The Calas case

The Calas case

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  • The Unhappy Calas Family

    CARROGIS, known as Louis de CARMONTELLE Louis (1717 - 1806)

  • Calas's farewell to his family

    CHODOWIECKI Daniel Nikolaus (1726 - 1801)

To close

Title: The Unhappy Calas Family

Author : CARROGIS, known as Louis de CARMONTELLE Louis (1717 - 1806)

Creation date : 1765

Date shown: 1765

Dimensions: Height 37.2 cm - Width 48.5 cm

Technique and other indications: red chalk wash, black chalk, heightened with gouache and red chalk on paper

Storage location: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © RMN - Grand Palais (Louvre museum) / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

Picture reference: 00-022636 / RF1215-recto

The Unhappy Calas Family

© RMN - Grand Palais (Louvre museum) / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

To close

Title: Calas's farewell to his family

Author : CHODOWIECKI Daniel Nikolaus (1726 - 1801)

Creation date : 1761

Date shown: 1762

Dimensions: Height 30 cm - Width 52.8 cm

Technique and other indications: etching from volume 24 of A Century of French History by Print (1770-1870)

Storage location: National Library of France (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © BNF, dist. RMN - Grand Palais / BNF image

Picture reference: 13-523284 / RESERVE QB-370 (24) -FT 4 De Vinck, 4150

Calas's farewell to his family

© BNF, dist. RMN - Grand Palais / BNF image

Publication date: September 2020

Professor of modern history at the University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis.


The Calas Affair


Historical context

One of Voltaire’s great fights against miscarriage of justice

The Calas affair began on October 13, 1761, when Jean Calas, a Protestant trader from Toulouse, discovered his son Marc-Antoine dead and strangled at his home. The judgment is rendered on March 10, 1762. Jean Calas is condemned to death; he is wheeled alive, then strangled and burnt.

The case revolts Voltaire, who screams his horror at what he considers an assassination in his famous Treatise on tolerance, on the occasion of the death of Jean Calas (1763), which begins as follows: “The murder of Calas, committed in Toulouse with the sword of justice, on 9e March 1762, is one of the most singular events which deserve the attention of our age, and of posterity. »With his friend Étienne-Noël Damilaville and the support of Friedrich Melchior Grimm, editor of the Literary, philosophical and critical correspondence, Voltaire not only wants to rehabilitate Jean Calas, but also to help materially and morally his widow and his children, who are his co-defendants, through the “Project of subscription for a tragic and moral print”.

This drawing is the contribution of Carmontelle, a multi-talented artist, at the same time a portrait draftsman, author of society theater, designer of exotic gardens and organizer of social aristocratic parties, to their public opinion campaign.

Image Analysis

A staging characteristic of the "sensitive age" of the Enlightenment

Carmontelle puts here his talent as a draftsman at the service of Voltaire's cause by making a group portrait in prison. In February 1765, the Calas family was indeed taken prisoner at the Conciergerie in Paris, pending a review of the trial. Damilaville wrote to Voltaire about Mother Calas: “One of our friends - Carmontelle - is currently drawing her with Gaubert Lavaysse and all his family in the same painting where they will be in a prison. "

The scene indeed represents the mother, in a mourning dress, as well as her eldest daughter, Rose, and behind them the youngest, Nanette. Their servant, Jeanne Viguière, standing, supports them in pain. They face the young Pierre Calas, accused of fratricide, and his friend Gaubert Lavaysse, who reads the Memory to consult and consultation for Dame Anne-Rose Cabibel, widow Calas, and for her children, prepared by lawyer Élie de Beaumont. The factums or lawyers' briefs are very successful, because they allow the public to identify with the protagonists of a case and the lawyers to seize the court of the opinion - Voltaire says to have been moved to tears by that by Élie de Beaumont.

This drawing is not the only work to have been produced about the suffering of the Calas family. A famous engraver of the Enlightenment, Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, has chosen to illustrate another fictitious prison scene: Calas's farewell to his family, with, for caption, an excerpt fromAthalie de Racine: "I fear God ... and have no other fear. "


A remarkable campaign to mobilize enlightened opinion

This charitable drawing offered by a successful artist, Carmontelle, to supporters of the rehabilitation of Calas and the innocence of his family is therefore intended to be reproduced by the classic process of engraving in order to benefit from a wide distribution among public. The engraving carried out by Jean-Baptiste Delafosse also allows to add to the drawing a legend which carries the message of the fight of Voltaire and the partisans of the innocence of Calas: "The Mother, the two Daughters, with Jeanne Viguière, their good Servant , the Son and his friend, the young Lavaysse. "It is not a question here of engaging a political fight in favor of tolerance for" those of the RPR "(supposedly reformed religion), that is to say the Calvinists, but to strike the sensitive cord, d 'move public opinion.

An entire family was bruised, as recalled by Treatise on Tolerance, and everyone can become a new Jean Calas. The purchase of the engraving, which costs six pounds, should provide material support to a grieving but worthy family. Voltaire is pleased with this mobilization: "The idea of ​​the Calas print is wonderful. I beg you, my dear brother, to put me among the subscribers for twelve prints. The subscription was a remarkable success, to the point that the Parliament of Paris intervened to suspend the course. But the engraving has time to be widely distributed. Jean Calas was rehabilitated on March 9, 1765, and his family released from the charges against him.

  • Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet, said)
  • Protestantism
  • Lights
  • justice
  • Racine (Jean)


BEAUREPAIRE Pierre-Yves, France of the Enlightenment (1715-1789), Paris, Belin, coll. “Histoire de France” (no 8), 2011 (compact edition 2014). GARRISSON Janine, The Calas Affair: a mirror of French passions, Paris, Fayard, 2004.

To cite this article

Pierre-Yves BEAUREPAIRE, "The Calas Affair"

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