This etching portrays a dramatic moment in what was then recent French history, when the deposed King Louis XVI made his final statement on December 26, 1792 while on trial by the radicals who had taken control of the French Revolution. The president of the recently formed governing body, the National Convention, sits atop a platform in the foreground with officials on the left, while the other members of the assembly sit in rows of benches along the wall. Above them are stands filled with observers, leaning forward attentively. Light streams into the high-ceilinged room, emphasizing the officials in the foreground. Their elevated and dominant position compared to that of the King, standing on the right, who by comparison blends into the background, signals the stark diminishment of royal power wrought by the Revolution. The British Museum also has an example of this print, which was based on the painting by the prominent British history painter William Miller.
Although moderate elements held sway during the first three years of the French Revolution, frustration among the common people mounted. On August 10, 1792, a crowd attacked the King’s palace, killing several hundred guards. The royal family was placed under house arrest. In September, the monarchy was officially abolished, and a National Convention made up entirely of republicans was formed. This body placed Louis XVI on trial for his crimes against the French people, and on December 26th, as the print’s subtitle notes, Romain de Sèze presented his defense against the claims of the indictment, after which Louis spoke. Although acknowledging that he was “perhaps speaking to you for the last time,” he denied the charges in the indictment, especially the implication that he was responsible for the bloodshed of August 10. On January 21, 1793, he was executed like an ordinary criminal.
William Miller was a British history and portrait painter who also produced mythological, landscape and genre subjects. He worked on John Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery and many of his paintings were also engraved. Miller exhibited at the Society of Artists from 1780 to 1783 and at the Royal Academy from 1788 to 1803.
Luigi Schiavonetti was a printmaker and publisher specializing in stipple engraving. He studied in Italy and came to London in 1790, where he worked as an assistant to Francesco Bartolozzi, the leading practitioner of stipple engraving. He also worked for Gaetano Testolini around 1793. Between 1797 and 1809, he published under his own name, and also as J. Schiavonetti and as L. and N. Schiavonetti with his brother Niccolo. He illustrated several publications including plates after William Blake to Blair’s poem The Grave (1808).
Gaetano Testolini (act. c.1760-1822) was an engraver, printseller and supplier of artists’ materials. He worked in Paris from around 1760 to sometime after 1785, when he arrived in London. He worked with Luigi Schiavonetti around 1793 as Schiavonetti and Testolini, and under his own name from 1796 to 1822.
Inscriptions, lower margin: The Memorable Address of Lewis the Sixteenth At the Bar of the National Convention. After his Counsel, Mr. Deséze had Closed his Defence on the 26 of December 1792. London Published November 20, 1796 by Testolini, No. 73 Cornhill. Painted by W. Miller. Engraved by L. Schiavonetti.
Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall toning and wear. Old restorations touching up minor abrasions to image and margins. Few short tears to margins and creases restored as laid down on supporting sheet. Publishers credits, lower margin half cut, though margin and title still ample. Top and side margins cut, but ample for framing. Overall a nice example of a rare separately issued print.
Kreis, Steven. “The French Revolution: The Radical Stage, 1792-1794.” The History Guide: Lectures on Modern European Intellectual History. 3 August 2009. http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/lecture13a.html (19 November 2012).
“Lawsuit of Louis XVI.” Wikipedia.com. http://wikipedia.qwika.com/fr2en/Procès_de_Louis_XVI (19 November 2012).
Redgrave, Samuel. “A Dictionary of Artists of the English School: Painters, Sculptors, Architects, Engravers and Ornamentists.” London: Longmans, Green, and Col., 1874. p. 280.
“Schiavonetti, J.,” “Schiavonetti, Luigi” and “Schiavonetti, Niccolo.” Maxted, Ian. “The London book trades 1775-1800: a checklist of members.” Exeter Working Papers in Book History. 3 March 2012. http://bookhistory.blogspot.com/2007/01/london-1775-1800-s.html (19 November 2012).
“Testolini, Gaetano.” Maxted, Ian. “The London book trades 1775-1800: a checklist of members.” Exeter Working Papers in Book History. 11 January 2007. http://bookhistory.blogspot.com/2007/01/london-1775-1800-t.html (19 November 2012).
“The Memorable Address of Lewis the Sixteenth at the bar of the National Convention.” British Museum. http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/search_object_details.aspx?objectid=1599492
&partid=1&output=People%2F!!%2FOR%2F!!%2F114699%2F!%2F114699-2-23 (16 November 2012).