Anti-clericalism in the early XIXe century

Anti-clericalism in the early XIX<sup>e</sup> century

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Title: Cartoon of a clergyman holding a cross

Author : DELACROIX Eugène (1798 - 1863)

Creation date : 1822

Date shown: 1820

Dimensions: Height 14.6 - Width 8.3

Technique and other indications: (Priest standing three-quarter to the right brandishing a crucifix) Watercolor, pen, black ink, white paper

Storage location: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - M. Bellot website

Picture reference: 97CE17129 / RF 10258

Cartoon of a clergyman holding a cross

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - M. Bellot

Publication date: June 2006

Historical context

After the Revolution, which brutally broke with the Church by rejecting the association, founder of the Ancien Régime, between political order and divine order, the Restoration appeared as a clerical regime, favored by "Providence". The "alliance of the throne and the altar" led to the laws on the prohibition of divorce (1816) and on the sanctification of Sundays and sacrilege (1825).

The regime’s excesses, along with the lingering influence of Enlightenment philosophy and memories of the Revolution, account for the strength of anticlericalism. The Voltairean bourgeoisie takes sides against the Church; in the 1820s, the royal colleges provided an environment in which atheism flourished. The Revolution of 1830 is very anticlerical.

Image Analysis

It is in this context that Delacroix (1798-1863) made his Cartoon of a clergyman holding a cross, watercolor enhanced with pen and black ink strokes. The priest, a big red-haired man, shouts, shaking his arms. The cross he raises in the air seems to inspire fear more than love of neighbor. The clergyman, his face contorted with anger, is sketched with the same sense of acerbic mockery as the political staff of the July Monarchy sculpted by Daumier.

This caricature is all the more interesting as Delacroix is, with Chassériau, one of the greatest religious painters of his time: his Crucifixions, influenced by Rubens, testify to this. It is because Delacroix does not attack the Christian religion, but rather the ecclesiastical institution. There is in him "a permanence of the figure of the exiled, the damned, the accursed" (S. Guégan in Delacroix. Hell and the Workshop, Flammarion, 1998, p. 153) which fits well with the vision of Christ without Church.


Under the July monarchy, we witness the development of social Catholicism, opposed to traditional perspectives and for this reason condemned by the papacy; but, "in 1830, the religious awakening did not yet counterbalance the reflux within the elites, the ignorance within the people and the rise of anticlericalism" (G. Cholvy in Delacroix. Hell and the Workshop, Flammarion, 1998, p. 29). The caricature of Delacroix, characteristic of this period, fits well into the history of the great XIXe century.

In the 1840s, Quinet and Michelet launched a violent offensive against the influence of the Jesuits in education. The publication of the Life of jesus de Renan, in 1863, announced the exacerbation of the struggles between the Church of the Syllabus and the Republic in the years 1860-1880. And Gambetta declared in 1872: "Clericalism, here is the enemy. "

  • anticlericalism
  • caricature
  • Catholicism
  • atheism


Stéphane GUÉGAN, Delacroix: Hell and the Workshop, Paris, Flammarion, 1998.

Jacqueline LALOUETTE, History of free thought in France, 1848-1940, Paris, A. Michel, 1996.

Jacques LEGOFF, René REMOND, History of religious France. From the Very Christian King to Republican Secularism, 18th-19th century, t. 3, Paris, Seuil, 1991.

René REMOND, Anticlericalism in France from 1815 to the present day, Paris, 1976.

COLLECTIVE, Delacroix. The birth of a new romanticism, catalog of the exhibition at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen, Paris, RMN, 1998.

To cite this article

Ivan JABLONKA, "Anti-clericalism in the early XIXe century "

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