On June 29th, the newly elected President of France, Emmanuel Macron, unveiled his official Presidential portrait. The deliberate imagery employed by Macron and his team in this portrait is so well done and meaningful that I practically felt obligated to write about it. Many outlets like the Washington Post, the U.K. Telegraph, and France24 have already written extensively about the portrait and, if one is interested in any further reading on the topic, I would recommend checking those sources out through the links provided.

A quick background on Macron, the self-described “radical centrist”. What is so awesome or terrible (depending on what side you are on politically) is that Macron formed his centrist party, En Marche!, (“onward” or “forward” in English), last year and En Marche! has already won the French Presidency and a whopping 308 out of the 577 seats available in the French Parliament. Moreover, Macron is only 39 years old, making him the youngest President in France’s history. As a young, radical centrist Macron has to juggle threats from both the far left, whose policies have stalled French economic development, and the far right, whose anti immigrant rhetoric threatens to tear the country apart. With these looming challenges in mind, Macron has released a Presidential portrait that signals to his country, and the world, what exactly he has in mind regarding France’s future.

First things first, Macron’s portrait looks very similar to former President Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential portrait. Obama is remarkably popular in France, garnering a stunning 90% approval rating in the country. Obama also endorsed Macron in his 2017 presidential election. Essentially, through his mimicry of the Obama portrait, Macron is embracing Obama’s popularity in France and is likely hoping to convey to the French people that he is similar to Obama and therefore worthy of the French peoples’ support and praise.

Then, in Macron’s background stand two equally prominent flags. The French flag and the E.U. flag. This message is likely the clearest and most straightforward one in the portrait. Macron is a strong supporter of the European Union. By putting the E.U.’s flag right next to the French flag, Macron is telling his people that France will not shut itself off from the outside world and abandon the European Union.

Now, if we look at Macron’s Presidential desk we will notice four categories of objects. Lying on his desk is a clock, a container of ink fashioned in the shape of a rooster, two smartphones, and three books.

As the Washington Post reports, the clock is likely a reference to Macron’s statement that he would like to be a “Master of Clocks”, or in other words: he sets his own schedule. The two smartphones are likely there to convey a sense of youth and modernity in Macron. Similarly to how Kennedy, during his inaugural address, told Americans that the torch of leadership had been passed down to a new generation, Macron is telling the French that their new generation of leadership has arrived.

The rooster shaped container of ink is a reference to the French Gallic rooster. The Gallic rooster has long been an unofficial symbol of France and is used commonly on war memorials and national sports teams. The rooster also has large religious undertones. In Christianity, the rooster is representative of Christ’s passion after it squawked three times when Peter denied Christ. The rooster is also representative of repentance, watchfulness, and resurrection. That is why weathervanes often contain roosters, as roosters are our “watchful protectors.” Is Macron comparing himself to Jesus and saying he will resurrect France and be its watchful protector? Probably not; I doubt if even Trump could be that vain. Likely, Macron just employed the rooster as an extra symbol for France’s unity. Still, I think it is important to note the other broader meaning a rooster may have in religion and culture.

Now, onto the three books that lay on Macron’s desk. The most noticeable book in the picture is to Macron’s right and is the only book, of the three, which is open. This book contains the memoirs of Charles de Gaulle. For those unaware, de Gaulle was a French General and President and the leader of the French resistance during World War II. He founded the Fifth Republic of France in 1958, and was subsequently elected President of France until he eventually resigned in 1969. De Gaulle, to this day, has retained his legendary status and has rightfully earned his spot as one of the greatest modern day leaders of our world. By having this book open, Macron is symbolizing his respect for de Gaulle and is also likely conveying his personal hope that he may also serve France in a similarly positive manner as de Gaulle so expertly had done.

The other books are The Red and the Black by French author Marie-Henri Beyle (his pen name was Stendhal) and The Fruits of the Earth by French author Andrè Gide. Stendhal’s book centers on an ambitious young man during a time of great political strife in France. (Here, Macron is clearly alluding that he is a modern day version of that young man). Gide’s book is a poem influenced by Nietzsche that advocates casting aside comforts and seeking danger and adventure. Here Macron is likely trying to get across the fact that France’s future may be challenging, but it is through these challenges that they can improve as a country. Finally, it is important to note that all three books are from French authors, an obviously deliberate choice, invoking a sense of French pride and excellence.

Finally, it is important to note the open windows behind Macron. This is symbolic of being both casual and professional. French Presidents in the past have either opted for more casual shots of them hanging out in the garden or more stately shots of themselves in a palace or grand library. Macron, here, has opted for both. Macron is in his office, yet his windows are open revealing lush greenery in the background. This break from tradition only serves to hammer in the point that Macron represents a new future for France. One could even speculate that by combining both the casual and formal, Macron is alluding to his political centrism and his vision to unite France instead of dividing it.

After reading this, some may think I went overboard in my analysis, perhaps adding excess meaning to objects that were simply put there for their visual appeal or for no reason at all. While yes, some things like part of my analysis of the rooster may be overboard, I still genuinely believe that Macron and his team used his presidential portrait to deliberately send a powerful and nuanced message to the citizens of France and the world.

As a final note I would like to put meaning aside and just examine the picture as a whole. Let us be honest, the picture is fantastic. Even detractors of Macron have to admit just how cool he looks as he casually leans on the desk and stares nonchalantly at the camera.

While Macron has a tough road ahead of him, if this portrait is any indication of his future plans, it appears that he is on the right path.

One thought on “A Picture is Worth 1000 Words

  1. Jonah: Fabulous. A thrilling discussion of a subject close to my heart.

    Do you remember that I did a sabbatical in France in 1987 and our family came over off and on and Jillian went to school in Paris.? Jillian became entranced by France and in later years was fortunate to be mentored by and become dear friends, as did I and Grandma, of Eric Rouleau. One of the friends we made during my sabbatical in fact hosted Grandma and Henry last summer, Further, my French friends and our family exchanged children several summers and your Mom and Jillian were part of the exchange. So – we feel very close to France.

    I am proudly going to forward your blog to my French friends – together with you pictured with the Macron Tshirt!

    Finally, I have forwarded an Op-ed to you from yesterday’s NYT which I am also sending to my friends in France.

    PG (Proud Grandpa)


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