Charlie Hebdo and French Caricature: Children of the Revolution and Romantic Age

Louis XVI, A Passion for Paris by David Downie, Paris food, French caricature

Louis XVI shown as a glutton, Revolutionary era caricature


Caricature has always been a dangerous business in France: starting from the earliest days of political or religious caricature during the Age of Enlightenment, caricature artists have risked fines, imprisonment and worse–torture, beatings, assassination.



The Prince of Conde' (Louis Philippe), right, Political Badminton, both Revolutionary Era


Cuckold and Baby (the caption reads: Come Come Nurse – Good Good! what a likeness)


Nothing sacred? Perhaps. Or perhaps when nothing is beyond satire everything is equally sacred? "Equal" is the key term. A sense of humor is essential. Clearly not all peoples, nations and creeds possess the same sense of humor–or possess the capacity to develop one.


Paris was and remains the homeland of the French caricature and it was in Paris during the Revolutionary period that the caricature came into its own as a vehicle to attack the aristocracy and the church. Later, the original "terrorists" of The Terror–those masters of the mock trail and the guillotine–fell victim to caricature and beheading.



Napoleon rose through the ranks and kept his head on his shoulders, eventually becoming emperor. But he too was the target of political satire and savage caricature, and was ousted from power (the number of caricatures of him skyrocketed).

Napoleon on St Helena: I smoke while weeping over my sins


The heyday of caricature came with the end of the restored Bourbon monarchs and the death of Charles X, an aspiring theocrat: he wanted to turn the clock back to the ancien regime and reinstitute divine right monarchy. When he repealed press freedom in 1830 all hell broke loose–aided by the rebellious Romantics with a capital R rallied by Victor Hugo after the so-called Battle of Hernani.


The Battle of Hernani: It All Started at the Theater


Victor Hugo, the great theorist, preacher and practitioner of Romanticism, as seen by Daumier


Hugo leading the other great Romantics


Politics, religion, literature, art, science, medicine, fashion, family life and marriage… everything was and is fair game.

The Great Doctors (are baffled)