"Marianne is bare-chested because it's a stupid allegory!" The historian specializing in the French Revolution, Mathilde Larrere, replied with this forcefulness to Manuel Valls in 2016. The French Prime Minister called on the French women to "show patriotism in the face of Islamic totalitarianism." That summer the burkini was imposed and the socialist decided to invoke Marianne to argue his position: "Her breasts are bare because she is feeding the people. She does not wear a veil because she is free," said Valls. In the midst of rising temperatures, he saw a real model in the allegory of freedom painted by Eugène Delacroix a century and a half earlier.
"I was born to be a bitch, please let me be" or how Rigoberta Bandini's song claims women as desiring subjects
The historian clarified the reason why that Marianne with bare breasts could not be a feminist symbol: "It is an allegory of the 19th century, a century whose Civil Code reduced women to the status of minors and prohibited them from voting." A century in which they were second class citizens and their presence in art was to give life to allegories. That "artistic code" had nothing to do with female freedom, Larrere pointed out again. And he explained the two ways of representing the figure that symbolized freedom: on the one hand, the wise Marianne, who appears dressed, without showing her chest and seated. It is the one preferred by conservative liberal Republicans. On the other hand, the one of the revolutionary radicals, who is armed, wears a Phrygian cap, has loose hair, has a combative attitude and her chest is uncovered.
Marianne's first appearance happened in 1792, wearing a Phrygian cap, a symbol of the freedom of the first fighters of the French Revolution. Even then, painters and sculptors represented the female allegory with both breasts uncovered. Marianne became a secular goddess of the working classes, who worshiped her as a Madonna of the countryside, goddess of freedom, reason and virtue. The figure of Marianne was a recurring image of freedom and secularism in French art and culture, during and after the Revolution. Delacroix's adaptation achieved a universal icon that as such each era reads to its liking, given the power of the scene it created.
Delacroix made Marianne a powerful, energetic and free figure. The moment is so vibrant and she is so sovereign, that it is difficult not to appropriate the whole continuously. Freedom guiding the people (1830) refers to the popular revolts against Carlos X in the last days of July of the same year in which it was painted. Despite the realistic treatment with which Delacroix builds, she does not exist. It is the only allegorical figure in the group, in which the women do not appear fighting for their freedoms despite the fact that they did. He paints her half-naked at the head of the revolt.
When Delacroix presented the three-metre-wide painting for the Salon of 1831 it was criticized for being too immediate a reflection of current affairs and academics did not want paintings plastered on the news. In addition, it showed a bare chest. So the painting was censored and, for fear of further insurrections, the painting was kept hidden until 1863, when it entered the Luxembourg Museum.
In 1874 it entered the Louvre definitively and there, in the public eye, it also became a reference for contemporary conflicts, which were shocked by the rotundity of the scene and forgot the ways of the creator, who used the female presence as a sexualized allegory. The 19th century and its art consumed women as the object of their masculinities and of the patriarchy that prevented equality. The presence of women in painting was an object of desire, an ideal open and ready for male desires. Naked, submissive, complacent women were a tasteful sight for the men who flocked to salons and museums.
As Erika Bornay points out in her essay Lilith's daughters (Cátedra), it was rare the man who welcomed the woman to the public territory, which until that moment they had considered their exclusive property. The museums, too. Little by little, the fight of women against the role of angel of the home was diminishing and the participation of the female sex in politics and politics is verified in figures: the number of laws concerning women rose from 14 (in 1884- 1885) to 30 (1894-1895) and to 51 (in 1904-1905). The war against them at the end of the 19th century was justified with words and images. "Husbands were challenged by wives claiming their right to write bills, control their personal property, earn their living, obtain divorces on the same terms as their husbands, and have a degree of autonomy," Fraser Harrison wrote in Dark Angel (The dark angel).
For all this, Delacroix's painting cannot be considered a feminist push, because in reality it was the opposite. However, appropriation and resignification is one of the capacities that art and artists are allowed. It happened when the Femen collective created a mural in which they represented five women on a pile of rubble and fallen bodies, emulating Delacroix's painting. One of them is also holding the French flag and on her breasts they wrote phrases like "I am free" and "Naked war" and "Freedom". Its objective was to appropriate the female body as an instrument of patriarchy, posing as warrior women. In that image they used nudity to recover their bodies and their rights.
Delacroix's image can cause misunderstandings like the one that happened to photographer and designer Olivier Ciappa, who designed a stamp with the portrait of Inna Shevchenko, a veteran Femen activist. The French designer wrote in an opinion piece in the Huffington Post that "feminism was an integral part of the values (of the French Republic)" and that "Marianne, at the time of the revolution, went bare-chested, so why not pay tribute to this fabulous Femen activist". Marianne is the goddess of freedom and reason, but she did not by any means represent, as Mathilde Larrere clarified, the struggle of women for their rights. Nor did Ciappa fall that Marianne did not exist, nor did she go around with her breasts in the air.
Rigoberta Bandini sings to her mother in the song Ow mom, that will compete this Saturday at the Benidorm Fest to represent Spain in Eurovision 2022. The Barcelona actress, playwright and singer dedicates the song to the one who "could put an end to so many wars". He asks his mother to stop the city "by sticking out a breast in true Delacroix style." In this vindication of the gesture, Bandini appropriates the Delacroix-style chest, which is clearly patriarchal. The figure of the nineteenth century represents the inability to recognize women if it is not as the allegory of some virtue, of course, masculine. The figure that Bandini builds in the 21st century is that of the woman who rises up against oppression. At the end of her song, Rigoberta Bandini uses the painting by Eugène Delacroix again, but this time with a very clear complaint: the woman's body is unbearable. The reference is to Facebook's censorship of an ad featuring the famous painting and in which the company covered up Marianne's breasts. "I don't know why our boobs are so scary/ without them there would be no humanity and no beauty/ and you know it well," she sings. The song turned into an absolute celebratory anthem shows how far we have come since 1830.