Sunday 18 December 2022

Sunday 18th December - The Death of Joseph Bara

It is nice and early in the morning today, so I am hoping to have this posted before I start all my bits and pieces I have to do, including checking out some lovely fair-isle jumpers in Lidls, but I digress - although, actually maybe I don't, because shopping right now makes us all feel fairly murderous.  We better crack on so I have the strength to tackle the shops. Right then, today I need to thank Joe Harley for getting in touch and putting me out of my misery on the painting I was trying to remember on Day 2 of Stabvent.  It was as grim and glorious as I remember, so I think we'll work our way up to it, starting here...

Joseph Bara (1882) Jean-Joseph Weerts

Here we have a well-dressed little poppet indeed, but this is no ordinary portrait as the subject had been dead for almost 90 years by this point. François Joseph Bara, sometimes written Joseph Bara or simply Bara, was a martyr of the French Revolution at the grand old age of 13.  Much like Little Hunter in Day 2's painting, Bara represented all that was good and pure about the intentions of the side he was fighting for.  After all, children are innocent and trust-worthy (apparently) so the side they fight for must be the right side, right? By that stretch, the side that has the most children is the right one - I'm sorry, but that is never true outside Dick Van Dyke in the final battle in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Anyway, back to Bara...

Bara, born in 1779, was the son of a wood ranger and a domestic servant, but when his father died, the family were destitute. When he became a teenager his mother enrolled him in the army to fight for the glorious new Republic.  He was far too young to actually fight so was attached to a division where he (with other child soldiers) performed many non-combat tasks.  While he was leading horses to Jallais as part of the attack, the division was ambushed.  Rather than surrender his horses to the Royalist army, he refused and was killed. 

The Death of Bara (19th century) Charles Moreau-Vauthier

An account of the boy's death was written to the Ministery of War by his commander Jean-Baptiste Marie Desmarres d'Estimauville (known handily as 'Desmarres', which takes far less time to type). The first account was obviously emotional and was meant to act as a plea for support for the boy's family, who Desmarre knew were poor, but it sparked a propaganda story. Bara was transformed from being just a child who died in a scuffle over some horses to a boy-soldier, threatened with death if he did not cry 'Vive Le Roi!" Our brave little Republican cried "Vive la République!" and was immediately skewered...

The Death of Joseph Bara (1883) Jean-Joseph Weerts

Lawks and Lordy, this is the painting I was after! Merci Beaucoup, Joe! Look at the absolute state of what is going on there! There are horses, a leopard skin for some reason, about four people stabbing him and in the centre of it all is little Joseph, hanging on to his horses in his little uniform. War is indeed Hell and quite pointy. It is grim and grisly, and the Scotsman newspaper complained that the figure of Bara looked far too young and fresh-faced, rather than a seasoned soldier, which I think is meant to be the point but who am I to correct the Scotsman

Joseph Bara (19th century) Noel Ruffier

The myth of Joseph Bara and his child-martyrdom spread and the National Convention, the government, got hold of the story declaring that France alone had 13 year old heroes (which is not something I would necessarily be proud of, if I'm honest) and David was pressed into action to honour the child hero of the Revolution.  We all know that Jacques-Louis David had form from this post. He was compelled to paint the fallen hero, like he had done with Marat, although I have some questions...

The Death of Young Bara (1794) Jacques-Louis David

Okay, why is he naked?! That's just odd.  I'm sure no-one else decided the best way to paint a fallen soldier-child was in the buff...

Bara  (19th century) Jean-Jacques Henner

Just stop that, you are making it weird. No-one else has decided naked is the best way to do it, have they?

The Death of Bara (1838) David d'Angers

For goodness sake, well at least d'Angers managed a bit of drapery and the tricolour pressed to his breast as he died. Mercifully, when the 19th century French decided they needed a statue, they left his clothes on or else he might have got cold...

In the Portsmouth Evening News on 13th September 1881, it was reported that France had 'statue mania' which showed no sign of abating as they had unveiled a public statue of Bara to a crowd which included some of his family descendants. I wonder about the surge in interest in the French Revolution, not so much in the Revolution itself but in the figures, these pinnacles of French-ness.  By the 1880s, the French were still reeling from their defeat in the Franco-Prussian war in the decade before and that rumbling of lost ground would continue to 1914. This building of national identity, these reminders of 'who we are' all feel like reassurance that to be French is to be heroic, even in defeat.  Blimey, that sounds exactly like what the English were doing with images of Gordon and Major Wilson, only the French were reaching back to a safe, simple past (although the past is rarely either of those things).  We are being told these heroes of the Revolution made France a better place, it can be made a better place again if we model ourselves after their virtues. As role models go, a 13 year old boy is an odd one, but as a child-martyr, his honour, bravery, and the contrast in what a child should be doing at 13, make him a saint-like figure.  I was struck by the elaborately gruesome image of his death by Weerts and how like some images of Christian martyrdom it was. The fact that a saint dies is never enough, they have to suffer a terrible death or it doesn't count. Well, that's not problematic now, is it? Vive La France!

Thank you again Joe for putting me out of my misery, and I will see everyone tomorrow...

1 comment:

  1. Goodness me, I wasn't ready to see all the naked images! I can't imagine that the Royalists killed him and then nicked his clothes! Child martyr is right, I think.
    On to more murder and mayhem...
    Best wishes


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx