Darboy, martyr of Versailles

Darboy, martyr of Versailles

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Title: Monsignor Darboy in his prison.

Author : CARPEAUX Jean-Baptiste (1827 - 1875)

School : Romanticism

Creation date : 1871

Date shown: 1871

Dimensions: Height 57 - Width 68

Technique and other indications: Oil painting on canvas

Storage place: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - C. Jean website

Picture reference: 88EE1238 / RF 1985-19

Monsignor Darboy in his prison.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - C. Jean

Publication date: September 2014

Historical context

Darboy, martyr of Versailles

On May 24, 1871, Monsignor Georges Darboy, Archbishop of Paris, Father Gaspard Deguerry, parish priest of the Madeleine and famous preacher, three Jesuit Fathers and Louis-Bernard Bonjean, president of the Paris Court of Appeal, who had been made prisoners and held as “hostages of the people of Paris”, went through arms in a courtyard of the Grande-Roquette prison. Various exchange proposals, notably against Blanqui, had been made to the Versailles authorities, in vain.

With the death of the prelate and these members of the Parisian magistracy and clergy, Versailles now holds its martyrs. It is from this perspective that Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux represents the prelate in his prison and also paints an allegorical Apotheosis of Monsignor Darboy (1871, private collection).

Image Analysis

Violence condemned

The execution of Darboy and the ecclesiastics inspires a strong work in Carpeaux. The violence of the staging carries within itself the condemnation of the act represented. The composition with oblique and dynamic lines, distributed on either side of the central group where a Jesuit rushes in front of the prelate to try to save him by sacrificing himself in his place, allows a melee of the bodies of the executioners and the victims. Bright colors, laid in impasto, reinforce the hustle and bustle of this nocturnal event.

To the ambient tumult in the midst of which a first victim collapsed, Carpeaux contrasts the heroic impassibility of the prelate dressed in his purple cassock.


History painting and symbolic evocation

Due to fragile health, Carpeaux was not mobilized during the war of 1870. He therefore remained in Paris during the siege, where he multiplied the sketches on the city and its unusual animation - scenes captured with rapidity, which restore twilight atmospheres announcing the end of an era.

In this same dark vein, Carpeaux also represented scenes of the Commune which he did not attend since he had settled in London in March 1871. It was there that, a sculptor wanting to work as a painter of history , he painted his paintings on the death of Monsignor Darboy, with only the imprecise information published by the press for sources. This is why he preferred the evocation to description, coupled with an explicit pictorial quote of The Stoning of Saint Stephen by Rubens. With an ambition less political than moral, he developed his composition in a decidedly pathetic and theatrical register that allowed him to evoke the event without being trapped in the precision of the testimony.

  • anticlericalism
  • Municipality of Paris
  • execution
  • martyr
  • jail


Bernard NOËL, Municipality dictionary, 2 vol., Paris, Flammarion, coll. "Champs", 1978.

To cite this article

Bertrand TILLIER, "Darboy, martyr of Versailles"

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