Impact of French Revolution on Modern World: Exploratory Essay

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The image chosen is illustrated by James Gillray, the image is named ‘Presages of the Millenium, 1795’. It includes a hand-colored etching and aquatint on paper. And was gifted by the Trier-Fodor Foundation, in 1985. The description is as follows,

“Warning: the apocalypse approaches! Inspired by the fierce political debates in Great Britain following the French Revolution, Gillray draws on the classic biblical image of the four apocalyptic horsemen in this depiction of Prime Minister William Pitt as Death, trampling his political rivals who opposed the war against France.”

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“Gillray’s proficiency with the etching needle was matched by his inventive, often vindictive wit. He became a master of the art of personal caricature, in which an individual’s most recognizable characteristics, such as a small chin or thin physique, were exaggerated for the comic effect.”

Humor and satire play major roles in imagery, particularly how it is displayed. About politics, many questions arise as citizens are not fully aware of what goes on in the background of politicians’ lives, this creates a sense of distrust and questions. The image chosen carries lots of information that can be analyzed because many things are happening all at once. Although, any viewer can work out that the main focus and center of the image is a man (William Pitt) riding a white horse. The political aim of this object is more of a tribute to the illustrator (James Gillray) and how he perceives his work to be viewed with humor and satire. There is a clear message in the description that tells readers his focus is on the prime minister William Pitt, and to bring out his corrupted background through his illustration. Also, this image aims at the French Revolution and the corruption that took place in 1795 by politicians. Overall, this image can be viewed as an activist movement by Gillray with the use of humor to spread the factual portrayals of politicians.

James Gillray is trying to accomplish his perspective of William Pitt as ‘Death’ in the image of who is riding one of the apocalyptic horses. His representation of William Pitt can be described as evil, crooked, and dishonest. Gillray’s main idea is to expose the two-facedness of politicians. This image can also be perceived as a propaganda poster about the French Revolution to raise awareness and help others think alike and realize that, ‘William Pitt is a phony do not support him’. His main goal is to display the barrier between peace and war, by placing Pitt in the center image viewers can grasp the idea of him as wicked and foul. Furthermore, Gillray implements a lot of exaggeration throughout his work, in this object, we can see Pitts's very skinny body as a symbol of humor and ridicule.

As discussed earlier, many things are happening all at once. Displaying William Pitt as dead out of the four apocalyptic horses is employed successfully. Gillray’s viewpoint on Pitt is noticeably negative, one of the main factors being the size of Pitt’s body and how skinny he is. His depiction of Pitt as an evil political leader is done properly. Following, the addition of regular citizens are presented as pigs, and what seems to be other political leaders being stomped on allows a clear contrast between who carries the form of power in the artwork. Also, another strategy used by Gillray involves scale and position, it is clear that William Pitt is the main focus in the image as he revolves around the center of the artwork meanwhile the insignificant characters are pushed to the bottom looking fragile. Furthermore, about scale, Pitt seems to be the largest compared to others in the image. Also, Pitt looks mischievous, with the inclusion of the snake, devil horns, an image of a crown on the horse, and his flame-enraged sword. All in all, Gillray portrays Pitt as a nasty and corrupt leader described as the one who wants to start the apocalypse as the horsemen of Death.

When viewing this image, many questions arise such as who is on the horse? Why are there pigs being stomped on? Why does the tail of the horse include so much detail/spiral down and turn red? and plenty of more questions. In the description we can conclude that William Pitt is the one riding the white horse, his horse clinches a cloth with a crown to express himself as the ruler or king. Secondly, the description allows viewers to understand that Gillray exaggerates the portrayal of political leaders in his artwork, Pitt in this image is very slender and looks very manic. Also, he stomps over pigs which can express his hate and carelessness of regular citizens as a political leader. His hair is flamed and wrapped with a headband with the word “Destruction” implying that he will accomplish nothing but annihilation. Furthermore, we can see his occupied hands, the right one holds a sword that is made of intense fire, while his left carries a snake with wings alongside its mouth ready to morsel anything in its way. The snake carries a universal meaning and expresses opportunities as spiritual guidance, in this case, it is Pitt and his goal to destroy anything in his way while pursuing his true side of wickedness. Also, sitting on the white horse we can see a small demonic-looking man behind Pitt carrying documentation labeled “Provision for the Millennium $250,000”, this may express his wealth during the French Revolution or his greed for money. Moreover, the white horse plays a central part of this image and its tail expands out and can be viewed as clouds at first but falls lower and turns red which can imply the representation of the underworld or hell. Contrary to this, the white horse is known to represent wisdom and power, in this image, it can be portrayed as immorality and command. Additionally, in the tail we can see four figures of small men, one carrying a pitchfork, another from the body of a snake with wings, however, it is the same creature Pitt holds in his left hand, while the other figures have their claws out ready to attack.

Furthermore, under the horse we see ordinary men being trampled and kicked by the horse’s feet succeeding the faces of depressed and wretchedness reactions. The ordinary men seem to be fighting back, attempting to get height and avoiding being sucked into the horse's tail which appears to extend to the underworld. Apart from this, all of the men carry their expressions and altogether hold a piece of paper. Nonetheless, one of many of Gillray’s visual strategies and visual forms allows viewers to grasp a better understanding of the image through his choice and implementation of words in his artwork. Some examples include the use of the word “Destruction” on the headband Pitt is wearing, the demonic creature behind Pitt holding up the “Presages of the Millennium” paper, but most importantly we can see the politicians being trampled while holding a paper with the same word “Peace”. Furthermore, the main choice of words that are being used in this image revolves around the bottom of the image and states that “Presages of the Millennium, with The Destruction of the Faithful, as Revealed to R Brothers the Prophet & attested by MB Hallhead Esq, And ever the Last Days began I looked & behold, a White Horse & his Name who sat upon it was Death & Hell followed after he & Power was given unto him to kill with the Sword & with Famine & with Death, And I saw under him the Souls of the Multitude, those who were destroyed for maintaining the word of truth & for the Testimony (BM)”. This quote at the bottom of the image describes how Death, one of the four apocalyptic horses is hosted by William Pitt and how he abuses his practices of power while hurting the innocent and continues to conquer anything in his way to accomplish his goal of rejecting the treaty of peace, leading to destruction among the French Revolution which relates to the beginning of an apocalypse.

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