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Marseillaise – Departure of the Volunteers of 1792

François Rude, 1833-36
Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile, Paris,


Rosalind Krauss analyzes Rude’s composition in Marseillaise :

“Rude does capture that moment of absolute pregnancy, of forms focused to a point of utter sharpness from which meaning will then be seen to spread outward, connecting this particular composition to the events that form its past and its future.

In order to achieve this focus, Rude organizes the composition along two axes: a horizontal axis that divides the frieze of soldiers in the lower half of the work from the splayed form of the winged victory that fills the upper register; and a vertical axis that plumbs the space from the head of the victory down the center of her body through the vertical juncture between the two central soldiers. The meaning of the composition – and consequently of the moment it depicts – revolves around the point where these two axes join. Rude produces the feeling of movement rotating around the vertical axis by overlapping the bodies in the lower register to form a semi-circle. The line of soldiers seems to be issuing from the far right, out of the very ground of the arch, and to be moving forward as it proceeds to the left. The point at which that wave of bodies crests is the point of contact with the vertical axis, as the two central figures recognize the symbol of victory. At that juncture, as they mirror the image suspended above them, the soldiers seem to arrest the horizontal flow of movement through space and time. By exploiting the formal device of symmetry, Rude creates an icon that will stand for a particular moment: the dawning of consciousness about the meaning of liberty. And then, leftward along the horizontal frieze, the figures seem to continue their movement, this time into the future.”

Rosalind Krauss, “Narrative Time: the Question of the Gates of Hell,” Passages in Modern Sculpture (Cambridge, MA-London: MIT Press, 1981), 10-12.

About the Artist

Born: Dijon, 4 January 1784
Died: Paris, 3 November 1855
Nationality: French