Dom Gerle and… Fake Art?

You’ve heard of fake news. What about fake art?

April the 12th is the anniversary of the Dom Gerle Affair. In the heat of the religious debates on 1790, the revolutionary monk Dom Gerle proposed that the Assembly declare Catholicism the sole religion of the state. The proposal was incredibly divisive, and deadly riots resulted in southern France when the Assembly rejected the decree (see Episode 1.20 for more details).

An interesting fact about Dom Gerle is that he is positioned prominently in Jacques-Louis David’s famous Tennis Court Oath. Dom Gerle (left), a Carthusian monk, is seen embracing the patriot priest Abbé Grégoire (centre) and the Protestant Jean-Paul Rabaut Saint-Etienne (right). The trio were meant to represent religious unity (at a time when there was very little), and exemplify how patriot priests were aiding the national regeneration (at a time when many priests were aiding the counter-revolution).

The painting, however, is a lie. Dom Gerle wasn’t even at the Tennis Court Oath, while far from leading the peaceful regeneration of France, Saint-Étienne was subsequently executed during the Terror. Grégoire was the first priest to take the controversial oath to the constitution, and both him and Dom Gerle were lucky to avoid the guillotine in 1794.

Fake news might be common in the 21st century, but it’s not exactly a new phenomenon!

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