The execution of Marie-Antoinette

The execution of Marie-Antoinette

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Title: Marie-Antoinette led to her execution on October 16, 1793.

Author : HAMILTON William (1751 - 1801)

Creation date : 1794

Date shown: October 16, 1793

Dimensions: Height 152 - Width 197

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage place: Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille website

Contact copyright: © Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, Photo RMN-Grand Palais - M. Bellot website

Picture reference: 94CE2086 / Inv. 1994-17

Marie-Antoinette led to her execution on October 16, 1793.

© Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, Photo RMN-Grand Palais - M. Bellot

Publication date: April 2008

Historical context

Since his flight and his arrest in Varennes in June 1791, the fate of the royal family was in suspense. She was executed on October 16 at a quarter past twelve.

Image Analysis

Marie-Antoinette appears in the center of the painting in a white pique negligee and wearing a small linen cap. This angelic garment is enhanced by bright lighting and contrasts with the dark clothing of those around it. His attitude is full of dignity, all in his prayers with his eyes raised to the sky. She leaves for the scaffold. Framed Henri Sanson, the executioner, who tied her hands, and the constitutional priest - strangely dressed like an Anglican priest - whom she pretended to ignore and to whom she refused to confess. Around this central triptych, a group of soldiers witness the scene and hold back the noisy demonstrations of a crowd of revolutionaries made up of grotesque fishwomen and sans-culottes. Behind them, other soldiers appear bringing with them the cart that is to lead the condemned woman to the guillotine in Revolution Square. The exuberance of the crowd contrasts with the frozen and solemn behavior of the queen, in particular the fishwoman whose raised and bare arms refer to the bound hands of the condemned woman, a passive victim more than a real culprit. Marie-Antoinette represents the republic's offering to the heightened passions of the revolutionary crowd.


This painting, contemporary with the event it recounts, is to be compared with the hagiographic iconography of royalist inspiration which then invaded the English and European market. This sentimental production highlights the beauty, youth and innocence of the queen, and, unlike Hamilton's painting, focuses above all on representing her execution. Thus, an engraving published in London by Sayers on January 2, 1794 (Anonymous, The Death of Marie-Antoinette, Paris, National Library, De Vinck collection 5471) specifies in her letter that: "The beautiful Princess [...] always retained her natural dignity of spirit and she mounted the scaffold firmly, looking calmly around her. When she saw the fatal instrument, she shifted her countenance a little, but quickly regained her former composure. The executor immediately tied him to the board, and with the crescent placed on his neck, the ax fell and, in an instant, separated the head from the body. These prints, like the quickly engraved Hamilton painting, served to stir emotion and impress popular English and European sensibilities. Conversely, French revolutionary iconography will represent the death of the queen as the start of a new era of political equality.

  • Bourbons
  • fall of royalty
  • counter-revolution
  • Convention
  • Marie Antoinette
  • martyr
  • sans culottes
  • French Revolution


Jacques REVEL, Mona OZOUF "Marie-Antoinette", "trial of the king" in François FURET and Mona OZOUF, Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution, Paris, Flammarion, 1988, reed. coll. "Champs", 1992.Evelyne LEVER, Marie Antoinette, Paris, Fayard, 1986. Claudette HOULD, The Image of the French Revolution, Musée du Québec, Les Publications du Québec, 1989 Collective, Catalog of paintings, sculptures and drawings, Vizille, Museum of the French Revolution, 1986.

To cite this article

Pascal DUPUY, "The execution of Marie-Antoinette"

Video: Marie Antoinette - Documentary