The Lion of Belfort, Max Ernst’s Une semaine de bonté, and the Uses of the Past

Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s Lion of Belfort, a 11 × 22-meter sculpture made out of red sandstone, was erected at the foot of the citadel of the frontier town of Belfort in 1879. Associated versions were also exhibited at the Salon and subsequently installed at Place Denfert-Rochereau in Paris. As a nationalist monument to noble resistance (and defeat) as well as an implicit repudiation of the revolutionary spirit of the Commune, Bartholdi’s sculpture took the form of the obdurately generalized symbol of the lion, which made it susceptible to unanticipated collective readings against the grain. I trace the resonances of the Lion of Belfort into the twentieth century, when the monument made a belated appearance as the protagonist in the first volume of Max Ernst’s collage-novel, Une semaine de bonté (1933-34). Ernst’s collage-novel proposes a retrospective reading of the collective revolutionary echoes of a counter-revolutionary monument across time. My paper asks what it means for a Third Republic monument to contend with the various political, class, and temporal boundaries of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I argue that the reappearance of these leonine forms across time and in very different contexts offers a model for examining the unfinished business of nineteenth-century revolutionary history.

Katie Hornstein
Dartmouth College
Volume 49.3–4