Marianne is the national symbol of the Republic of France, the personification of both Liberty and Reason. Born of the 18th-century philosophical movement known as the Enlightenment, she has stood for Democracy at its best and (sometimes) its worst.
Her first appearance was on a 1789 medal honoring the storming of the Bastille, a fort located in Paris that was used as a state prison. The Storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 is often considered the start of the French Revolution.
During the First Republic (established by the Revolution in 1792), Marianne is portrayed peacefully in repose. But by the Reign of Terror in 1793, she is portrayed as a violent, bare-breasted figure leading revolutionaries into battle. She lost some of her fearsomeness after the Terror, but a precedent for her dual nature had been set.
After Napoleon came the Second Republic, and the tumultuous year of 1848. This time the Republic embraced both versions as needed: the bare-breasted militant wearing a Phrygian cap and a red corsage, and a more serene Marianne, whose notable features include rays of sunlight around her head–much like the Statue of Liberty, which was designed by the French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi.
Notably, she made her first appearance on a French postage stamp in 1849.
Between the start of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 and the Nazi occupation of France in 1940, the Third Republic made much use of Marianne as a symbol of the French nation. The version of Marianne we are familiar with today is based on the main figure in Triumph of the Republic, a sculpture created by artist Aimé-Jules Dalou in 1899 and located at the Place de la Nation in Paris.
Perhaps one of the most influential portrayals of Marianne comes from this period: sculptor-engraver Oscar Roty’s design for La Semeuse (1897), otherwise known as The Sower, from which Adolph Weinman drew inspiration for his Walking Liberty half dollar obverse design in 1916.
In 1940, the Nazi war machine occupied the seat of government in Paris, along with the northern and western regions of the country. A southern district known as Vichy France for its substitute capital in Vichy was permitted for a time to administer itself, although it was subservient to the German regime.
And like the French have done at all such times, they resisted. One of the symbols of that resistance was Marianne.
After the liberation of France by Allied forces in 1944 and into the postwar period and beyond, the French became less invested in such symbols even though Marianne continued to appear on coins and currency. She was the last personage portrayed on the French franc before the changeover to euro coinage, and her effigy has appeared on the national side of different French euros since 1999.
In 2017, the Monnaie de Paris issued a series of three gold coins (along with a silver version) depicting Marianne as a representative of Liberty. The coins came in 500-, 1,000- and 5,000-euro denominations. Earlier gold coin series had featured the Gallic rooster, La Semeuse, and Hercules.
In 2018, she illustrates Equality symbolized by the letter “E” of the word “Equality”. It turns into the equal sign which links men and women with each other. Equality of the sexes is a key driver of the Republic.
A chiseled, symmetrical portrait of Marianne looking directly yet tranquilly at the viewer takes up the majority of the obverse. As denoted by the flaps visible on either side of her face, she is wearing a Phrygian cap. The ends of a laurel wreath rest above her temples, and her long hair is depicted as flowing in a gentle wind. The word “Égalité”, presented in a cursive script, is inscribed over her collar area at the lower right of the coin. To the left of “Égalité” is a slightly stylized equal sign, and going clockwise one sees a pattern of equal signs alternating with non-descript, geometric, humanoid figures, which get smaller as one goes around and above Marianne’s head to give the illusion of depth. The entire design is surrounded by a repeating dot and dash pattern.
In small print on the left side close to the edge are the words “Monnaie de Paris”. Counterclockwise to the right of this is a cornucopia, the Monnaie de Paris mintmark. In a similar position on the opposite side is the mark of current Monnaie de Paris mint master Yves Sampo–a pentagon containing the letters AG, MP and YS. Above the pentagon is the square-within-a-square artist’s mark of coin designer Joaquin Jimenez.
The reverse design features two large hexagons staggered in placement and touching the rim of the coin. These twin hexagons are situated in such a way that their collective angles form a 24-sided polygon known as an icositetragon. Within the series of two outer hexagons is a stylized third hexagon. These hexagons stylistically symbolize the shape of France (“L’Hexagone” being one of the country’s nicknames).
Inside the space of the inner hexagon is the inscription RÉPUBLIQUE FRANÇAISE, arched in a fashion resembling an upright letter “C”. Within the arched national legend is a wreath containing a laurel branch on top and an oak branch on the bottom (recalling the obverse), also forming a “C” shape. Oriented in a single, horizontal line of text is the denomination, EURO 1000. The national inscription, the wreath, and denomination are collectively situated to represent the € EURO symbol.
The edge of the 2018 Marianne – Equality €1000 Gold Coin is smooth.
Designer Joaquin Jimenez has designed coins and medals for the Monnaie de Paris since 1986. His Starry Tree design serves as the national side of the French 1 and 2-euro circulating coins (View Designer’s Profile).
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