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The Ultimate Irony? Danton lampooned in pottery.

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Danton's Head?
Danton’s Head?

Often mis-labelled a ‘Toby Jug’, this is an early version of a comical jug that becomes popular in the latter 19th century, sometimes identified as ‘Puck’. We believe this head jug is a distinctive character, and as it belongs to the period of the French Revolution, his identity must be found in that timespan. His appearance matches that of Georges Jacques Danton (17591794), an important public figure of the late 18th century in France, and the perfect candidate for a slightly humorous head mug like this. 

Contemporary French depictions of Denton give you a good idea of his appearance:

Danton was President of the Committee of Public Safety, a part of the Revolutionary Government whose purpose was to protect it’s seat of power. As such, he was able to achieve dictatorial power for the committee; however, he soon found himself in trouble as the whole scheme got away from him. He be came noted for his corruption, and mocked by the general population. The infamous ‘Reign of Terror’ was fatal for him; beginning in 1793, preemptive executions of anyone suspected of being an enemy of the government took place, directed by the sinister Robespierre. Danton became a moderate, disgusted by the slaughter, and tried to calm things down. However, this very action led to his arrest and trial on April 3rd, 1794.

Hauled before the Revolutionary Tribunal with several other political moderates, he put up such a fight that it was feared he would sway the tribunal with his rhetoric. However, the decision had already been made. The acused were denied the right to have witnesses appear on their behalf, and then two days later the verdict was passed in the absence of the accused, who had been removed from the courtroom to prevent unrest among the trial’s observers. Their execution was scheduled for the same day.

Danton's Execution 1794
Danton’s Execution, with his head fulfilling his last wish, 1794

Dragged to the guillotine with several others, he was executed.

“I leave it all in a frightful welter,” he said;

“not a man of them has an idea of government.

Robespierre will follow me; he is dragged down by me. Ah, better be a poor fisherman than meddle with the government of men!” 

The reference to a poor fisherman’ was probably a reference to Saint Peter, as Danton had reconciled to Catholicism. His last words to the crowd were, “My only regret is that I am going before that rat Robespierre.” 

Danton’s true last words, however, were addressed to his executioner:

“Don’t forget to show my head to the people – it’s well worth seeing” !

Danton’s Last Words

Events went as Danton foresaw. The committees presently came to quarrel with the intense opinions of Robespierre. Just three months after Danton’s execution, The Reign of Terror was ended when Robespierre was himself executed. His assent to the execution of Danton had deprived him of the single great force that might have supported him against the Revolutionary committee.

This remarkable head mug dates to this period of political upheaval. He wears the red, white & blue around his neck, in the high collared fashion of the time.

How ironic that his last words were lived out in clay, with an enterprising potter making a mug of his head, for all to see and remember the remarkable Danton, the moderate who tried, and failed to tame the Revolution.

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