Iconography of the Labour Movement. Part 1: Republican Iconography, 1792–1848

  • Fred Andersson Art History & Visual Studies, Åbo Akademi University, Finland


This is the first article in a two-part study of the background and development of the iconography of the international socialist labour movement. With the breakthrough of modern political ideologies after the American and French revolutions, the symbols of freemasonry long remained an important point of reference for new iconographic systems serving secular propagandistic needs. The virtues and vices of classical moral education were replaced or combined with new ones, and old symbols were invested with altered meanings in the context of political satire and allegory. The human and especially the female body retained prominence as a vehicle for conceptual personification in official display and in the minds of common people. After September 21, 1792 (the abolition of the French monarchy), the attempt to replace Christian religion with a cult of the Goddess of Liberty and other associated entities proved, however short-lived, to be of lasting iconographic significance. The rise of liberal democracy and the modern nation state meant that le peuple (common people) was now seen as an organic entity with a common will. Between 1792 and 1848, republican iconography provided allegorical representations of how this relationship between state and population was conceived. It offered symbols and personifications that later became integral to the political and agitational practises of the labour movement. This heritage was double-edged, however. Elements signifying governmental stability were combined with those associated with revolt and dissent. Symbols of rational progress were combined with religious or metaphysical symbolism.

How to Cite
ANDERSSON, Fred. Iconography of the Labour Movement. Part 1: Republican Iconography, 1792–1848. ICO Iconographisk Post. Nordisk tidskrift för bildtolkning – Nordic Review of Iconography, [S.l.], n. 1-2, p. 153-183, nov. 2020. ISSN 2323-5586. Available at: <https://ojs.abo.fi/ojs/index.php/ico/article/view/1704>. Date accessed: 01 dec. 2023.