16 We will Eat the World


Nous mangerons le monde et les Rois se tairont (We will eat the world and the Kings will be silent) , c.1794 – 1795


Publisher unrecorded

This print belongs to a body of images that played upon the fear that Robespierre’s henchmen’s hunger for human flesh and blood would only be sated when the whole world had been devoured. The etcher depicts one such follower on the point of gobbling up a sphere that is at once an orb (a symbol of kingship), and a globe – we see the continents marked on its surface. He is a truly terrifying figure, emaciated and dressed in ragged military uniform, he tramples underfoot all that is sacred, including a holy bible and crucifix, a bishop’s mitre and a crown.

The scene is set in a barren landscape populated only by the head of a recently decapitated woman and scattered with skulls, many of which are piled up in the base of a monument, surmounted by a diminutive (and surely ironic) liberty bonnet and fasces. Engraved on its surface are the names of revolutionary politicians that served in the National Convention, whose building we see to the right. The inscription informs us that they are the founders of the Republic, declaring ‘La Patrie Reconnaissante’, ‘the Fatherland is grateful’, an ironic reference to the inscription on the pediment of the church of St Geneviève, recently renamed the Pantheon and dedicated to the memory of Great Frenchmen. Beneath this the reign of Robespierre is noted, as is the date that marked the beginning of the September massacres, one of the bloodiest episodes in the Revolution’s history.

The reference to cannibalism helps to date the print to the period immediately following Robespierre’s fall in July 1794, when the backlash against his rule began. This most inhuman and incomprehensible of crimes was frequently evoked by orators and artists trying to discredit and make abhorrent the recent regime. Interestingly, this etcher refuses to let his audience be complacent: the use of the future tense in his title, and the caption that follows the curve of the globe, ‘il y passera’, ‘so it will pass’, functions as a call to arms to destroy such monsters before they destroy you.

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