Marianne, historic symbol of France and the French

Marianne is a national symbol of France, symbolising reason, liberty and the ideals of the republic.

The portrait of Marianne is seen frequently in France, including numerous statues, coins, stamps and banknotes. But the origins of Marianne remain unclear.

She emerged as a single figurehead during the revolutionary years, and was often shown in heroic roles, leading the republicans to freedom for example. Typically she wore a 'phrygian cap' (a soft felt conical hat), and this is now usually how Marianne is depicted.

It has been claimed that the choice of a female as the symbol of France was a deliberate attempt to reject the male dominated centuries that came before, but it is unclear whether this is correct.

Liberty (Marianne) Leading the   People, by Eugene Delacroix, 1830

The use of Marianne as a symbol was not widespread in the years after the Revolution, but in 1848, after the monarchy had fallen, the Ministry of the Interior held a competition for an image to represent the newly emerged republic.

It was also in the following years that the name Marianne started to emerge to represent Liberty, and was in common use by 1875.

The origins of the name Marianne are as unclear as the figure herself. Some possible sources include:

(1) Possibly it came from a song popular at the time of the Revolution, called 'Marianne's recovery';

(2) some suggest it came from a lady who nursed many of the injured revolutionaries;

(3)and possibly it was simply because Marianne was a common and popular name at that time.

Nowadays, a current personality (e.g. Catherine Deneuve in the 1980's) is chosen to represent Marianne and the spirit of liberty in France.