Charles Monnet, Fountain of Regeneration for the Revolutionary Festival of Unity, August 1793.


This is one of my favorite art works from the French Revolutionary Era. The late eighteenth-century saw the conception of motherhood as a “natural,” biological and social state for women and perhaps the most extreme adaptation of this new concept of motherhood in social history is the Fountain of Regeneration. The print depicts French revolutionaries gathered at the debris of Bastille in August 1793 for the Revolutionary Festival of Unity to celebrate their victory in front of “La Fontaine de la Régénération,”—the Fountain of Regeneration—which was in fact a bare-chested statue of the Egyptian goddess Isis with “milk” sprouting from her breasts. Consuming her “breast milk” was consequently seen to signify “the nation’s regeneration,” with the concept linked to rise of breast-feeding that was linked to the new cult of motherhood in late eighteenth century France and England. The significance of the fountain reflects their desire to go back to the moment of rebirth, purging themselves of the trauma and violence, with the reference to Egyptian culture as an attempt to return to the beginning of civilization. The statue can also be seen as an allegorical figure of liberty—as an abstract woman, La France.