Étiquette : America


The republican struggle of David d’Angers and the statue of Gutenberg in Strasbourg

In the heart of downtown Strasbourg, a stone’s throw from the cathedral and with its back to the 1585 Chamber of Commerce, stands the beautiful bronze statue of the German printer Johannes Gutenberg, holding a barely-printed page from his Bible, which reads: « And there was light » (NOTE 1).

Evoking the emancipation of peoples thanks to the spread of knowledge through the development of printing, the statue, erected in 1840, came at a time when supporters of the Republic were up in arms against the press censorship imposed by Louis-Philippe under the July Monarchy.

Strasbourg, Mainz and China

Plaster model for the statue of Gutenberg, by David d’Angers.

Born around 1400 in Mainz, Johannes Gutenberg, with money lent to him by the merchant and banker Johann Fust, carried out his first experiments with movable metal type in Strasbourg between 1434 and 1445, before perfecting his process in Mainz, notably by printing his famous 42-line Bible from 1452.

On his death (in Mainz) in 1468, Gutenberg bequeathed his process to humanity, enabling printing to take off in Europe. Chroniclers also mention the work of Laurens Janszoon Coster in Harlem, and the Italian printer Panfilo Castaldi, who is said to have brought Chinese know-how to Europe. It should be noted that the « civilized » world of the time refused to acknowledge that printing had originated in Asia with the famous « movable type » (made of porcelain and metal) developed several centuries earlier in China and Korea (NOTE 2).

In Europe, Mainz and Strasbourg vie for pride of place. On August 14, 1837, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the « invention » of printing, Mainz inaugurated its statue of Gutenberg, erected by sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsenalors, while in Strasbourg, a local committee had already commissioned sculptor David d’Angers to create a similar monument in 1835.

This little-known sculptor was both a great sculptor and close friend of Victor Hugo, and a fervent republican in personal contact with the finest humanist elite of his time in France, Germany and the United States. He was also a tireless campaigner for the abolition of the slave trade and slavery.

The sculptor’s life

French sculptor Pierre-Jean David, known as « David d’Angers » (1788-1856) was the son of master sculptor Pierre Louis David. Pierre-Jean was influenced by the republican spirit of his father, who trained him in sculpture from an early age. At the age of twelve, his father enrolled him in the drawing class at the École Centrale de Nantes. In Paris, he was commissioned to create the ornamentation for the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and the south facade of the Louvre Palace. Finally, he entered the Beaux-arts.

Portait of David d’Angers, by François-Joseph Heim, Louvre.

David d’Angers possessed a keen sense of interpretation of the human figure and an ability to penetrate the secrets of his models. He excelled in portraiture, whether in bust or medallion form. He is the author of at least sixty-eight statues and statuettes, some fifty bas-reliefs, a hundred busts and over five hundred medallions. Victor Hugo told his friend David: « This is the bronze coin by which you pay your toll to posterity. »

He traveled all over Europe, painting busts in Berlin, London, Dresden and Munich.

Around 1825, when he was commissioned to paint the funeral monument that the Nation was raising by public subscription in honor of General Foy, a tribune of the parliamentary opposition, he underwent an ideological and artistic transformation. He frequented the progressive intellectual circles of the « 1820 generation » and joined the international republican movement. He then turned his attention to the political and social problems of France and Europe. In later years, he remained faithful to his convictions, refusing, for example, the prestigious commission to design Napoleon’s tomb.

Artistic production

Project for a statue of the physician Françis-Xavier Bichat (1771-1802), David d’Angers.

David’s art was thus influenced by a naturalism whose iconography and expression are in stark contrast to that of his academic colleagues and the dissident sculptors known as « romantics » at the time. For David, no mythological sensualism, obscure allegories or historical picturesqueness. On the contrary, sculpture, according to David, must generalize and transpose what the artist observes, so as to ensure the survival of ideas and destinies in a timeless posterity.

David adhered to this particular, limited conception of sculpture, adopting the Enlightenment view that the art of sculpture is « the lasting repository of the virtues of men », perpetuating the memory of the exploits of exceptional beings.

Medallion featuring Alexander von Humboldt, David d’Angers.

The somewhat austere image of « great men » prevailed, best known thanks to some 600 medallions depicting famous men and women from several countries, most of them contemporaries. Added to this are some one hundred busts, mostly of his friends, poets, writers, musicians, songwriters, scientists and politicians with whom he shared the republican ideal.

Among the most enlightened of his time were: Victor Hugo, Marquis de Lafayette, Wolfgang Goethe, Alfred de Vigny, Alphonse Lamartine, Pierre-Jean de Béranger, Alfred de Musset, François Arago, Alexander von Humboldt, Honoré de Balzac, Lady Morgan, James Fenimore Cooper, Armand Carrel, François Chateaubriand, Ennius Quirinus Visconti and Niccolo Paganini.

To magnify his models and visually render the qualities of each one’s genius, David d’Angers invented a mode of idealization no longer based on antique-style classicism, but on a grammar of forms derived from a new science, the phrenology of Doctor Gall, who believed that the cranial « humps » of an individual reflected his intellectual aptitudes and passions. For the sculptor, it was a matter of transcending the model’s physiognomy, so that the greatness of the soul radiated from his forehead.

In 1826, he was elected member of the Institut de France and, the same year, professor at the Beaux-Arts. In 1828, David d’Angers was the victim of his first unsolved assassination attempt. Wounded in the head, he was confined to bed for three months. However, in 1830, still loyal to republican ideas, he took part in the revolutionary days and fought on the barricades.

Pediment of the Panthéon, David d’Angers.

In 1830, David d’Angers found himself ideally placed to carry out the most significant political sculpture commission of the July monarchy and perhaps of 19th century France: the new decoration of the pediment of the church of Sainte-Geneviève, which had been converted into the Pantheon in July.

As a historiographer, he wanted to depict the civilians and men of war who built Republican France. In 1837, the execution of the figures he had chosen and arranged in a sketch that was first approved, then suspended, was bound to lead to conflict with the high clergy and the government. On the left, we see Bichat, Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, David, Cuvier, Lafayette, Manuel, Carnot, Berthollet, Laplace, Malesherbes, Mirabeau, Monge and Fénelon. While the government tried to have Lafayette’s effigy removed, which David d’Angers stubbornly refused, with the support of the liberal press, the pediment was unveiled without official ceremony in September 1837, without the presence of the artist, who had not been invited.

Entering politics

During the 1848 Revolution, he was appointed mayor of the 11th arrondissement of Paris, entered the National Constituent Assembly and then the National Legislative Assembly, where he voted with the Montagne (revolutionary left). He defended the existence of the Ecole des Beaux-arts and the Académie de France in Rome. He opposed the destruction of the Chapelle Expiatoire and the removal of two statues from the Arc de Triomphe (Resistance and Peace by sculptor Antoine Etex).

He also voted against the prosecution of Louis Blanc (1811-1882) (another republican statesman and intellectual condemned to exile), against the credits for Napoleon III’s Roman expedition, for the abolition of the death penalty, for the right to work, and for a general amnesty.


Greek maiden, statue by David d’Angers for the tomb of Greek freedom fighter Markos Botzaris.

He was not re-elected deputy in 1849 and withdrew from political life. In 1851, with the advent of Napoleon III, David d’Angers was arrested and also sentenced to exile. He chose Belgium, then traveled to Greece (his old project). He wanted to revisit his Greek Maiden on the tomb of the Greek republican patriot Markos Botzaris (1788-1823), which he found mutilated and abandoned (he had it repatriated to France and restored).

Disappointed by Greece, he returned to France in 1852. With the help of his friend de Béranger, he was allowed to stay in Paris, where he resumed his work. In September 1855, he suffered a stroke which forced him to cease his activities. He died in January 1856.

Friendships with Lafayette, Abbé Grégoire and Pierre-Jean de Béranger

The Marquis de Lafayette. painted by Adolphe Phalipon after a picture by Ary Scheffer (1795-1858).

David d’Angers was a real link between 18th and 19th century republicans, and a living bridge between those of Europe and America.

Born in 1788, he had the good fortune to associate at an early age with some of the great revolutionary figures of the time, before becoming personally involved in the revolutions of 1830 and 1848.

Towards the end of the 1820s, David attended the Tuesday salon meetings of Madame de Lafayette, wife of Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette (1757-1834).

While General Lafayette stood upright like « a venerable oak », this salon, notes the sculptor,

« has a clear-cut physiognomy, » he writes. The men talk about serious matters, especially politics, and even the young men look serious: there’s something decided, energetic and courageous in their eyes and in their posture (…) All the ladies and also the demoiselles look calm and thoughtful; they look as if they’ve come to see or attend important deliberations, rather than to be seen. »

Irish republican general Arthur O’Connor.

David met Lafayette’s comrade-in-arms, General Arthur O’Connor (1763-1852), a former Irish republican MP of the United Irishmen who had joined Lafayette’s volunteer General Staff in 1792.

Accused of stirring up trouble against the British Empire and in contact with General Lazare Hoche (1768-1797), O’Connor fled to France in 1796 and took part in the Irish Expedition. In 1807, O’Connor married the daughter of philosopher and mathematician Nicolas de Condorcet (1743-1794) and became a naturalized French citizen in 1818.

Republican chansonnier Pierre-Jean de Béranger, bust by David d’Angers.

Lafayette and David d’Angers often got together with a small group of friends, a few « brothers » who were members of Masonic lodges: such as the chansonnier Pierre-Jean de Béranger, François Chateaubriand, Benjamin Constant, Alexandre Dumas (who corresponded with Edgar Allan Poe), Alphonse Lamartine, Henri Beyle dit Stendhal and the painters François Gérard and Horace Vernet.

In these same circles, David also became acquainted with Henri (Abbé) Grégoire (1750-1831), and the issue of the abolition of slavery, which Grégoire had pushed through on February 4, 1794, was often raised. In their exchanges, Lafayette liked to recall the words of his youthful friend Nicolas de Condorcet:

« Slavery is a horrible barbarism, if we can only eat sugar at this price, we must know how to renounce a commodity stained with the blood of our brothers. »

For Abbé Gregoire, the problem went much deeper:

« As long as men are thirsty for blood, or rather, as long as most governments have no morals, as long as politics is the art of deceit, as long as people, unaware of their true interests, attach silly importance to the job of spadassin, and will allow themselves to be led blindly to the slaughter with sheep-like resignation, almost always to serve as a pedestal for vanity, almost never to avenge the rights of humanity, and to take a step towards happiness and virtue, the most flourishing nation will be the one that has the greatest facility for slitting the throats of others. »

(Essay on the physical, moral and political regeneration of the Jews)

Napoleon and slavery

The first abolition of slavery was, alas, short-lived. In 1802, Napoleon Bonaparte, short of the money needed to finance his wars, reintroduced slavery, and nine days later excluded colored officers from the French army.

Finally, he outlawed marriages between « fiancés whose skin color is different ». David d’Angers remained very sensitive to this issue, having as a comrade a very young writer, Alexandre Dumas, whose father had been born a slave in Haiti.

As early as 1781, under the pseudonym Schwarz (black in German), Condorcet had published a manifesto advocating the gradual disappearance of slavery over a period of 60 to 70 years, a view quickly shared by Lafayette. A fervent supporter of the abolitionist cause, Condorcet condemned slavery as a crime, but also denounced its economic uselessness: slave labor, with its low productivity, was an obstacle to the establishment of a market economy.

And even before the signing of the peace treaty between France and the United States, Lafayette wrote to his friend George Washington on February 3, 1783, proposing to join him in setting in motion a process of gradual emancipation of the slaves. He suggested a plan that would « frankly become beneficial to the black portion of mankind ».

The idea was to buy a small state in which to experiment with freeing slaves and putting them to work as farmers. Such an example, he explained, « could become a school and thus a general practice ». (NOTE 3)

Washington replied that he personally would have liked to support such a step, but that the American Congress (already) was totally hostile.

From the Society of Black Friends to the French Society for the Abolition of Slavery

Abbé Henri Grégoire, bust by David d’Angers.

In Paris, on February 19, 1788, Abbé Grégoire and Jacques Pierre Brissot (1754-1793) founded « La Société des amis des Noirs », whose rules were drawn up by Condorcet, and of which the Lafayette couple were also members.

The society’s aim was the equality of free whites and blacks in the colonies, the immediate prohibition of the black slave trade and the gradual abolition of slavery; on the one hand, to maintain the economy of the French colonies, and on the other, in the belief that before blacks could achieve freedom, they had to be prepared for it, and therefore educated.

After the virtual disappearance of the « Amis des Noirs », the offensive was renewed, with the founding in 1821 of the « Société de la Morale chrétienne », which in 1822 set up a « Comité pour l’abolition de la traite des Noirs », some of whose members went on to found the « Société française pour l’abolition de l’esclavage (SFAE) » in 1834.

Initially in favor of gradual abolition, the SFAE later favored immediate abolition. Prohibited from holding meetings, the SFAE decided to create abolitionist committees throughout the country to relay the desire to put an end to slavery, both locally and nationally.

Goethe and Schiller

Victor Pavie.

In the summer of 1829, David d’Angers made his first trip to Germany and met Goethe (1749-1832), the poet and philosopher who had retired to Weimar. Several posing sessions enabled the sculptor to complete his portrait.

Writer and poet Victor Pavie (1808-1886), a friend of Victor Hugo and one of the founders of the « Cercles catholiques ouvriers » (Catholic Workers Circle), accompagnied him on the trip and recounts some of the pictoresques anecdotes of their travel in his « Goethe and David, memories of a voyage to Weimar » (1874).

In 1827, the French newspaper Globe published two letters recounting two visits to Goethe, in 1817 and 1825, by an anonymous « friend » (Victor Cousin), as well as a letter from Ampère on his return from the « Athens of Germany ». In these letters, the young scientist expressed his admiration, and gave numerous details that whetted the interest of his compatriots. During his stay in Weimar, Ampère added to his host’s knowledge of Romantic authors, particularly Mérimée, Vigny, Deschamps and Delphine Gay. Goethe already had a (positive) opinion of Victor Hugo, Lamartine and Casimir Delavigne, and of all they owed to Chateaubriand.

A subscriber to the Globe since its foundation in 1824, Goethe had at his disposal a marvellous instrument of French information. In any case, he had little left to learn about France when David and Pavie visited him in August 1829. On the strength of his unhappy experience with Walter Scott in London, David d’Angers had taken precautions this time, and had a number of letters of recommendation for the people of Weimar, as well as two letters of introduction to Goethe, signed by Abbé Grégoire and Victor Cousin. To show the illustrious writer what he could do, he had placed some of his finest medallions in a crate.

Once in Weimar, David d’Angers and Victor Pavie encountered great difficulties in their quest, especially as the recipients of the letters of recommendation were all absent. Stricken with despair and fearing failure, David blamed his young friend Victor Pavie:

Friedrich Schiller, David d’Angers medallion.

« Yes, you jumped in with the optimism of a young man, without giving me time to think and get out of the way. It wasn’t as a coward or under the patronage of an adventurer, it was head-on and resolutely that we had to tackle the character. (…) You’re only as good as what you are, it’s a yes or no question. You know me, on my knees before genius, and imployable before power. Ah! court poets, great or small, everywhere the same!

(…) And with a leap from the chair where he had insensitively let himself fall: Where’s Schiller? I’d like to kiss him! His grave, where I will strike, will not remain sealed for me; I will take him there, and bring him back glorious. What does it matter? Have I seen Corneille, have I seen Racine? The bust I’m planning for him will look all the better for it; the flash of his genius will gleam on his forehead. I’ll make him as I love and admire him, not with the pinched nose that Dannecker (image below) gave him, but with nostrils swollen with patriotism and freedom.

Victor Pavie’s account reveals the republican fervor animating the sculptor who, faithful to the ideals of Abbé Grégoire, was already thinking about the great anti-slavery sculpture he planned to create:

« At that moment, the half-open window of our bedroom, yielding to the evening breeze, opened wide. The sky was superb; the Milky Way unfurled with such brilliance that one could have counted the stars. He (David) remained silent for some time, dazzled; then, with that suddenness of impression that incessantly renewed the realm of feelings and ideas around him:
‘What a work, what a masterpiece! How poor we are compared to this!Would all your geniuses in one, writers, artists, poets, ever reach this incomparable poem whose tasks are splendors? Yet God knows your insatiable pretensions; we flay you in praise… And light! Remember this (and his presentiments in this regard were nothing less than a chimera), that such a one as received a marble bust from me as a token of my admiration, will one day literally lose the memory of it. – No, there is nothing more noble and great in humanity than that which suffers. I still have in my head, or rather in my heart, this protest of the human conscience against the most execrable iniquity of our times, the slave trade: after ten years of silence and suffering, it must burst forth with the voice of brass. You can see the group from here: the garroted slave, his eye on the sky, protector and avenger of the weak; next to him, lying broken, his wife, in whose bosom a frail creature is sucking blood instead of milk; at their feet, detached from the negro’s broken collar, the crucifix, the Man-God who died for his brothers, black or white. Yes, the monument will be made of bronze, and when the wind blows, you will hear the chain beating, and the rings ringing' ».

Finally, Goethe met the two Frenchmen, and David d’Angers succeeded in making his bust of the German poet. Victor Pavie:

« Goethe bowed politely to us, spoke the French language with ease from the start, and made us sit down with that calm, resigned air that astonished me, as if it were a simple thing to find oneself standing at eighty, face to face with a third generation, to which he had passed on through the second, like a living tradition.

(…) David carried with him, as the saying goes, a sample of his skills.He presented the old man with a few of his lively profiles, so morally expressive, so nervously and intimately executed, part of a great whole that is becoming more complete with our age, and which reserves for the centuries to come the monumental physiognomy of the 19th century. Goethe took them in his hand, considered them mute, with scrupulous attention, as if to extract some hidden harmony, and let out a muffled, equivocal exclamation that I later recognized as a mark of genuine satisfaction.Then, by a more intelligible and flattering transition, of which he was perhaps unaware, walking to his library, he charmingly showed us a rich collection of medals from the Middle Ages, rare and precious relics of an art that could be said to have been lost, and of which our great sculptor David has nowadays been able to recover and re-immerse the secret.

(…) The bust project did not have to languish for long: the very next day, one of the apartments in the poet’s immense house was transformed into a workshop, and a shapeless mound lay on the parquet floor, awaiting the first breath of existence. As soon as it slowly shifted into a human form, Goethe’s hitherto calm and impassive figure moved with it. Gradually, as if a secret, sympathetic alliance had developed between portrait and model, as the one moved towards life, the other blossomed into confidence and abandonment: we soon came to those artist’s confidences, that confluence of poetry, where the ideas of the poet and the sculptor come together in a common mold. He would come and go, prowling around this growing mass, (to use a trivial comparison) with the anxious solicitude of a landowner building a house. He asked us many questions about France, whose progress he was following with a youthful and active curiosity; and frolicking at leisure about modern literature, he reviewed Chateaubriand, Lamartine, Nodier, Alfred de Vigny, Victor Hugo, whose manner he had seriously pondered in Cromwell.

(…) David’s bust, writes Pavie, was as beautiful as Chateaubriand’s, Lamartine’s, Cooper’s, as any application of genius to genius, as the work of a chisel fit and powerful to reproduce one of those types created expressly by nature for the habitation of a great thought. Of all the likenesses attempted, with greater or lesser success, in all the ages of this long glory, from his youth of twenty to Rauch’s bust, the last and best understood of all, it is no prevention to say that David’s is the best, or, to put it even more bluntly, the only realization of that ideal likeness which is not the thing, but is more than the thing, nature taken within and turned inside out, the outward manifestation of a divine intelligence passed into human bark. And there are few occasions like this one, when colossal execution seems no more than a powerless indication of real effect. An immense forehead, on which rises, like clouds, a thick tuft of silver hair; a downward gaze, hollow and motionless, a look of Olympian Jupiter; a nose of broad proportion and antique style, in the line of the forehead ; then that singular mouth we were talking about earlier, with the lower lip a little forward, that mouth, all examination, questioning and finesse, completing the top with the bottom, genius with reason; with no other pedestal than its muscular neck, this head leans as if veiled, towards the earth:it’s the hour when the setting genius lowers his gaze to this world, which he still lights with a farewell ray. Such is David’s crude description of Goethe’s statue.- What a pity that in his bust of Schiller, so famous and so praised, the sculptor Dannecker prepared such a miserable counterpart!

When Goethe received his bust, he warmly thanked David for the exchange of letters, books and medallions… but made no mention of the bust ! For one simple reason: he didn’t recognize himself at all in the work, which he didn’t even keep at home… The German poet was depicted with an oversized forehead, to reflect his great intelligence. And his tousled hair symbolized the torments of his soul…

David d’Angers and Hippolyte Carnot

Hippolyte Carnot, son of Lazare Carnot, painted by Jules Laure, 1837.

Among the founders of the SFAE (see earlier chapter on Abbé Grégoire) was Hippolyte Carnot (1801-1888), younger brother of Nicolas Sadi Carnot (1796-1832), pioneer of thermodynamics and son of « the organizer of victory », the military and scientific genius Lazare Carnot (1753-1823), whose work and struggle he recounted in his 1869 biography Mémoires sur Lazare Carnot 1753-1823 by his son Hippolyte.

In 1888, with the title Henri Grégoire, évêque (bishop) républicain, Hippolyte published the Mémoires of Grégoire the defender of all the oppressed of the time (negroes and Jews alike), a great friend of his father’s who had retained this friendship.

For the former bishop of Blois, « we must enlighten the ignorance that does not know and the poverty that does not have the means to know. »

Grégoire had been one of the Convention’s great « educators », and it was on his report that the Conservatoire des Arts-et-Métiers was founded on September 29, 1794, notably for the instruction of craftsmen. Grégoire also contributed to the creation of the Bureau des Longitudes on June 25, 1795 and the Institut de France on October 25, 1795.

Bust of Rouget de Lisle, David d’Angers.

Hippolyte Carnot and David d’Angers, who were friends, co-authored the Memoirs of Bertrand Barère de Vieuzac (1755-1841), who acted as a sort of Minister of Information on the Comité de Salut Public, responsible for announcing the victories of the Republican armies to the Convention as soon as they arrived.

It was also Abbé Grégoire who, in 1826, commissioned David d’Angers, with the help of his friend Béranger, to bring some material and financial comfort to Rouget de Lisle (1860-1836), the legendary author of La Marseillaise, composed in Strasbourg when, in his old age, the composer was languishing in prison for debt.

Overcoming the sectarianism of their time, here are three fervent republicans full of compassion and gratitude for a musical genius who never wanted to renounce his royalist convictions, but whose patriotic creation would become the national anthem of the young French Republic.

Provisional Government
of the Second Republic

Hippolyte Carnot.

All these battles, initiatives and mobilizations culminated in 1848, when, for two months and 15 days (from February 24 to May 9), a handful of genuine republicans became part of the « provisional government » of the Second Republic.

In such a short space of time, so many good measures were taken or launched! Hippolyte Carnot was the Minister of Public Instruction, determined to create a high level of education for all, including women, following the models set by his father for Polytechnique and Grégoire for Arts et Métiers.

Article 13 of the 1848 Constitution « guarantees citizens (…) free primary education ».

On June 30, 1848, the Minister of Public Instruction, Lazare Hippolyte Carnot, submitted a bill to the Assembly that fully anticipated the Ferry laws, by providing for compulsory elementary education for both sexes, free and secular, while guaranteeing freedom of teaching. It also provided for three years’ free training at a teacher training college, in return for an obligation to teach for at least ten years, a system that was to remain in force for a long time. He proposed a clear improvement in their salaries. He also urged teachers « to teach a republican catechism ».

A member of the provisional government, the great astronomer and scientist François Arago (1886-1853) was Minister for the Colonies, having been appointed by Gaspard Monge to succeed him at the Ecole Polytechnique, where he taught projective geometry. His closest friend was none other than Alexander von Humboldt, friend of Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Friedrich Schiller.

Bust by David d’Angers signed « To his honorable friend François Arago ».

He was another abolitionist activist who spent much of his adult life in Paris. Humboldt was a member of the Société d’Arcueil, formed around the chemist Claude-Louis Berthollet, where he also met, besides François Arago, Jean-Baptiste Biot and Louis-Joseph Gay-Lussac, with whom Humboldt became friends. They published several scientific articles together.

Humboldt and Gay-Lussac conducted joint experiments on the composition of the atmosphere, terrestrial magnetism and light diffraction, research that would later bear fruit for the great Louis Pasteur.

Napoleon, who initially wanted to expel Humboldt, eventually tolerated his presence. The Paris Geographical Society, founded in 1821, chose him as its president.

Humboldt, Arago, Schoelcher, David d’Angers and Hugo

Victor Schoelcher and the 1848 decree abolishing slavery in the French colonies.

Humboldt made no secret of his republican ideals. His Political Essay on the Island of Cuba (1825) was a bombshell. Too hostile to slavery practices, the work was banned from publication in Spain. London went so far as to refuse him access to its Empire.

Even more deplorably, John S. Trasher, who published an English-language version in 1856, removed the chapter devoted to slaves and the slave trade altogether! Humboldt protested vigorously against this politically motivated mutilation. Trasher was a slaveholder, and his redacted translation was intended to counter the arguments of North American abolitionists, who subsequently published the retracted chapter in the New York Herald and the US Courrier. Victor Schoelcher and the decree abolishing slavery in the French colonies.

In France, under Arago, the Under-Secretary of State for the Navy and the Colonies was Victor Schoelcher. He didn’t need much convincing to convince the astronomer that all the planets were aligned for him to act.

A Freemason, Schoelcher was a brother of David d’Angers’s lodge, « Les amis de la Vérité » (The Friends of Truth), also known as the Cercle social, in reality « a mixture of revolutionary political club, Masonic lodge and literary salon ».

On March 4, a commission was set up to resolve the problem of slavery in the French colonies. It was chaired by Victor de Broglie, president of the SFAE, to which five of the commission’s twelve members belonged. Thanks to the efforts of François Arago, Henri Wallon and above all Victor Schoelcher, its work led to the abolition of slavery on April 27.

Victor Hugo the abolitionist

Victor Hugo, bust by David d’Angers.

Victor Hugo was one of the advocates of the abolition of slavery in France, but also of equality between what were still referred to as « the races » in the 19th century. « The white republic and the black republic are sisters, just as the black man and the white man are brothers », Hugo asserted as early as 1859. For him, as all men were creations of God, brotherhood was the order of the day.

When Maria Chapman, an anti-slavery campaigner, wrote to Hugo on April 27, 1851, asking him to support the abolitionist cause, Hugo replied: « Slavery in the United States! » he exclaimed on May 12, « is there any more monstrous misinterpretation? » How could a republic with such a fine constitution preserve such a barbaric practice?

Eight years later, on December 2, 1859, he wrote an open letter to the United States of America, published by the free newspapers of Europe, in defense of the abolitionist John Brown, condemned to death.

Starting from the fact that « there are slaves in the Southern states, which indignifies, like the most monstrous counter-sense, the logical and pure conscience of the Northern states », he recounts Brown’s struggle, his trial and his announced execution, and concludes: « there is something more frightening than Cain killing Abel, it is Washington killing Spartacus ».

A journalist from Port-au-Prince, Exilien Heurtelou, thanked him on February 4, 1860. Hugo replied on March 31:

« Hauteville-House, March 31, 1860.

You are, sir, a noble sample of this black humanity so long oppressed and misunderstood.

From one end of the earth to the other, the same flame is in man; and blacks like you prove it. Was there more than one Adam? Naturalists can debate the question, but what is certain is that there is only one God.

Since there is only one Father, we are brothers.
It is for this truth that John Brown died; it is for this truth that I fight. You thank me for this, and I can’t tell you how much your beautiful words touch me.

There are neither whites nor blacks on earth, there are spirits; you are one of them. Before God, all souls are white.

I love your country, your race, your freedom, your revolution, your republic. Your magnificent, gentle island pleases free souls at this hour; it has just set a great example; it has broken despotism. It will help us break slavery. »

Also in 1860, the American Abolitionist Society, mobilized behind Lincoln, published a collection of speeches. The booklet opens with three texts by Hugo, followed by those by Carnot, Humboldt and Lafayette.

On May 18, 1879, Hugo agreed to preside over a commemoration of the abolition of slavery in the presence of Victor Schoelcher, principal author of the 1848 emancipation decree, who hailed Hugo as « the powerful defender of all the underprivileged, all the weak, all the oppressed of this world » and declared:

« The cause of the Negroes whom we support, and towards whom the Christian nations have so much to reproach, must have had your sympathy; we are grateful to you for attesting to it by your presence in our midst. »

A start for the better

Another measure taken by the provisional government of this short-lived Second Republic was the abolition of the death penalty in the political sphere, and the abolition of corporal punishment on March 12, as well as imprisonment for debt on March 19.

In the political sphere, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly were proclaimed on March 4. On March 5, the government instituted universal male suffrage, replacing the censal suffrage in force since 1815. At a stroke, the electorate grew from 250,000 to 9 million. This democratic measure placed the rural world, home to three quarters of the population, at the heart of political life for many decades to come. This mass of new voters, lacking any real civic training, saw in him a protector, and voted en masse for Napoleon III in 1851, 1860 and 1870.

Victor Hugo

Second bust of Victor Hugo, by David d’Angers.

To return to David d’Angers, a lasting friendship united him with Victor Hugo (1802-1885). Recently married, Hugo and David would meet to draw. The poet and the sculptor enjoyed drawing together, making caricatures, painting landscapes or « architectures » that inspired them.

A shared ideal united them, and with the arrival of Napoleon III, both men went into political exile.

Out of friendship, David d’Angers made several busts of his friend. Hugo is shown wearing an elegant contemporary suit.

His broad forehead and slightly frowning eyebrows express the poet’s greatness, yet to come. Refraining from detailing the pupils, David lends this gaze an inward, pensive dimension that prompted Hugo to write: « my friend, you are sending me immortality. »

In 1842, David d’Angers produced another bust of Victor Hugo, crowned with laurel, where this time it was not Hugo the close friend who was evoked, but rather the genius and great man.

Finally, for Hugo’s funeral in 1885, the Republic of Haiti wished to show its gratitude to the poet by sending a delegation to represent it. Emmanuel-Edouard, a Haitian writer, presided over the delegation, and made the following statement at the Pantheon:

The Republic of Haiti has the right to speak on behalf of the black race; the black race, through me, thanks Victor Hugo for having loved and honored it so much, for having strengthened and comforted it.

The four bas-reliefs
of the Gutenberg statue

Tour of the Gutenberg statue in Strasbourg by the author, July 8, 2023.

Once the reader has identified this « great arch » that runs through history, and the ideas and convictions that inspired David d’Angers, he will grasp the beautiful unity underlying the four bas-reliefs on the base of the statue commemorating Gutenberg in Strasbourg.

What stands out is the very optimistic idea that the human race, in all its great and magnificent diversity, is one and fraternal. Once freed from all forms of oppression (ignorance, slavery, etc.), they can live together in peace and harmony.

These bronze bas-reliefs were added in 1844. After bitter debate and contestation, they replaced the original 1840 painted plaster models affixed at the inauguration. They represent the benefits of printing in America, Africa, Asia and Europe. At the center of each relief is a printing press surrounded by characters identified by inscriptions, as well as schoolteachers, teachers and children.

To conclude, here’s an extract from the inauguration report describing the bas-reliefs. Without falling into wokism (for whom any idea of a « great man » is necessarily to be fought), let’s point out that it is written in the terms of the time and therefore open to discussion:

Dissemination of ideas in Europe thanks to the printing press.
Plaster model for the base of the statue of Gutenberg, David d’Angers.

« Europe
is represented by a bas-relief featuring René Descartes in a meditative attitude, beneath Francis Bacon and Herman Boerhaave. On the left are William Shakespeare, Pierre Corneille, Molière and Racine. One row below, Voltaire, Buffon, Albrecht Dürer, John Milton and Cimarosa, Poussin, Calderone, Camoëns and Puget. On the right, Martin Luther, Wilhelm Gottfried Leibniz, Immanuel Kant, Copernicus, Wolfgang Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, Hegel, Richter, Klopstock. Rejected on the side are Linné and Ambroise Parée. Near the press, above the figure of Martin Luther, Erasmus of Rotterdam, Rousseau and Lessing. Below the tier, Volta, Galileo, Isaac Newton, James Watt, Denis Papin and Raphaël. A small group of children study, including one African and one Asian.« 

Ideas spread to Asia thanks to the printing press.
Plaster model for the base of the statue of Gutenberg, David d’Angers.

« Asia.
A printing press is shown again, with William Jones and Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron offering books to Brahmins, who give them manuscripts in return. Near Jones, Sultan Mahmoud II is reading the Monitor in modern clothes, his old turban lies at his feet, and nearby a Turk is reading a book. One step below, a Chinese emperor surrounded by a Persian and a Chinese man is reading the Book of Confucius. A European instructs children, while a group of Indian women stand by an idol and the Indian philosopher Rammonhun-Roy.« 

Ideas spread to Africa thanks to the printing press. Plaster model for the base of the statue of Gutenberg, David d’Angers.

« Africa.
Leaning on a press, William Wilberforce hugs an African holding a book, while Europeans distribute books to other Africans and are busy teaching children. On the right, Thomas Clarkson can be seen breaking the shackles of a slave. Behind him, Abbé Grégoire helps a black man to his feet and holds his hand over his heart. A group of women raise their recovered children to the sky, which will now see only free men, while on the ground lie broken whips and irons. This is the end of slavery.« 

Ideas spread in America thanks to the printing press. Plaster model for the base of the statue of Gutenberg, David d’Angers.

« America.
The Act of Independence of the United States, fresh from the press, is in the hands of Benjamin Franklin. Next to him stand Washington and Lafayette, who holds the sword given to him by his adopted homeland to his chest. Jefferson and all the signatories of the Act of Independence are assembled. On the right, Bolivar shakes hands with an Indian. »


1884, Statue of Liberty construction site, rue de Chazelles, Paris 17th arrondissement.

We can better understand the words spoken by Victor Hugo on November 29, 1884, shortly before his death, during his visit to the workshop of sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, where the poet was invited to admire the giant statue bearing the symbolic name « Liberty Enlightening the World », built with the help of Gustave Eiffel and ready to leave for the United States by ship. A gift from France to America, it will commemorate the active part played by Lafayette’s country in the Revolutionary War.

Initially, Hugo was most interested in American heroes and statesmen: William Penn, Benjamin Franklin, John Brown and Abraham Lincoln. Role models, according to Hugo, who enabled the people to progress. For the French politician who became a Republican in 1847, America was the example to follow. Even if he was very disappointed by the American position on the death penalty and slavery.

After 1830, the writer abandoned this somewhat idyllic vision of the New World and attacked the white « civilizers » who hunted down Indians:

« You think you civilize a world, when you inflame it with some foul fever [4], when you disturb its lakes, mirrors of a secret god, when you rape its virgin, the forest. When you drive out of the wood, out of the den, out of the shore, your naive and dark brother, the savage… And when throwing out this useless Adam, you populate the desert with a man more reptilian… Idolater of the dollar god, madman who palpitates, no longer for a sun, but for a nugget, who calls himself free and shows the appalled world the astonished slavery serving freedom!« 

(NOTE 5)

Overcoming his fatigue, in front of the Statue of Liberty, Hugo improvised what he knew would be his last speech:

« This beautiful work tends towards what I have always loved, called: peace between America and France – France which is Europe – This pledge of peace will remain permanent. It was good that it was done!« 


1. If the phrase appears in the Book of Genesis, it could also refer to Notre-Dame de Paris (1831) a novel by Victor Hugo, a great friend of the statue’s sculptor, David d’Angers. We know from a letter Hugo wrote in August 1832 that the poet brought David d’Angers the eighth edition of the book. The scene most directly embodied in the statue is the one in which the character of Frollo converses with two scholars (one being Louis XI in disguise) while pointing with one finger to a book and with the other to the cathedral, remarking: « Ceci tuera cela » (This will kill that), i.e. that one power (the printed press), democracy, will supplant the other (the Church), theocracy, a historical evolution Hugo thought ineluctable.
2. It was the encounter with Asia that brought countless technical know-how and scientific discoveries from the East to Europe, the best-known being the compass and gunpowder. Just as essential to printing as movable type was paper, the manufacture of which was perfected in China at the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty (around the year 185). As for printing, the oldest printed book we have to date is the Diamond Sutra, a Chinese Buddhist scripture dating from 868. Finally, it was in the mid-11th century, under the Song dynasty, that Bi Sheng (990-1051) invented movable type. Engraved in porcelain, a viscous clay ceramic, hardened in fire and assembled in resin, they revolutionized printing. As documented by the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, it was the Korean Choe Yun-ui (1102-1162) who improved this technique in the 12th century by using metal (less fragile), a process later adopted by Gutenberg and his associates. The Anthology of Zen Teachings of Buddhist High Priests (1377), also known as the Jikji, was printed in Korea 78 years before the Gutenberg Bible, and is recognized as the world’s oldest book with movable metal type.
3. Etienne Taillemite, Lafayette and the abolition of slavery.
4. Victor Hugo undoubtedly wanted to rebound on the news that reached him from America. The Pacific Northwest smallpox epidemic of 1862, which was brought from San Francisco to Victoria, devastated the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest coast, with a mortality rate of over 50% along the entire coast from Puget Sound to southeast Alaska. Some historians have described the epidemic as a deliberate genocide, as the colony of Vancouver Island and the colony of British Columbia could have prevented it, but chose not to, and in a way facilitated it.
5. Victor Hugo, La civilisation from Toute la lyre (1888 and 1893).

Merci de partager !

With Kondiaronk and Leibniz, re-inventing a society without oligarchy

By Karel Vereycken, May 2023.

Helga Zepp-LaRouche, the founder of the Schiller Institute, in her keynote address to the Schiller Institute’s Nov. 22, 2022 videoconference, “For World Peace—Stop the Danger of Nuclear War: Third Seminar of Political and Social Leaders of the World,” called on world leaders to eradicate the evil principle of oligarchy.

Oligarchy is defined as a power structure in which power rests with a small number of people having certain characteristics (nobility, fame, wealth, education, or corporate, religious, political, or military control) and who impose their own power over that of their people.

To be precise, Zepp-LaRouche said :

“For 600 years, there has been a continuous battle between two forms of government, between the sovereign nation state and the oligarchical form of society, vacillating back and forth with sometimes a greater emphasis in this or that direction.
All empires based on the oligarchical model have been oriented towards protecting the privileges of the ruling elite, while trying to keep the masses of the population as backward as possible,
because as sheep they are easier to control (…)”

Now, unfortunately, most of the citizens of the transatlantic world and elsewhere will tell you that abolishing the oligarchical principle is “a good idea”, a “beautiful dream”, but that reality tells us “it can’t happen” for the very simple reason that “it never happened before”.

Societies, by definition, they argue, are in-egalitarian. Kings and Presidents of Republics, they argue, eventually might have “pretended” they ruled over the masses for their “common good”, but in reality, our fellow-citizens think, it was always the rule of a handful favoring their own interest over the majority.


Interesting for all of us, is that some leading thinkers involved in the BRICS movement, are trying to imagine new ways of collective rule excluding oligarchical principles.

For example, going in that direction, economist Pedro Paez, former advisor to Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, in his intervention at the April 15-16 Schiller Institute’s video conference, defended

“a new concept of currency based on monetary arrangements of clearing houses for regional payments, that can be joined into a world clearing house system, which could also prevent another type of unilateral, unipolar hegemony from arising, such as the one that was established with Bretton Woods, and that would instead open the doors to multipolar management”.

Also Belgian philosopher and theologian Marc Luyckx, a former member of the Jacques Delors famous taskforce « Cellule de Prospective » of the European Commission, in a video interview on the de-dollarization of the world economy, underlined that the BRICS countries are creating a world order whose nature makes it so that not a single member of their own group can become the dominant power.

The Dawn of Everything

The good news is that a mind-provoking, 700-page book, titled “The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity”, written and published in 2021 by the American anthropologist David Graeber and the British archaeologist David Wengrow, destroys the conventional notions of ancient human cultures making linear progress toward the neo-liberal economic model and therefore, by implication, high levels of inequality.

Even better, based on hard facts, the book largely debunks the “narrative” that oligarchical rule is somehow “natural”. Of course, the oligarchical principle ruled often and often for a long time. But, surprisingly, the book offers overwhelming indications and “hard facts” proving that in ancient times, some societies, though not all, which eventually prospered over centuries, through political choices, consciously adopted modes of governance preventing minority groups from permanently keeping a hegemonic grip over societies.

Zepp-LaRouche’s 10th point

The subject matter of this issue is intimately linked to the 10th point raised by Helga Zepp-LaRouche, which, in order to demonstrate that all sources of evil can be eradicated by education and political decision, that man’s natural inclination, is intrinsically to do the good. The very existence of historical precedents of societies surviving without oligarchy over hundreds of years, is of course, the “practical” proof of man’s axiomatic inclination to do the good.

Unsurprisingly, some argue that the issue of “good” and “evil” is nothing but a “theological debate”, since the concepts of “good” and “evil” are concepts made up by humans in order to compare themselves with one another. They argue it would never occur to anyone to argue about whether a fish, or a tree, were good or evil, since they lack any form of self-conscience enabling them to measure if their deeds and actions fulfill their own inclination or that of their creator.

Now, part of the “Biblical answer” to this question, if man is bad or evil, claims that people “once lived in a state of innocence”, yet were tainted by original sin. We desired to be godlike and have been punished for it; now we live in a fallen state while hoping for future redemption.

Overturning the evil Rousseau and Hobbes

Graeber and Wengrow, establishing the core argument of their entire book, demonstrate in a very provocative way how we got brainwashed by the pessimistic and destructive oligarchical ideology, especially that promoted by both Rousseau and Hobbes, for whom inequality is the natural state of man, a humanity which might have eventually been good as “a noble savage”, before becoming “civilized” and a society only surviving thanks to a “social contract” (voluntary bottom-up submission) or a “Leviathan” (top down dictatorship) :

Today, the popular version of this [biblical] story [of man thrown out of the Garden of Eden] is typically some updated variation on Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin and the Foundation of Inequality Among Mankind, which he wrote in 1754. Once upon a time, the story goes, we were hunter-gatherers, living in a prolonged state of childlike innocence, in tiny bands. These bands were egalitarian; they could be for the very reason that they were so small. It was only after the “Agricultural Revolution,” and then still more the rise of cities, that this happy condition came to an end, ushering in ‘civilization’ and ‘the state’—which also meant the appearance of written literature, science and philosophy, but at the same time, almost everything bad in human life: patriarchy, standing armies, mass executions and annoying bureaucrats demanding that we spend much of our lives filling in forms.

Of course, this is a very crude simplification, but it really does seem to be the foundational story that rises to the surface whenever anyone, from industrial psychologists to revolutionary theorists, says something like ‘but of course human beings spent most of their evolutionary history living in groups of ten or twenty people,’ or ‘agriculture was perhaps humanity’s worst mistake.’ And as we’ll see, many popular writers make the argument quite explicitly. The problem is that anyone seeking an alternative to this rather depressing view of history will quickly find that the only one on offer is actually even worse: if not Rousseau, then Thomas Hobbes.

Hobbes’s Leviathan, published in 1651, is in many ways the founding text of modern political theory. It held that, humans being the selfish creatures they are, life in an original State of Nature was in no sense innocent; it must instead have been ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’—basically, a state of war, with everybody fighting against everybody else. Insofar as there has been any progress from this benighted state of affairs, a Hobbesian would argue, it has been largely due to exactly those repressive mechanisms that Rousseau was complaining about: governments, courts, bureaucracies, police. This view of things has been around for a very long time as well. There’s a reason why, in English, the words ‘politics’ ‘polite’ and ‘police’ all sound the same—they’re all derived from the Greek word polis, or city, the Latin equivalent of which is civitas, which also gives us ‘civility,’ ‘civic’ and a certain modern understanding of ‘civilization.

Human society, in this view, is founded on the collective repression of our baser instincts, which becomes all the more necessary when humans are living in large numbers in the same place. The modern-day Hobbesian, then, would argue that, yes, we did live most of our evolutionary history in tiny bands, who could get along mainly because they shared a common interest in the survival of their offspring (‘parental investment,’ as evolutionary biologists call it). But even these were in no sense founded on equality. There was always, in this version, some ‘alpha-male’ leader. Hierarchy and domination, and cynical self-interest, have always been the basis of human society. It’s just that, collectively, we have learned it’s to our advantage to prioritize our long-term interests over our short-term instincts; or, better, to create laws that force us to confine our worst impulses to socially useful areas like the economy, while forbidding them everywhere else

As the reader can probably detect from our tone, we don’t much like the choice between these two alternatives. Our objections can be classified into three broad categories. As accounts of the general course of human history, they:
1) simply aren’t true;
2) have dire political implications and
3) make the past needlessly dull.”

As a consequence of the victory of imperial models of political power, the only accepted “narrative” of man’s “evolution”, automatically validating an oligarchical grip over society, is that which allows “confirming” the pre-agreed-upon dogma erected as immortal “truth”. And any historical findings or artifacts contradicting or invalidating the Rousseau-Hobbes narrative will be, at best, declared anomalies.

Open our eyes

Graeber and Wengrow’s book is an attempt

“to tell another, more hopeful and more interesting story; one which, at the same time, takes better account of what the last few decades of research have taught us. Partly, this is a matter of bringing together evidence that has accumulated in archaeology, anthropology and kindred disciplines; evidence that points towards a completely new account of how human societies developed over roughly the last 30,000 years. Almost all of this research goes against the familiar narrative, but too often the most remarkable discoveries remain confined to the work of specialists, or have to be teased out by reading between the lines of scientific publications.”

To give just a sense of how different the emerging picture is:

“[I]t is clear now that human societies before the advent of farming were not confined to small, egalitarian bands. On the contrary, the world of hunter-gatherers as it existed before the coming of agriculture was one of bold social experiments, resembling a carnival parade of political forms, far more than it does the drab abstractions of evolutionary theory. Agriculture, in turn, did not mean the inception of private property, nor did it mark an irreversible step towards inequality. In fact, many of the first farming communities were relatively free of ranks and hierarchies. And far from setting class differences in stone, a surprising number of the world’s earliest cities were organized on robustly egalitarian lines, with no need for authoritarian rulers,
ambitious warrior-politicians, or even bossy administrators.”

Kondiaronk, Leibniz and the Enlightenment

In fact, Rousseau’s story, argue the authors, was in part a response to critiques of European civilization, which began in the early decades of the 18th century. “The origins of that critique, however, lie not with the philosophers of the Enlightenment (much though they initially admired and imitated it), but with indigenous commentators and observers of European society, such as the Native American (Huron-Wendat) statesman Kondiaronk,” and many others.

And when prominent thinkers, such as Leibniz, “urged his patriots to adopt Chinese models of statecraft, there is a tendency for contemporary historians to insist they weren’t really serious”.

However, many influential Enlightenment thinkers did in fact claim that some of their ideas on the subject of inequality were directly taken from Chinese or Native American sources!

Just as Leibniz became familiar with Chinese civilization through his contact with the Jesuit missions, the ideas from Native Americans reached Europe by way of books such as the widely read seventy-one-volume report The Jesuit Relations, published between 1633 and 1673.

While today, we would think personal freedom is a good thing, this was not the case for the Jesuits complaining about the Native Americans. The Jesuits were opposed to freedom in principle:

“This, without doubt, is a disposition quite contrary to the spirit of the Faith, which requires us to submit not only our wills, but our minds, our judgments, and all the sentiments of man
to a power unknown to the laws and sentiments of corrupt nature.”

Jesuit father Jérôme Lallemant, whose correspondence provided an initial model for The Jesuit Relations, noted of the Wendat Indians in 1644: “I do not believe that there is a people on earth freer than they, and less able to allow to the subjection of their wills to any power whatever”.

Jesuit father Paul Le Jeune.

Even more worrisome, their high level of intelligence. Father Paul Le Jeune, Superior of the Jesuits in Canada in the 1630:

“There are almost none of them incapable of conversing or reasoning very well, and in good terms, on matters within their knowledge. The councils, held almost every day in the Villages, and on almost all matters, improve their capacity for talking”.

Or in Lallemant’s words:

“I can say in truth that, as regards intelligence, they are in no ways inferior to Europeans and to those who dwell in France. I would never have believed that, without instruction, nature could have supplied a most ready and vigorous eloquence, which I have admired in many Hurons (American Natives); or more clear-nearsightedness in public affairs, or a more discreet management in things to which they are accustomed”.

(The Jesuit Relations, vol. XXVIII, p. 62.)

Some Jesuits went much further, noting – not without a trace of frustration – that New World “savages” seemed rather cleverer overall than the people they were used to dealing with at home.

The ideas of Native Indian statesman Kondiaronk (c. 1649–1701), known as “The Rat” and the Chief of the Native American Wendat people at Michilimackinac in New France, reached Leibniz via an impoverished French aristocrat named Louis-Armand de Lom d’Arce, Baron de la Hontan, better known as Lahontan.

In 1683, Lahontan, age 17, joined the French army and was posted in Canada. In his various missions, he became fluent in both Algonkian and Wendat and good friends with a number of indigenous political figures, including the brilliant Wendat statesman Kondiaronk. The latter impressed many French observers with his eloquence and brilliance and frequently met with the royal governor, Count Louis de Buade de Frontenac. Kondiaronk himself, as Speaker of the Council (their governing body) of the Wendat Confederation, is thought to have been sent as an ambassador to the Court of the French King, Louis XIV, in 1691.

The Great Peace of Montreal

Kandiaronk calling on over a thousand of native americans to engage in peaceful relationship.

Even after being betrayed by the French, and obliged to conduct his own wars to secure his fellow men, Kondiaronk, played a key role in what is remembered as the “Great Peace of Montreal” of August 1, 1701, which ended the bloody Beaver Wars, in reality proxy wars between the British and the French, each of them using the native Indians as “cannon fodder” for their own geopolitical schemes

France was increasingly cornered by the British. Therefore, at the request of the French, in the summer of 1701, more than 1,300 Indians, from forty different nations, gathered near Montreal, dispite the fact that the city was ravaged by influenza. They came from the Mississippi Valley, the Great Lakes, and Acadia. Many were lifelong enemies, but all had responded to an invitation from the French governor. Their future and the fate of the colony were at stake. Their goal was to negotiate a comprehensive peace, among themselves and with the French. The negotiations dragged on for days, and peace was far from being guaranteed. The chiefs were wary. The main stumbling block to peace was the return of prisoners who had been captured during previous campaigns and enslaved or adopted.

Without Kondiaronk’s support, peace was unattainable. On August 1, seriously ill, he spoke for two hours in favor of a peace treaty that would be guaranteed by the French. Many were moved by his speech. The following night, Kondiaronk died, struck down by influenza at the age of 52.

But the next day, the peace treaty was signed. From now on there would be no more wars between the French and the Indians. Thirty-eight nations signed the treaty, including the Iroquois. The Iroquois promised to remain neutral in any future conflict between the French and the Iroquois’ former allies, the English colonists of New England.

Kondiaronk was praised by the French and presented as a “model” of peace-loving natives. The Jesuits immediately put out the lie that, just before dying, he had “converted” to the Catholic faith in the hope other natives would follow his model.

Lahontan from Amsterdam to Hanover

Now, following various events, Lahontan ended up in Amsterdam. In order to make a living he wrote a series of books about his adventures in Canada, the third one entitled Curious Dialogues with a Savage of Good Sense Who Has Travelled (1703), comprising four dialogues with a fictional figure, “Adario” (in reality Kondiaronk), which were rapidly translated into German, Dutch, English, and Italian. Lahontan, himself, gaining some sort of celebrity, settled in Hannover, where he befriended the great philosopher and scientist Wilhelm Gottfried Leibniz.

On the lookout for everything that was being discussed in Europe, the philosopher, then 64 years old, seems to have been put on the track of Lahontan by Dutch and German journalists, but also by the text of an obscure theologian from Helmstedt, Conrad Schramm, whose introductory lecture, the « The Stammering Philosophy of the Canadians », had been published in Latin in 1707. Referring first to Plato and Aristotle (which he abandoned almost immediately), Schramm used the Dialogues and the Memoirs of Lahontan to show how the « Canadian barbarians knock on the door of philosophy but do not enter because they lack the means or are locked into their customs”.

Far less narrow-minded, Leibniz saw in Lahontan a confirmation of his own political optimism, which allowed him to affirm that the birth of society does not come from the need to get out of a terrible state of war, as Thomas Hobbes believed, but from a natural aspiration to concord.

But what captured his main interest, was not so much whether the “American savages” were capable, or not, of philosophizing, but whether they really lived in concord without government.

To his correspondent Wilhelm Bierling, who asked him how the Indians of Canada could live “in peace although they have neither laws nor public magistracies [tribunals]”, Leibniz replied:

“It is quite true […] that the Americans of these regions live together without any government but in peace; they know neither fights, nor hatreds, nor battles, or very few, except against men of different nations and languages.
I would almost say that this is a political miracle,
unknown to Aristotle and ignored by Hobbes.”

Leibniz, who claimed to know Lahontan well, underlined that Adario, “who came in France a few years ago and who, even if he belongs to the Huron nation, judged its institutions superior to ours.”

This conviction of Leibniz will be expressed again in his Judgment on the works of M. le Comte Shaftesbury, published in London in 1711 under the title of Charactersticks:

« The Iroquois and the Hurons, savages neighboring New France and New England, have overturned the too universal political maxims of Aristotle and Hobbes. They have shown, by their super-prominent conduct, that entire peoples can be without magistrates and without quarrels, and that consequently men are neither sufficiently motivated by their good nature, nor sufficiently forced by their wickedness to provide themselves with a government and to renounce their liberty. But these savages shows that it is not so much the necessity, as the inclination to go to the best and to approach felicity, by mutual assistance, which makes the foundation of societies and states; and it must be admitted that security is the most essential point”.

While these dialogues are often downplayed as fictional and therefore merely invented for the sake of literature, Leibniz, in a letter to Bierling dated November 10, 1719, responded: « The Lahontan’s Dialogues, although not entirely true, are not completely invented either.”

As a matter of fact, Lahontan himself, in the preface to the dialogues, wrote:

“When I was in the village of this [Native] American, I took on the agreeable task of carefully noting all his arguments. No sooner had I returned from my trip to the Canadian lakes than I showed my manuscript to Count Frontenac, who was so pleased to read it that he made the effort to help me put these Dialogues into their present state.”

People today tend to forget that tape-recorders weren’t around in those days.

For Leibniz, of course, political institutions were born of a natural aspiration to happiness and harmony. In this perspective, Lahontan’s work does not contribute to the construction of a new knowledge; it only confirms a thesis Leibniz had already constituted.

A critical view on the Europeans and the French in particular

Hence, Lahontan, in his memoirs, says that Native Americans, such as Kondiaronk, who had been in France,

“were continually teasing us with the faults and disorders they observed in our towns, as being occasioned by money. There’s no point in trying to remonstrate with them about how useful the distinction of property is for the support of society: they make a joke of everything you say on that account. In short, they neither quarrel nor fight, nor slander one another; they scoff at arts and sciences, and laugh at the difference of ranks which is observed with us. They brand us for slaves, and call us miserable souls, whose life is not worth having, alleging that we degrade ourselves in subjecting ourselves to one man [the king] who possesses all power, and is bound by no law but his own will.”

Lahontan continues:

“They think it unaccountable that one man should have more than another,
and that the rich should have more respect than the poor.
In short, they say, the name of savages, which we bestow upon them, would fit ourselves better,
since there is nothing in our actions that bears an appearance of wisdom.”

In his dialogue with Kondiaronk, Lahontan tells him that if the wicked remained unpunished, we would become the most miserable people of the earth. Kondiaronk responds:

“For my part, I find it hard to see how you could be much more miserable than you already are. What kind of human, what species or creature, most Europeans be, that they have to be forced to do the good, and only refrain from evil because of fear of punishment?… You have observed we lack judges. What is the reason for that? Well, we never bring lawsuits against one another. And why do we never bring lawsuits? Well because we made a decision neither to accept or make use of money. And why do we refuse to allow money in our communities? The reason is this: we are determined not to have laws – because, since the world was a world, our ancestors have been able to live contentedly without them.”

Brother Gabriel Sagard, a French Recollect Friar, reported that the Wendat people were particularly offended by the French lack of generosity to one another:

“They reciprocate hospitality and give such assistance to one another that the necessities of all are provided for without there being any indigent beggar in their towns and villages;
and they considered it a very bad thing when they heard it said
that there were in France a great many of these needy beggars,
and thought that this was for lack of charity in us, and blamed us for it severely”.

Money, thinks Kondiaronk, creates an environment that encourages people to behave badly:

I have spent six years reflecting on the state of European society and I still can’t think of a single way they act that’s not inhuman, and I genuinely think this can only be the case, as long as you stick to your distinctions of ‘mine’ and ‘thine’. I affirm that what you call money is the devil of devils; the tyrant of the French, the source of all evils; the bane of souls and the slaughterhouse of the living. To imagine one can live in the country of money and preserve one’s soul is like imagining one could preserve one’s life at the bottom of a lake. Money is the father of luxury, lasciviousness, intrigues, trickery, lies, betrayal, insincerity, – all of the world’s worst behaviors. Fathers sell their children, husbands their wives, wives betray their husbands, brothers kill each other, friends are false, and all because of money. In the light of all this, tell me that we Wendat are not right in refusing to touch, or so much as to look at money?”

In the third footnote of his speech on the origins on inequality, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who invented the idea of the “noble savage” presumably existing before man engaged in agriculture, himself refers to

“those happy nations, who do not know even the names of the vices
which we have such trouble controlling,
of those American savages whose simple and natural ways of keeping public order
Montaigne does not hesitate to prefer to Plato’s laws…”

Europeans refusing to return

Another observation is that of Swedish botanist Peher Kalm, who, in 1749, was astonished by the fact that a large number of Europeans, exposed to Aboriginal life, did not want to return:

“It is also remarkable that the greater part of the European prisoners who, on the occasion of the war, were taken in this way and mixed with the Indians, especially if they were taken at a young age, never wanted to return to their country of origin afterwards, even though their father and mother or close relatives came to see them to try to persuade them to do so, and they themselves had every freedom to do so. But they found the Indians’ independent way of life preferable to that of the Europeans; they adopted native clothing and conformed in every way to the Indians, to the point where it is difficult to distinguish them from the Indians, except that their skin and complexion are slightly whiter. We also know of several examples of Frenchmen who have voluntarily married native women and adopted their way of life; on the other hand, we have no example of an Indian marrying a European woman and adopting her way of life; if he happens to be taken prisoner by the Europeans during a war, he always looks for an opportunity, on the contrary, to return home, even if he has been detained for several years and has enjoyed all the freedoms that a European can enjoy.”

Before Lahontan:
Thomas More’s Utopians

In 1492, as the joke goes, “America discovered Columbus, a Genoese captain lost at sea”. The mission he had been entrusted with was motivated by a variety of intentions, not least the idea of reaching, by traveling west, China, a continent thought to be populated by vast populations unaware of Christ’s inspiring and optimistic message, and therefore in urgent need of evangelization.

Unfortunately, two years later, a less theological interest arose when, on June 7, 1494, the Portuguese and Spanish signed the Treaty of Tordesillas at the Vatican, under the supervision of Pope Alexander IV (Borgia), dividing the entire world between two dominant world powers:

  • the Spanish Empire under top-down control of the continental Habsburg/Venice alliance;
  • the Portuguese Empire under that of the banking cartel of Genoese maritime slave traders.

This didn’t stop the best European humanists, two centuries before Lahontan, from raising their voices and showing that some of the so-called “savages” of the United States had virtues and qualities absolutely worthy of consideration and possibly lacking here in Europe.

Such was the case with Erasmus of Rotterdam and his close friend and collaborator Thomas More, who shared what are thought to be their views on America in a little book entitled “U-topia” (meaning ‘any’ place), jointly written and published in 1516 in Leuven, Belgium.

By instinct, the reports they received of America and the cultural characteristics of its natives, led them to believe that they were dealing with some lost colony of Greeks or even the famous lost continent of Atlantis described by Plato in both his Timaeus and Critias.

In More’s Utopia, the Portuguese captain Hythlodeus describes a highly organized civilization: it has flat-hulled ships and “sails made of sewn papyrus”, made up of people who “like to be informed about what’s going on in the world” and whom he “believes to be Greek by origin”.

At one point he says:

“Ah, if I were to propose what Plato imagined in his Republic, or what the Utopians put into practice in theirs, these principles, although far superior to ours – and they certainly are –
might come as a surprise, since with us, everyone owns his property,
whereas there, everything is held in common.”
(no private property).

As far as religion is concerned, the Utopians (like the Native Americans)

“have different religions but, just as many roads lead to one and the same place, all their aspects, despite their multiplicity and variety, converge towards the worship of the divine essence. That’s why nothing can be seen or heard in their temples except what is consistent with all beliefs.
The particular rites of each sect are performed in each person’s home;
public ceremonies are performed in a common place;
Public ceremonies are performed in a form that in no way contradicts them.« 

And to conclude :

Some worship the Sun, others the Moon or some other planet (…) The majority, however, and by far the wisest, reject these beliefs, but recognize a unique god, unknown, eternal, in-commensurable, impenetrable, inaccessible to human reason, spread throughout our universe in the manner, not of a body, but of a power. They call him Father, and relate to him alone the origins, growth, progress, vicissitudes and decline of all things. They bestow divine honors on him alone (…) Moreover, despite the multiplicity of their beliefs, the other Utopians at least agree on the existence of a supreme being, creator and protector of the world.”

Exposing the trap of woke ideology

Does that mean that “all Europeans were evil” and that “all Native Americans were good”? Not at all! The authors don’t fall for such simplistic generalizations and “woke” ideology in general.

For example, even with major similarities, the cultural difference between the First Nation of the Canadian Northwest Coast and those of California, was as big as that between Athens and Sparta in Greek antiquity, the first a republic, the latter an oligarchy.

Different people and different societies, at different times, made experiments and different political choices about the axiomatics of their culture.

While in California, forms of egalitarian and anti-oligarchical self-government erupted, in some areas of the north, oligarchical rule prevailed:

“[F]rom the Klamath River northwards, there existed societies dominated by warrior aristocrats engaged in frequent inter-group raiding, an in which, traditionally, a significant portion of the population had consisted of chattel slaves. This apparently had been true as long as anyone living there could remember.”

Northwest societies took delight in displays of excess, notably during festivals known as “potlach” sometimes culminating in

“the sacrificial killing of slaves (…) In many ways, the behavior or Northwest Coast aristocrats resembles that of Mafia dons, with their strict codes of honor and patronage relations; or what sociologists speak of as ‘court societies’ – the sort of arrangement one might expect in, say, feudal Sicily, from which the Mafia derived many of its cultural codes.”

So, the first point made by the authors is that the infinite diversity of human societies has to be taken into account. Second, instead of merely observing the fact, the authors underline that these diversities very often didn’t result from “objective” conditions, but from political choices. That also carries the very optimistic message, that choices different from the current world system, can become reality if people rise to the challenge of changing them for the better.

Urbanization before agriculture

The boulders you see in the photo, weighing several tonnes and measuring up to almost 7 metres in height, are at least 11,000 years old according to C14 radiocarbon analysis. They are just a few of the many pillars that made up the settlement of Göbekli Tepe, on the border between Turkey and Syria. The civilization that built this settlement and others like it still has no name. In fact, until recently, their existence was totally unknown.

In the largest part of the book, the authors depict the life of hunter-gatherers living thousands of years before the agricultural revolution but able to create huge urban complexes and eventually ruling without a dominant oligarchy.

The book identifies examples in China, Peru, the Indus Valley (Mohenjo-Daru), Ukraine ((Taljanki, Maidenetske, Nebelivka), Mexico (Tlaxcala), the USA (Poverty Point), and Turkey (Catalhoyuk), where large-scale, city-level living was taking place (from about 10,000 BC to 6,000 BC).

But these didn’t involve a ruling caste or aristocratic class; they were explicitly egalitarian in their house building and market trading; made many innovations in plumbing and street design; and were part of continental networks which shared best practice. The agricultural revolution was not a “revolution”, the book argues, but rather a continual transformative process spread across thousands of years when hunter-gatherers were able to flexibly organize themselves into mega-sites (several thousand inhabitants), organized without centers or monumental buildings, but built with standardized houses, comfortable for daily life, all of this achieved without static hierarchies, kings, or overwhelming bureaucracy.

Another case in point is the example of Teotihuacan, which rivaled Rome in grandeur between about 100 BC and 600 AD, where, following a political revolution in 300 AD, an egalitarian culture embarked on a massive social housing program designed to give all residents decent quarters.


Living today, it is very difficult for most of us to imagine that a society, a culture, or a civilization, could survive over centuries without a centralized, forcibly hierarchical power structure.

While, as the authors indicate, archaeological evidence, if we are ready to look at it, tell us the contrary. But are we ready to challenge our own prejudices?

« King-Priest » of Mohenjo-Daro (Indus Valley, Pakistan).

As an example of such self-inflicted blindness, worth mentioning is the case of the “King-Priest”, a small male carved figure showing a neatly bearded man, found during the excavation of the ruined Bronze Age city of Mohenjo-daro (Pakistan), dated to around 2000 BC and considered « the most famous stone sculpture » of the Indus Valley civilization. While in Mohenjo-Daro there exists neither a royal palace or tomb, nor a religious temple of any nature, British archaeologists immediately called it a “King-Priest”, because very simply “it can’t be otherwise”.

Reading Graeber and Wengrow’s book obliges us to adjust our views and become optimistic. They show that radically different human systems are not only possible but have been tried many times by our species. In a public talk in 2022, Wengrow presented what he sees as lessons for the political present from the past, where human beings were much more fluid, conscious and experimental with their social and economic structures :

“Now what do all these details amount to? What does it all mean? Well, at the very least, I’d suggest it’s really a bit far-fetched these days to cling to this notion that the invention of agriculture meant a departure from some egalitarian Eden. Or to cling to the idea that small-scale societies are especially likely to be egalitarian, while large-scale ones must necessarily have kings, presidents and top-down structures of management. And there are also some contemporary implications. Take, for example, the commonplace notion that participatory democracy is somehow natural in a small community—or perhaps an activist group—but couldn’t possibly have a scale-up for anything like a city, a nation or even a region. Well, actually, the evidence of human history, if we’re prepared to look at it, suggests the opposite. If cities and regional confederacies, held together mostly by consensus and cooperation, existed thousands of years ago, who’s to stop us creating them again today with technologies that allow us to overcome the friction of distance and numbers? Perhaps it’s not too late to begin learning from all this new evidence of the human past, even to begin imagining what other kinds of civilization we might create if we can just stop telling ourselves that this particular world is the only one possible.”

Merci de partager !

Francisco Goya et la révolution américaine


Figure 4 : Goya, Colosse ou Le géant, 1808.

Version espagnole de ce texte :
Francisco Goya, la Revolución Americana y el combate contra el hombre bestia sinarquista
pdf texte espagnol: Goya ESPAGNOL

pdf de la version anglaise parue dans la revue Fidelio:
Francesco Goya, the American Revolution and the Fight against Synarchist Beast-Man


En réduisant la perception de l’oeuvre de Francisco Goya (1746-1828) à un gros plan sur une petite série de tableaux illustrant des pièces littéraires traitant de sorcellerie, dont l’imagerie se retrouve dans les Caprichos et se manifeste avec force dans les pinturas negras (peintures noires), la contre-révolution romantique à subrepticement réussi à ternir dans l’esprit du grand public, l’image de cet homme puissant et révolutionnaire.

La satire sociale de Goya, animée par une ironie toute érasmienne qui lui a valu le qualificatif de « Rabelais espagnol », ainsi que son sens profond du sublime, proche de celui du poète allemand Friedrich Schiller, furent systématiquement présentés comme l’expression d’un art fantastique, grotesque et bizarre, [1] fruit monstrueux d’un esprit malade. [2]

La restauration monarchique de 1814, dont le franquisme fut le dernier avatar, a volontairement retardé des recherches sérieuses sur Goya et son oeuvre, recherches qui, jusqu’à récemment, se sont avérées plus fructueuses à l’étranger que dans la sphère hispanique.

C’est évidemment la calomnie dévalorisante que l’oligarchie réserve aux génies de l’humanité en les enfermant dans le tiroir des aliénés, surtout quand l’artiste en question se déchaîne en ironies polémiques contre le socle même du pouvoir oligarchique : le poison de la médiocrité.

En bref, si Goya est un artiste inconnu de grande renommée, c’est le résultat d’une opération classique de dénigrement qu’on infligea à bien d’autres avant lui, notamment à Jérôme Bosch, Edgar Allan Poe ou à l’encontre de Lyndon LaRouche aujourd’hui, pour ne nommer qu’eux.

autoportrait goya

Figure 1 : Goya, Autoportrait, 1815. Goya est âgé de 69 ans ; une grande détermination émane du regard qui nous invite à partager une vision de l’homme libéré des « préjugés habituels et des pratiques trompeuses que la coutume, l’ignorance ou l’intérêt égoïste ont fait accepter comme habituelles. »

Goya, vous ne méritez pas seulement la mort, mais la potence. Si nous vous pardonnons, c’est parce que nous vous admirons.

Ferdinand VII en 1814

Tout comme pour l’oeuvre de Rabelais, on n’échappe pas à un minimum d’effort (chose insupportable pour le baby-boomer moyen) pour pénétrer le langage imagé de Goya. En vous livrant quelques faits saillants de son siècle et de sa vie, je tenterai ici de fournir quelques clés vous permettant de cerner la géométrie de son âme et d’accorder le rythme de votre coeur au sien.

Combattant le despotisme, tout en occupant un poste sensible comme peintre au service du Roi, et brutalement frappé de surdité à l’âge de 47 ans, [3] Goya, résistance oblige, est un familier du secret.

Traité initialement comme un habile artisan, il passera les dix-sept premières années de sa carrière à concevoir des cartons à thème bucolique aseptisé pour des tapisseries destinées à égayer les salles à manger des palais de la royauté ; sans oublier les fresques bondieusardes à la mode vénitienne, si prisées, où il était passé maître. Pendant ce temps-là, il s’enrichit et prend plaisir à observer la cour, côté coulisses.

Mais son idéal bouillonne en lui et il remplit jour après jour des cahiers de dessins qu’il réserve à « l’invention », couchant sur le papier le développement de ses idées. Ces carnets seront une fontaine inépuisable de blagues, caricatures, tableaux, ainsi que de nombreuses gravures rarement publiées de son vivant. [4]

Figure 2. Personne ne se connaît, eau-forte, Los Caprichos N°6.

Ils seront notamment la base d’une satire sociale et philosophique, les Caprichos, une série de quatre-vingts eaux-fortes inspirées par l’art de la caricature, alors en plein essor en Angleterre (Gilmore, Hogarth, etc.) et des Scherzi de Tiepolo, fresquiste rococo actif en Espagne.

Par exemple, sous le dessin préparant la sixième gravure de sa série, il note : « Le monde est une mascarade : visage, costume et voix, tout est faux. Tous veulent paraître ce qu’ils ne sont pas, tous trompent et personne ne se connaît. »

Goya s’invite au bal masqué de son époque, mais ne sera jamais dupe des faux-nez dont il deviendra le poil à gratter. Son oeuvre n’est pas sans rappeler le Don Giovanni de Mozart.

On y dévoile toute la bouffonnerie des petimetres (du français petits-maîtres, ces bellâtres imitant la mode bien vénitienne de la cour de Versailles), et comment, derrière cette vaste Commedia del Arte des belles manières si galantes, se cachent les intrigues brutales réglées à coups de stylets ou d’empoisonnements, si familiers à la noblesse, sans oublier l’esprit de ceux qui, peut-être pire encore, essaient de leur ressembler !

Pour sortir de ce vaste Carnaval de Venise, Goya appelle de ses voeux une société qui jette bas les masques, afin que la vérité, souvent symbolisée par une belle femme, puisse se lever et éclairer le monde de la lumière de sa raison afin d’écrire une histoire différente pour l’humanité.


Figure 3 : Allégorie de la Constitution de 1812. Au centre, une jeune femme tenant un livre (la constitution de 1812) et un petit sceptre. Pendant qu’un vieillard ailé, allégorie du temps, la protège des ténèbres, la vérité (toute nue) écrit l’histoire.

Le 6 février 1799 est un de ces moments-là. C’est le jour de la mise en vente de pas moins de trois cents séries (je dis bien 300 x 80 = 24 000 tirages…) des « Caprichos, langage universel, dessiné et gravé par Francisco de Goya », dans la boutique du parfumeur, située en bas de son immeuble, car nul libraire n’avait osé s’y risquer.

Le même jour, Goya passe une annonce dans le quotidien local Diario de Madrid informant le public de cette vente :

L’auteur nourrit la conviction que c’est aussi propre à la peinture de critiquer l’erreur humaine et le vice, qu’il l’est pour la poésie et la prose, bien qu’on attribue le plus souvent le rôle de la critique à la littérature. Il (l’auteur) a sélectionné parmi les innombrables bêtises et folies qu’on retrouve dans toute société civilisée – ainsi que parmi les préjugés habituels et les pratiques trompeuses que la coutume, l’ignorance ou l’intérêt égoïste ont fait accepter comme habituelles, ces sujets-là qu’il sent comme le matériau le plus propice à la satire, et qui, de même, stimulent le plus l’imagination de l’artiste.

« Puisque la plupart des sujets sont imaginés, ce n’est pas irraisonnable d’espérer que les connaisseurs ne s’arrêteront pas aux défauts. (…) Le public n’est pas si ignorant du domaine des beaux arts que l’auteur soit obligé de spécifier que sa satire de défauts personnels ne vise aucune personne particulière dans aucune de ses compositions. Pareille satire spécifique imposerait des limites indues aux talents de l’artiste, et confond la façon dont la perfection doit être atteinte par l’imitation de la nature. La peinture (comme la poésie) choisit parmi les universaux ce qui lui est le plus approprié. Ainsi elle réunit dans un seul être imaginaire des circonstances et des caractéristiques que la nature fait apparaître dans une multiplicité de personnes différentes.

Si vous et moi éprouvons quelques difficultés à en saisir toutes les finesses, ce n’était point le cas à l’époque. L’impact retentissant des vingt-sept séries vendues fut immédiat, et suite aux menaces de « la sainte » Inquisition, [5] Goya se voit obligé de retirer celles qui restent de la vente, après une dizaine de jours à peine.

Mais son amour pour la beauté de la vérité, même si elle dérange et donne parfois la nausée, sera le coeur d’une longue vie (82 ans) exceptionnellement productive : plus de sept cents peintures, deux cycles de fresques énormes, neuf cents dessins et presque trois cents gravures.

Arrivé à Bordeaux en 1824, âgé de 78 ans, il se lance dans la lithographie, technique assez nouvelle, et nous laisse le dessin d’un vieillard sur des béquilles avec comme légende : « A un apprendo » (J’apprends encore).

Le géant et les ânes


Figure 5 : Goya, Los Caprichos, planche 42, Toi que no puedes [Toi qui ne peux mais]

Pour savourer mieux encore, et d’une façon plus immédiate, le génie politique et artistique de Goya et saisir son sens puissant d’identité d’humaniste historico-mondial, regardons Coloso, sans doute l’une des œuvres les plus représentatives de sa démarche, qui s’appelait à l’origine Le géant. [6]

Devant une énorme figure musclée qui se dresse dans un ciel encombré de nuages chargés de mille tonnerres, un vaste tohu-bohu capte notre regard. Des troupeaux de vaches se disloquent, des chevaux jettent leur cavalier à terre, des caravanes se précipitent dans n’importe quelle direction.

Perdus dans un paysage inquiétant, les enfants pleurent, les hommes et les femmes fuient. La panique règne.

De toute évidence, ce forgeron de l’enfer levant son bras comme un boxeur ivre et aveugle, n’incarne nul autre que Napoléon Bonaparte, cet « homme-bête » mis en selle par les grandes puissances financières pour donner le coup d’arrêt fatal à ce vent d’enthousiasme républicain qui souffle sur le monde, et mandaté pour noyer le continent européen sous des fleuves de sang de guerres sans fin.

Si Goya visionnaire, comme Jean Jaurès avant 1914, désigne ce mal qui va frapper, il ne ressent pour autant aucune complaisance pour ceux qui s’y soumettent – qu’ils soient grands ou petits. Ainsi, légèrement à gauche en bas du tableau figure un âne, tranquillement satisfait de sa propre existence, feignant d’être en dehors du tourment de l’histoire.

Bien que les humanistes de la Renaissance jusqu’au flamand Bruegel aient traditionnellement représenté l’aristotélisme par un âne, le fait que le roi d’Espagne Carlos III ait publiquement traité d’« âne » son propre fils, le prince des Asturies et futur roi Carlos IV, donne ici un charme particulièrement politique à cette image.

Mais au-delà de l’anecdote, l’animal exprime ici l’ensemble des vices que Goya et ses amis ilustrados entendaient combattre, « les préjugés habituels et les pratiques trompeuses que la coutume, l’ignorance ou l’intérêt égoïste ont fait accepter comme habituelles ».

L’ânerie, blocage émotionnel si caricatural de la fixité animale, peuplera joyeusement les Caprichos, où l’on voit de vrais ânes : des hommes consentant à porter des ânes

Ce sont les Leporello, ces valets sans lesquels les Don Giovanni de l’oligarchie ne peuvent imposer leurs caprices bestiaux. Pas de négriers sans esclaves !

Le siècle américain


Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (1732 – 1799).

Ainsi, le siècle de Goya est un siècle où des élites éclairées, avec les « sociétés d’amis » de Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) comme épicentre, « conspirent » pour amener les peuples à briser le joug d’un féodalisme suranné et moribond.

Si la victoire anglaise dans la guerre de Sept ans (1756-1763) avait soumis le monde à l’hégémonie anglo-vénitienne de l’Empire britannique, il est certain que ce qu’on appelle « la revanche » du pacte familial entre Bourbons de France, d’Espagne et d’Italie donnera le coup de pouce décisif permettant d’ériger, de l’autre côté de l’Atlantique, le seul adversaire bientôt de taille à combattre l’Empire britannique : la République américaine.

Il faut savoir que, incités par les anciens du « Secret du Roi », [7] les services secrets privés de Louis XV, et en particulier par l’officier de liaison de Lafayette, le comte Charles-François de Broglie (1719-81), le roi de France Louis XVI (1754-1793) et son cousin germain espagnol Carlos III (1716-1788) verseront chacun un million de livres pour permettre à l’agent secret Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (1732-1799) de fonder discrètement la fameuse compagnie Rodrigue, Hortalez et Cie, une société écran basée à Paris, chargée d’acheminer argent, crédit, armes, munitions, uniformes, ingénieurs et bon nombre de commandants militaires capables et expérimentés (et non des moindres puisqu’il s’agit de Von Steuben, Lafayette, Kalb, Bédaulx, Kosciusko, Pulaski, etc.) afin d’assurer la victoire ultime des « insurgents » américains. [8]

Fruit de cette concertation quasi quotidienne à Paris, plusieurs années durant, entre le vieux sage Franklin et l’insolent agent Beaumarchais, la victoire américaine fera apparaître la France aux yeux du monde comme un levier important d’un combat républicain mondial.

C’est de cette France-là que Goya, comme d’autres patriotes espagnols, va tomber amoureux.

Et c’est contre cette France-là aussi, et contre ses co-penseurs espagnols, qu’après le sabotage du processus révolutionnaire en France, le Congrès de Vienne imposera en 1815, sur les ruines et cendres des guerres napoléoniennes, le retour des monarchies absolutistes : la restauration de Louis XVIII en France et celle, despotique sur le modèle perse, de Ferdinand VII d’Espagne.

Figure 7 : Joseph de Maistre.

Goya, comme nous allons le voir, faisait partie, et en était en quelque sorte le porte-parole, l’ambassadeur culturel, des ilustrados d’Espagne.

Ce n’est donc pas étonnant qu’il se trouve dans la ligne de mire du Comte Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821), l’un des fondateurs conceptuels du projet synarchiste moderne, projet contre-révolutionnaire visant à éradiquer le républicanisme de la planète.

De Maistre, apologiste de « l’homme-bête », qu’il décrit quand il parle du bourreau, défenseur des sacrifices humains et admirateur de l’Inquisition espagnole, dénonça violemment les Caprichos de Goya, disant avoir eu en mains un livre de caricatures à l’anglaise, comportant quatre-vingts planches et publié à Madrid où l’« on ridiculise la reine de la manière la plus grossière possible, une allégorie tellement transparente que même un enfant pourrait la voir ». [9]

Selon ses amis, Goya comparaissait la peinture à la tauromachie. Un magnifique autoportrait le montre d’ailleurs avec sa palette et ses pinceaux devant un chevalet, habillé d’une veste de toréador et coiffé d’un chapeau que l’on peut appareiller de bougies, une invention de Léonard de Vinci dont s’est servi Michel-Ange pour travailler la nuit.

Mais le taureau du « toréador Goya » n’est pas un animal physique, il est mental. C’est le concept de l’homme-bête synarchiste qu’il va affronter dans l’arène !

Figure 8 : Goya, autoportrait, 1794-95.

Goya et les ilustrados

Goya naît en 1746 d’un artisan doreur établi près de Saragosse, capitale de l’Aragon. Bien que Carlos fût depuis 1734 roi des deux Siciles (Naples et la Sicile), il deviendra Carlos III d’Espagne en 1759. Retrouvant son pays dans un état d’arriération lamentable, et donc sans voix sur la scène internationale, Carlos III, fervent catholique mais homme de progrès, décide de refaire de l’Espagne un pays puissant. Pour cela, il écoutera ses conseillers colbertistes, d’abord italiens et français, puis espagnols.

Le personnage central qui nous intéresse ici est Campomanes, figure emblématique du courant d’économie physique espagnole et instigateur des fameuses « Soirées de Campomanes » à Madrid, rendez-vous obligé des humanistes où se retrouvaient régulièrement bon nombre d’ »ilustrados », y compris Goya, à partir de 1780 [10] pour entretenir un dialogue permanent.

Parmi eux, l’on rencontre :

Pedro Rodriguez de Campomanes (1723-1803)

Figure 9 : Raphaël Mengs, Portrait de Campomanes.

Économiste, littérateur et helléniste précoce, versé dans le droit et maîtrisant le grec, le latin et l’arabe.

Tout jeune, il enseigne gratuitement les lettres aux pauvres et est reçu avocat à l’âge de dix-neuf ans.

Il est admis à l’académie d’histoire et s’occupe de la modernisation du système postal. Charles III, qui sentait que l’Espagne avait besoin d’un réformateur, avait été frappé par son savoir, son éloquence et ses talents d’administrateur.

Il l’élève en 1763 aux fonctions de « fiscal du conseil de Castille », poste qu’il occupera pendant plus de vingt ans.

Comme le dit un biographe :

« Campomanes s’attaqua immédiatement aux abus qui ruinaient le pays. Par d’habiles mesures, il réduisit le nombre des moines, prohiba l’admission dans les ordres avant l’âge de vingt ans, défendit les quêtes, interdit les emplois d’administration et de justice aux moines, fit supprimer un grand nombre de couvents qui n’avaient pas de revenus suffisants et dont les religieux ne pouvaient vivre que de mendicité, fit augmenter le traitement insuffisant de beaucoup de curés, en même temps qu’il fit exiger d’eux plus d’instruction et de moralité. »

Sur le modèle de la Real Sociedad Bacongada de los Amigos del Pais (Société royale basque des amis du pays), Campomanes fonde une association similaire à Madrid en 1775 et dans de nombreuses régions d’Espagne.

Il trace des programmes d’études pour les universités, accordant une large part aux sciences et aux langues, jusqu’alors complètement négligées. Il fait distribuer aux bibliothèques du royaume les livres des Jésuites, ordre banni d’Espagne par Carlos III en 1767. Benjamin Franklin le fait entrer à la Société philosophique de Philadelphie en 1787.

Il est à l’écoute des agriculteurs, industriels et artisans et leur ouvre l’accès à des postes gouvernementaux jusqu’alors réservés à la noblesse. Il déclare un jour, non sans humour, que l’aiguille à coudre est « plus importante que tous les syllogismes d’Aristote » !

Gaspar Melchior de Jovellanos (1744-1811)

Figure 10 : Goya, portrait de Jovellanos, 1797-98. Cet ami de Goya deviendra l’âme de la résistance

Inspiré par Campomanes et ami de Goya, ce poète, économiste et homme d’Etat, sera la grande figure des ilustrados.

Comme Benjamin Franklin à Versailles, l’avocat Jovellanos fera scandale en plaidant sans perruque, trait révélateur de l’époque.

Contre l’Inquisition et les Jésuites, il plaide pour que les études supérieures soient dispensées en langue espagnole et que la justice abandonne la torture. Faussement accusé d’être voltairien, il affirmait que son « frère » spirituel était Thomas à Kempis, l’un des fondateurs des Frères de la Vie commune, ordre enseignant qui forma Nicolas de Cues et Erasme de Rotterdam.

Suite aux pressions de l’Inquisition, Jovellanos sera exilé en 1801, envoyé pourrir dans un cachot à Majorque, privé de liberté, de papier et d’encre.

Relâché en 1808 lors de l’invasion française, il deviendra l’âme de la Junte Centrale de la résistance des patriotes espagnols contre Napoléon.


Jose Monino, Comte de Floridablanca (1728-1808).

Jose Monino, Comte de Floridablanca (1728-1808).

Juriste d’origine modeste, il sera le principal ministre de Carlos III. Il aida financièrement les révolutionnaires américains. Surtout engagé dans la bataille pour remettre en état, par une politique de grands travaux, les infrastructures si avancées sous les califats arabes en Andalousie, il travaille avec Ramon de Pignatelli (1734-1793), le chanoine de la cathédrale de Saragosse qui avait aidé le jeune Goya à parfaire ses études.

Cofondateur de la Société économique aragonaise des amis du pays, Pignatelli, un peu comme Franklin Roosevelt au XXème siècle avec son « New Deal » et les grands travaux d’aménagement des cours d’eau, crée un couloir de développement économique en Aragon par la construction d’un énorme canal reliant l’Atlantique à la Méditerranée, favorisant le transport fluvial et l’irrigation.

Francisco (François) de Cabarrus (1752-1810)

François Cabarrus, organisateur du crédit public.

Politique, économiste et financier d’origine française, né à Bayonne.

Il créa, en 1783, avec l’appui de Floridablanca, la Banco de San Carlos, véritable institution de crédit d’Etat, projet qui servira de référence à Alexander Hamilton sept ans plus tard aux Etats-Unis.

Son capital provenait essentiellement d’Espagne, mais aussi de France et de Hollande. [11] Goya, qui en était actionnaire, a fait le portrait de la plupart de ses directeurs. [12]

Le secrétaire de Cabarrus sera Leandro Fernandez de Moratin (1760-1828), le poète, dramaturge et ami intime de Goya qui le suivra en exil en France.

D’autres proches de Goya, comme son ami d’enfance, l’avocat Martin Zapater, ou l’une de ses protectrices, la duchesse d’Osuna, seront en charge des Sociétés économiques des amis du pays. [13]

Même si les fortes individualités de cette mouvance réagiront d’une façon disparate pendant la crise terrible qui va secouer le pays suite à la chute des Bourbons en France, on constate qu’à l’époque de Carlos III, une entente quasi-totale existe sur le diagnostic économique et les remèdes à y apporter.

En voici quelques points forts [14] :

  1. Sur le plan économique et social, l’Espagne a « perdu deux siècles », conséquence dramatique de l’expulsion des Juifs (marchands) et des Maures (artisans) par l’Inquisition de Torquemada, sous Isabelle la Catholique. A l’époque de Goya, à part des agriculteurs appauvris, une grande partie de la population (clergé, armée, noblesse, hidalgo, etc.) occupe ses jours à des activités non productives. L’Espagne compte 200 000 moines, nonnes et prêtres (le double de l’Italie et le triple de la France) et 500 000 nobles, soit plus que la France dont la population est pourtant le double. Selon les critères sociaux du pays, pour la noblesse et les hidalgo (noblesse appauvri dont Don Quichotte est une caricature), travailler équivaut à renoncer à son titre de noblesse. Mais puisque le pays manque cruellement de classes moyennes indépendantes, d’entrepreneurs, d’artisans et de commerçants, le temps était venu de revaloriser le travail productif en mettant tout le monde au travail. Guerre à l’oisiveté !
  2. L’approche de Campomanes combine volontarisme d’Etat de Colbert (protectionnisme, infrastructures, manufactures), mobilisation scientifique de Leibniz (académies des sciences), réformes agraires de Thomas More (redistribution des terres, cultures céréalières plutôt qu’élevage du mouton) et optimisme philosophique d’Erasme (favorisant éducation, justice équitable, libertés personnelles et abolition du pouvoir de l’Inquisition).
  3. Dès 1771, après une longue enquête, Campomanes et Floridablanca proposent, au nom de « l’intérêt général », la redistribution des terres non cultivées appartenant à la noblesse et aux ordres religieux. Des catholiques allemands et français (Carlos III ne s’entretenait malheureusement qu’avec des catholiques) sont invités à s’installer en Espagne pour repeupler des régions entières. Les impôts qui écrasent injustement les classes populaires sont progressivement transférés sur l’aristocratie et le clergé, jusqu’alors à l’abri de toute imposition.
    Comme en France, ces réformes agraires et l’égalité devant l’impôt étaient des questions fondamentales à résoudre pour faire avancer la société.
  4. En conséquence, tous les Espagnols sont incités à s’éduquer et mener une vie productive, ciment de la cohésion sociale de la nation. Pour « recycler » la noblesse et la sortir de son oisiveté, Campomanes leur propose de s’investir activement et matériellement dans la création de laboratoires de recherche scientifique, ouverts à tous par la suite. Il crée des emplois pour les militaires, les vagabonds et les prisonniers. On favorise les manufactures spécifiquement créatrices d’emplois pour les femmes. Quant à l’Inquisition, chargée de lutter contre l’hérésie, elle est sommée de porter ses efforts sur l’éducation plutôt que sur la répression. Il est inutile de préciser que des réformes d’une telle ampleur suscitent des oppositions « structurelles ». En particulier de la part des nobles et du clergé, véritable ancien régime dont les privilèges sont directement mis en cause par cette nouvelle politique. Le noyau dur de cette résistance à tout progrès sera l’Inquisition espagnole et elle deviendra donc légitimement une cible de choix pour l’humanisme chrétien de Goya et de ses amis.

L’Inquisition espagnole

Inquisition espagnole.

Initiée par Innocent III en 1213 et créée par Grégoire IX en 1231 afin de lutter contre l’hérésie cathare et vaudoise, et la sorcellerie en général, c’est le moine dominicain Thomas de Torquemada (1420-1498), confesseur de la reine, qui convaincra Isabelle et Ferdinand de ressusciter l’Inquisition primitive en Espagne en 1478. Torquemada sera le grand inquisiteur aux pouvoirs sans limites, exécuteur des « hérétiques », s’intéressant particulièrement à la bigamie, à la sodomie, aux sorciers et autres adorateurs du démon, avorteurs et blasphémateurs. Mais son principal gibier sera les athées, les juifs convertis (conversos ou marranos, ce dernier mot signifiant cochons) et les maures (moriscos). A son actif personnel, près de 100 000 procès, 8800 exécutions par le feu, 90 000 condamnés à des diverses pénitences et un million de personnes chassées du pays.

Après Torquemada, l’Inquisition espagnole procèdera, de 1481 à 1808, à 35 000 exécutions par le feu. La cupidité insatiable du clergé espagnol, dominé par les ordres mendiants, conduit à l’arrestation des Juifs et à la confiscation de leurs biens, récompensant les délateurs, comme lors de la lutte contre l’hérésie cathare. La lutte contre l’hérésie et la sorcellerie devient alors le business le plus rentable du monde.
Le 31 mars 1492, tous les Juifs sont expulsés du royaume d’Espagne. L’inquisition s’en prend également aux Maures convertis, puis aux « alumbrados », label qui s’étend à tout individu minimisant l’importance des rites catholiques, considéré comme « illuminé », et par la suite aux « luteranos » ou autres sympathisants de la Réforme protestante ou érasmienne.

Vers 1480, les Espagnols symbolisent au plus haut point l’unité entre Etat et religion en consacrant le culte de la « limpieza de sangre » (pureté du sang, un peu comme les nazis à une autre époque). [15]

Ainsi, l’Inquisition, devenue simultanément procureur, juge et jury, statuera sur ces deux questions : la pureté du sang et la fidélité à l’église. Bien que créée par le pape, quoiqu’en réalité gérée par ses collecteurs de fonds, telle la maison bancaire des Fugger d’Augsbourg, ses véritables patrons en Espagne forment « la Suprema » (le conseil royal), nommée, comme les dignitaires de l’Inquisition, par le Roi en personne. Néanmoins, l’Inquisition fonctionnera comme un véritable gouvernement secret mondial, une synarchie, faisant et défaisant rois et gouvernements selon ses désirs.

Bien que la torture fût déconseillée pour donner la mort, elle était considérée comme une pratique inévitable pour obtenir preuves et confessions. En dehors de toute une série d’humiliations publiques, les trois méthodes de torture les plus courantes sont le garrucha (la strangulation par garot), la toca (un morceau de tissu introduit dans la bouche et lentement imprégné d’eau simulant une noyade) et la potro (un cordage qui se tend autour du corps). A l’époque de Goya, la plupart des exécutions se faisait par le garrot (strangulation), qu’on croyait à tort moins douloureux que le bûcher, et il nous a laissé de nombreux dessins et tableaux dépeignant les sinistres agissements de « la Sainte », organisatrice de sacrifices rituels à grand spectacle visant à tenir une population par la terreur et la mort, tandis qu’en douce, on entretenait la débauche et la superstition. Les délations systématiques et rémunérées plongeront l’Espagne dans un climat permanent de suspicion, ruineront l’esprit de la recherche scientifique et susciteront une méfiance vis-à-vis du progrès.

Le Don Carlos de Schiller en 1787, année où les Etats-Unis adoptent leur constitution et où Goya apprend le français, est un message fort pour l’Espagne : pas d’avenir si l’Inquisition reste en place. Quand Carlos IV succède à son père en 1788, la cocotte-minute franco-espagnole est au bord de l’explosion.

Le choc de 1789

La famille de Carlos IV.

Carlos IV, l’âne au centre de la tourmente, préfère la chasse et abandonne les affaires du pays à sa femme, Marie-Louise de Bourbon Parme (1765-1819). Femme frivole, elle méprise son fils détestable, le futur Ferdinand VII (1784-1833), et laisse le gouvernement à son jeune garde de corps Emmanuel de Godoy (1767-1851). Godoy, contre qui le confesseur de Ferdinand montera une vaste campagne de calomnies, a certes des faiblesses toutes clintoniennes, ce qui fera sa faiblesse au moment crucial, mais il n’est point dépourvu d’intelligence. D’abord, il prend très au sérieux le rôle des Sociétés des amis du pays de Campomanes pour encourager l’industrialisation de l’Espagne et constate le besoin criant d’améliorer l’éducation de l’ensemble de la population.

Il adoptera comme sien le modèle avancé du pédagogue suisse Johann Pestalozzi (1746-1827) [16] : « Pour la grande masse de la population, afin qu’elle puisse émerger de son abjection et son ignorance », dit-il, « il ne suffit pas qu’ils sachent lire, écrire, compter, calculer et dessiner-il faut qu’ils sachent comment penser. »

Il commande à Goya, qu’il admire, quatre tondo représentant des allégories des valeurs économiques stipulées par Campomanes et Jovellanos : Commerce, Agriculture, Science et Industrie.

Bien qu’elle prétende apprécier beaucoup Goya, Marie-Louise se laisse manipuler et devient le jouet de l’Inquisition qui la poussera à détester Floridablanca, Cabarrus et Jovellanos.

En 1789, paniquée par les événements qui se déroulent en France, où Louis XVI, après la prise de la Bastille, envisage de se réfugier chez son cousin germain en Espagne, la reine veut arrêter « les idées ». L’Inquisition redouble son offensive et Floridablanca, voulant défendre la monarchie à tout prix, instaure une censure féroce. Pas un mot dans la presse espagnole sur les événements qui secouent la France. Rien ne s’est passé. Si l’on n’en parle pas, cela pourrait disparaître tout seul. Peine perdue ! Faute de pouvoir arrêter les idées, on arrête ceux qui en sont porteurs… Ce doit être ces maudits ilustrados !

Le 25 juin 1790, sans que l’on en sache la raison, François Cabarrus, un des pères conceptuels de la Banca San Carlos est arrêté et mis au secret. Campomanes refuse de le défendre. Jovellanos est sommé de quitter Madrid pour aller « étudier l’extraction du charbon aux Asturies » et Goya, sans l’avoir sollicité, reçoit une licence afin d’aller « respirer les airs maritimes à Valence ».

Volte-face en 1792. Après l’arrestation de Louis XVI, une guerre entre la France et l’Espagne semble désormais inévitable. L’accélération de l’histoire prend les humanistes en tenailles. Le sort de la France et celui de l’Espagne sont tellement liés qu’ils sont indissociables. Soit on vit avec la Révolution, soit on disparaît avec elle. Godoy met à profit ses relations avec les ilustrados, souvent accusés à tort d’être de simples agents à la solde de l’étranger, pour tenter d’éviter le pire. Cabarrus est envoyé en France pour tenter de faire basculer le procès de Louis XVI, peut-être avec pour mission secrète d’exfiltrer le roi français.

Le 21 janvier 1793, Louis XVI est décapité. Carlos IV déclare la guerre à la France et la France déclare la guerre à l’Espagne. Goya est peut-être empoisonné, mais surtout mal soigné, et se rend chez des amis à Cadix. Le gendre de Cabarrus, Tallien, est l’un des organisateurs de la réaction thermidorienne qui conduira Robespierre à l’échafaud. Godoy arrange une paix avec la France. Les Bourbons d’Espagne s’accrochent et nomment Jovellanos et Saveedra comme ministres mais, trop contestés par la noblesse et le clergé, ils sont démis de leurs fonctions. Pour Goya, ce revirement équivaut à une trahison et dès lors, il contre-attaque en arrachant les masques.

Les Caprichos, langage universel

Nous en savons maintenant assez sur la situation politique pour aborder Goya au moment où il tire sur le quartier général.

Los Caprichios, Langage universel, sera conçu de la même façon que les Colloques d’Erasme. Derrière de « petites histoires » se cachent des piques délicieuses et bien envoyées contre des figures politiques inattaquables. [17]

Figure 11.

Planche 4 (Fig. 11) : Le vieil enfant gâté est sans doute une allusion à la reine, connue pour son combat incessant contre sa prothèse dentaire inadaptée… Un laboureur tire une charge vers la droite, tandis qu’un enfant, les mains dans la bouche, se met de travers.

Planche 5 (Fig. 12) : Qui se ressemble s’assemble (Mariage d’intérêt. Godoy et la reine ?). Intervient une réflexion philosophique : Planche 8 (Fig. 13) : Et ils l’ont enlevée (un voleur et un fantôme enlèvent une jeune femme, symbole de l’espoir). Pour comprendre comment le pouvoir des idées intervient soudainement pour troubler cette satire sociale et politique, il est indispensable de pouvoir comparer les légendes qui figurent sur les dessins, donc de la main de Goya, avec celles, différentes, qui figurent sur les plaques des gravures, adoucies et volontairement rendues énigmatiques dans un acte d’autocensure probablement suggéré par des amis (Jovellanos, Moratin), soucieux d’éviter de graves ennuis à Goya, ce dernier jouant avec des allumettes sur le bûcher.

JPEG - 58.7 ko

Figure 14 et 15.

Par exemple, pour la planche 13 (Fig. 14), qui montre des moines en train de manger avec des cuillères, le titre de la planche gravée dit : Ils s’échauffent. Sur le dessin original, le texte est beaucoup plus explicite : Songes de certains hommes qui nous dévoraient (déjà le thème de Saturne dévorant ses enfants, présent dans un dessin préparatoire des Caprichos). Ces moines, on les retrouve en train de faire ripaille dans une cave : Personne ne nous voit (planche 79, Fig. 15) et sur la dernière planche 80 (Fig. 16), en pleine hystérie avec la légende : C’est l’heure.

JPEG - 69.8 ko

Figure 16 et 17.

La fameuse gravure Le sommeil de la raison engendre des monstres (planche 43, Fig. 17) , prévue initialement comme frontispice, se retrouve presque au milieu, ouvrant le thème de la superstition, puisque la raison qui s’endort lui laisse la place. Elle aurait donné tout son sens à celle qui clôt la série, puisque c’est l’heure pour la Raison de se réveiller !

JPEG - 58.4 ko

Figure 18 et 19.

Un des monstres qui revient souvent est le hibou. Dans la culture populaire espagnole du temps de Goya, comme dans les Flandres de Jérôme Bosch, cet oiseau de nuit est le symbole du péché. Aussi, pour chasser, on l’attachait à un arbre avec une ficelle. Son chant attirant d’autres oiseaux, ceux-ci se prennent dans les filets ou dans la glu étalée par le chasseur sur les branches de l’arbre.

Planche 19 (Fig.18), Ils tomberont tous montre ce stratagème avec des femmes/oiseaux comme appât, occupées, au premier plan, à castrer des hommes/oiseaux.

Figure 20 : Goya, Le temps et les vieilles, 1808-1812
Cette fois-ci, notre vieillard, figure allégorique qui représente le temps, est au point de balayer les oligarques.

Figure 21.

Avec la planche 55 (Fig.19) on retourne au palais royal : Jusqu’à la mort figure Marie-Louise, flasque et flétrie, se dorlotant devant un miroir (thème repris plus tard dans le tableau Le temps et les vieilles)

La planche la plus explicite est certainement celle qui suit juste après, planche 56, Monter et descendre. (Fig. 21)

A part la référence aux performances sexuelles de Godoy, implicite dans ce titre, on y voit un satyre (force bestiale) qui soulève Godoy, représenté avec de la fumée qui lui sort de la tête, et dans sa montée deux figures sont renversées, Jovellanos et Saveedra, les deux ilustrados qu’il a chassés du gouvernement sous pression de l’Inquisition.

Le thème des mariages arrangés, d’intérêt ou d’argent, qu’on trouve dans le poème satirique A Ernesto de Jovellanos (« Sans invoquer une raison ou peser dans leurs coeurs les mérites du marié, elles disent oui et donnent leur main au premier venu »), ouvre les Caprichos de Goya (planche 2, Fig. 22) et sera traité en prose par Moratin en 1806 dans son chef-d’œuvre, le Side las niñas, interdit par l’Inquisition.

Sans épargner les hommes, Goya dénonce la « coutume » des femmes légères, souvent encouragées en cela par leur mère-maquerelle (la fameuse Célestina, thème devenu très populaire depuis 1499 à travers l’œuvre de Fernando de Rojas. Mais le tableau des Majas au balcon montre clairement des hommes qui se tiennent dans l’ombre.

L’Inquisition et la police royale s’étaient visiblement investies dans la prostitution organisée, instrument malheureusement toujours de mise pour récolter des renseignements.

Les ilustrados pour une culture populaire républicaine

Léandro Fernandez de Moratin.

Goya et son ami Léandro Fernandez de Moratin (secrétaire de Cabarrus, directeur de la Banque San Carlos) écartaient toute idée d’enfermement dans une culture d’élite ou de salon, comme le faisaient même les meilleurs des nobles.

Par le théâtre en particulier, Moratin tentera de relever ce grand défi et de changer l’environnement culturel populaire.

Une nécessité humaine mais aussi politique, car, en effet, combien de coups et d’intrigues de palais ne se réglaient-ils pas, en fin de compte, dans la rue par la manipulation de la populacho (populace), en Espagne comme ailleurs ?

Une population désinhibée de la violence par la tauromachie et les exécutions publiques d’hérétiques, crétinisée de surcroît par un théâtre qui ne cherchait qu’à flatter les instincts les plus médiocres, digne du Loft ou de la Starac, était une menace pour l’esprit républicain de gouvernement par le peuple et pour le peuple.

JPEG - 59.4 ko

Figure 22 : Caprichos, planche 2, Elles disent oui et donnent leur main au premier venu. Figure 23 : Goya, Majas au balcon, 1810-12 ; la police royale déploie ses charmes.

Moratin exprima ses convictions dans une lettre à Godoy, en 1792, où il dénonçait les productions de Ramon de la Cruz (1731-94), le plus populaire des dramaturges de l’époque dont le théâtre se contentait de refléter

« la vie et les coutumes de la populace la plus misérable : des tenanciers de tavernes, des vendeurs de noisettes, des pickpockets, des chiffonniers, des imbéciles, de la canaille, des délinquants, et surtout, les comportements dégoûtants des taudis de Madrid : voilà le caractère de ces pièces. Le cigare, les maisons de jeux, le poignard, l’ivrognerie, la dissipation, l’abandon, tous les vices de ces personnes réunies sont dépeints avec des couleurs attractives… Si le théâtre est l’école du comportement, comment peut-on infléchir le vice, l’erreur et l’absurdité si les mêmes personnes supposées les amender ne font que les propager ? »

En plus, arguait Moratin, ses quelque 450 sainetes (sketch d’environ 25 minutes en argot populaire) commençaient « à corrompre les échelons les plus élevés de la société ». De la Cruz répliqua humblement qu’il ne faisait que représenter la vraie vie telle qu’on pouvait la vivre à Madrid…

Moratin avait passé l’année 1787 à Paris où il entra en relations suivies avec le dramaturge vénitien Carlo Goldoni (1707-93), réformateur du théâtre italien réfugié en France comme professeur d’italien à la cour de Louis XV.

En 1786, Moratin avait écrit sa première comédie, El Viejo y la Niña, et l’année précédente, il avait fait paraître, sous le voile de l’anonymat, la Derrota de los pedantes, pamphlet en prose, dirigé contre les mauvais poètes et auteurs dramatiques qui inondaient alors l’Espagne de leurs productions ridicules. pour ridiculiser cette contreculture, Moratin, moqueur, fonda avec ses amis une société burlesque des « acalophiles » (« amateurs de laideur » du grec a-kalos), dont Goya aurait pu être membre.

L’homme-bête et les pinturas negras

Il serait trop fastidieux de commenter ici l’ensemble de l’oeuvre de Goya en interaction avec son époque révolutionnaire. Après avoir tracé quelques pistes, je m’en tiendrais donc à souligner son apport spécifique. Cette contribution, nous l’avons dit, est une compréhension aiguë du phénomène de l’homme-bête, destinée à provoquer une prise de conscience universelle de ce phénomène pour tenter de l’arrêter.

Reste à savoir ce qui peut pousser les hommes, les Néron, les Torquemada, les Napoléon ou les Hitler, à commettre des crimes aussi maléfiques, que l’on peut qualifier de satanistes dans le sens où ils privent l’humanité et les hommes de leur dignité.

Goya pointe aussi du doigt l’égoïsme d’un ancien régime, d’une génération tellement préoccupée d’elle-même qu’elle dévorerait sa propre progéniture plutôt que de se voir privée de son plaisir, de son confort et de ses privilèges.

C’est « l’idée lourde » qui émerge vers la fin, dans la série de gravures les Désastres de la guerre, élaborée pendant l’occupation française de l’Espagne.

Pour la France, cette guerre sera ce qu’est l’Irak pour les Etats-Unis aujourd’hui. Estimée devoir durer six jours, elle durera six ans, car chaque cadavre y deviendra barricade. Immortalisé par le « dos » et « très de Mayos », elle verra la naissance de la guérilla (petite guerre). Plus besoin désormais d’Inquisition (d’ailleurs abolie par Joseph Bonaparte) ! Délation, torture, strangulation, déchiquetage des corps : le peuple lui-même bestialisé par une guerre injuste et absurde s’en charge !

Son horreur nous rappelle cette déclaration de Sherman, un grand général d’Abraham Lincoln, devant l’académie militaire du Michigan en 1879 : « Je suis fatigué et malade de la guerre. Sa gloire n’est que de la frime (moonshine). Seuls ceux qui n’ont jamais tiré une balle ni entendu les gémissements des blessés peuvent appeler à plus de sang, plus de vengeance, plus de désolation. La guerre, c’est l’enfer. »

JPEG - 61.9 ko

Figure 24 et 25.

Après avoir dépeint d’innombrables actes insoutenables commis par des Français contre des Espagnols, mais aussi par des Espagnols contre leurs concitoyens, par des hommes contre des femmes, des humains contre d’autres humains, tous se conduisant de façon inhumaine, il esquisse un début de réponse à la question « pourquoi ? », avec la planche 71 (Fig.24), Contre le bien général qui représente un grand inquisiteur avec des oreilles de chauve-souris !

Figure 26 : Goya, Saturne dévorant ses enfants, 1820-23
Les romantiques sont souvent incapables d’expliquer ce tableau. Goya nous montre ici Saturne, dont le nom grec est Chronos (le temps), métaphore choquante d’une génération, semblable aux pires représentants du baby-boom actuel, qui préféreraient manger leur propre progéniture, plutôt que de renoncer leurs privilèges.

Quel rapport avec la guerre ? Ensuite vient la planche 72 (Fig.25) Les résultats, où une chauve-souris hibou géante dévore le cadavre d’un homme qui ressemble à celui de la première planche.

L’« homme-bête » de la planche 71 devient entièrement bestial dans la 72.

Le thème revient dans la planche 81 avec Monstre cruel, où un ogre géant avale/vomit des cadavres humains.

Ces deux planches ont peut-être été retirées des Caprichos, car trop virulentes, mais elles feront certainement le pont avec cette série. La guerre, caprice ultime du sommeil de la raison. Que Goya soit hanté par ce sujet « monstrueux », qui englobe pourtant la préoccupation pour l’avenir de l’espèce humaine, n’est pas une maladie mentale, au contraire !

Quand il entre dans une colère noire suite à l’écrasement, en 1823, par les troupes françaises et sur ordre du Congrès de Vienne, de la dernière tentative de faire adopter la constitution de Cadix de 1812, Goya, furieux et conscient qu’il est condamné à l’exil, recouvrira de « peintures noires » les belles fresques joyeuses qu’il avait commencées dans la « Quinta del Sordo ». [18]

Comme quelque douze mille familles espagnoles, Goya prendra le chemin de l’exil. Son Saturne dévorant ses enfants (Saturne étant le nom romain de Chronos, le temps, en grec) exprime la logique oligarchique poussée à son extrême : puisqu’on refuse de créer un avenir pour les nouvelles générations, empêchons-les d’exister !

Qu’elles s’entretuent par la guerre ! Conscient de cette monstruosité, il disait dans une lettre à son ami Zapatar : « Oui, oui, oui, je n’ai aucune peur des sorcières, des lutins, des apparitions, des géants vantards, des fripons ou des coquins, ni en effet d’aucune sorte d’êtres, à part les êtres humains. » Voilà le monstre qui hante Goya et qu’il combat en lui-même et dans le monde. Ni comme un Don Quichotte, ni comme un Sancho Panza, mais comme un républicain éclairé par les sources de l’humanisme chrétien. A nous aujourd’hui de lui rendre hommage en mettant en cage les derniers hommes-bêtes de notre époque !

« Imiter la vie » par des formes,
pas par des lignes

A l’époque de Goya, le style rococo tardif était dépassé par la nouvelle mode néo-classique développée par le théoricien d’art Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768). Dans ses Réflexions sur l’imitation des oeuvres grecques en peinture et en sculpture (1755), Winckelmann formulait ainsi la tâche contradictoire de l’artiste : « Le seul moyen dont nous disposons pour arriver à la grandeur, même pour devenir inimitable, c’est par l’imitation des anciens », pour lequel il louait Raphaël, Michel-Ange et Poussin.

Le collaborateur de Winckelmann à Rome fut Anton Raphaël Mengs (1728-1779), considéré à l’époque comme un peintre hors pair et invité à ce titre à la cour de Carlos III à Madrid.

Figure 27 : Raphaël Mengs, portrait de Maria-Louisa de Parme, 1765.

En Espagne, ne pas l’apprécier était vu comme une attaque contre l’église et la royauté, et Mengs dirigeait d’une main de fer l’Académie royale madrilène où il imposait une formation académique rigide exclusivement basée sur le copiage de modèles en plâtre. Porte-parole des ennemis de ce style néo-classique froid (le fameux style Empire que Napoléon allait imposer à l’Europe tout entière), Goya disait que ces trois maîtres étaient « la nature, Vélasquez et Rembrandt ».

Pour Goya, la nature ne devait pas être copiée dans sa forme, mais comprise dans son intentionnalité – une intentionnalité qui se manifestait selon lui par « la magie d’ambiance ». Il n’y a donc pas de recette pour un vrai dialogue entre l’artiste et la nature. Tout le reste « n’est qu’oppression » de « styles fatigués ».

Goya disait que les académiciens encourageaient à tort l’abstraction chez leurs jeunes élèves, « des lignes, jamais des formes ». Et il commentait « Où est-ce qu’ils trouvent toutes ces lignes dans la nature ? Personnellement, je ne vois que des formes qui s’éclairent et d’autres qui ne le font pas, des plans qui avancent et des plans qui reculent, relief et profondeur. Mon oeil ne voit jamais les contours d’aspects particuliers ou de détails. Je ne compte pas les poils de la barbe de l’homme qui passe, pas plus que les trous pour les boutons de sa veste n’attirent mon attention. Mon pinceau ne devrait pas voir mieux que moi. »


1. Charles Baudelaire disait sans fard que « Le grand mérite de Goya consiste à créer le monstrueux vraisemblable » ; bien qu’il jugeait son œuvre « un cauchemar de choses inconnues, de foetus qu’on fait cuire au milieu des sabbats, de vieilles au miroir et d’enfants toutes nues » ; Théophile Gauthier : « Il y a surtout une planche tout à fait fantastique, qui est bien le plus épouvantable cauchemar que nous ayons jamais rêvé ; – elle est intitulée : Y aun no se van (Et ils ne s’en vont pas encore). C’est effroyable, et Dante lui-même n’arrive pas à cet effet de terreur suffocante ; représentez-vous une plaine nue et morne au-dessus de laquelle traîne péniblement un nuage difforme comme un crocodile éventré, puis une grande pierre, une dalle de tombeau qu’une figure souffreteuse et maigre s’efforce de soulever »

2. Paul Mantz, dictionnaire de 1859 : « Goya peignait comme dans le délire de la fièvre. Il affecte souvent pour la forme le dédain le plus parfait ; chez lui, c’est à la fois ignorance et parti pris. Et cependant ce maître bizarre, qui semble se complaire dans la laideur, avait un vif sentiment de la grâce féminine et des piquantes attitudes des belles filles de l’Espagne. Quoi qu’il en soit, Goya, si égaré, si fou, si incomplet dans sa peinture à l’huile, a laissé des caricatures d’un très haut prix. »

3. Goya, après être paralysé pendant six mis deviendra irrémédiablement sourd en 1793. Bien qu’ayant constatés des symptômes de troubles spatio-temporelles dès 1776, on ne peut exclure la thèse de l’empoisonnement, pratique très répandu à l’époque. A tel point d’ailleurs que le futur roi Ferdinand VII fut accusé d’avoir voulu empoisonner sa propre mère pour s’emparer du trône. C’est aussi un moment de l’histoire où d’autres sympathisants de la révolution américaine rencontrent des problèmes de santé pour le moins surprenants. La mort précoce de Mozart (1791) et la surdité de Beethoven (qui débute dès 1798) sont des cas d’école. N’excluons pas non plus la méningite ou une intoxication par le blanc de plomb, matériau très employé en peinture de chevalet. Un autre poison a tué bien des malades à cette époque : les mauvais médecins, que Goya moque comme des âne docteur dans la planche 40 des Caprichos « De quel mal mourra-t-il ? ».

4. Les Caprichos seront imprimé dans une dépendance de l’ambassade de France à Madrid en 1799 et les seuls à être publié par Goya lui-même pour réagir contre les attaques virulentes à l’encontre de ses amis chassés du gouvernement. Tout le reste de l’œuvre graphique ne sera publié qu’après la mort de l’artiste. Les Peintures noires ne furent découvertes et vu pour la première fois qu’en 1868.

5. A Bordeaux, Goya écrit en 1825 à son ami, le banquier Joaquin Maria Ferrer qui y réside également, bien que considéré par la police française comme « un dangereux révolutionnaire » , en lui confirmant qu’il cessa la vente parce que « la Sainte (inquisition) m’accusa ».

6. On peut penser ici à un poème populaire anglais de l’époque : « Baby, baby, he’s a giant ; Tall and black as Monmouth steeple ; And he breakfasts, dines, and suppers ; Every day on nougthy people. Baby mine, if Boney hears you ; As he gallops past the house ; Limb for limb at once he’ll tear you ; Just as pussy tears a mouse. » Rappelons ici que la gravure du Colosse, bien que sans les foules et sans l’âne, devait à l’origine servir de frontispice pour les Les désastres de la guerre.

7. Voir utilement Le Secret du Roi, de Gilles Perrault, Vol. I, 1992, L’ombre de la Bastille (Vol. II, 1993), et La Revanche américaine (Vol. III, 1996). Collection livre de poche, Fayard, Paris.

8. Si le rôle du général prussien Von Steuben fut crucial pour l’entraînement des troupes américaines à Valley Forge, c’est l’équivalent de cinq millions de livres de matériel de guerre (canons, poudre, fusils, munitions, uniformes) qui permirent à Washington de gagner la bataille si décisive de Saratoga en 1777. Cette somme énorme provenait pour la moitié des Bourbons français et espagnols et pour le reste de sympathisants français de la cause des insurgés et le matériel fut acheminé à partir des ports de Bordeaux, du Havre et de Marseille par les bateaux de Rodrigue, Hortalez et Cie (Beaumarchais). En août 1779, les 2000 troupes espagnoles de Bernardo de Gálvez font la guerre aux Anglais en Louisiane. A Yorktown, les 8000 anglais dirigés par Cornwallis se trouvent assiégés par 6000 insurgés renforcés par les volontaires français de Lafayette et rejoint par 5000 soldats français du corps expéditionnaire de Rochambeau, et perdent la bataille en 1781. Ainsi s’ouvre la voie de la reconnaissance des Etats-Unis par la France en 1783.

9. Dans une lettre écrit de Moscou au chevalier de Rossi en 1808, cité par Evan S. Connell, dans Goya, A Life, p.126. Pour Joseph de Maistre, lire Children of Satan II, document de la campagne présidentiel de Lyndon LaRouche en 2004. Rien d’étonnant non plus qu’en 1896, dans une explosion d’hystérie, le plus grand critique d’art de son époque et protecteur de la Fraternité pré-Raphaélite, John Ruskin (1819-1900), brûla dans sa cheminée toute une série des Caprichos pour exprimer son rejet du « caractère moralement et intellectuellement ignoble » de Goya.

10. Dans Baticle, Jeanne, Goya, d’or et de sang, Découvertes Gallimard, Paris, 1987, p.25.

11. Il serait intéressant d’enquêter sur la visite de Beaumarchais en Espagne en 1764. Beaumarchais représente une maison financière française (Pâris-Duvernay, les financiers de Louis XV et de Mme de Pompadour) à Madrid et y rencontre José Clavijo y Fajar, le ministre des sciences de Carlos III en contact avec Alexandre de Humboldt. Sa visite lui donnera aussi des éléments pour son Barbier de Séville de 1775.

12. Goya acheta vingt-cinq actions de la Banca San Carlos et sa présence à une réunion d’actionnaires, le 24 février 1788, est documenté.

13. Le richissime avocat Martin Zapater (1746-1803) était membre et trésorier de la Société Economique Aragonaise des Amis du Pays tandis que la duchesse d’Osuna (1752-1834) dirigeait la Junte de Damas, conseil des femmes de la Société à Madrid, organisant ses propres tertulias (soirées de discussion). Elle commanda à Goya une série de tableaux, illustrant des pièces littéraires traitant de la sorcellerie. C’était une passionnée de musique classique, de théâtre et de produits de luxe français. Elle organisait des concerts dans sa maison de campagne El Capricho, dans la banlieue de Madrid. On y jouait du Rossini, du Boccherini et elle passa des commandes à Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) pendant six ans, lui-même en contact avec Mozart. Haydn correspondait aussi avec le Duc d’Albe, mari de la fameuse duchesse d’Albe. Un des tableaux de la série de Goya, aujourd’hui disparu, représente « le commandeur » que Mozart met en scène dans son fameux « Don Juan ».

14. Pour un traitement approfondi du sujet : Spain’s Carlos III and the American System par William Wertz et Cruz del Carmen Moreno de Cota, dans Fidelio, vol. XIII, nr. 1-2, été 2004, Schiller Institute, Washington.

15. L’activité de l’Inquisitionn’étaitpas toujours aussi intense. La dernière grande démonstration cérémoniale de son pouvoir était l’immense « auto-da-fè » (acte de foi) sur la Plazza Major de Madriden 1680. Le roi Charles II en personne, ouvrant la célébration de son mariage, y alluma les bûchers de 27 « judaïsants ».Brièvement aboli par Joseph Bonaparte lors de l’occupation française en 1808,elle fut rétabli par Ferdinand VII et finalement aboli en1834.

16. Un des génies qui sortiront de ses écoles est le célèbre géomètre Jacob Steiner (1796-1863), père de la géométrie synthétique. Un des ses élèves était Bernhard Riemann.

17. Ferrari signale la coïncidence iconographique entre certaines estampes des Caprices et les planches gravées en 1776 en France par Monnet pour l’édition du poème burlesque de Charles Palisseau de Montenoy (1731-1814), La Dunciade, ou la guerre des sots (1764), polémique au vitriol à l’encontre de Diderot, Voltaire et l’esprit des salons. Des rapprochements avec certains croquis de Fragonard ont aussi été constatés.

18. Des analyses récentes aux rayons X des tableaux qu’ils existent actuellement au Prado et des examens stratigraphiques ont mis en lumière le fait, que sauf une exception, ce que nous voyons sont des surpeints. Maurice et Jacqueline Guillaud font état de fresques joyeuses, recouvertes par la suite par Goya et éventuellement quelqu’un d’autre. Sous Saturne figure un danseur qui lève le pied, tandis que « Laocadia » [la compagne de Goya] pose son bras sur une cheminée. « Le chien », dont nous voyons juste encore la tête est peut-être le détail touchant que Goya n’a pas voulu effacer.

Merci de partager !