Storming of the Bastille, July 14th, 1789, painting, unattributed, eighteenth century

The Bastille loomed large in the French imagination as a mysterious, medieval, dark dungeon of a place where vast numbers of people who had displeased the King would disappear to lead a tortured existence. In fact, by the time of Louis XVI, living conditions inside the Bastille were not at all dire; food was adequate, and prisoners were free to bring in many of their own possessions. On July 14, 1789, this towering symbol of royal oppression held only seven prisoners: two who were mentally ill, four forgers, and one person who had been incarcerated for incest.

Courtesy of Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Art Resource, NY