Views of the Gallic warriors

Views of the Gallic warriors

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  • Warrior courage or Gallic courage.

    GERARD, Baron François (1770 - 1837)

  • Battle scene: Gallic warrior on horseback.

    CHASSERIAU Théodore (1819 - 1856)

  • Brennus and his share of the booty.

    JAMIN Paul Joseph (1853 - 1903)

Warrior courage or Gallic courage.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

To close

Title: Battle scene: Gallic warrior on horseback.

Author : CHASSERIAU Théodore (1819 - 1856)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 32.6 - Width 42.6

Technique and other indications: Watercolor.

Storage location: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - M. Bellot website

Picture reference: 00-012574 / RF24367

Battle scene: Gallic warrior on horseback.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - M. Bellot

To close

Title: Brennus and his share of the booty.

Author : JAMIN Paul Joseph (1853 - 1903)

Creation date : 1893

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas.

Storage location: La Rochelle Museum of Fine Arts website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - All rights reserved

Picture reference: 90-006420

Brennus and his share of the booty.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - All rights reserved

Publication date: January 2010

Historical context

Originally were the Gauls

Until the 1820s, the history of France is based on that of the princes whose historians draw "psychological" portraits (Clovis, Childeric). Despite still little knowledge of the Gauls, they broadened the search for the origin of the French people throughout the century, from the first History of the Gauls of Amédée Thierry (1828) at theHistory of Gaul by Camille Jullian (1926).

To familiarize themselves with and appropriate the Gauls, the French rely successively on the romantic conception of the “people”, on the growing awareness of a national heritage born with the notion of historical monuments, then on the elaboration of a vulgate history which serves the cause of the unity and indivisibility of Republican France. The chosen works correspond to so many moments of this identity construction.

Image Analysis

Savage fighter or merciless barbarian?

To illustrate the theme of his canvas Warrior Courage, François Pascal Simon Gérard (1770-1837) could have chosen many examples in national history. He chooses as his allegory a Gaul, that is to say neither a strategist nor a winner, barely a hero. Echoing those who tried to force the double encirclement of the Roman armies in Alésia, his composition in nocturnal hues is centered on an isolated warrior who, red hair in the wind, presents his bare and white chest to several entrenched enemies, invisible and heavily armed. of spears. His attitude of typically romantic defiance inscribes in the canvas a dynamic vertical on which seem to collide the horizontals drawn by the enemy pikes.

The small-format watercolor by Théodore Chassériau (1819-1856) depicts the unfair struggle between a warrior on horseback and civilians committed to murder, looting and rape. Mounted on a rearing horse to cross a wall of corpses, the Gaul prepares to strike with his ax brandished in the air the last man standing, who confronts him with bare hands; in the other diagonal, a woman tries to hold back the captive whom he kidnaps and drags tied to the rump of his horse. This living, naked trophy goes hand in hand with a dead trophy, a man’s head separated from his body. The precious drapes of the clothes of the victims and the warrior's immaculate tunic stand out against the twilight backdrop, where the ruthless Gallic barbarism also takes place.

Compared to the canvases of Cézanne hung on the neighboring walls during the 1893 Salon, the painting by Paul-Joseph Jamin (1853-1903) is a monument of classicism: a very smooth touch, elaborate contrasts between the omnipresent gold, the white skins female figures and the colors of the frescoes and clothing. Exploiting an orientalist vein, the painter delivers a composition both overloaded with precious and rigorous details, in which the outside world, reduced to a warrior with a greedy and confident air, contrasts with the refined feminine interior where his presence throws dread. Firmly encamped on the blood-stained threshold, Brennus appears all the more terrifying as Jamin has pushed the eroticism of the young Romans to their limits, two of whom have their hands tied. At the bottom left, next to the chest, there are two severed heads.


A slow and sinuous change of gaze

Amédée Thierry permanently fixed the appearance of the Gaul in the representations, yet severely criticized by archaeologists from the 1860s. François Gérard, pupil of David, painted all that the Empire had of important characters and excelled in painting historical. Official order, his canvas The Warrior courage was initially to be hung in the Louvre with The genius, Generosity and The constancy - cardinal virtues of the French people - in addition to the homage to the royal line of the Bourbons represented by Henri IV and Charles X. After the Three Glorious Days (1830), the new king Louis-Philippe confirms the order and donates it to Versailles . The ensemble finds its place in the Coronation Room ... Bonapartist room with the two immense paintings by David: The Coronation of Napoleon, December 2, 1804 and The Oath taken to the Emperor by the army after the distribution of the eagles, December 5, 1804. A form of continuity is thus traced from one regime to another; the Gaul then incarnates above all fighting spirit, resistance and intrepidity.

With the painting of Chassériau, reader claimed by Caesar at a time when the theme flourished in painting, it is the dark side of the “Gaul” that is denounced - even if the errors of representation (ax, sandals) invalidate the scene. documentary and testify to the confusions of this mid-century. However, the valor and mastery of weapons or the art of the cavalry are well credited to the Gauls, whom Chassériau beautifully brushed, without breeches or mats elsewhere, in Defense of the Gauls (1855), the most ambitious work of the end of his career. In his Essay on the formation and progress of the Third Estate (1856), Augustin Thierry gives birth to France with Gaul and theorizes the identity between France, the third estate and the Gauls; he considers that the Frankish nobility is a "race" which conquered the Gallic third-estate. The Teutons thus replace the Romans as "hereditary" enemies.

Jamin's Brennus takes its name from the Celtic "brenn", the chief; at the head of a small, seasoned troop, he crossed the Alps and captured Rome in 390 BC. Receiving the loot of 1,000 pounds of gold, he is said to have uttered the famous "Vae victis ": Woe to the vanquished! After the Republican (1796-1797) and Imperial (1849) incursions into Italy and the defeat by Prussia (1870), this episode serves as a reminder of the antiquity of the French military valor. On the other hand, if Brennus, figure of conqueror, was for a long time preferred to Vercingetorix, the glorious vanquished, this is no longer the case at the end of XIXe century. But France is also experiencing a strong surge of patriotic feeling due to the double conflict with Germany: the Germans are now systematically opposed to the Gauls, without the scholars managing to properly situate in the national narrative this Celtic people crushed by the weight of the Greco-Roman culture, actor of an Iron Age often confused with the ages of late prehistory.

  • battles
  • Gallic
  • patrimony
  • patriotism
  • allegory
  • romanticism
  • collective imagination
  • germanophobia
  • Clovis
  • collective identity
  • national story
  • Vercingetorix


Jean-Louis BRUNAUX, Our ancestors the Gauls, Paris, Le Seuil, coll. "The Historical Universe", 2008.Christine PELTRE, Théodore Chassériau, Paris, Gallimard, 2002. Kristof POMIAN, “Gaulois et Francs”, in Pierre Nora (ed.), Memorial place, Paris, Gallimard, 1992.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "Views of the Gallic warriors"

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