Marriage and its practices in the 19th centurye century

Marriage and its practices in the 19th century<sup>e</sup> century

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  • The city bride.

  • A marriage.

  • A wedding at the photographer.

    DAGNAN-BOUVERET Pascal Adophe Jean (1852 - 1929)

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Title: The city bride.

Author :

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 27.1 - Width 44

Technique and other indications: Wood grain, stencil, laid. Drawing by Fleuret between 1828 and 1837. Published by Castiaux-Blocquel.

Storage location: MuCEM website

Contact copyright: © MuCEM, Dist RMN-Grand Palais / Jean-Gilles Berizzisite web

Picture reference: 05-530555 / 1954.60.25C

© MuCEM, Dist RMN-Grand Palais / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

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Title: A marriage.

Author :

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 45.3 - Width 35.7

Technique and other indications: Handcoloured lithograph.Pellerin (printer, publisher)

Storage location: MuCEM website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - F. Raux website

Picture reference: 08-521446 / 53.86.4691D

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - F. Raux

A wedding at the photographer.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. G. Ojeda

Publication date: March 2011

Historical context

Nuptiality in the XIXe century

The abundant iconography that marriage and its practices inspired in the XIXe century testifies both to the weight of this social and religious rite as well as to the changes that have occurred since the in-depth reform of matrimonial legislation under the Revolution: by the law of September 20, 1792, marriage was removed from the jurisdiction of the Church and transformed in a secular contract concluded before a civil officer, while divorce was instituted in the name of respect for liberty. On the whole, the Civil Code of 1804 confirmed these new provisions, except that it considerably restricted the grounds for divorce.

These legislative innovations favor marriage which made a leap under the Revolution, both in the cities and in the countryside. These variations, which can be explained by the economic situation, wars or epidemics, are accompanied by changes in matrimonial practices: now the civil union precedes the religious ceremony, sometimes even replaces it; for the bourgeoisie then in full rise, marriage becomes more and more a means of consolidating its financial and patrimonial interests.

Image Analysis

Marriage proceedings

The Napoleon Code laid down in broad outline the course of the civil marriage which, since, varied only in points of detail. Announced by the banns published at the gates of the town hall, it must be celebrated by the civil officer at the town hall of the town of residence of one of the two spouses, in the presence of four witnesses. The bride and groom must have exchanged their mutual consents for the officer to declare them united in the name of the law.

This stencil colored wire woodblock print titled The City Bride illustrates the implementation of this new system. The civil ceremony has just ended: followed by two of their witnesses, the couple leaves the town hall, accompanied by a civil officer in Empire costume, girded with a scarf, a sword at the side and the attributes of his function in hands.

Coming from the presses of the Pellerin imagery, this other colored lithograph represents all the stages of a marriage in the upper middle class of the Second Empire: duly presented to the rest of the family, the future groom offers his bride his bridal bouquet, all two go to the town hall where an officer wearing the tricolor sash celebrates their civil marriage, then the newlyweds go to the church where a priest blesses their union, a religious ceremony which is followed by a happy wedding feast and then a grand ball where refreshments are served to guests.

With the birth of photography in 1839 and the emergence of professional photographers' workshops in urban settings, it becomes possible to keep the memory of the event of marriage. Dated 1879, this painting by Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret (1852-1929) shows that this practice is also spreading among the petty bourgeoisie. For this shot, the all-white bride tenderly takes her husband's arm, who, gloves and top hat in hand, looks at the camera like her. Three generations appear in the people who have come to witness this now historic moment. With the exception of the little girl, all eyes are on the couple.


A carefully codified bourgeois ritual

Each in its own way, these works reflect the effect of bourgeois conformism on the institution of marriage. Now regarded as a pillar of the social system, it is an "affair" between two families which, if they sometimes take into account the agreement of feelings between the future spouses, above all ensure the preservation of their financial interests. The ceremonies and the festivities that follow follow carefully codified rules. The number of guests and the pomp with which the union is celebrated vary according to the higher or lower social rank of the families. Even if the marriage of love became commonplace and if the civil marriage conquered its stripes, this conception, of which traces remain today, prevailed throughout the 19th century.e century and consolidated the bourgeoisie in its dominant position.

  • bourgeoisie
  • wedding
  • photography


Jean-Claude BOLOGNE, History of marriage in the West, Paris, Lattès, 1995.Fernand BRAUDEL, Economic and social history of France, volume III "The advent of the industrial era, 1789-1880", Paris, P.U.F., 1976. Jean GAUDEMET, Marriage in the West, Paris, Ed. Of Cerf, 1987.Francis RONSIN, The sentimental contract: debates on marriage, love, divorce, from the Ancien Régime to the Restoration, Paris, Aubier, 1990.

To cite this article

Charlotte DENOËL, "Marriage and its practices in the XIXe century "

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