Marianne, a woman, a face, a symbol

Marianne wearing a phrygian cap
Marianne wearing a phrygian cap

Marianne, name that bears so much symbolism!

You may accuse French men of many things, but not of being macho!

One of the finest tributes they could indeed pay to women was to choose one of them in order to embody the French Republic.

Therefore, a bust of a woman wearing a Phrygian cap and symbolizing our republican values – Liberté Egalité Fraternité – stands prominently in every French town hall.

Her face changed many times over the years, however, her name remained.

She is Marianne!

Why Marianne?

Marianne is the amalgam of Marie and Anne, the names of Jesus’ mother and grandmother.

Let’s not forget that France is a country with a long Christian tradition, where biblical names have always been highly popular.

Marianne at the Liberation
Marianne at the Liberation

Many peasant women and maids were named Marie or Anne at the dawn of the Revolution.

It thus seemed logical to use these two names in order to designate the newly born Republic in 1792.

People say that the concept of Marianne ‘was invented’ in the village of Puylaurens near Albi in the south of France.

They indeed say the a local shoemaker composed a revolutionary song named La Garisou de Marianno – The Healing of Marianne.

The lyrics symbolically related to the difficult and unstable beginnings of the republican era.

Indeed, the gory beginnings of the French Revolution destabilized the Republic.

It eventually left place to the Napoleonic Empire, the monarchy and the Second Empire until 1870.

The many faces of Marianne

Marianne wearing a crown by Doriot - 1871
Marianne wearing a crown by Doriot – 1871

The 19th century was therefore marked by a constant political instability, which triggered the revolutions of 1830 and 1848.

The first bust of Marianne secretly appeared in 1848.

It had the features of the English wife of Alphonse de Lamartine, the poet who had joined in the revolution.

However, Marianne had to wait until the Third Republic in 1870 to definitively find her place in our town halls as the official embodiment of the French Republic.

A strong and popular symbol was indeed needed in order to unify the people after decades of political turmoil.

And who else than a woman could be better placed for this?

The busts of Marianne soon appeared all over the country.


Marianne embodied all the French republican values through various symbolic attributes inspired by the Antiquity and the Freemasonry.

Marianne wearing a diadem
Marianne wearing a diadem

1- She indeed wore a Phrygian cap, red or yellow, with a tricolor rosette, the symbol of Freedom.

Her cap became the symbol of the Republic.

The Phrygian cap was chosen, because it resembles the pileus, the cap worn by free slaves in Ancient Rome.

This cap, the symbol of their liberation, originated in Phrygia, an ancient region of modern Turkey.

2- She was topless in order to symbolize woman in all her beauty, a wife, a mother and an emancipated woman.

3- Her breastplate symbolized Power and her stacks of arms Authority.

Her balance symbolized Justice, her hive Work, and the lion the Nation’s Power and Strength.

4- Marianne sometimes changed her phrygian cap for a crown, the symbol of Invincibility.

5- At other times she wore a diadem, and represented a moderate Republic – in opposition to a revolutionary Republic.

The traumatic memories of the French Revolution were indeed still present in people’s minds!

Marianne in all the town halls of France

By the beginning of the 20th century Marianne wearing her phrygian cap was in every town hall of France.

Bust of Marianne - Catherine Deneuve by Polska
Catherine Deneuve by Polska

The abominations of the French Revolution indeed belonged to the past.

Her face has changed many times since WWII.

The state indeed regularly commissioned renowned sculptors with the creation of new busts.

These sculptors used famous women as models, and if modern day Marianne is more understated, she is still very attractive.

She therefore appeared with the features of Brigitte Bardot in 1968, the actress Michele Morgan in 1972, the singer Mireille Mathieu in 1978, the TV presenter Dorothée in 1984, the actress Catherine Deneuve in 1985, the supermodels Inès de la Fressange in 1989, Laetitia Casta in 2000 and the actress Sophie Marceau in 2012.

Marianne also appeared on our post stamps in the early 20th century, then on our late and much loved Franc.

In 1999, she became part of the French government’s official logo.

She is represented in profile, drawn in white against a blue and red background, in the manner of the French tricolor.

And of course, Marianne has been painted by the greatest French painters such as Delacroix, and by leading sculptors (i.e. monuments Place de la République and Place de la Nation in Paris).

Look for her, she’s everywhere!

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