← Marie Antoinette Portraits
In this portrait Marie Antoinette was a newly made princess of France.From the day of her arrival in France she was under the pressure from the Austrian government and the French government to produce an heir. Marie Antoinette was not received well by the French nobility. The nobles criticized her. She came from a background where she was given more time to herself and privacy, so that she was shocked at how public the French court was. To add to the pressure of court life Louis Auguste had not yet consummated their marriage. She decided to ask the permission of the King to take riding lesson. He surprised her by agreeing. By letting Marie Antoinette take riding lesson the King gave her an escape and control over her life.
All the physical attributes in this portrait show that Marie Antoinette was not completely powerless in her situation. At the time of the portrait Antoinette had gained permission to take riding classes from the King, but it is interesting to see that with her new found freedom Antoinette is still conforming to social dictates of what women should wear by wearing a skirt instead of breeches. It was not normal for women to taking riding lesson let only the future queen of France.
In this portrait, She is wearing masculine ridding attire, a radical choice for women of her time. The contrasting red color of her riding coat highlights the paleness of her skin. Her attire makes her look like a handsome man instead of the Daulphine that she is. It is as if Antoinette is separating herself from royal duties and role by riding and hunting. Riding was an individual activity enjoyed away from the court,so it is understandable why Antoinette would want to hunt. Previous queens were always portrayed in their homes or surrounded by their family, whereas this image shows Antoinette getting ready to hunt.
The nobles where the only class who could hunt because that was one of their privileges would accompany the hunters, it was not the social norm for women to join in the actual hunting, so why would Antoinette all of a sudden want to take riding lesson? Let us not forget that Louis Auguste was an equestrian and hadn’t consummated the marriage. Antoinette might have used riding lesson as a ploy to get closer to her husband to fulfill her duties as a Daulphine. The golden riding crop in her hand symbolize power, an unconventional object in a portrait of a Daulphine.The way Antoinette is smirking and tilting her head to the right suggests that she can do anything she pleaseS. She exudes an air of confidence and affirmation of who she is. This radical portrait Antoinette had commissioned suggests to her viewers that she may be the Daulphine of France, but you will never know her because you see conventions instead of a young women.
In this portrait, entitled “Young Marie Antoinette,” Marie Antoinette is an adolescent. She has a playful pose and exudes a carefree attitude. Judging by her choice of dress for this portrait, Marie, like most adolescents, had a bit of a rebellious side to her. Although only a subtle hint, her ensemble speaks volumes. Marie’s daring choices at such an early age makes her unique and opens a small window from which an admirer can gaze into her distinct individuality.
When this portrait was probably painted, young Marie Antoinette had only been married roughly 5 months and had not yet consummated her marriage with Louis August. The court, France, and even her family in Austria were watching and waiting impatiently for Marie to produce the next Dauphin and complete her mission. Versailles became her prison, where court protocol dictated her life and the pressure of her mother and all of France suffocated her more than the grand corps itself. She faced the possibility of her marriage to Louis XVI being annulled because he had yet to lay with her, which could have cast a great shame upon her. She saw riding as a grand opportunity. It allowed her to push her limits as the Dauphine, while spending time with the King and her husband, keeping their favor, and thus securing her position despite the failure of the marriage.
By taking up riding, Marie Antoinette was allowed to have a moment where she could abandon the extravagant dresses, dangerously tight corsets, and enormous wigs for a more natural choice of fashion. In the portrait one must notice that her complexion doesn’t seem to have been touched by makeup. Her face is not unnaturally white, her cheeks have a natural rosy color to them, and her hair is in what seems to be a queue (a boy’s hairstyle at the time). One can see that Marie didn’t not want to be depicted as the Dauphine in this portrait. There is nothing in the portrait which indicates her royalty, although the lace on her sleeves and the fact that she is riding does indicate her high rank. This portrait features Marie Antoinette, the girl with a strong spirit. She wanted to move away from the title of the Dauphine, because the Dauphine is an identity that is passed down and is not individual. Although depicted in a woman’s riding skirt, Marie Antoinette was known (and criticized) for riding in breeches. She most likely chose to wear breeches for comfort when actually riding, but chose to be painted in a skirt so that she appears more feminine. The skirt prevented harsh criticism of the Dauphine’s riding, and promotes praise for her choice to ride. No dauphines or queens before her had ever attempted to ride. Thus, her riding established an identity for Marie Antoinette other than the public identity that was given to her as the Dauphine of France. The crop Marie holds in her hand in combination with her confident stare gives her image an essence of power and control. In that sense, the portrait seems to be slightly feminist, although Marie only intended it to give herself a feeling of freedom and strength rather than representing that independence for all women.
Marie Antoinette was given much praise when she first began riding in October of 1770. Perhaps this is why she chose to have this painting be one of her first portraits as the Dauphine. It gave the people a chance to admire her as a person. To wear such attire she had to possess a mind of her own, which she was not afraid to express. In any point in history it is rare to find a women or girl that is willing to put herself in a difficult position and go against mainstream society. This portrait expresses that for Marie Antoinette the opposite was true. Marie Antoinette displays her individuality, confidence, and boldness in this portrait of herself during her youth, which we can continue to admire today.
Excellent description, both of Marie Antoinette’s exterior self-presentation and of what her inner motivations might have been in choosing to have herself depicted as an equestrian.
Subtle understanding of the symbolic significance of Marie Antoinette’s choice to show herself in a riding costume.
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