Item #3050 Moi Egal à toi. […]. / En Liberté comme toi. […]. François Bonneville.
Moi Egal à toi. […]. / En Liberté comme toi. […].
Iconography of the Abolition of Slavery in France, 1794

Moi Egal à toi. […]. / En Liberté comme toi. […].

Paris: F. Bonneville del el Sculp, [1794]. Framed. Papar size: ca. 15 × 20 cm. Lower edge trimmed. Showing black women in bust-length views in an oval medallion, in dark background, with different pearl necklaces, earrings, different headdresses, and different mottos beneath. Some light foxing to the paper. Loss of paint on the frames. Otherwise in fine condition.

Important public propaganda images commemorating the abolition of slavery in France in 1794.

The abolition of slavery in Saint Domingue in 1793, a major achievement of the slave revolt, the Haitian Revolution, the activity of the abolitionist societies in France, and just as importantly the ideas of the French Enlightenment and the revolutionary ethos of Liberté, égalité, fraternité convinced the French National Convention to issue a decree in 1794, the so-called Law of 4 February 1794, which abolished slavery and the slave trade in all French colonies, and gave the formerly enslaved equal rights.

Commemorating the occasion, promoting the idea of general emancipation, and proclaiming equality in public propaganda, various images featuring men and women of African descent, with different printed slogans referring to freedom and equality started to circulate.

A pair of these images, presented here, were made by the French engraver François Bonneville (1755–1844). Besides his extensive collection of Portraits des Personnages Célèbres de la Révolution (1796–1802), Bonneville is known as the creator of the first printed portrait of the Haitian revolutionary leader, Toussaint Louverture (published in Dubroca’s La vie de Toussaint-Louverture, 1802). (Matthews 2012)

Unlike the earlier abolitionist iconography, depicting the generic profile of a supplicative slave in chains, Bonville shows newly liberated, empowered, independent Black women, facing forward with sharply drawn features of expressive faces and exposed short afro. The old pleading rhetorical question Ne suis-je pas ton frère? (Am I not your brother?) was replaced by the confident assertions Moi egal à toi (I am your equal) and En liberté comme toi (Free like you). French republican iconography made extensive use of women as liberatory muses, in this context, Bonneville’s idealized figures are not only racialized but Caribbeanized as well. (Johnson 2012) One of the women wears a Caribbean headwrap, her necklace-pendant, a carpenter’s square, is a masonic allusion (Freemasonry played a crucial role in both the French and the Haitian Revolution), this picture goes with the inscription Moi egal à toi. Couleur n'est rien, le cœur est tout. N'est tu pas mon frère? (I am your equal. Color is nothing, heart is all; aren’t you my brother?). The other woman wears the Phrygian liberty cap of emancipated enslaved people, a symbol still featured in the centerpiece of the Haitian flag, the inscription says En liberté comme toi. La République d'accord avec la nature l'ont voulu: ne suis-je pas ta soeur (Free like you. The French Republic, in accordance with Nature, have wanted it: am I not your Sister?). The engravings were also published by Bonneville, whose address A Paris Rue de Théâtre Français, No. 4 could be found on untrimmed copies, printed at the lower edge.

Scarce. Except for these copies no other records on RBH. We could trace institutional copies only in France and the United States. The pair of the engravings are held at the BnF (Paris), Musée d’histoire de Nantes, and the Getty (Los Angeles), Moi egal à toi could be found at the New York Public Library, and En liberté comme toi at the Archives départementales de la Gironde.

Literature: Johnson S. E. 2012. The Fear of French Negroes. Transcolonial Collaboration in the Revolutionary Americas. Berkeley California: University of California Press. Retrieved August 4, 2023 ( pp. 60–61; Matthews, H. 2012. Sugar Turns to Cotton: French Retellings of the Haitian Revolution and the American Civil War. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved August 4, 2023( p. 84.

Price: €25,000.00

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