Thanks to the astute detective work of participants in the October 2009 “Teachers as Scholars” seminar on the French Revolution, another tantalizing instance of trompe l’œil imagery has been unveiled. Look carefully at the folds of Irma’s dress, near her right leg, and you will see an angry head jutting forward toward the tomb.
Given that the story ends with a macabre account of Robespierre’s ghost haunting the catacombs in Paris and devouring the remains of his victims, perhaps this furious demonic-looking face is supposed to represent the infamous terrorist himself. It would make sense, as this image captures the final scene of the first edition of Irma, where Irma (anagram of Marie, sole survivor of the royal family) is reunited with her betrothed, the Duc d’Angoulême, and takes a vow to marry him over the tomb of Louis XVI.
This frontispiece is found in Elisabeth Guénard (Méré, madame Brossin de). Irma, ou les malheurs d’une jeune orpheline ; histoire indienne, avec des romances. Publié par la Ce. Gd. A Delhy et se trouve à Paris : Chez l’auteur, An VIII (1799-1800). University of Notre Dame: Rare Books Small PQ 1987.G45.I7.1799z. vol. 1.