Map of France as a ship

This is the post where many of my enthusiasms collide: France converted into waterborne transport – the Ship of State in 1796, Napoleon ascendent, the departements outlined, apparently foundering on the rocky Pyrenees. The caption text is in English, which means it’s probably wartime propaganda, but of or for what? Frank Jacobs points out how it’s not always easy navigating this kind of thing: The map was produced in London, where an interesting ambivalence towards the French Revolution prevailed.

Brittany’s excluded from the ship because of the failed counterrevolution (1793-1796) emanating from the Vendée, so at the time of production it could not be seen as part of France’s geo-body. Is that the revolutionary tricolore, as Jacobs claims, flying from the main, or a reference to the recent annexation of the Netherlands? It says “departement du nord” and there’s something oddly ragged about the two departements just under it, roughly making a sail. Paris is a battleground, of course, but what’s Corsica doing, breaking the frame there in the corner? The strangest detail: the ship’s bow and stern don’t agree – like it’s bent bananawise toward us, and the stern itself is unlike any contemporary vessel – it’s maybe something like a French stern from a hundred years before. Where is the wind coming from? Is it sailing forward or backwards? Why are the mizzen sails reefed or ragged or flapping? I have no idea. I’m sure it’s deliberate, though.


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