And We Shall be Mothers Because…!

The meaning of this transgressive image of a nun baring her breasts is ambiguous. Lequeu’s cryptic caption may allude to the suppression of the religious orders in 1792, when such institutions were condemned as bastions of social oppression. Such anticlericalism contributed to dechristianizing practices under the Reign of Terror, including mass executions of clergy and coerced marriages. The gesture of stripping off age-old habits and devoting oneself to procreation corresponds with the revolutionary goal of reinventing society, a sentiment echoed in Denis Diderot’s novel Memoirs of a Nun (published posthumously in 1796).

Jean-Jacques Lequeu (1757–1826)
And We Shall be Mothers Because . . . !, 1793–94
Pen and black ink, black and gray wash
Bibliothèque nationale de France, Departement des Estampes et de la photographie