|By Jean-Baptiste Greuze, oil on canvas, 1,44 m x 1,20 m|
Musée de Saint-Omer
The following is (mostly) taken from the opening chapter of Bernard Vinot's biography of Saint-Just, the French text of which is available on Google Books.
The physical appearance of a man of state has rarely assumed such importance as it has in the case of Saint-Just. History is facinated by the image of Saint-Just as the ruthless angel of the Revolution, by his androgynous beauty. But was he really so handsome?
|Attributed to Jacques-Louis David. oil on canvas|
50 cm x 71 cm. Private collection
Of middle height, with a healthy body, proportions which show strength; a big head, thick hair, bilious colouring, small lively eyes, a disdainful expression, regular features and an austere appearance, strong, but veiled voice, with a note of anxiety, a sombre air of preoccupation and determination, an extreme coldness of tone and manner - thus appeared to us Saint-Just, who was not yet thirty years old.
Outside the traditions of the family, none of these recollections is free from antagonistic bias. Later literary accounts further distorted Saint-Just's appearance for effect, mostly to vilify his memory. Thus Mignet: "He had a regular face, with large features and a strong, melancholy expression; his eyes were staring and penetrating, his black hair flat and long". Lamartine described him "immobile at the tribune, cold like an idea...the calm of absolute conviction spread across his almost feminine features". But it was Michelet above all, who was responsible for the image of Saint-Just as the Angel of death, a pitiless androgynous youth, with steely blue eyes:
|Engraving by Bosselman fils|
|Christophe Guérin, Portrait assumed to be Saint-Just, |
Sanguine, 34cm x 24.2 cm Musée Carnavalet
|Pierre-Jean David d'Anger, Medallion, 25 cm. Musée Carnavalet|
Bust by David d'Angers, 1848
Some portraits, however, can lay claim to authenticity. One is the anonymous pastel, created when Saint-Just was at the hôtel des États-Unis, which was later retrieved by Élisabeth Le Bas and kept by the Le Bas family as a venerated souvenir.
|Anonymous pastel, 75.5 cm x 59 cm. Musée Carnavalet|
|Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, oil on canvas, 1793 |
Musée des beaux-arts de Lyon
Bernard Vinot concludes that in reality Saint-Just was not particularly feminine, or even all that good looking. He inherited the unappealing features of his two parents: a long face, long nose and long neck. These were were softened by his youth and camouflaged by his sure dress sense, but no doubt the passage of time would have accentuated them. Had he lived to middle age he would have come to resemble his father - strong, masculine and serious to be sure, but without beauty. (I think Bernard Vinot is being kind here; what he really wants to say is that Saint-Just would have been ugly, just like his dad.) This aging process, aggravated by stressful days and nights without sleep was probably perceptible even in 1793.
Iconography and portrait sections on the "Site Louis-Antoine de Saint-Just"
The Association pour la sauvegarde de la Maison de Saint-Just has several interesting portraits and engravings among its acquisitions/