Thursday, June 19, 2008

Statues on Place de la Concorde

The octagonal Place de la Concorde is ringed by statues of women representing eight cities of France: Lille, Rouen, Strasbourg, Marseilles, Lyons, Nantes, Brest and Bordeaux. The plinths on which the statues sit date from the time when the square was conceived in the 18th century, but the statues were not added until the 19th century. They were crafted by four sculptors under a competition organized by the July Monarchy between 1836 and 1840; none is considered a masterpiece, but the female octet has become an integral part of Paris’s largest (and most congested) square.
All eight of these statues were restored in time for the 1989 bicentennial celebration of the French revolution. The statue of Lille, in fact, was in such poor shape that she had to be virtually re-created. The statues of Lille and Strasbourg were by Swiss sculptor James (Jean-Jacques) Pradier, who used Juliette Drouet as his model. Mme. Drouet was his mistress before she was passed along to serve Victor Hugo in the same capacity.
The statue of Strasbourg became an object of veneration and pilgrimage after the Germans annexed Alsace and Lorraine in 1871. This was a tremendous blow to France, and Parisians expressed their exasperation by covering the statue of Strasbourg on the Place de la Concorde with wreaths, postcards, flags, rifles and declarations of outrage vowing the return of Strasbourg to France. When Germany was defeated in World War I, jubilant mobs clambered all over the statue of Strasbourg, damaging her face. Her head, arms and one breast were replaced in the renovation of 1988.

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