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France: Symbols of the Republic

Last modified: 2003-01-18 by ivan sache
Keywords: france | logo | seal | coat of arms | fasces | marianne | rf |
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Logo of the State - Marianne

[Logo of the French Republic]

France still has no coat of arms but has now a logo.

According to AFP (12 March 1999), Prime Minister Lionel Jospin has given the state a logo, a Marianne on blue-white-red ground, which shall be put soon on all the documents of the ministries and administrations.

Pascal Vagnat, 13 March 1999

Government agencies which already had their own logo need not use this one.

Marianne is the nickname given to the feminine allegory of the Republic (derived from the revolutionary allegory of Liberty). Origin of the nickname is controversial according to M. Pastoureau [pst98] . It can be dated 1848-1851, with generalization ca. 1875.
The evolution of Marianne's graphic charter reflects the political evolution of French society.

The allegory used on the logo is an interesting mix of the wise, bourgeois Marianne and the revolutionary, popular one.

Ivan Sache, 13 October 2000

The history of Marianne in state iconography is available on the Prime Minister's website.

Todd Mills, 13 October 2000

The muncipal monthly review of Versailles has an article about Marianne. It reports one of the possible origin of Marianne (but see above about the unclear and controversial origin of Marianne):

After the coup of 17 Fructidor 1797, the Directory [the regime which ruled France from 26 October 1795 to 9 November 1799], wanted to give a pleasant nickname to the French Republic, [probably to lighten the bloody image of the Revolution]. The gallant Barras [one of the Directors], once invited for dinner by Madame Marianne Reubell, asked her for her first name, and said : "Great, Your first name is simple and short, it fits the Republic as well as it fits You."

In 1848, the Ministry of the Interior launched a sculpture contest to symbolize the Republic. After the fall of monarchy, the Provisional Government had declared: "The image of liberty should replace everywhere the images of corruption and shame, which have been broken in three days by the magnanimous French people."
Two Mariannes were granted: the one is fighting and victorious, and represents the Greek goddess Athena, the other is wise and serious. Every city hall could make its own choice between the two proposals.

In 1884, all municipalities were required to have a city hall, even if the presence of Marianne's bust was not mandatory.

There is no rule for the representation of Marianne. The city hall of Versailles owns three different Mariannes: the first one, in the main hall, is a replica of Dubray's Marianne from 1848 (the wise option), the second one, in the council hall, was made by Lecreux out of black bronze in 1870, and the third one, recently placed in the wedding hall, is an original modern artwork by Georges Delahaie.

In general, Marianne has inspired more than 100 models. A few celebrities "became" Marianne, such as Brigitte Bardot (1969), Catherine Deneuve (1985), Mireille Mathieu, Mireille Darc, Isabelle Adjani and finally Laetitia Casta.

Ivan Sache, 15 October 2000

The second Marianne then represented Pallas/Athena as well.
Pallas isn't just war, she is war combined with wisdom. After all, she was born out of the head of Zeus, which she sprang from fully dressed for battle.

Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 16 October 2000

M. Pastoureau [pst98], refering to M. Agulhon's studies, presents the opposition between:

- a wise and bourgeois Marianne (sitting, still, hair tied up, breast covered, liberty cap discrete or missing)
- a rebell and popular Marianne (moving, hair untied, breast uncovered, liberty cap highlighted).

These are of course the two complementary aspects of Athena/Pallas. The first Marianne matches the ideal woman according to the 1880 (and later...) standard, the second one is much closer to the scandalous Liberté guidant le Peuple painted by Delacroix (1830). The Marianne of the logo is close to the second one, but made wiser and more modern by stylizing her.

Ivan Sache, 17 October 2000

Unofficial coat of arms


The French Republic has no official arms, but a seal bearing a fasces is used as an official emblem for some purposes.

[Passport cover]

A similar design appears on the front cover of the French version of European Union Passport.

The RF cypher

R.F. (for République Française) appeared shortly after the proclamation of the French Republic in autumn 1792 on official and administrative documents. It had the status of a State administrative emblem, and was also used on stamps and seals (although less frequently than fasces, cockade, Liberty or rooster).

The Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Republics generalized the administrative use of R.F., especially to overcome the lack of State arms. It was often proposed to consider the letters RF (or EF during the Etat Français) as an heraldic charge and to place them in a shield, in total contradiction with the heraldic rule which bans letters from the shield field. The letters RF were indeed used on documents (for instance passports) as well on buildings.

During several international meetings, all countries exhibited their national arms whereas France exhibited a shield charged with RF.

Tricolor shields with RF in black in the middle of the white stripe are quite common on city halls, schools, administrative buildings etc.

Source: M. Pastoureau [pst98]

A Tricolore flag chrged with RF in the white stripe can be seen on a Comoran coin dated 1889

Ivan Sache, 25 November 2000