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Tuesday, June 13, 2006
As our little book club is now reading Evelyne Lever's Marie Antoinette: The Last Queen of France, I have faithfully delved into it, already reading one-sixth of it. Hurrah.
However, already I have a few questions that need answers. What was so scandalous about Louis XV? What hanky-panky was the Sun King up to? Was Madame du Barry really practically from the gutter?
To answer a few of my questions, I picked up a few books at the library and began to research.
We'll leave the Sun King aside for now - but Louis XV, yes, I would agree with Evelyne Lever and Joan Haslip (the writer of Madame du Barry: The Wages of Beauty), that this Louis was still hot shit in his old age. Not my type, but still, check him out below.
Louis XV was famously unfaithful. His most famous lovers were:
The king also frequented his Parc aux Cerfs, the Deer Park, where a changing smorgasbord of misguided girls were provided for the king's vast appetite.
As for Madame du Barry, was she riffraff?
Mother Anne Bécu was a gorgeous seamstress who, while sewing sheets at the Picpus monastery, hit it off with the handsome Brother Angel, or Jean-Baptiste Gomard de Vaubernier. Oops.
But it gets worse. The future Madame du Barry, four-year-old Jeanne Bécu, went off to Paris to live with mom, mom's new boyfriend Monsieur Billard-Dumonceaux, the paymaster of the city of Paris and inspector of the army commissariats, and his courtesan-mistress, the Italian Francesca or Madame Frédérique.
Life in a courtesan's household left its mark on the little child and not even nine years in a convent culled her love of luxury. A few lovers here and there, then a stint at Monsieur Labille's fashion house, followed by falling in with the pimp Jean du Barry, le roué ("the rake"). Not quite a streetwalker, yet hardly off the mark.
Seen above in her favourite portrait, by the darling of women's art history, painter Marie Louise Élisabeth Vigeé-Lebrun, du Barry is certainly lovely.
All her portraits, though, show a wide space between her eyebrows and eyelids,
a long face,
a small mouth,
and a high forehead,
all contributing to a langurous look. Not quite beauty by my standards, but then, I've never been into vacuous blondes.
I still find Madame du Barry intriguing, despite her looks and lack of decent personality, more so because I couldn't help but peek 200 pages into her future and saw that she ascended to the guillotine in hysterics. Too bad for the poor girl.
Her friendship with an illuminary of eighteenth century art is just as fascinating. Young Jeanne Bécu, as a grisette ("working woman") at Monsieur Labille's, made friends with Labille's daughter, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard.
Another favourite in the pantheon of women's art history, this portrait painter is quite famous in feminist art circles for her self-portrait (below, with students Marie Capet and Carreaux de Rosemond).
Celebrated for its depiction of a professional, at a time when an impermeable ceiling prevented women from having any sort of career beyond opening her legs (in matrimony or otherwise), the portrait has two gushing groupies and a pompously luxurious hat that serves to highlight the fact that, yes, she has made enough of a living at her art to be able to afford an expensive example of millinery.
Louis XV really was good looking guy. I mean, just look at his big eyes and his nose! So powerful! Wow wow wow! His lips are cute too.
I am convinced!Post a Comment
Proxy Indian, I talked it over with my sister and she too agreed that he was something of a Enlightenment era hunk. I also stared at his eyes and lips for a while and came round. The nose, I am not entirely with you, but the lips, yes.