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the personification of France
Marianne is a symbol of the French state and values, especially the values of liberty, brotherhood, and egalitarianism. She is usually depicted wearing a close-fitting cap known as a Phrygian cap. These caps were once worn by freed slaves in Roman society so that they were readily identifiable, and, as a result, they have come to be associated with freedom. She also typically has long, flowing locks under her cap, and she may be depicted in traditional peasant garb or in a more war-like fashion, sometimes even carrying weapons.
The origins of the name Marianne are unclear. Some sources say it came from a song popular at the time of the Revolution called "Marianne's recovery," while others say Marianne was the name of a lady who nursed many of the injured revolutionaries. It is also possible that "Marianne" came to be the personification of French liberty simply because Marianne was a common and popular name in the late-1700's.
The concept for Marianne of France appears to have arisen during the French Revolution, when a woman warrior came to be used as a symbol of freedom, and as a symbol of the common people. The revolutionaries who chose her as the symbol of the republic saw her more as a goddess of liberty than as a street fighter, and in early depictions she tends to wear classical drapery. By 1793, the conservative figure of Marianne had been replaced by a more violent image; that of a woman, bare-breasted and fierce of visage, often leading men into battle. When Napoleon came to power he replaced her image with his own.
Marianne did not reappear until after the fall of the monarchy in 1848, and when she appeared on France's first postage stamps in 1849 it was in a serene classical profile with the bonnet replaced by a wreath. It was also in the following years that the name Marianne started to emerge to represent Liberty, and it was in common use by 1875. Marianne has remained a popular French symbol ever since. Today, Marianne statues and paintings adorn public buildings across France. She also appears on government seals, with her face being included everywhere from the logo for the French government to the back of the French Euro.
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This page was last updated on October 25, 2017.