Visualising the Nation: Nationalism and Imperialism

Visualising the Nation: Nationalism and Imperialism
Posted on 31-03-2022


Visualising the Nation:

  • Nation was personified in the female form by the artists of the 19th century.
  • Female allegories such as that of liberty, justice and republic were invented.
  • In Germany, Germania became the allegory of the nation.
  • In France, the idea of a people’s nation was christened Marianne. She was characterized by the ideas of liberty and republic.
  • Marianne’s fasces or a bundle of rods with an axe in the middle was used to symbolise strength in unity. The red Phrygian cap signified freedom of a slave. It was also known as the liberty cap. French people wore these caps a few days before the storming of the Bastille.
  • These symbols were usually popular images from everyday life that uneducated masses could easily identify with.
  • During revolutions, artists represented a nation as a person. This personification gave life to an abstract concept like a nation.

Nationalism and Imperialism:

  • Through the 18th and the mid 19th century, Europe was marked by a lot of chaos and turmoil. After 1871, there was a significant change in the concept of nationalism in Europe.
  • Nationalist groups in Europe had become increasingly incompatible with each other and were constantly in conflict. The major European powers, namely Russia, Germany, England and Austro-Hungary began taking advantage of nationalism in Europe to materialise their aims for imperialism.
  • The European powers sighted the much-disturbed Balkan region to fulfil their imperialist goals. The Balkan region consisted of the following countries of our times - Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Greece, Macedonia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia, Serbia and Montenegro.


Ethnic: Relates to a common racial, tribal or cultural origin or background that a community identifies with or claims.

Symbol: A symbol is a visual image that represents something other than itself. It may be a representation using an object, picture, written word, sound or a particular mark.

Imperialism: The policy of extending a country’s power and influence through colonization, use of military force or other means.

Allegory: When an abstract idea (for instance greed, envy, freedom, liberty, etc.) is expressed through a person or a thing. An allegorical story has two meanings, one literal and one symbolic.


Marianne and Germania: Marianne and Germania were the female allegories of France and German nations respectively. These were an allegory of nation in the same way as Bharat Mata, a female figure is imagined in India. The characteristics of Marianne were drawn from those of Liberty and the Republic—the red cap, the tricolour and the cockade. The Statues of Marianne were made and erected at public places and a picture of Marianne printed on postage stamps. Germania wears a crown of oak leaves because that tree stands for heroism. She holds a sword in her hand.

Important Symbols

Broken chains – Liberty (being freed)

Breastplate with eagle – Strength (Symbol of the German empire)

Crown of oak leaves – Heroism

Sword – Readiness to fight

Olive branch around the sword – Willingness to make peace

Black, red and gold tricolour – Flag of the liberal nationalists in 1848 banned by the Dukes of the german states.

Rays of the rising sun – Beginning of a new era


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