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A Bust of the French Revolutionary Hero Joseph Barra, 1894
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A Bust of the French Revolutionary Hero Joseph Barra, 1894

Measurements: Height: 33cm (13in)



Parian on glazed ceramic socle. Portrait bust

Sevres biscuit porcelain. A bust of the French drummer boy and hero of the First Republic, Joseph Barra modelled wearing uniform and a shako inscribed ‘EGALITE, LIBERTE OU LA MORT’ Mounted on a glazed blue and gilt socle inscribed ‘BARRA’. Potting mark, printed and impressed, for 1893. Decorating mark in iron-red for 1894.

Joseph Barra (1779-1793) was a young French drummer-boy who attached himself to the revolutionary army sent to suppress the Royalist rising in the Vendee. His death whilst guarding horses was seized upon by Robespierre and used as republican propaganda and he has been one of the symbols of the Republic ever since.

After his death General J.-B. Desmarres gave this account, by letter, to the Convention. ‘Yesterday this courageous youth, surrounded by brigands, chose to perish rather than give them the two horses he was leading.’ The boy's death was seized on as a propaganda opportunity by Robespierre , who praised him at the Convention’s tribune claiming that 'only the French have thirteen-year-old heroes’. But rather than simply being killed by Breton royalists who solely wanted to steal horses, Bara was transformed into a figure who denied the Ancien Régime at the cost of death. His story became that having been trapped by the enemy and being ordered to cry "Vive le Roi" ("Long live the King") to save his own life, he preferred instead to die crying "Vive la République”. His remains were to be transferred to the Panthéon during a revolutionary festival in his honor but the event was cancelled when Robespierre was overthrown the day before it was to take place.

The death of Barra is the subject of paintings Jacques-Louis David (1794); Charles Moreau-Vauthier (1857) and Jan-Joseph Weerts (1883) and also a statue of Bara David d’Angers in 1838.