The myth of the soldier-plowman

The myth of the soldier-plowman

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Title: The Soldier Plowman.

Author : FLOWER (-)

Creation date : 1822

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Woodcut

Storage location: MuCEM website

Contact copyright: © MuCEM, Dist.RMN-Grand Palais D. Adam website

Picture reference: 45.36.5C

© MuCEM, Dist.RMN-Grand Palais D. Adam

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

A tenacious myth, transmitted by songs, vaudevilles and engravings, claims that after having fought as a hero in the revolutionary and Napoleonic armies, Nicolas Chauvin would have returned, covered with wounds and medals, to end his life in his native Charente. AD, victoriously took the head of the armies to return then to enjoy the mediocritas aurea of the peasant. Symbol of the virtues of frugality, civility, patriotism and self-sacrifice of ancient Rome, Cincinnatus embodies the myth of the soldier-plowman.

Image Analysis

In Fleuret’s engraving, dated 1822, a former soldier of the imperial armies, wearing a tricorn, dreams beside his plow. The dual function of the French male is justified by the identity, dear to Virgil, of the ploughshare and the sword. The naive style of the engraving, the simplification of the drawing and the didactic virtue of its title suggest that it was intended for the public in the countryside. But this popular image is slightly out of step with the myth. Just a year after Napoleon's death, it even has a mournful tone. Because the soldier-plowman has just exhumed the skeleton of an anonymous hero whose Legion of Honor he won. This irruption of “death in Arcadia” explains the melancholy of our peasant-warrior, meditating on this memento mori which reminds him that the fate of a Frenchman is to die for the country.


The soldier-plowman from Fleuret has gone "to rest in the countryside from his military work" or, to put it another way, he has the honor of protecting and nurturing his country at the same time. The "chauvinistic" mythology can vary: sometimes it opens the furrow in which rests a compatriot who fell for the fatherland, sometimes it is up to him to highlight the land which the blood of the enemy spilled by him has fertilized. In general, the soldier-plowman, flagship and defender of Frenchness, must save the nation by his vigor acquired in the work of war and the fields. This agrarian-inspired patriotism is akin to a defensive and conservative nationalism, which we find for example in Pétain.

  • army
  • Legion of Honor
  • myth
  • nationalism
  • patriotism
  • peasants


Gerard DE PUYMEGE Chauvin, the soldier-plowman: Contribution to the study of nationalisms Paris, Gallimard, coll. “Library of Histories”, 1993.

To cite this article

Ivan JABLONKA, "The myth of the soldier-plowman"

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