A number of female figures have been employed to represent the French Republic. Two of these are Marianne and Liberty - they are not the same. Marianne as on the left is usually young. She wears a Phrygian cap (or Liberty Cap) and freely displays her ample charms. Liberty is generally more matronly, more modestly attired, and wears a crown. But the distinction is not always clear and one of the most famous representations of Liberty (by Delacroix) shows her decolloté and wearing a Liberty cap.
Throughout the nineteenth century there were republicans who thought that the Phrygian cap was too revolutionary and that a legalist and peaceful Republic ought to be represented by a different sort of headgear (laurels for example). During this period Republican symbolism acquired some new artistic creations: for example the "Ceres" figure on the first French postage stamp in 1849. Another example is the head on the Légion d'honneur medal.
Undoubtedly, Marianne is the most famous of the various figures representing the French Republic, and she generally maintains her Phrygian cap or Cap of Liberty. She is depicted by the artist Daumier as a mother nursing two children and by the sculptor Rude, as an angry warrior singing the Marseillaise on the Arc de Triomphe. In the last two wars, some people worshipped her just like a saint. Marianne holds a place of honour in town halls and law courts, symbolising the "Triumph of the Republic".
The origin of the name is uncertain. Some believe the name Marianne came from that name of the Jesuit Mariana, a 16th century theoretician, but this is highly improbable. Others believe her to be based on the wife of the politician Jean Reubell. According to the story, in 1797 when seeking a name of the Republic, Barras (one of the members of the Directoire) during an evening spent at Reubell's house, asked his hostess's name; "Marie-Anne," she replied. "Perfect," Barras exclaimed. "It is a short and simple name which befits the Republic just as much as yourself, Madame." But this story is undermined by a recent discovery of a written mention of the name of Marianne to denote the Republic dating from October 1792 in Puylaurens in the Tarn department near Toulouse. At that time local people used to sing a song in the Provençal language by the poet Guillaume Lavabre called "La guérison de Marianne" (Marianne's recovery)
Accounts of Revolutionary exploits often contained references to a certain Marie-Anne wearing a Phrygian cap. The name of Marianne also appears to be connected with Republican secret societies. During the Second Empire, one of them, whose members had sworn to overthrow the régime, had taken her name.
During the last thirty years she has taken on the features of Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve and those of French fashion models, Inès de la Fressange and Laeticia Casta.
Marianne is one of the gererally recognised symbols of sovereignty not mentioned in article 2 of the French Constitution of 1958, which refers only to le drapeau tricolore, bleu, blanc, rouge: The French Flag , L'hymne national, the national anthem, The Marseillaise and La devise de la République; the motto . "Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité".
Here are just a few examples used on coins, stamps and public statues.:
The use of Marianne figure wearing a Phrygian cap is found particularly in municipal institutions. Recently, a French logo featuring Marianne has been created for national public service. Created in 1999, this version is now on all the stationery, brochures, forms, posters and information media produced by ministries, prefectures and embassies. She still wears her Phrygian cap, but you'd be hard pressed to spot it if you didn't know exactly what to look for.