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Qwiz5 Quizbowl Essentials — Liberty Leading the People

Liberty Leading the People is the magnum opus of French Romantic painter Eugène Delacroix.  Painted in 1830, Liberty Leading the People commemorates the successful July Revolution of that year that drove the restored Bourbon King Charles X out of Paris. Hopes ran high in Paris in that heady summer, and although Charles would be replaced by another king (Louis-Philippe) the radical possibility of that year is forever captured by Liberty Leading the People

By analyzing questions, you can see patterns emerge, patterns that will help you answer questions. Qwiz5 is all about those patterns. In each installment of Qwiz5, we take an answer line and look at its five most common clues. Here we explore five clues that will help you answer a tossup on Liberty Leading the People.    


First let’s provide a little more context regarding the painting’s circumstances. King Charles X’s increasingly authoritarian tendencies had angered the people of Paris. In July of 1830 the King promulgated his July Ordinances, which restrained freedom of the press and disbanded the current Chamber of Deputies. These ordinances, on top of earlier laws such as the one instituting the death penalty for profaning the Catholic Eucharist, were too much to bear for the restive Parisians. In Three Glorious Days (July 26-July 29, 1830) the House of Bourbon was overthrown and replaced by their cadet branch, the House of Orléans. 


Now, on to the painting itself. Although the painting’s center is dominated by the bare-chested personification of Liberty herself, other figures are worthy of study. To Liberty’s right stands a boy holding two pistols. The boy wears a black velvet beret common among students of his time, and for this reason many interpret him as a stand-in for the students involved in the July Revolution. Victor Hugo is believed to have based his child revolutionary, Gavroche, in part on this character.  


The Phrygian cap is a conical hat made of felt with a top that curls forward. The cap dates to Antiquity, coming from a region once known as Phrygia which is now part of modern-day Turkey. Centuries later Phrygian caps became associated with the French Revolution. The personification of Liberty at the center of Liberty Leading the People wears a red Phrygian cap in keeping with her symbolic connection to the French Revolution. 


To the left of Liberty is a man in a top hat and cravat holding a hunting shotgun. Art critics and historians typically interpret this man as representing the bourgeoisie, who sided with the radicals during the July Revolution. A popular theory holds that the man in the top hat is modeled on Delacroix himself, but the true identity of the model remains unknown. 


Not everyone in Liberty Leading the People is triumphantly celebrating. Underneath Liberty is a dead man naked from the waist down except for a blue sock on one foot. This man is believed to represent the sacrifices incurred by those who fought in the Revolution. 


Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out: 

  • Read this article for an in-depth exploration of the rich symbolism in Liberty Leading the People

  • The Phrygian cap is not just associated with France - it became a symbol in America as well. 

  • Liberty Leading the People might lead one to believe Delacroix was a fire-breathing radical, but his Romantic style is often associated with counterrevolutionary tendencies.

  • Watch this video to learn more about the unlucky Charles X. 

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