Bara's death

Bara's death

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Title: Death of Joseph Bara.

Author : DAVID Jacques Louis (1748 - 1825)

Creation date : 1794

Date shown: 07 December 1793

Dimensions: Height 118 - Width 155

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage location: Calvet Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowskisite web

Picture reference: 89EE2099 / INV 146

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

Born in 1779, Joseph Bara is the son of the gamekeeper of the Lord of Palaiseau. According to legend, surrounded by Vendeans who summoned him to shout Long live the king, he would have answered Long live the Republic ! Informed by General Desmarres, the Convention demanded that his body be transferred to the Pantheon and that David, responsible for organizing the ceremony, also pay homage to him with a painting.

Image Analysis

The cult of Bara gave rise to the publication of very many engravings, most of them published immediately after the decree of the Convention of May 7, 1794 (18 Floréal year II) which required that the honors of the Pantheon be returned to him. In these engravings, Bara is very often represented dressed in the uniform of the hussars, more rarely in the clothes of a drum. Other images will also use allegorical elements of the Pantheon ceremony imagined by David. The latter questioned by Barère at the Convention agreed to draw the image of the young martyr so that it could be exhibited "in all primary schools". Apparently David only had time to craft a sketch: a naked, androgynous-looking child in a languid position. Bara has just been punched and we can see on the left of the painting a flag and a soldier witnessing the dramatic scene that has just unfolded. The child holds in his right hand a cockade and a letter which one might think was addressed - or alluded to - his mother, a device already used by David in his Marat, another symbolic and dramatic representation of a martyr of the Revolution. In his speech to the Convention on July 11, 1794 (23 Messidor Year II), David presented his plan for the organization of the ceremony and spoke of Bara’s death: "Summoned by brigands to cry Long live the king ! Instantly, pierced with blows, he fell, pressing the tricolor cockade to his heart; he dies to relive the splendor of history. The party that was scheduled for 10 Thermidor was finally canceled due to the events of the day before.


For Robespierre or Barère, the two deputies, the young martyr embodies the Revolution, of which he is the product. It symbolizes the virtue which at the end of 1793 lacked in a Republic affected by the scandals that affected Danton, Hébert and Fabre d´Eglantine. Bara also allows the Committee of Public Safety to take back in hand popular cults which, like those of Marat or Le Peletier, favored dechristianization against which Robespierre fought. In both his outline and his plan for the organization of the pantheonization ceremony, David symbolically evokes these ideological and political debates. Another heroic figure of the Revolution who is frequently associated with him, Viala was also the subject alongside Bara of a veritable "cult" that can be observed in military imagery or in the writings of Charles Nodier; the two figures occupy an important place in the republican pantheon.

  • Convention
  • heroic figure
  • martyr
  • naked
  • Vendée


Collective Joseph Bara: (1779-1793). For the second centenary of his birth Paris, Société des études robespierristes, 1981.Louis PHILIPON DE LA MADELEINE Agricole Viala, or I Young Hero of the Durance: historical and patriotic fact, act in prose, mixed with song Paris, Hachette, 1975.Charles NODIER Portraits of the Revolution and the Empire Paris, Tallandier, 1988. Pierre NORA (dir.) Memorial place , tome I, “La République” Paris, Gallimard, 1984, re-ed. “Quarto”, 1997.

To cite this article

Pascal DUPUY, "The death of Bara"

Video: gladiator bara to the death


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