The Patriotic Art of the Arc de Triomphe, Paris

Larger Than Life: Art that inspires us through the ages

A French national treasure, the Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile, stands a colossal 164 feet high, 148 feet wide, and 72 feet deep and is dedicated to the armies of the Republic and Empire. (Paris 16/CC BY-SA 2.0) )
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By Epoch Times Staff

In 1805, Napoléon Bonaparte promised “triumphal arches” to his troops after they won the Battle of Austerlitz.

The first arch that he commissioned was the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile (the Triumphal Arch of the Star) in Paris, commonly known as the Arc de Triomphe, and construction began on Aug. 15, 1806, Bonaparte’s birthday. 

As a great admirer of the fine arts of antiquity, Bonaparte charged architect Jean-François-Thérèse Chalgrin to look at classical architecture for inspiration. Chalgrin looked to the Arch of Titus (A.D. 81) in Rome for his design, although the Arc de Triomphe has no columns.

The 164-foot, neoclassical arch shows scenes of dynastic life as well as battle scenes, which differs from the classical tradition of triumphal arches that depict military victories only. 

The east façade faces the Champs-Élysées, which in Bonaparte’s time would have faced the Tuileries, or the royal and then the emperor’s imperial palace. (The palace was destroyed in 1871 during the Paris Commune.) A frieze runs around the arch, near the top. The east façade frieze shows French troops as they depart for new campaigns, and the west façade shows the troops as they return.

At the base of each of the arch’s four pillars, called piers, stands a sculptural group on a pedestal. Each sculpture shows a historic scene. The most famous is the “Departure of the Volunteers of 1792” by François Rude, commonly  known as “La Marseillaise,” which is also the name of the French national anthem. 

King Louis-Philippe dedicated the arch in 1836 to the armies of the Republic and the Empire.

To find out more about the Arc de Triomphe, visit Arc-de-Triomphe.fr.en

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The curved ceiling of the arch, called an intrados, is covered in roses. (Alvesgaspar/CC BY-SA 3.0)

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“Departure of the Volunteers of 1792” by François Rude represents the departure of 200,000 Frenchmen to defend their republic. The volunteers, ordinary French folk, are represented in the sculpture as naked or in civilian dress, the young and old respectively, united in their willingness to fight for their country. The winged woman in the scene is the Genius of Liberty, who incites the men to fight. (Public Domain)

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The “Triumph of Napoleon” by Jean-Pierre Cortot celebrates the 1810 Treaty of Vienna. In this sculpture, Bonaparte wears classical robes and stands proudly in the center. Victoria, the Genius of Victory over death, holds a laurel crown above his head; in her other hand is a palm branch. Above them all hovers the winged Genius of Fame, who announces Bonaparte’s victory with her trumpet, a motif not seen in antiquity but that emerged in the Renaissance period. In her other hand, Fame holds a battlestaff topped with the imperial eagle, which Bonaparte’s battalions would have carried into battle. (Public Domain)

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The “Resistance of 1814” by Antoine Étex commemorates French soldiers who fought in the War of the Sixth Coalition (March 1813–May 1814). (Public Domain)

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The “Peace of 1815″ by Antoine Étex represents the end of the Napoleonic Wars, when the second Treaty of Paris was signed between France and the Allies, on Nov. 20, 1815. The high-relief sculpture is the last of the four large sculptural groups depicting historic scenes on the pillars of the arch. (Public Domain)

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A detail on the left spandrel shows the Genius of Fame. (Public Domain)

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A detail on the right spandrel shows the Genius of Liberty. (Public Domain)

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Twelve avenues converge, like a star, on to the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile (the Triumphal Arch of the Star) in Place Charles de Gaulle, which was formerly called Place de l’Étoile (Star Place). (Eric Isselee/Shutterstock)

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A furious battle scene plays out on a bas-relief near the top of the arch. And on the frieze that runs around the top of the arch, French troops can be seen both leaving for and returning from battle. (Chris Lawrence Travel/Shutterstock)

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Rome’s ancient Arch of Titus (pictured here) inspired architect Jean-François-Thérèse Chalgrin’s design for the Arc de Triomphe. (Wiesdie/Shutterstock)

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