Toppled crowns and tumbrels to the guillotine are just part of the massive archive of images and documents released online this month. The French Revolution Digital Archive, a partnership between Stanford University and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, was announced last week with some 14,000 high-resolution images.
For anyone who tried to use the thorough, but cumbersome, BnF website for research, this is joyous news. Yet even for curious non-academics the archive is incredibly user-friendly and rich with vivid material on one of history’s most tumultuous times. The archive, a multi-year project, is divided into two areas — Parliamentary Archives and Images of the French Revolution — with a very handy visual timeline included on each search so you can pinpoint what exact point of time you want to target. While the images are heavy on prints and illustrations, there are also photographs of medals, coins, and other artifacts.
You can approach the images by themes like “religion,” the woeful “King and the Royal Family,” and the chaotic “political rivalries and social conflict.” There are also divisions in art and culture, like “heroes” and “allegories,” and even the titillating “politics in the boudoir.” The keywords once you’re viewing an image are in French, but overall it’s accessible to either anglo- or francophones.
Below are just a few finds from the archive, with caricatures of revolutionary villains and heroes, illustrations of pivotal events, and of course the rise of the “National Razor” that gave tens of thousands of citizens a deadly shave: the guillotine.