Revolutionary Plates

If you thought this article is about discworld dwarf bread or something exciting like that, plates for throwing, you were wrong. I’m sorry. I bet an article about battle bread would be more interesting. But this article is about plates (like in dishes) of the French Revolution. I saw an exposition of said plates in the library of Bernay and found it kind of funny, that the history is so well documented on common items. The plates were created in Nevers in the Burgundy region. Before the French Revolution (1789-1799) the manufacturers of faience in Nevers showed saints and professions. The decors were used over a longer time and people actually used the plates for eating, but I guess they also looked good in their kitchen cabinet in which the plates were standing upright behind thin bars of wood. We got one of those cabinets in the basement of the castle, without revolutionary plates.

The name Marie-Anne was very common at that time, especially on the country side and amoung women that worked in the households of richer people/ nobility. It became also the first name of the symbol of the French Revolution (and later the Republic) Marianne. This dish shows Marie-Anne Pigu (a symbol for the common women of Nevers) 1793 as a laundress. No saint, but at least the profession-topic. Own photo on Wikimedia Commons, licence: CC 0/ Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

This plate was designed after an etching about justice. Before the revolution the clergy and the nobility would always be heavier on the balance of justice. Their vote had more value. But during the revolution the Third Estate who had the most members anyway, was heavier, because every vote had the same value. No matter who voted. On this plate of the 1790s the crosier of a bishop (clergy) and the aristocratic épée whine about their defeat (“nous jouons de malheur”). Own photo on Wikimedia Commons, licence: CC 0/ Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

The center shows a harrow, over 2 ears (cereal plants). The harrow (Third Estate, farmers) is surrounded by 3 fleurs de lys, symbols of royalty. To the left is a crosier of a bishop, symbol of the clergy, and to the right the pommel of an épée, symbol of the nobility. “Fidelitas, pax et concordia” means fidelity, peace and concord. The plate was created 1790 or 1791. Own photo on Wikimedia Commons, licence: CC 0/ Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

The decor symbolises the declaration of the human rights on August 26 1789. Subjects are union and liberty. The union is represented by the handshake, a symbol that was inspired by freemasony, over an open book on which we can see the words, “droit de lhomm” (misspelled), ‘human rights’. Liberty is represented by a Phrygian cap on an épée. I like these caps, they look cute. Own photo on Wikimedia Commons, licence: CC 0/ Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

This decor was called “at the fortress” and does show the Bastille, but it is not a reminiscence of the storming of the bastille, it is a call for vigilance in times of the French Revolutionary Wars. The cannons point to the outside, not in direction of the building. “Vivre libre or mourir” means ‘live free or die’. This decor was used 1792 and 1793. Own photo on Wikimedia Commons, licence: CC 0/ Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

This was made 1789. It commemorates the storming of the Bastille on July 14 1789. This was a very common decor of the faience of Nevers until 1792. Own photo on Wikimedia Commons, licence: CC 0/ Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

A person on the right adresses two chubby figures on the left. The chubbyness is a sign for the end of the famine and for the hope of the people. In the Ancien Régime, the monarchy before the revolution, it was custom, that the priests were not only preaching but also bringing the news. The figure on the right of this plate is a priest who brings the news: “je vous annonce le bonheur de la France”, ‘I announce the general good of France to you’. On February 23 1790 a new decree was enacted, that ordered the priests to comment on the news from the National Assembly, just like they did with the monarchy. The news he announces here are a better world, where the three Estates are united and nobody suffers from hunger. Three chubby figures and at least two of them look rather naked and it’s something you eat from. I found this plate very funny. Own photo on Wikimedia Commons, licence: CC 0/ Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

This one isn’t funny at all, or well, maybe a bit. The plate commemorates the death of Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau, on April 2 1791. Mirabeau was for a short time the deputy of the Third Estate at the National Assembly. And he held fiery speeches that made everybody think he was a real revolutionary. But in 1792 papers were found, which were proving, that Mirabeau was secretly supporting the constitutional monarchy. The plate was certainly created before those papers were found. It shows Mirabeau’s cenotaph with an urne holding his heart. “La patrie reconnainte, à mirabeau eleve ce tombeau”, ‘the appreciating home country erects this grave for Mirabeau’. Own photo on Wikimedia Commons, licence: CC 0/ Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

The last one is not even a tiny bit funny. Makes you wonder though, who would eat from this. The plate shows a priest who holds a book, which used to be the bible but now it’s a symbol for the constitution. The theme is the oath of the clergy on the constitution. This oath became obligatory in Novembre 1790. The inscription cites part of the oath: “je jure de maintenir de tout mon pouvoir la constitution”, ‘I swear to maintain the constitution with all my power’. See below at the links for the full boring text of the oath. Own photo on Wikimedia Commons, licence: CC 0/ Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

Update: When the article was posted, I noticed I missed a picture of a plate that had the same decor like a plate which already existed on Wikimedia Commons. I wanted to upload it elsewhere. It’s interesting because there are some differences in the expression of the figures and the colours. A third plate is shown in the link below. Must have been nice to have a whole set. I remember we had plates with a scene from the presumably British countryside, with a carriage and a cottage when I was a child. I loved to eat from those plates because I liked to watch the picture on it.

This is the file from Wikimedia Commons. It’s a plate in a museum and it was made in 1791. The ground the figures stand on is very orange and the priests expression is not very elaborate. Author of the photo is Patrick.charpiat, licence: CC by/ Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

And this is “mine”. The decor shows a bishop and a noble merchant, representing the First and the Second Estate. The two hold each others hand, because they worked together in the Ancien régime (the time of the kings) to oppress the Third Estate, the common people. The words: “le malheur nous réunit” mean ‘our misfortune reunites us’. The text on this plate is not easy to read but the bishop looks better than on the other one. This one was made 1791 or 1792. Own photo on Flickr, licence: CC by/ Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (I couldn’t upload it as public domain, strange)

Further Reading

serment des évêques et curés à la Constitution civile du clergé (12 juillet 1790) (French) The oath I mentioned above and more boring oaths and revolutionary greetings.

Les faïences révolutionnaires de la manufacture de Nevers (French) With a third of those malheur-plates.

4 thoughts on “Revolutionary Plates

  1. I think they are beautiful to look at! I’d like to see one in a cabinet.

    • I agree, they are very colourful and because they are handmade, everyone of them is a bit different. I’ve seen photos of different plates of one set and the faces of the figures looked different. Forgot to upload exactly that photo and will add it right now.

  2. musée d'Auxerre

    [The next plate is even more peculiar. It’s a rare freemasonplate of the French Revolution. ]
    Cette assiette n’est pas maçonnique. L’objet triangulaire est une herse.
    Je crois que “Harrow” est le mot anglais pour cet outil agricole.

    • Ah okay, thank you. I found the (wrong) explanation somewhere on the net. The internet is full of errors. Luckily there are people like you to correct them.🙂

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