Marie Antoinette Portraits


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2 Responses to MA.10

  1. ethompson says:

    Marie Antoinette and her three children occupy an abstract space within this painting. A Roman column stands firmly behind the family and reinforces the stability the royal family offers to France. The adjacent jewelry case containing the Queen’s inherited jewels sits in the background to emphasize the importance of tradition in the French court. Resting atop this case is the King’s crown on an embroidered fleur-de-lys cushion, acknowledging Marie Antoinette’s allegiance to the French monarchy. Starkly contrasted in the symbolic space, the crib beside Marie Antoinette casts a dark shadow over the mood of the portrait. The absence of a child beneath the covers alludes to the recent death of the royal couple’s daughter Sophie. From Marie Antoinette’s eyes looking into nothingness to young Louis Joseph’s innocent pointing to the emptiness of the crib, seriousness, even sadness fills the space within the painting.

    This family portrait was made during the aftermath of not only Sophie’s death, but also of the Diamond Necklace Affair, in which Marie Antoinette was wrongly accused of exploiting money from a respected Cardinal. The public whom she believed adored her now came across as untrustworthy. The devastation the Queen suffered from the loss of her daughter combined with the betrayal she felt from the French people resonates with her grieved, detached gaze. The whiteness of her bare chest intentionally rebuts the scandal, which eventually would be used against her at trial six years later. To reestablish her innocence, not one diamond decorates the Queen’s outfit. Instead, the simplicity of her red velvet dress lined with black fur is queenly, rather than ostentatious. Marie Antoinette’s youthfulness is emphasized through her smooth skin and regal posture. The years as Dauphine allowed Marie Antoinette to properly absorb the strict rules of French etiquette. Here she remains young, but is now a mother, carrying on the cultural traditions upheld in the French court. This portrait shines a new light on Marie Antoinette, now a mature and matronly woman.

    During the 18th century, the French believed childcare was the responsibility of a lady in waiting, not the mother herself. Marie Antoinette defied this notion and embodied motherhood. In this image, the Queen’s arms weakly hold Louis Charles on her lap, as one of his hands reaches toward the ground and the other toward his mother’s breast, alluding to breastfeeding. Marie Therese, the royal couple’s first child, leans affectionately against her mother’s side with a tilted head and hopeful gaze. But the sadness in Marie Antoinette’s eyes distracts the viewer from interpreting the group as a cheerful unity. The Queen and her beloved children share a strong intimacy in the portrait, although it is masked by solemnity.

    This image is particularly important to Marie Antoinette’s personal evolution. Earlier renditions emphasize her youth, her beauty, or her extravagance. In this portrait, viewers see for the first time a mature woman truly hurt by the death of her child and the disloyalty of her people. Nothing in the space suggests an outlandish frivolity. Instead, the state portrait focuses on an established, conservative, sophisticated Queen of France dealing with the repercussions of a troubled past.

    -Eleana Thompson

  2. jvanpee says:

    You note clearly the various symbolic objects that lend this portrait its authority and power. As you observe correctly, it was, in fact, commissioned to redress Marie Antoinette’s reputation after the Diamond Necklace scandal. Unfortunately, the portrait did not have the effect is sought to have: the public was not moved by its propaganda.

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