2015

9th September 1792: massacre at Versailles (cont.)
It was inevitable that in the highly charged atmosphere of the period following the 10th August, Parisian militants should turn their attention to the national High Court in Orléans which had been set up by the Constituent Assembly in March 1791 to try those accused of political crimes - "lèse-nation" in the new parlance. The Court had advisedly been situated at a safe distance from the capital in Orléans where its courtroom and prison were located in the former convent of the Minimes. The Court did not inspire trust by its track record for militancy; its procedure involved long processes of information gathering and was weighted in favour of the accused. Thanks to the amnesty voted by the Assembly, it had already been relieved of proceeding against the individuals implicated in the King's flight to Varennes. Moreover, since the 10th August it had returned several acquittals.

On 23rd August the Commune reiterated its insistence that the juridiction of the Court be destroyed and the prisoners awaiting trial be transferred to Paris. In the Assembly, the Girondin deputy Gensonné attempted to seize the initiative by demanding the Court's reconsitution. On 25th the Minister of Justice was charged with sending a commission to Orléans and the Assembly duly dispatched two of its members, the radical deputies Léonard Bourdon and Dubail, "to ensure the state of the prisons of Orléans ".(p.362-3)

The Commune, however, pre-empted the move. On the 24th a band of five or six hundred armed volunteers commanded by the notorious Claude Fournier "l'Américain" had already left for Étampes where they awaited further instructions from Danton and the Commune. The Assembly recognised the fait accompli and, on 26th August, passed a second decree ordering a force of 1,800 men to be sent to Orléans with cannon to guarantee the safety of the prisoners.  Roland, under the domination of Danton, regularised Fournier's position by making him commander of this new force. He was joined by a further group of armed men under Claude François Lazowski who was made second-in-command.  They acted in collusion with Bourdon and Dubail.

Arriving in Orléans on 30th August, the Parisian radicals took over the two prisons (Minimes and Saint-Charles) and, by all accounts, promptly fleeced the inmates of their valuables.  On the 2nd September they joined in a civic fête with their supporters in the town.  The Assembly meanwhile issued and urgent decree demanding that the accused be transferred to the security of the fortress of Saumur. The message was sent by extraordinary courier to the représentants Garran-Coulon, deputy of Paris, and Pelicot , deputy of Bouches du Rhone, who were acting as grands procurateurs to the High Court.  It was duly communicated to the Parisian commanders.  On the 4th of September at six o'clock in the morning Fournier gave the order to leave.  The prisoners, fifty-three in all, were unceremoniously piled into seven ammunition carts furnished by the artillery.  Lazowski rode at their head, adored with the cross of Saint Louis and Cincinnatus, whilst other members of the Revolutionary force adorned their hats with an ominous "Paris ou la mort!".

The convoy left Orléans by the porte Bannier making for Paris via Artenay. They spent the first night at Toury, the second at Angerville and finally arrived back at Étampes in the course of the 6th September.  Here the prisoners were forced to sleep the straw covered floor of an abandoned convent and were allowed leisure to write to their families and friends.  Their communications were never sent but instead placed in the care of Fournier and in due course deposited at the Hôtel de Ville. They still survive - several are reproduced in Mortimer-Ternaux Histoire de la Terreur III, p.561.

At eight in the morning on the 5th, the Assembly received an urgent dispatch informing them that, despite the decree of the 2nd, the prisoners were en route to Paris.  It now issued a further decree allowing the executive powers to take "whatever measures are necessary" and sent out two commissioners to meet Fournier with a proclamation by Vergniaud recalling the troops to their duty and ordering them back to Saumur.  However, the Commune nominated four commissioners of its own who arrived at Étampes several hours ahead of the convoy, duly read the proclamation, but claimed that secret orders had been sent changing the destination to Versailles. On 6th September Madame du Barry received a letter from the Chevalier d’Escourre, the duc de Brissac’s equerry, informing her that the prisoners were due to arrive at Versailles the next day.

In the event the convoy moved only slowly towards its destination. By the 8th they were in Arpajon, forty kilometres from Versailles, where the prisoners spent the in the stables of the duc de Mouchy at In the morning they moved on to Marcoussis and halted in front of the bailliage, where local patriots hurled abuse at the prisoners.  The story goes that one of them climbed on the wheel of one of the carts and whistled at an old man with his hands tied behind his back.  The old man responded, "My friend I am as good a patriot as you; I am a poor priest".  This must surely have been the once imperious Monseigneur Castellane who was the only ecclesiastic among the prisoners .

Meanwhile, among the authorities at Versailles, there was consternation. The former Constituent, Charles-Jean-Marie Alquier, president of the Tribunal of Seine-et-Oise, personally leapt on his horse and galloped to Paris to warn Danton of the prisoners' immanent arrival, asking if he was to commit them for trial. The Minister of Justice merely signalled his acquiesence in the impending violence by replying that "there were guilty among them" and turned his back dramatically on his visitor.

On 8th September the Mayor of Versailles, Hyacinthe Richaud formally communicated to the town council a letter from Roland commanding the local authorities to provide lodging and subsistence for the prisoners and those charged with "safeguarding them" - some 1,500 men. Five or six thousand "volunteers" had already flooded into the town and Richaud feared, with reason, the likelihood of "bloody executions".  It was decided to take the prisoners to the comparative security of the cages of the former Royal Ménagerie, situated at the end of the southern branch of the Grand Canal, with its main entrance on the route de Bretagne, between Versailles and Saint-Cyr.

On the 9th September the advanced guard of the escort finally arrived to announce that that the prisoners were two leagues away. Richaud rode out to Jouy, a commune just outside Versailles with the hope of directing the prisoners to the Ménagerie without going through the town.  He left behind a proclamation that, in the event of their entry into Versailles, the prisoners were to be left unmolested.  At one o'clock he sent a note warning that the cortege, with all its equipment, was indeed going to pass through Versailles.  Events now began to inexorably forward towards the final denouement. The Prefecture of the department appointed three magistrates -  Latruffe, Deplane and Truffet - to conduct the convoy from the gate of Petit-Montreuil to that of the Orangerie. At two o'clock it was reported that the prisoners had successfully crossed the town unharmed despite the large and hostile crowd which had gathered. But sadly, the news was premature. At quarter to three, the sieur Pile, appariteur de police announced that the prisoners "had just been massacred in the rue de l'Orangerie".

The majority of the Versailles National Guard which surrounded the prisoners had complied with their orders to protect them. The escort was divided;  part of the cavalry and the artillery, accompanied by Fournier and Lazowski, plus Richaud and the three magistrates, had taken the head.  A second detachment went behind, leaving the flanks exposed. The cortege entered the town by the rue des Chantiers, a road more than a kilometre long, which ended in the avenue de Paris, near the Hôtel de Ville.  They were then to follow the avenue de Paris, cross the Place d'Armes in front of the Château and pass through the much smaller rue des Recollets and rue de Saint-Julien to gain the rue de l'Orangerie. From here they could proceed to the gate onto to the route de Bretagne (route de Saint-Cyr) where the Ménagerie was situated.

au carrefour des Quatre Bornes . 
The plan started to go wrong outside the Château when a part of the escort contrived to take a shortcut across the courtyard of the palace and terrace of the Orangerie in order to outflank the main convoy and cut it off just before the barrier. A second group managed to shut the gate behind the leading escort party. A hostile crowd gathered which demanded that Brissac and Lessart be surrendered to them - Brissac, still in his blue uniform coat with gold buttons, was in the third cart, conspicuous because of his height and bearing. Singled out by the hostile crowd of onlookers.  Richaud, having struggled back through the barrier, turned the convoy round and attempted to make for the safety of the hôtel of the gardes-du-corps in the rue Royale at the other end of the rue de l'Orangerie - a mere 500 metres away.  Here they could wait until the crowd had dispersed before proceeding.  They reached the crossroads with the rue Satory (the carrefour des Quatre-Bornes) half-way to their destination, only to find that the crowd had already arrived. Richaud heroically tried to interpose himself between the attackers and the prisoners, only to slip in blood and find himself carried to a nearby house. (Legend has it that, attempting to struggle back, he exclaimed "I will die at my post!", only to be told ominously, "It is not yet time!")

Jules Rigaud, Dévouement héroïque de Hyacinthe Richaud, maire de
Versailles, le 9 Septembre 1792. 1854 
Musée Lambinet, Versailles

The deposition of a municipal officer delivered on the 11th september 1792 recounts how he was summoned immediately afterwards to the scene. He and his two companions arrived to find the crossroads strewn with bloody mutilated bodies. They were shown the remains of Brissac and de Lessart which were totally unrecognisable.  Fifteen or twenty men approached the three officers and forced them to search the pockets of the clothes. They then had the bodies put in a cart and taken to the Saint-Louis cemetery. The clothes were taken to the place de la Loi and publicly burned. The inventory of the duc de Brissac's possessions still survives (see Mortimer-Ternaux, p.407)
Two former servants of the duc, Antoine Baudin and his son Pierre, had followed the prisoners to Versailles, and were able to confirm his death. (p.178) Near the fountain de Quatre-Bornes the prisoners on the carts were assailed with blows from sabres, pikes and bayonets by a "multitude of people dressed in all sorts of clothes". The two men both recognised Brissac on the third cart in his blue coat. At two-thirty, the father saw and recognised on the pavement the corpse of Brissac, who appeared to have been injured by sabre wounds to his face, the worst of which was to his nose. Some moments later he saw his severed head on a pike, with a placard naming him attached to the forehead, in the middle of a crowd. Son corroborated. He had seen the duc in his blue coat with yellow buttons, his curled hair and pigtail, his boots, like the other prisoners sitting in the straw of his cart with his hat in hand. The prisoners were set upon by a crowd with sabres,pikes and bayonets, the horses were led away. He witnessed the duc being thrown off the cart, set upon and mutilated.

The distinction of having killing the duc de Brissac was disputed between a vigneron called Louis-Martin Lamprié and a certain "Vieuville le Blond" who claimed to have thrust a pike into his heart, and carried his head aloft on a pitchfork. Another Revolutionary apparently hurried home with the duc's severed foot, still in its "grey silk stocking and new shoe"; another boasted a fragment of his blue coat and one of his fingers. Durupt de Balène, intendant of the Civil List at Versailles, saw "three youths, one aged about sixteen and the others younger" who styled themselves the bearers of Brissac's head and who were parading around with the grisly trophy impaled on sabre. They presented it to his wife demanding that she "Kiss Brissac"; the poor woman took to her bed and died shortly afterward. It is well attested that the head was subsequently transported to Louveciennes and lobbed into Madame du Barry's house, perhaps even into the salon where she was sitting. In 1900 a skull, which according to Lenotre resembled a sculpture of the duc, was found in the garden and reburied by the side of the road to Prunay.

The aftermath

The death toll is reckoned at 44 out of 53 prisoners. Two gravely wounded men who managed to find shelter, were taken to the Versailles infirmary and later hidden. Three officers of the regiment of Perpignan were also rescued and successfully escaped.

Following the slaughter of the Orléans prisoners, the insurgents set up a summary tribunal at the Maison d'arrêt, the prison for detainees awaiting trial, which was housed in the former Queen's stables. Despite the desperate resistance of Richaud, Germain,the President of the Department and Gillet the public prosecutor, thirteen more prisoners were killed, the majority of them common criminals.

Les Ecuries de la Reine - today the Versailles Court of  Appeal

The next day the makeshift army made its triumphal entry into Paris, with six cannons and the bloodied carts in tow, and made its way to the residence of the Minister of Justice on the place Vendôme. The complicity of the Revolutionary regime was made clear when Danton himself duly appeared on the balcony, to deliver the thanks of "the minister of the people".


Paul Huot, Les Massacres à Versailles en 1792 (Paris 1862)

Mortimer-Ternaux, Histoire de la Terreur  III (1862) , p.359-

Charles Vatel, Histoire de Madame du Barry, III (1883) p.

Note of 26/05/2021:
It would be worth consulting this account by P.-F. Tissot, who was there at the time:
Histoire complète de la Révolution française Volume 3 (1835), p. 264-

Wednesday 9 September 2015

9th September 1792: massacre at Versailles

On this day in September 1792.....

The cemetery Saint-Louis in Versailles dates from 1770 and is one of the oldest surviving urban cemeteries in France.  Against one wall a monument in the form of a column surmounted by a fleur de lys  marks the common grave of 44 prisoners killed in the massacre which took place in Versailles on 9th September, in 1792.  The victims were a group of political prisoners who were ostensibly being brought to Paris from Orléans, seat of the national High Court. The modern memorial dates from the mid-19th century and was restored on the initiative of the town of Versailles in 1990.

The lottery of death in September 1792 has a certain fascination, not least here for, despite the common charge of treason, the men that met their end on 9th September were a disparate group - a member of the high nobility, a bishop, two royal ministers, together with a group of officers from the Cambrésis Regiment who were accused of betraying the citadel of  Perpignon to the Spanish.  The monument lists the names, in so far as they are known. They are divided as follows: 

5 "notables".
19 members of the Cambrésis Regiment
9. Inhabitants of Perpignan
8 other soldiers
3 "others"

The "notables"

Louis-Hercule-Timoléon de Cossé, duc de Brissac (b.1734) was a peer of France and had held high office in the Royal Household as Grand Panetier of France,Captain-Colonel of the Cent-Suisses of the Garde du Roi, and from 1776 to 1791 military governor of Paris.  He is best remembered as the lover of Madame du Barry, to whom he was genuinely devoted.  Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun recorded his discreet presence at Louveciennes in 1786 relaxing after dinner in the beautiful Ledoux pavilion.  Fabulously rich, he was a bibliophile and noteworthy art collector (see Vatel, Histoire de Madame du Barry, p.385 for an inventory of his collections)  Brissac's personal loyalty to the Crown was unswerving. In 1791 Louis appointed him commander of the newly formed Constitutional Guard which was created to replace the King's Bodyguard after the flight to Varennes.  As the duc was well aware, this was a thankless and dangerous position, always likely to rouse Revolutionary suspicion. When questioned by his friends as to why he had accepted the post, he replied simply that it was a duty he owed to both the king's ancestors and his own ("Je fais ce que je dois aux ancêtres du roi et aux miens").

Anonymous Portrait of the duc de Brissac in the costume of Colonel of the Cent-Suisses du Roi
c. 1770.  The picture hangs in the apartments of Madame du Barry at Versailles.
The inevitable response from the Revolutionary government was not long in coming. During the evening of May 30th 1792, the Assembly convoked an emergency session and, tradition has it, with the young lieutenant Bonaparte in the audience, voted unanimously to disband the Guard. A warrant was issued for Brissac’s arrest, charged with inciting "incivisme"  and counter-revolution among the troops under his command. Louis acquiesced but sent a warning to Brissac to flee. Gabriel, duc de Choiseul, recalled his reaction to the news: 

The King and Queen had retired.  They sent me to the apartment of the duc de Brissac with the order to advise him to flee.  He was in bed;  I delivered their message to him that in a matter of two hours the decree of arrest would be put into effect and implored him to take advantage of the time remaining.  His age and the conviction he had of his innocence argued against me.  The only matter that now occupied his attention was to write to Madame du Barry....His only thought, his only care was for Madame du Barry.

At six o’clock the next morning Brissac was arrested and taken under heavy guide the eighty miles to Orléans where he was incarcerated in the prison of the Minimes (cell 8 on the second corridor) to await trial.  He was examined on 14th June but made no attempt to defend himself. Prison life must have been a painful contrast to his previous privileged existence,  though money made conditions more bearable. He attempted to inspire his fellow inmates with courage and even managed to set up a game of shuttlecocks in the former refectory of the convent so that they could pass time more pleasantly. However, when news of the events of 10th August reached him, Brissac reconciled himself to death. On the very day of the Royal Family’s removal to the Temple, 13th August 1792, he rewrote his will appointing his daughter Pauline de Montemart as residual legatee. and leaving to Madame du Barry the choice of an annuity of 24,000 livres, use of his estates in Poitou, or a lump sum of 300,000 livres. At the same time he wrote to the former royal mistress, sending her a thousand kisses and promising she would be in his "last thoughts".  He now awaited the unfolding of events with quiet courage.

Antoine-Claude Nicolas de Valdec de Lessart (b.1741) was a the proprietor of the Château de Mongenan near Bordeaux, with its splendid Masonic Temple. He was to be Louis XVI's last foreign minister. .  A director of the Compagnie des Indes, he had been an intimate of Jacques Necker and had served Louis XVI during the Revolutionary period as both Minister of Finance and Minister of the Interior.  He succeeded to the post of foreign minister only 20th November 1791. His Feuillant sympathies and policy of appeasement rapidly fell foul of the Brissotin march to war.  The Assembly, spurred on by the oratory of Brissot,voted his impeachment on 1st March; he was indicted on the 10th March and sent to Orléans to await a hearing.

Anonymous Girondin print:  Dumouriez brings news to 
Pétion of the arrest of Lessart - and cries "like a cow"

Charles-Xavier de Francqueville d'Abancourt (b.1758), a career soldier, was appointed Minister of War by Louis XVI in June 1792  and survived in office for a mere ten days before the cataclysm of the 10th August.  At this point he  was denouned by Thuriot as an enemy of liberty, taken to La Force, then transferred to Orléans to await trial.

Jean-Arnaud de Castellane, bishop of Mende (b.1733) was a second son and career ecclesiastic from an ancient Provence family. He was successively aumônier du roi, vicaire général of Reims, then, at the age of thirty-four, elevated to the see of Mende (Lozère). He was consecrated on 25th January 1768.  In the diocese of Mende the bishop enjoyed sweeping privileges, nominating all major municipal and judicial offices and presiding over the estates of the Gévaudan - a state of affairs angrily described by the citizens in January 1789 as a "feudal anarchy".  In 1790 his annual revenue was at least 60,000 livres.

Castellane, who had a reputation as an outspoken and arrogant man, refused to take the oath to the Civil Constitution and  on 20th March 1790 was duly replaced by Étienne Nogaret, curé of the Canourgue.  An angry pastoral letter attracted pursuit by the tribunal of the district of Florac but, following an amnesty on 14th September 1791, the proceedings were annulled and the erstwhile bishop allowed to retire to the episcopal château of Chanac  in the hills overlooking the Valley of the Lot.  Here he commenced to create a stronghold. He secretly bought 500 guns from the manufacture royale de Saint-Claude to arm the National Guard, drilled his peasantry in arms, and cemented a network of Counter-Revolutionary contacts -  with the rebels of Arles and the department of the Gard, with the prime movers of the camps de Jalès , even with the Court in exile in Coblentz.  He retained the loyalty of local officials, including the mayor and municipality of Mende, as well as Borel, the commander of the local National Guard and his officer corps, all of whom were ardent royalists.  The Constitutional bishop and his vicaire, subjected to continual harassment, were even reduced to placing guards at the door of the cathedral during services.

In response Revolutionary administrators of the department and district, under the energetic leadership of the former comte de Chateauneuf-Randon, requested the dispatch of troops of the line. Three companies of the 27th Regiment arrived in Mende on 25th February 1792. The following day, a Sunday, refractory priests publicly celebrated mass, and in the evening a clash with the National Guard took place in which four soldiers were killed.  Borel immediately sounded the toscin, armed peasantry converged on Mende and Castellane sent in his garrison. Borel delivered an ultimatum compelling the troops to leave.

Events now began to escalate. A Revolutionary General Council was convoked at Marvejols and Chauteauneuf-Randon returned to Mende, this time accompanied by a regiment of dragoons and three companies of Lyonnais.  He seized the château of Chanac, occupied the town and on 28th March  received the submission of the muncipality. The arrest of the bishop and of the rebel leader Charrier, who had briefly retaken the château, was the Assembly at the beginning of April.  By this time Castellane was already en route for Coblentz; arriving in Paris in first days of the month.  He was finally apprehended with his companions on 10th April at Dormans  as their coach made its way to the frontier. The bishop was described by eye-witnesses  as a bent little old man, scarred by smallpox, severely asthmatic and scarcely to walk. He was disguised in a brown coat and black breeches, but his buckled ecclesiastical shoes served to betray his identity. Later, some soldiers who were natives of the Lozère were sent to the inn in Dormans where he was being held;  they reacted with such violent hatred towards their former seigneur that they had to be forcibly restrained.  Castellane was subsequently transferred to Orléans to await trial.

The Château de Chanac, former summer residence of the bishops of Mende. In the 17th century the castle was a "little Versailles". It was destroyed by fire in June 1793 and only the 16th-century donjon now remain

Jean-Baptiste Estienne de la Rivière (b.1754)was a lawyer and, up to this point, an energetic servant of the Revolution.  Former advocat in the parlement of Paris, he had served as an elector to the Estates-General and, under the Revolutionary government, as administrator of the corn market and later of public works. In July 1789 he led a mission to arrest Bertier de Sauvigny, a much despised royal official whom he tried unsuccessfully, at some personal risk, to save from being lynched.  Ironically enough in July 1789 La Rivière had been a member of the delegation sent to Versailles by the electors of Paris to demand the establishment of a national tribunal.

Interrogation of MM. Merlin, Bazire and Cabot
 by Etienne Lariviere.

In 1791 La Rivière resumed his legal career when he was elected Justice of the Peace for the section Henri IV, a post which under the Revolutionary government entailed police powers. Sympathetic towards the Constitutional monarchists, he was implicated in the political machinations surrounding the affair of the "Austrian committee".  In the night of 18th May he imprudently had three left-wing deputies, Merlin, Chabot and Bazire dragged from their beds for questioning.   As a result he was indicted before the Assembly and on 22 May arrested and transferred to Orléans.  

Officers of the garrison at Perpignan

The majority of the prisoners were members of the 20th Regiment of Infantry, the former Cambrésis Regiment,  garrisoned at Perpignan.  In December 1791 twenty-eight officers of the regiment, together with  seven bourgeois and artisans of the town, had been indicted for attempting to to deliver Perpignan to the Spaniards. The truth of the affair is difficult to gauge; it would seem that the officers had not committed treason but had feared an insurrection from their own men.  They had coerced their commander to withdraw into the citadel, where they ordered the troops to his defence. When the soldiers refused, the officers had barricaded themselves in the citadel; they subsequently surrendered to the the combined forces of the National Guard, gendarmerie and troops of the line loyal to the municipality. After their arrest they were taken by cart from Perpignan to Orléans where  proceedings against them had just begun. The journey took twenty-nine days on foot, with prisoners chained in twos; Chapoular asked to carry those of his lieutenant-colonel and so shamed the escort that they removed the chains from the elderly man.


"Massacre des prisonniers d'Orléans à  Versailles  le 9 septembre 1792 Cimitière Saint-Louis de Versailles (Yvelines)" on

Philippe Landru, "Cimetière Saint-Louis, Versailles",  Cimetières de France et d'ailleurs, post of 27/03/2011

On individual prisoners: 

Charles Vatel, Histoire de Madame du Barry, III (1883) p.157-

Guy Antonetti (dir.), Les ministres des Finances de la Révolution française au Second Empire. Dictionnaire biographique 1790-1814, Paris, Comité pour l’histoire économique et financière de la France, 2007.  Extract.

LAURENT (Gustave). — L'arrestation et la mort de Jean-Arnaud de Castellane, évêque de Mende, .La Révolution française  December 1903 and January 1904
Reproduced on "La Maraîchine Normande" blog:

La Rivière: 
Geoffrey Audcent,  Jean-Baptiste Estienne de la Rivière  (1754 - 1792) (2011) .

List of victims of the Massacre of 9th September

  • Cossé (Louis-Hercule-Timoléon de), duc de Brissac, gouverneur de Paris, chevalier des ordres du Roi, lieutenant-général de ses armées, et commandant de la garde constitutionnelle.
  • Valdec de Lessart (Antoine), ancien ministre des affaires étrangères.
  • Franqueville d'Abancourt (Charles-Xavier-Joseph de), ancien ministre de la guerre.
  • Castellane (Jean-Arnauld de), bishop of Mende
  •  Etienne de la Rivière (Jean-Baptiste) juge de paix de la section de Henri IV, à Paris.

Members of the Cambrésis Regiment: 

  • Adhémar (Jean d'), chevalier de Saint-Louis, lieutenant-colonel 
  • Adhémar de la Chasserie (François d'), son of the above, sub-lieutenant.Adhémar du Rot (Felix d'), nephew of Jean.
  • Blachères (Charles-François de), chevalier de Saint-Louis, captain.
  • Blinière (René de la), captain.
  • Chapoular ( Urbain-Joseph ), sergeant
  • Daleu (le chevalier), captain
  • Descorbiac (Dominique), lieutenant 
  • Doc (Joseph), musician
  • Dulin (Joseph), lieutenant
  • Duroux (Joseph,) lieutenant.
  • Gérard (Philippe-Jacques), sub-lieutenant
  • Kersamon (Charles-Marie de), captain.
  • Layroulle (François de), lieutenant
  • Lupé (Charlesde), lieutenant a
  • Marchai (de), lieutenant a
  • Mazelaigne-Raucour (Henri de), lieutenant 
  • Mont-Justin (François de), captain
  • Pargade (Pierre de), lieutenant 

Inhabitants of Perpignan: 
  • Bertrand (François), lawyer 
  • Blandinières, procurator 
  • Bonafot, lawyer 
  • Boxader (Vincent), inhabitant 
  • Boxader (François), inhabitant 
  • Comelas (François), hatmaker
  • Gouet de la Bigne, inhabitant 
  • Molinières, law student 
  • Prat (Laurent), tailor

Other soldiers:

  • Chappe (Jeau-Baptiste de), army captain
  • Charlier Du Breuil (François-Marie-Jérôme), officer of the Queen's Regiment
  • Derets (Jean-Baptiste), captain of the National Guard of Lozère.
  • Lassaux (Hubert de), former brigadier of the King's Body
  • Malvoisin (Charles-François de), colonel of the Regiment of Monsieur
  • Retz (Jean-Baptiste de), Former Infantry captain
  • Silly (Hyacinthe-Joseph de),  Bourbonnais.officer
  • Siochan de Saint-Joan (Jean-Marie), sub-lieutenant (?identified in some lists as another member of the Cambrésis Regiment )


  • Gauthier (Antoine), servant of Charlier Du Breuil
  • Marck (Charles-François), apothecary's boy, from Toul
  • .Meyer (Louis-Joseph), tailor from Strassbourg

Names of those know to have escaped:

  • Loyauté (Dieudonné de), artillery officer.
  • Montgon (Charles-Louis), officer of the  Cambrésis Regiment
  • Moujoux (Jean-Joseph de), id.
  • Pierrepont (Charles-Louis de), id.
  • Molette (Pierre), greengrocer from Lyon.
  • Pomeyroles-Grammont (le chevalier de).

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