The Paris Heritage Strolls
The Great Minds Stroll
From the Pantheon to the Institute
In this stroll, you will be walking in the footsteps of the great thinkers of the past who shaped the European spirit of today. Post-Revolution France made praise of these citizen public policy. The Enlightenment values of equality had triumphed, and transformed monumental art. Recognizing and honouring civic merit contained a potent political message.
Under the July Monarchy (1830-1848), the push for reconciliation and the exaltation of the nation’s past contributed to the creation of a pantheon of "founding fathers". Sculptor David d’Angers established the guidelines for their portrayal.
By the 1880s, the monuments and depictions of the artisans of the French Republic served the purposes of civic education and underscored cultural principles. A key idea was associated with each of the great men: democracy for Rousseau, defence of the nation for Danton, public education for Condorcet.
Similarly, location depended as much on symbolism as on practical concerns for available public space. Thus, the areas around the colleges, the Panthéon, and the Institut de France were considered ideal settings for displaying patriotic statues. They perfectly fit the bill for inspiring faith in democratic values such as learning, education, science and social justice.
The French Nation honours its founders
Place du Panthéon, 5th arrondissement
Designed by Soufflot, the Panthéon was built between 1764 and 1790 on the site of the old Sainte-Geneviève church, and was designed to be a grand Catholic cathedral before it became a temple to great minds. To prove a commitment to liberalism, the monarchy ruled by Louis-Philippe (1830-1848), had this republican motto engraved on the pediment of the Pantheon, “Aux grands hommes, la Patrie reconnaissante” ("To great men, the nation is grateful "). Sculptor Pierre-Jean David d’Angers (1788–1856) was commissioned for a bas-relief.
The lady Republic (centre) hands crowns to Liberty (left), who then distributes them, whilst History (right) writes down the names of those deemed worthy of the honour. In the first row of recipients are Malesherbes, Mirabeau, Monge and Fénelon. In the second row are Lazare Carnot, Berthollet and Laplace. In the third row: Louis David, Cuvier and Lafayette. Voltaire and Rousseau face in opposite directions. To the right of the central group, a very republican Bonaparte leads an army of anonymous soldiers to the sound of a military drum.
In 1837, the government tried to eliminate Lafayette from the group, but David obstinately refused and received support from the liberal press. Consequently, there was no fanfare for the unveiling of the pediment.
Easily recognizable figures and minimal stylisation attest to the sculptor's enthusiasm for didactic, moral and political art. In the 1830s, the Panthéon’s pediment sculpture set the standards for commemorative portraiture and statuary for the rest of that century.
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Today’s statue of Rousseau is the work of Antoine Bizette-Lindet, commissioned by the State to replace a bronze destroyed during the Nazi Occupation. The sculpture was placed on the old pedestal in 1952 not too far from the Pantheon, where the ashes of the philosopher have lain since the French Revolution. The first statue, erected in honour of the author Émile and The Social Contract were inaugurated in February 1889, at the opening ceremonies of the first centennial of the French Revolution. Immediately after World War II, in a different political climate, the nation wanted to pay tribute to the man’s talents as a writer and philosopher.
Auguste Comte was the creator of sociology and of the doctrine of positivism grounded in reason and faith in progress. He represented republican ideas that the Third Republic sought to establish as collective values.
In 1899, a teachers’ association launched a drive to fund a memorial statue to Comte. The statue was erected in 1902 on Place de la Sorbonne in the very neighbourhood where the philosopher had lived most of his life – from his enrolment in the École Polytechnique in 1814 until his death on Rue Monsieur-le-Prince in 1857. He also lived at number 5 on the now non-existent Rue Neuve-Richelieu (now 7 Place de la Sorbonne), which may be seen as a symbol of the value he attributed to education.
Let’s take a closer look at the allegorical figures that sculptor Antonin Injalbert and architect Lemaresquier placed on the pedestal. To the right are a matching pair: the (intellectual and manual) Worker and Grateful Humanity presenting a palm of glory beneath the bust of the philosopher.
In the early 1880s, the looming centennial sparked renewed interest in the revolutionary spirit. During the Third Republic (1870- 1940), celebrating Danton held a double ideological and political interest as he was anticlerical, antimonarchist, a staunch supporter of the Republic in 1792 and an advocate of laws on public education.
The Paris city council opened an artists’ contest in 1888. The winning project was submitted by sculptor Auguste Paris. It was a group uniting narrative strength and symbolic unity, with two young volunteers (a drummer and a rifleman) listening raptly to an orator calling on men of courage to defend the fatherland.
The memorial was inaugurated on 14 July 1891 near Danton’s home, the very house in which he was arrested, located on a small street removed in 1877 to make way for the Boulevard Saint-Germain. Like Diderot’s, the statue of Danton was spared, despite the waves of destruction during the Occupation that deprived Paris of most of its bronze statues. Aside from its historical signification, the heroic giant, a silent witness of so many events, remains one of the most familiar faces in the Latin Quarter.
This statue was created at the behest of the Comité pour la Libre Pensée (Committee for Free Thinking) in view of the 1884 centennial of the philosopher’s death. For the celebration, sculptor Jean Gautherin executed a temporary plaster model that was set up on Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The definitive bronze statue was inaugurated on 14 July 1886 on one of the boulevard’s median strips, opposite Rue Saint-Benoît. Due to roadwork in 1940, the statue was transferred to its present-day location. It is one of the rare historical figures to have escaped the fury of the Nazi Occupation.
What is most striking about this seated portrait is its dynamism and didactic effectivenes. The advancing quill and the twisting, leaning bust express the writer’s commitment, which the Third Republic glorified as a precursor to the French Revolution. Today, Diderot is remembered more neutrally as the author of the ambitious Encyclopaedia.
After World War II, the State commissioned Léon Drivier to make this statue of Voltaire to replace the one by Caillé, melted down in 1942. The new stone likeness was supposed to fit the empty pedestal located on Quai Malaquais. But its reduced scale and more modern style, combined with the desire of certain members of the Academy to clear the area around their Institute, resulted in the great man's virtual banishment to a small square behind the establishment. Intense debates on the aesthetics and politics of such a drastic move dragged on for so long that Drivier’s piece didn’t take its rightful place in the greenery until 1962, well after the sculptor’s death.
Just after the Revolution of February 1848, the interim government announced it would commission representations of the French Republic in three media: painting, sculpture and medallion. Jean-François Soitoux's allegorical composition was the project chosen in the sculpture category.
Warehoused during the Second Empire, the statue was handed over to the city of Paris in 1879. 24 February 1880, in commemoration of the historic days that preceded its creation, it was inaugurated on a pedestal in front of the Institut. Loaned to the city of Amboise from 1962 to 1988, the statue was placed where it now stands, on the right side of the Institut, upon its return. It is rich in symbolism: the stack of arms crushing a broken royal crown (liberty and republican unity), the sword and the triangle (justice and equality), the beehive (industry), the star on the crown of oak (reason and wisdom). These emblems, combined with the formal poses, convey an ideal of equitable, rational rule.
In 1879, following a landslide victory of the anti-monarchists, Lady Republic's image was updated. Contest rules stipulated she be depicted wearing a liberty cap.
French philosopher, mathematician and politician (1743-1794)
Quai Conti, 6th arrondissement
This memorial to a brilliant scholar and humanitarian was unveiled on this on 14 July 1894. The location was deemed appropriate because it was close to both the Hôtel de la Monnaie (the national mint), which Condorcet directed, and the prestigious Institut, where he was secretary of the Academy of Sciences. Above all, this site created an ideal trinity, linking Soitoux’s La République and Caillé’s statue of Voltaire (which had also been inaugurated on the 14th of July nine years earlier).
Associating the image of Condorcet, one of the first defenders of the French Republic, a leader in the crusade for public education, with that of the great Enlightenment thinker Voltaire and the symbol of republican rule was appropriate. Condorcet and Voltaire had both fought for tolerance and social justice. Pairing the two also symbolized the balance between the arts (Voltaire) and sciences (Condorcet).
Perrin's portrait of the 18th-century luminary is simple and forthright. The elongated silhouette gives the face elegance and great presence. The facial expression accentuates Condorcet's high forehead and prominent brow. The steady gaze and the tucked chin bespeak the philosopher’s moral fortitude.
Perrin’s original bronze statue was destroyed by the Nazis in 1943. A replica took its place in 1991 for the continuation of the bicentennial celebrations of the French Revolution.
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