The proclamation of the Roman Republic

The proclamation of the Roman Republic

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Title: Proclamation of the Roman Republic in the Place du Capitole, February 15, 1798.

Author : VERNET Carle (1758 - 1836)

Date shown: February 15, 1798

Dimensions: Height 31 - Width 42.5

Technique and other indications: Engraving by Jean DUPLESSI-BERTAUX (1747-1819) and Robert DELAUNAY (1749-1814) after Carle VERNET (1758-1836).

Storage location: National Library of France (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo National Library of France

Picture reference: EF 134 FOL - FOL 19

Proclamation of the Roman Republic in the Place du Capitole, February 15, 1798.

© Photo National Library of France

Publication date: June 2009

Doctorate in Art History

Historical context

In February 1797, the French army took control of the northern Italian peninsula after a campaign initiated the previous spring and led by General Bonaparte. On February 11, 1798, the Marquis Massimo, representative of the Pope in Paris, was imprisoned, and General Berthier was ordered to march on Rome in order to drive the Pope out.

Image Analysis

Upon their arrival in Rome, the French settled in the Quirinal. On February 15, a republic led by seven consuls, including Berthier, was established and proclaimed on the Place du Capitole, where the Roman Jacobins planted a tree of symbolic Liberty. Carle Vernet has shifted the perspective so as to inscribe this symbol in the space that separates the Palace of the Conservatives (on the left) from the Palace of the Senators (in the center): adorned with two crossed flags, the trophy-shaped tree consists of of a mast at the top of which are fixed two olive branches, instead of the traditional patriotic cap. On each face of its imposing base are hammered the inscriptions "Religion and Liberty", "Sovereignty of the People", "Liberty and Equality", "Equality and Law". The majesty of the monumental environment dispenses with any other ornament and fully meets the scenographic needs of the ceremonial. The meeting of the French soldiers and the people who acclaim him with enthusiasm constitutes the real event.

The elegance of the design and the extreme care with which it is executed are characteristic of Historical paintings of the Italian campaigns, collection of engravings due to the talents of a fashionable designer and a renowned engraver, Carle Vernet and Jean Duplessis-Bertaux. Published in deliveries from 1801, a few months after the Peace of Lunéville which ratified the end of the second Italian campaign, this propaganda work intended to report to the French public on the military triumphs on which the First Consul based his power. . Although the title page claimed the historical truth of the representations, it is a radiant and idealized vision of the events that Carle Vernet proposed, what this Proclamation of the Roman Republic expresses more than any other engraving. The ceremony had gone through a markedly different course from what it shows. The entry of the French into Rome had scared a large number of Roman notables, and the people were holed up in their homes: Berthier, according to his own admission, had found in the city only "stupor and no patriotic enthusiasm" . The "innumerable people" who, according to the official papers, had applauded the proclamation of the republic, had actually amounted to a few hundred individuals, partly out of curiosity.


The creation of the Roman Republic was part of a program of territorial expansion drawn up by the Convention and pursued by the Directory. Beyond securing the national territory, it was a question of exporting the achievements of the Revolution to neighboring states and, more broadly, wherever the situation permitted, by establishing republics based on the French model. If the Directory was able to count on the enthusiasm of the many patriotic homes established in these territories to fight local resistance and help implement its projects, the multiple fronts it had to face, following the formation of a second coalition, dispersed its military forces and led it to reorient its strategies. By withdrawing her armies from the Mezzogiorno, France deprived the republics she had established in Rome and Naples of the support that guaranteed them.

The Roman Republic was no more than a memory at the time of the publication of the engraving by Duplessis-Bertaux, but this memory nonetheless served the military prestige of the First Consul, who would not take long to nourish new ambitions for the Italian peninsula.

  • Italy
  • Rome
  • propaganda


Maria-Pia DONATO, "The Roman Republic of 1798-99. A panorama of recent studies", in Modern and contemporary history review, 45 (1998), p.134-140.Albert DUFOURCQ, The Jacobin Regime in Italy: Study on the Roman Republic, Paris, 1900.Gérard PELLETIER, Rome and the French Revolution: Theology and Politics of the Holy See before the French Revolution (1789-1799), Rome, French School of Rome, 2004.

To cite this article

Mehdi KORCHANE, "The proclamation of the Roman Republic"

Video: History RE-Summarized: The Roman Republic