The French Revolution: Tearing up History

A journey through the dramatic and destructive years of the French Revolution, telling its history in a way not seen before – through the extraordinary story of its art. Our guide through this turbulent decade is the constantly surprising Dr Richard Clay, an art historian who has spent his life decoding the symbols of power and authority.


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Dr Clay has always been fascinated by vandalism and iconoclasm, and believes much of the untold story of the French Revolution can be discovered through the stories of great moments of destruction. Who were the stone masons in the crowd outside Notre Dame that pulled down the statues of kings? Why do the churches of Paris still carry all the coded signs of anti-Christian state legislation? What does it mean, and who was carrying this out?


Telling the story of the French Revolution – from the Storming of the Bastille to the rise of Napoleon – as the significant modern outbreak of iconoclasm, Clay argues that it reveals the destructive and constructive roles of iconoclasts and how this led directly to the birth of the modern Europe.

The French Revolution

The French Revolution was a period of far-reaching social and political upheaval in France that lasted from 1789 until 1799, and was partially carried forward by Napoleon during the later expansion of the French Empire. The Revolution overthrew the monarchy, established a republic, experienced violent periods of political turmoil, and finally culminated in a dictatorship under Napoleon that rapidly brought many of its principles to Western Europe and beyond.

Inspired by liberal and radical ideas, the Revolution profoundly altered the course of modern history, triggering the global decline of absolute monarchies while replacing them with republics and liberal democracies. Through the Revolutionary Wars, it unleashed a wave of global conflicts that extended from the Caribbean to the Middle East. Historians widely regard the Revolution as one of the most important events in human history.

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