Marianne is the national symbol of the French Republic, a fusion of the personifications of Liberty and Reason. Born of the 18th-century Enlightenment, she has stood for Democracy at its best and, sometimes, at its worst.
She was established as a break from monarchic representational conventions. Her first appearance was on a 1789 medal honouring the storming of the Bastille, a Parisian fort used as a state prison. The Storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, is often considered as the initial conflict of the French Revolution.
In 1792 during the First Republic, Marianne is depicted in repose, but by the Reign of Terror, she is shown as a violent bare-breasted figure, leading revolutionaries into battle. After the Terror, she loses some of her fearsomeness but a precedent for representing her dual nature had been set.
In the Napoleonic Era, she was used as a subversive symbol, and then came the Second Republic and the revolutionary year of 1848. This time the republic embraced both versions as needed: the bare-breasted militant wearing a Phrygian cap and a red corsage, and a more conservatively demeanored Marianne, whose notable features include rays of sunlight around her head–much like the Statue of Liberty, which was designed by the French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi.
In 1849, she made her first appearance on a French postage stamp, as frequent a home for her as French coins and paper money.
The Third Republic used Marianne as a symbol of the French Nation between the beginning of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 and the Nazi occupation of France in 1940. Nationalism was rising in Europe and many of the national symbols we associate with Western Europe have–if not their origins–then at least their “formalizations” born out of this period. The version of Marianne we are familiar with today is based on the main figure in Triumph of the Republic, a sculpture created by artist Aimé-Jules Dalou in 1899 and located at the Place de la Nation in Paris.
One of the most influential portrayals of Marianne comes from this period: sculptor-engraver Oscar Roty’s design for La Semeuse (1897), otherwise known as The Sower, from which Adolph Weinman drew a heavy amount of inspiration for his Walking Liberty half dollar obverse design in 1916.
In 1940, the Nazi war machine acquired the seat of government in Paris and northern and western regions of the country. A southern district bordered on Spain, Italy, Switzerland and the Mediterranean Sea–known as Vichy France for its substitute capital in Vichy–was permitted for a time to administer itself, although it was subservient to the German regime.
But the French resisted like always. One of the symbols of that resistance was Marianne. In 1944, after the liberation of France by the Allied forces and into the post-war period and beyond, there was less social and psychological need for such a propaganda, and the French seemed to lose interest in such symbols, even though Marianne continued to appear on coins and currency. She was the last person portrayed on the French franc before the changeover to euro coinage, and her effigy has appeared on the national side of different French euros since 1999.
In 2017, the Monnaie de Paris issued a series of three gold coins, depicting Marianne as one of the classic symbols of France. The coins came in 250-, 1,000- and 5,000-euro denominations.
The obverse features a portrait of Marianne, wearing a Phrygian cap which symbolises freedom since ancient times. The cap has rosette made of ribbons. Cockades were used as a political symbol before the French Revolution. Tricolored cockades were commonly used in those days. She wears a crown of laurel in front and oak in the back. The “L” of LIBERTÉ is transforming into a flying wing. It then transforms into the first bird in a series of birds that fly clockwise. The year 2017 is also inscribed and the whole design is surrounded by a repeating dot and dash pattern.
Other inscriptions include “Monnaie de Paris”, a cornucopia - the Monnaie de Paris mintmark, the mark of current Monnaie de Paris mint master Yves Sampo–a pentagon, with letters AG, MP and YS. The coin also features a square inside a square which is the artist’s mark of coin designer Joaquin Jimenez.
The reverse depicts two large hexagons. Their collective angles form a 24-sided polygon. Within the series of two outer hexagons is another hexagon. These hexagons stylistically symbolize the shape of France.
Inside the space of the inner hexagon is the inscription REPUBLIQUE FRANCAISE in a curve. A wreath has a laurel branch on top and an oak branch. Other inscriptions include EURO 5000. All these elements are located in such a way that they represent the € EURO symbol.
Image Courtesy French Mint