The French Revolution: Tearing Up History

Radio Times
Review by:
Patrick Mulkern

“I don’t just study the creation of art – I study its destruction,” says Dr Richard Clay. Striding through Paris, he brings episodes from the French Revolution vividly to life, from the toppling of royal statues, to the dismantling of the Bastille and the defacing of Notre-Dame. The inside story of great revolutions, he asserts, is to be gleaned by studying the smashed, altered or reshaped symbols of the past.

He’s keen to show that the sans culottes weren’t ignorant barbarians but smart people who regarded monuments in public places as symbols of control.

New to TV, art historian Clay of the University of Birmingham is a refreshing, incisive voice. Let’s hope he can be matched to another subject soon.

About this programme

Dr Richard Clay examines the history of the French Revolution through art, telling the story of the turbulent conflict through examples of iconoclasm - including the stone masons who pulled down statues outside Notre Dame, and the introduction of coded signs of anti-Christian state legislation outside churches, which still exist today.

Cast and crew


Richard Clay


Nick Clarke Powell
Nick Clarke Powell