Images of the French Revolution

The Images are composed of high-resolution digital images of approximately 12,000 individual visual items, primarily prints, but also illustrations, medals, coins, and other objects, which display aspects of the Revolution. These materials were selected from across the BnF’s departments, and include thousands of images for the important collections entitled Hennin and De Vinck. Detailed metadata exists for the images, so that researchers can search by artist, subject, genre, and place.

The FRDA provides access to the most complete searchable digital archive of French Revolution images available. Images de la Révolution française is a benchmark image-base undertaken by the Bibliothèque nationale de France on the occasion of the Revolution’s bicentennial in 1989. It aimed to “allow the reader to explore the relationships, articulations and confrontations between the ideas of the Revolution and their metaphorical embodiment, the constant cross-fertilization of ideology and make-believe…” For this project the BnF created over 38,000 separate views of over 14, 000 individual images, showing closeups and dividing documents with discrete iconographic materials into appropriate sections. The Images, which were originally offered in analog format on laserdisc, had become extremely difficult to access due to rapid technological change. Within the framework of its digitization programs, the BnF rescanned at high resolution almost half of the images on the laserdisc from the original materials. New JPEG files were created from the original videodisc for the remaining images in the corpus. Now all of these images are available online as part of the FRDA.

Over 14,000 image-based items, primarily prints from the Departement des Estampes et de la Photographie, but also illustrations, medals, coins, and other objects, were selected for inclusion from across the BnF’s departments. Many originally entered the BnF on legal deposit, but others come from important collections acquired in the 19th and early 20th century. Two of these collections deserve special attention. The collection of Michel Hennin is notable not only for its size, but because it includes many prints omitted from the legal deposit that Hennin amassed during his time in Italy working for the Viceroy, Prince Eugène de Beauharnais. The print collection of Carl de Vinck, a Belgian diplomat, grew out of his father’s infatuation in Marie-Antoinette and expanded to focus more generally on visual representations of France during the century from Marie-Antoinette’s marriage to Louis XVI in 1770 until the Paris Commune of 1870.

The images selected for the digital archive concentrate solely on the period from 1787 through 1799, from the years immediately preceding the outbreak of the Revolution through the emergence of Napoleon. Only visual materials directly tied to the Revolution itself are included. While the texts of the AP are primarily of interest to serious students and scholars of the Revolution, these images expand the FRDA’s audience to the general public. The creators of the initial incarnation of the Images anticipated that scholars would use them for their research and teaching purposes, and that the public at large would find in them an important way of learning more about this foundational moment for the French nation.