January 4, 2017

Overcome by guilt and grief, he exhumed his wife's grave for one, last kiss

The Death Mask of Gabrielle Danton

The people's champion of the French Revolution was so overcome by grief at his wife's death he exhumed her in the dead of night to make one final replica of her face.

 Antoinette-Garbielle Charpentier--Claude-André Deseine Img 2306

George-Jacques’s wife Antoinette Gabrielle Danton died in labor on the 10th of February, 1793, along with the infant son that would have been the couple’s fourth child. Her rebel husband was away in Belgium at the time, on a military observation mission for the Revolutionary Government. The widower did not hear of his wife’s death until five days after the fact.

In the few years leading up to her death, George-Jacques had neglected his wife in favor of mistresses. Yet contemporary accounts report that he flew into a terrible, violent grief and immediately ordered a coach back to Paris.....

“Through his tears, a solution formed: he would make a likeness of her, a bust he could for ever embrace and ask for forgiveness.  The next evening he hurried to see a sculptor he knew, an artist with a workshop in the Saint-Marcel section.  The sculptor shook his head. Madame Danton had been dead for a week, he reminded his frantic visitor, in her grave for three days past.” From there Danton and the sculptor preceded to the graveyard, where the most powerful man in Paris bullied his way in. Several biographies report that after they grave was dug up, Danton forced the casket open and embraced his dead wife, possibly kissing her, before the sculptor went to work forming the mold for her death mask.

The mask was completed in short order, and bore a striking resemblance to the late Madame Danton. Unfortunately George-Jacques was unable to enjoy it for long. He was executed when revolutionaries turned against him during the Terror just over a year later, under suspicion of corruption.
Posted by Jill Fallon at January 4, 2017 11:19 AM | Permalink