The French Revolution: Tearing Up History

The French Revolution: Tearing Up History


“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.


Richard Clay uses art to explore the history of the French Revolution, 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 & Crew

Presenter Richard Clay
Director Nick Clarke Powell
Producer Nick Clarke Powell