The People Eats the King (etching)

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The People Eats the King is an etching, which appeared in the newspaper Révolutions de Paris during the French Revolution in 1793, depicting a planned monumental sculpture, allegorically showing the revolutionary French people (portrayed as Hercules) ready to destroy or devour a king.



From Rolf Reichardt and Hubertus Kohle (2008), Visualizing the Revolution: Politics and Pictorial Arts in Late Eighteenth-century France. Trans. Corinne Attwood and Felicity Baker. London: Reaktion Books Ltd. 27–28.

Hercules no longer personified the power and might of the ruler, but the invincible power, violent when necessary, of the sovereign people, who had dethroned Louis XVI in August 1792. Such was the symbolic power of this transference of allegorical meaning that Jacques-Louis David suggested to the National Convention on 17 November 1793 that a colossal statue of the Herculean French people [pg. 28] be erected on the border of the Republic. Although the deputies decided in favour, this was in fact never carried out; but it did appear immediately afterwards in the form of an etching in the newspaper Révolutions de Paris, which claimed credit for the idea (illus. 17). It portrays the gigantic figure of a plebeian Hercules, wearing the cap of liberty, standing on a mound rising above an encampment in front of the defence walls of the Republic. The slogan on his naked breast proclaims ‘The king-devouring people’, and so he is accordingly beating a midget king with his club and throwing him onto the sacrificial altar, in the flames of which another figure is already burning. The inscription on the pedestal of the monument, ‘Mort aux Tyrans’ (death to tyrants), sounds a warning to all the princes of Europe. Against this contemporary background it is quite clear that Boichot's figure of Hercules, in spite of the nobility of its symbolism, had a revolutionary significance for the Panthéon, in that it implicitly radicalized the hitherto somewhat elitist anti-royalism of 1791.