Father Grégoire, priest and revolutionary

Father Grégoire, priest and revolutionary

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Portrait of Abbot Grégoire (1750-1831).

© Musée Lorrain, Nancy - G. Mangin

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

The portrait of a "citizen priest"

Born in 1750 near Lunéville (Meurthe-et-Moselle) into a family of modest rural artisans, Henri-Baptiste Grégoire studied at the Jesuit college in Nancy and at the major seminary of Metz before starting a triple career, ecclesiastical, political and literary.

His portrait reveals the exemplary personality of a citizen priest who devoted all his energy to the Revolution.

Image Analysis

The brilliant career of a simple and generous man

A painter of history, François also distinguished himself in the portrait genre. His representation of Abbé Grégoire recalls the concerns of many portrait painters of the second half of the 18th century.e century: moving away from the mundane or idealized portrait by seeking more resemblance, introducing a social dimension by evoking the model's activities and attempting to penetrate the psychology of the individual and to translate his personality.

Sitting on a Louis XVI armchair in front of a sober cardboard desk, Abbé Grégoire is represented with a feather in his hand, wearing the surplice and carrying the pectoral cross. The model turned towards the viewer shows a face marked by age, whose features and gaze evoke simplicity, generous fighting and determination.

In 1800, when the painting was painted, Henri-Baptiste Grégoire already had a long career behind him. Appointed in 1782 parish priest of Emberménil, near Lunéville, he began his career as a politician by taking a stand in debates on education or racial equality. He held this priesthood until 1789, when he became fully involved in the French Revolution by becoming a member of the States General.

Appointed constitutional bishop of Blois in 1791, he obtained in 1795 that the freedom of worship be proclaimed. After sending his resignation to Pope Pius VII in 1801, he was elected senator.

Convinced that the egalitarian ideal of the Republic bore witness to the Gospel, Father Grégoire remained faithful to the ideals of the Revolution all his life. In addition to his political commitment to tolerance, he also had intense literary activity. A prolific historian, he was also parliamentary rapporteur and was in close contact with numerous European and American correspondents.


A bishop-writer who participated in the construction of the French cultural landscape

If the portrait of François does not allow us to guess the brilliant political career of Father Grégoire, his literary activities are clearly indicated. The pen and the books indicating his writings also refer to the extent of his action in favor of belles-lettres and education, and to his participation in the safeguarding of heritage in the face of revolutionary destruction - he is notably at the origin of the Conservatory of Arts and Crafts and the Institut de France to which he belonged until 1816.

By acting in this way in defense of the arts and history, this philanthropic and republican bishop also participated in the construction of the French cultural landscape.

  • Constituent Assembly
  • Catholicism
  • Clergy
  • Convention
  • deputies
  • revolutionary figures
  • patrimony
  • portrait
  • republicans
  • vandalism
  • Abbot Gregory


Henri-Baptiste GRÉGOIRE, Briefs, Paris, A. Dupont, 1837.

Rita HERNON-BELOT, Abbé Grégoire: politics and truth, Paris, Seuil, 2000.

Daniel ROCHE, Republicans of Letters, Paris, Fayard, 1988.

COLLECTIF, Exhibition catalog: 1989, Nancy, Musée Lorrain (May 20 - August 31, 1989), Blois, Château de Blois (October 7 - November 19, 1989), Abbé Grégoire, tolerance revolutionary, texts written by Richard Figuier, Nancy, general council of Meurthe-et-Moselle, general council of Loir-et-Cher, 1989.

COLLECTIF, Exhibition catalog: 1989, Paris, Musée national des Techniques, 1794, Abbé Grégoire and the creation of the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts, Paris, National Museum of Techniques, National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts, 1989.

To cite this article

Sabine BOUCHY DU PALUT, "Abbé Grégoire, priest and revolutionary"

Video: Qu0026A WITH A CATHOLIC PRIEST. ask father tran