A Feminine Inspiration

A Feminine Inspiration


by Michael Frensch


The terrible attacks by young radical islamists on November 13th in Paris caused a wave of compassion and kindred feelings towards the French around the world. The Marseillaise – the French national anthem – resounded beyond France, where it was sung at official occasions in other countries. The French flag – the Tricolour (blue-white-red) – was projected, using modern technology, on many buildings and places around the world. A notable moment was at Wembley Stadium in London where the French national team met England in a football match, only four days after the events in Paris. The Stadium was lit up in the French colours and the players sang the Marseillase together before the match. French president Hollande declared the situation as an act of war, not only against his country but also against the values of European and western civilisation in general. He called for an immediate international alliance against the so-called ‘Islamic State’. Britain joined this alliance and, since December 3th, the British Royal Air Force conducts aerial attacks, not only in Iraq but also in Syria, together with the Americans, the Russians and the French who had already commenced their bombing of military positions of the Islamic State.

Key words and phrases have been used to justifying these military operations: ‘terror’ and ‘war’ against western civilization, with its values of ‘democracy’, ‘freedom’ and ‘human rights’. It is common knowledge that these values relate to the great cry for the ideals of ‘Liberty, Equality Fraternity!’ that came to the fore in the French Revolution from 1789 and have been championed and espoused in Europe and in the United States until today. The word terror appeared, for the first time, in the French Revolution when it was used as an instrument of politics. From June 1793, until July 1794, the revolutionary Committee of Public Safety of the Jacobines, spearheaded by Danton, Robespierre and Saint-Just, established a reign of terror in France. Later, in the Napoleonic era (1804-1815), war was the main instrument to spread the ‘values’ of the French Revolution all over Europe. It would be no exaggeration to see killing, terror and war as a threefold shadow accompanying the threefold cry of the French uprising, that of liberty, equality and fraternity. These polar opposing threefold entities continued to be linked together in many conflicts around the world from thereon. And so today, we are made ever more aware of the tension between these two opposing forces, brought into dreadful view by cruel and radical islamists. What can we do when confronting these challenges and threats? Do we only have the choice to defend our ‘values’ with weapons and war?


In a painting made in 1830 by the French romantic painter Eugène Delacroix, (1798-1863), the elements of our current dilemma are, somewhat presciently, shown. The inspiration for this artwork was the uprising of the people of Paris in July1830 against the government of King Charles X (who ruled in a constitutional monarchy from 1824-1830); he was the last true Bourbon on the French throne who strove for restoration of the aristocracy. When the government of Charles tried to dissolve the Parliament and ratchet up the restriction of press freedom it encountered the resistance of the middle classes and the growing proletarian underclass. In three days, from July 27-29, the Paris population mounted the barricades and forced Charles to resign and escape to England. (It may be worth mentioning that a vital part of the French army was not at Charles’ disposal during this time as they were fighting in Islamic Algeria, which they finally occupied in 1832).

After the three-day-revolution, Charles was succeeded by his distant relative Louis Philippe d’Orléans (1773-1850) who was to be the last king of France – the so-called ‘Bourgeois-King – ruling the ‘Golden Era of Bourgeoisie’ in France until 1848. The three days of July 1830 were called ‘Les Trois Glorieuses’ (the Three Glorious Days). They were to have an enormous impact on the social and political development in Europe in the19th century.

The Delacroix painting, which he called La Liberté guidant le peuple (Liberty Leading the People) depicts the deciding battle, on July 28, 1830, when the people stormed the barricades. If we look into the painting we see a woman with bared breasts, coming towards us. In her right hand she is waving a large Tricolour, whilst her other hand holds a musket with a fixed bayonet. In front of her left foot, on the other side of the barricade in the foreground of the painting, three men lay dead; the one on the left (when viewing the painting) is without trousers, recalling the sans-culottes (meaning ‘without trousers’, a derogatory name given to the poorer class of people who did not wear the fashionable silk knee-breeches of the nobility and bourgeoisie) who had contributed the main part of the revolutionary masses from 1789 onwards. The middle dead man is an officer, who seems to have joined the people (see the red flower in his buttonhole). To the right we can see the head and shoulders of a fallen royal soldier. Left of the woman, a younger fighter is looking up to her; obviously badly hurt, he rests upon his hands and knees. Behind him a man in bourgeois garment with a top hat raises a gun, ready to fire. To the woman’s right side an adolescent with two pistols presses forwards, seemingly shooting haphazardly into the air.  Behind this scene, to the left side of the picture, the mass of uprising people is shown with all sorts of weapons – swords, knives, guns, bayonets – raised in the air. They wear different headwear, among them can be seen a Napoleon-like bicorne hat. The figures and their garments obviously represent the many different classes of people and leading figures contributing to the progress of Liberty since the times of the French Revolution. On the right side of the painting, before the towers of Nôtre Dame and other buildings in Paris, some royal troops in military formation appear, painted so small as to be hardly visible.

Huge clouds of smoke separate the two factions – one could characterise them as, to the left, ‘liberty and emancipation’ and to the right, ‘law and order’ – wrapping the whole scene in a somewhat billowing, triangular space of pallid light. One can almost hear the smoke-filled bloody uproar and rage of the liberty hoard and feel the passions within the souls of those taking part.

The woman in front wears the Phrygian cap (as did the Jacobines) and is thereby identified with a figure well known to the French: Marianne. There is a context for this. During the French Revolution many allegorical personifications of ‚Liberty‘ and ‚Reason‘ appeared. These two figures finally merged into one: a female figure, shown either sitting or standing and accompanied by various attributes, including the tricolor cockade (a knot of ribbons) and the Phrygian cap. This woman typically symbolised Liberty, Reason, the Nation, the Homeland, the civic virtues of the Republic. In September 1792, the National Convention decided by decree that the new seal of the state would represent a standing woman holding a spear with a Phrygian cap held aloft on top of it. At the time of the Revolution, the common people were fighting for their rights and it seemed fitting to name the Republic after the most common of French women’s names: Marie (Mary) and Anne: Marianne. Accounts related by the Revolutionaries of their exploits often contained a reference to a certain Marianne (or Marie-Anne) wearing a Phrygian cap. This pretty girl of legend inspired the revolutionaries. And so Marianne gradually became synonymous with Liberty and was revered as a heroine across the whole of France. Her memory brought further inspiration to the 1830 uprising. Artists and sculptors often depict her with a bayonet in her left hand and, today, statues of her are to be found in every city hall in France and her face adorns many artifacts, including French coins and stamps.

Although Delacroix depicts her leading and inspiring the people to overcome their bondage, through the sunlight illuminating from the right side of the picture, falling on the bare breasts of the woman, the kneeling young man by her feet and on the dead warriors in front of her, the painter also points to the fact that passion, bloodstained fighting, suffering and death are the inevitable companions of this march of liberty and emancipation into the future.

Marianne was not the first female national hero in France to inspire and lead the French people towards more liberty, independence, a new national consciousness and to the eventual enthronement of a new king, Louis Philippe I (1773-1850) in 1830. In 1422, during the one-hundred-years-war between England and France (1337-1453), a country girl from Domrémy in Lorraine experienced a voice speaking to her and, guided by this spiritual inspiration, she met and gained the trust of the Dauphin (the title given to the heir apparent to the throne of France) Charles (1403-1461). Subsequently, Jeanne d’Arc (1412-1431) managed to raise the morale of the recently defeated French troops, leading them to a change in their fortunes in the War and enabling the Daupin’s coronation at Reims Cathedral, when he become Charles VII in 1429.

Captured on May 23, 1430 in Compiègne by the Bourgundians who were allied to the English, Jeanne was sentenced to death by the English and burned at the stake in Rouen, on May 30, 1431. In the Catholic Church she is now worshipped as a saint.


Based on his spiritual research, Rudolf Steiner confirmed that it was the Archangel Michael who ‘spoke’ and inspired Jeanne and he further stated the importance of her role in the birth of what he termed the consciousness soul. According to Steiner this is a soul development whereby humanity becomes increasingly conscious on a spiritual level, becomes prepared to understand certain ‘truths’; where people also want to now take affairs more into their own hands. It’s a stage of human development, in the course of spiritual evolution, “… causing the self-existent true and good to come to life in his inner being…” 1. Steiner offers some insight about the conscious soul in that brings about “… national impulses which implant themselves in mankind in divers forms and with different nuances … in France the development of the national impulse is orientated towards man, towards the individual, in England towards mankind”.2 Only if the English influence was removed from continental Europe could the right development in the French and English nations of people come about. For this to happen the English had to be defeated and eventually driven out of France. Only then could the English properly concentrate on their own developmental tasks as a people, leaving the French free to play an important role for the social and political development in Europe during the centuries to come.

We can see Marianne represents something that speaks ‘from below’ as it were, from human passions and concerns to the French people of the Paris uprising, whereas, some centuries before, Jeanne with St. Michael as her guiding spirit was inspired ‘from above’, as it were. Yet both of these heroic figures were connected with bloodstained fighting, sufferings and radical political changes. This raises a question: Do Heaven and Earth agree that fighting, suffering and death are inevitable companions for the development of mankind’s consciousness soul?

To answer this question, I invite the reader to give their attention to another painting related to French military activities that, like the Delacroix picture, is showing a women stepping towards us. It was commissioned in 1512 by Pope Julius II occasioned by the victory of the Papal States against the invading French troops and of the, eventual, annexation of the town of Piacenza by the Pope. Raffael (1483-1520) created this painting in the years 1513/1514 – some 80 years after the death of Jeanne d’Arc and the beginning of the era of the consciousness soul – for the high altar of the abbey of Piacenza where venerable relics of Pope Sixtus II († 6. August 258) and of Barbara from Nikomedia (a saint of the 3rd century) were placed. But this painting does not feature the celebration of a triumph, in battle or otherwise, but rather presents the observer with a mystery that only they can solve for themselves. We are speaking about the world famous Sistine Madonna, which resides today in the Zwinger Palace in Dresden, Germany.


At a first glance some questions may arise: Why do the two cherubs leaning on a table (or on a coffin lid, as some interpreters have suggested) appear in the foreground? Why is the figure on the left, representing Pope Sixtus II, pointing in our direction? Why are the countenances of the woman, and of the child, looking so worried? What does the open green curtain mean and why is Pope Sixtus II placed behind and Saint Barbara (the woman to the right of the painting, as we look at it) placed before the curtain, although the Pope appears much more in the foreground than she does? A strange perspective. And what about all those faces that appear in the cloudy background behind the curtain? And why is the whole event happening in the clouds?

There are always different possibilities to answer a question. We may think and consider, from this side and that, all the well-known facts related to our problem. Being in this thoughtful, pondering state, might our consciousness not resemble the cherub on the right, looking rather helplessly somewhere while darker clouds surround his head? His folded arms and wings are pointing in the horizontal direction.

We might look for an answer in a higher realm, like the other cherub does with his raised eyes. He is more upright, leaning his head on his left arm which is held vertically, creating something of a right angle with his other arm. The clouds around his head are brighter. If we then gaze to the three golden crowns placed over a rounded conical shape to the left of this cherub – is this a kind of headwear for the Pope? – we may consider them to be an indication that our consciousness has to transform and climb three more stages over and above our normal ‘brain thinking’.

If this is so then Pope Sixtus might show us the first step, as he is looking into a higher region, towards the woman and child. What he sees touches him in such a way that he puts his left hand across his heart. But the magnificent meaning and impact of that vision is not only speaking to him alone but to everyone, for the whole of mankind. That is why he is pointing towards us, the viewers. We can call this stage of consciousness, vision, and as such a vision causes reflections of clear and sober images in the soul – perhaps indicated by the golden cloak of the pope – one can be minded that Rudolf Steiner called this faculty imagination.

The second step of transforming our consciousness is represented by Saint Barbara, to the right of the painting. This time it is not about seeing, but is all about listening. If we not only experience the images that our vision causes in our soul, but also wish to understand their message, then we have to bring a halt to our efforts to try and grasp and relate familiar concepts to our vision. Rather, we have to learn to listen to the thoughts that gracefully ‘drop’ from a higher sphere into the stream of our thinking. We need to open our thinking and not add our own thoughts to it but be prepared to allow a thought to come towards us. This is why Saint Barbara has turned her head away from the reality the Pope is looking at. With downward cast eyes she is falling to her knees, holding the veils of her clothes in the region of her heart. Her graceful and humble gestures tell us that what she inwardly hears and receives suffuses her and touches her heart. As the thoughts received in this stage of consciousness stem from a higher spiritual realm, we, in accordance with Steiner, can call this faculty of our transformed consciousness inspiration.

The third step of transformation is represented by the woman with the child in her arms, stepping towards us on the clouds. This time, it is not about seeing, nor listening, but meeting in the heart. When we not only want to have images or illuminating thoughts of an experience of the higher realms, but also want to know who, in their inner essence and being, we have ‘seen’ and whose message we have heard and understood, we have to meet such a being, so to speak, ‘from heart to heart’ and thereby become one with the other. Two who are one – that is exactly what the woman with her child shows. And as this meeting happens in the heart, Raffael reveals it as the mystery of the heart. The reader only has to turn the picture upside down to discover that with the veil flowing from the woman’s head around the child, encompassing her head, torso and the child, the whole resembles an open human heart.


Thus, the third step of transforming our consciousness leads to a recognition of the heart, within the heart and therefore can be called ‘love-recognition’. Steiner called it intuition.

What is the kernel of this threefold process of recognition that Raffael is presenting in his painting? To what reality does he want to draw our attention? To answer this question we have to look ‘behind the scene’, to the realm in the background behind the curtain where all the faces appear. They are human faces with different looks. The Greek philosopher Plato spoke about ideas, forms, dwelling in Heaven. Another word for the Greek word eidos (εἶδος) is countenance, or face. Thus, Raffael opens a view into the ‘heaven of ideas, of forms’ and reminds us that all these ideas together build the future countenance, the future form, of mankind – the future of man (the human, man-woman) on Earth. And the woman in the painting brings this countenance of mankind in the shape of the child in her arms, coming down towards us, meeting us through all three stages of our transformed consciousness to come, but finally here, now, meeting our daily consciousness. Whilst we attempt the raising of our faculty of recognition she is descending to meet it, on every stage, bringing the whole future of mankind to Earth.

But this future comes to Earth in the shape of individual persons – in the appearance of you and me. That is why the curtain is there. It was already mentioned that this curtain confronts us with a mystery by showing Pope Sixtus behind and Saint Barbara before it, whereas the Pope appears much more in the foreground than Saint Barbara. The mystery opens when the observer moves to the right side and views the painting from a little distance away at an angle of about 23°. [This angle being between where the observer stands and the flat surface of the painting]. Then the observer will remark that the curtain and the positions of the figures are correct, in perspective and that Saint Barbara has now come more forward in the painting and the Pope recedes a little into it. Now they appear on the same level together. Thus, when standing in front of the picture, looking straight at it, it can be seen that the curtain is hanging down from the curtain rail straight across the back of the picture, but the painting offers a different perspective when looking at the parts of the curtain that hang down behind Saint Barbara but rather further to the front by the side of the Pope. This suggests an angle of 23° to the picture’s surface! Why 23 degrees? It is our human heart that inclines with the vertical axis of our uprightness exactly at this angle. The axis of the Earth and the angle of the ecliptic3 of the Sun around the Earth also show this same angle. It is as if Raffael wanted to tell us that every personal human being on Earth is one singular and original expression of the Son of Man brought towards us by Mary, the woman in the middle of the painting. We already belong to, and are, the future and the more we manage to transform our consciousness, the more we’ll resemble the Son of Man!

When it was earlier mentioned that Raffael’s painting confronts the observer with a mystery that only the they can solve, we may now understand why: The observer is the mystery that can only be resolved through transforming, step by step, their own consciousness.

Looking back at the two other pictures showing Marianne and Jeanne d’Arc, we now can see in the Sistine Madonna a kind of peaceful synthesis of those two figures: whereas Marianne is an image created by man’s consciousness with her origin ‘below’ in the uprising human soul longing for liberty and reason, the Sistine Madonna is an image created by the uprising human consciousness with her origin above, in the supersensible world. And whereas Jeanne imposes the will of the spiritual world to mankind on Earth, inspiring fight, violence and death, the Sistine Madonna reveals the heavenly plans in full harmony with the free will and striving of the individual human person. And herein lies the reason for the concerned look on the faces of the two women and child mentioned earlier: It is a free human decision to take this path of development and an open question as to whether or not humanity as a whole will manage this. For every individual human being it is a personal challenge and a question: will they awake to what is needed and what is possible for a right human development and decide to take these steps into the future, or not.

Marianne, and also Jeanne, were followed by the threefold shadow of fight, suffering through injury and violent death; the Sistine Madonna brings the remedy, revealing imagination, inspiration and intuition as the threefold way to meet her and thereby to overcome this shadow.

Thus, the Sistine Madonna with this ascending and descending motif can be understood as the painting for the whole era of the consciousness soul: it shows the uprising of human consciousness and the descent of the human future in one and the same picture. It can be understood as the annunciation of an Eternal Christmas:


Revelations from above

brings peace on Earth

for all men of  good will –

the will to transform their daily consciousness.


It might be worthwhile to add that the Sistine Madonna survived the bombing and total destruction of Dresden by the Royal Air force  in the night from February 13 to February 14, 1945, and today anyone can meet her.


This article was published in the English journal New View on Christmas 2015

Michael Frensch is a book publisher, writer and lecturer living in Neukirchen, Germany.



1. Theosophy, by R. Steiner.

2. From Symptom to Reality in Modern History, Lecture 1, R.Steiner. (GA 185)

3. The Earth’s orbital plane is known as the ecliptic plane, and the Earth’s tilt is known to astronomers as the ‘obliquity’ of the ecliptic, being the angle between the ecliptic and the celestial equator on the celestial sphere. It is denoted by the Greek letter ε. The Earth currently has an axial tilt of about 23.4°






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