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France: Symbols of the Republic

Last modified: 2011-06-10 by ivan sache
Keywords: france | logotype | seal | coat of arms: france | fasces | marianne | letters: rf |
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France has no official coat of arms

Heraldry being perceived as an aristocratic art form, the Republic did not adopt new armorial bearings following the Revolution. Consequently, many heraldists, including some of the most distinguished, consider that the legitimate arms of France remain those from the time of the kings. This is the reason why the seal, the national symbol, and the emblem are nowadays the only official graphics used by the Republic (with the flags and cockades, of course).

Source: Pierre Gay's website, translated by Joseph McMillan, 2 April 2003

Logo of the State - Marianne

[Logo of the French Republic]

Official logotype of France

France still has no coat of arms but has now a logo.
According to AFP (12 March 1999), Prime Minister Lionel Jospin has given the state a logo, a Marianne on blue-white-red ground, which shall be put soon on all the documents of the ministries and administrations.
Government agencies that already have their own logo need not use this one.

Pascal Vagnat, 13 March 1999

Marianne is the nickname given to the feminine allegory of the Republic (derived from the revolutionary allegory of Liberty). Origin of the nickname is controversial according to M. Pastoureau [pst98] . It can be dated 1848-1851, with generalization ca. 1875.
Pastoureau, refering to M. Agulhon's studies, presents the opposition between:
- a wise and bourgeois Marianne (sitting, still, hair tied up, breast covered, liberty cap discrete or missing)
- a rebell and popular Marianne (moving, hair untied, breast uncovered, liberty cap highlighted).
The evolution of Marianne's graphic charter reflects the political evolution of French society. The allegory used on the logo is an interesting mix of the wise, bourgeois Marianne and the revolutionary, popular one.

The municipal monthly review of Versailles has an article about Marianne. It reports one of the possible origin of Marianne:
After the coup of 17 Fructidor 1797, the Directory [the regime which ruled France from 26 October 1795 to 9 November 1799], wanted to give a pleasant nickname to the French Republic, [probably to lighten the bloody image of the Revolution]. The gallant Barras [one of the Directors], once invited for dinner by Madame Marianne Reubell, asked her for her first name, and said : "Great, Your first name is simple and short, it fits the Republic as well as it fits You."
In 1848, the Ministry of the Interior launched a sculpture contest to symbolize the Republic. After the fall of monarchy, the Provisional Government had declared: "The image of liberty should replace everywhere the images of corruption and shame, which have been broken in three days by the magnanimous French people."
Two Mariannes were granted: the one is fighting and victorious, and represents the Greek goddess Athena, the other is wise and serious. Every city hall could make its own choice between the two proposals.
In 1884, all municipalities were required to have a city hall, even if the presence of Marianne's bust was not mandatory.
There is no rule for the representation of Marianne. The city hall of Versailles owns three different Mariannes: the first one, in the main hall, is a replica of Dubray's Marianne from 1848 (the wise option), the second one, in the council room, was made by Lecreux out of black bronze in 1870, and the third one, recently placed in the wedding hall, is an original modern artwork by Georges Delahaie.
In general, Marianne has inspired more than 100 models. A few celebrities "became" Marianne, such as Brigitte Bardot (1969), Catherine Deneuve (1985), Mireille Mathieu, Mireille Darc, Isabelle Adjani and finally Laetitia Casta.

Ivan Sache, 15 October 2000

The second Marianne then represented Pallas/Athena as well. Pallas isn't just war, she is war combined with wisdom. After all, she was born out of the head of Zeus, which she sprang from fully dressed for battle.
These are of course the two complementary aspects of Athena/Pallas. The first Marianne matches the ideal woman according to the 1880 (and later...) standard, the second one is much closer to the scandalous Liberté guidant le Peuple painted by Delacroix (1830). The Marianne of the logo is close to the second one, but made wiser and more modern by stylizing her.

Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg & Ivan Sache, 16 October 2000

National symbol


National symbol of France

Oval shield, azure a lictor's fasces palewise upon two branches, of oak and of olive, crossed in saltire, all or, surmounted by a ribbon of the same charged with the motto in letters sable: "LIBERTE, EGALITE FRATERNITE". The shield is surrounded by the Grand Collar of the Order of the Legion of Honor proper, the cross suspended from it in base. This version of the national symbol of the French Republic was created under the Fourth Republic by a ministerial commission that convened on 3 June 1953 at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Since then, it is represented on the panel reserved for France in the assembly hall of the United Nations in New York.

Source: Pierre Gay's website, translated by Joseph McMillan, 2 April 2003

National seal

The ordinance of 8 September 1848 defined the seal of the Second Republic, which is still in use today: Liberty seated holding in her right hand a lictor's fasces and in her left the tiller of a rudder on which is the figure of a Gallic cock, the claw resting on a globe. Behind, to the right of the rudder, oak leaves representing wisdom; to the left of the rudder, an urn inscribed with the initials SU (for suffrage universel [universal suffrage]). At the feet of Liberty, emblems of the fine arts and of agriculture. The seal carries the inscriptions République française, démocratique, une et indivisible and 24 fév. 1848 on the obverse. On the reverse, Au nom du peuple français and Egalité, Fraternité, Liberté.

Source: Pierre Gay's website, translated by Joseph McMillan, 2 April 2003

National emblem

[Passport cover]

Front cover of a French passport

The French-European passport carries the emblem of the French Republic. The design of the emblem is very close to that of the national symbol: a lictor's fasces upon two branches, of olive and oak, in saltire, overall a plaque with the interlaced letters 'RF'.

Source: Pierre Gay's website, translated by Joseph McMillan, 2 April 2003

The RF cypher

R.F. (for République Française) appeared shortly after the proclamation of the French Republic in autumn 1792 on official and administrative documents. It had the status of a State administrative emblem, and was also used on stamps and seals (although less frequently than fasces, cockade, Liberty or rooster).
The Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Republics generalized the administrative use of R.F., especially to overcome the lack of State arms. It was often proposed to consider the letters RF (or EF during the Etat Français) as an heraldic charge and to place them in a shield, in total contradiction with the heraldic rule which bans letters from the shield field. The letters RF were indeed used on documents (for instance passports) as well on buildings.
During several international meetings, all countries exhibited their national arms whereas France exhibited a shield charged with RF.
Tricolor shields with RF in black in the middle of the white stripe are quite common on city halls, schools, administrative buildings etc.

Source: M. Pastoureau, op. cit.

A Tricolore flag charged with RF in the white stripe can be seen on a Comoran coin dated 1889

Ivan Sache, 25 November 2000