‘Un depot précieux’: matter, agency and politics, and the siege of the Bastille

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This article examines how in the weeks after the siege of the Bastille in the summer of 1789 the material remains of the fortress were used as political tokens of the nation’s newfound freedom. These tokens comprised maquettes of the Bastille carved from its stones, medals and buttons made from the irons that once constrained its inmates, flags captured from its ramparts, and even the mortal remains of prisoners uncovered beneath its walls. Taken together, these tokens constituted a ‘precious repository’ of objects animated by citizens’ acute consciousness of the significance of the Bastille’s fall not only for Paris and for France but for the rest of humanity.1 The significance of these objects, largely overlooked in the history of the Revolution, rested not on the mystical symbolism of absolute monarchy but on their material proximity to the siege, their direct indexical connection to an event that was seen to mark a defining break with the past. Close examination of the objects, texts and images that followed the siege shows the formation a new historical calculus, one that is contingent on an almost phenomenological consciousness of things and time, and their transformative agency. This article explores the agency of such objects and their inter- and intra-textual connection to contemporary images and accounts of the French Revolutions’ first weeks.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberepy011
Pages (from-to)217–235
JournalJournal of Design History
Issue number3
Early online date6 Apr 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Apr 2018


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