above image portrays "The last moments of Lesurques at the guillotine,"
by Hilair le Dru. In the image, Lesurques (dressed in white) kneels
before the guillotine, casts his eyes towards the sky and says: "Let
the Lord forgive my cruel judges, as I do."
This plea of an
innocent man about to be executed presents a martyr figure to those
French influencials --Victor Hugo (and perhaps Hilair le Dru, the
painter of the original image) included-- who urged reform in the
penal and judicial systems of France.
As to the particulars
of Joseph Lesurques' case; in April of 1796, a mail coach traveling
from Paris to Lyons was robbed, with it's attendants brutally slashed
to death. An anonymous tip led to the arrest of some suspects, and
the confiscation of their property.
had lent some papers to one of the suspects and was trying to get
them back from the police. As he and Joseph sat in the magistrate's
waiting-room, two servant women declared that Lesurques was one of
the bandits. (Convictions on such meager evidence were common, one
of the reasons Hugo's Marius chose
to flee his tenement rather than fraternize further with the criminal
He was immediately
arrested, and kept from providing himself an alibi. In an astonishing
fashion, witness after witness "accused him," much like the Salem
witch phenomenon, and Lesurques was beheaded. This tragedy was commemorated
by the painter le Dru, a friend of Lesurques.