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Meet Madame de Pompadour, The Queen of Arts in Portraits


Meet Madame de Pompadour, The Queen of Arts in Portraits

Elvis Presley’s famous hairstyle was called after her, a French champagne glass is believed to have been modelled after her breast, and according to the legend, the ‘marquise cut’ diamond was commissioned to resemble the shape of her mouth… Yet, Madame de Pompadour left her legacy way further as she was the uncrowned queen of France and the arts. See Madame de Pompadour in portraits:

A Planned Future

madame de pompadour portrait Jean-Marc Nattier, Madame de Pompadour as Diana, 1752, Cleveland, The Cleveland Museum of Art,madame de pompadour portraits

Jean-Marc Nattier, Madame de Pompadour as Diana, 1752, Cleveland, The Cleveland Museum of Art

It was destiny that Jeanne Antoinette Poisson became a chief mistress to the king Louis XV: when she was small, a fortune teller prophesied that she would one day win the heart of the king. Therefore, when she entered the adolescent age, her mother oversaw her training to become a royal mistress-to-be. She had to memorize entire plays by heart, dance, sing, paint, engrave and play the clavichord.

A Marriage

madame de pompadour portrait François Boucher, Madame de Pompadour, 1754, pastel on paper, Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria,madame de pompadour portraits

François Boucher, Madame de Pompadour, 1754, Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria

At age 19 she married into d’Étiolles family, which was an obvious marriage of convenience. She had two children with her husband Charles-Guillaume Le Normant, but both of them died in childhood. Antoinette soon founded her own salon which became very popular in Parisian circles and which was attended by many intellectuals, such as Voltaire, with whom she became close friends.

A Meeting

madame de pompadour portrait Maurice-Quentin de La Tour Portrait of Mme de Pompadour, 1755 Pastel on paper, 177 x 130 cm Paris, Louvre, madame de pompadour portraits

Maurice-Quentin de La Tour, Portrait of Mme de Pompadour, 1755, Paris, Louvre

She turned into a real celebrity, to an extent that the king himself heard rumors of her intelligence, talents and beauty. A group of  courtiers decided to promote her to the king, and a masked ball at Versailles seemed to be a perfect occasion to do this. In 1745, Antoinette, dressed up as a domino, met a plant. A royal plant, of course. A month later she was already king’s mistress, installed in the palace in an apartament connected with king’s chambers by a secret staircase.

[Read more: French Elegance; How Did Women Dress In The 18th Century?]

A patronage

madame de pompadour portrait François Boucher, Portrait of Mme de Pompadour, 1756 Oil on canvas, 212 x 164 cm Munich, Alte Pinakothek, madame de pompadour portraits

François Boucher, Portrait of Mme de Pompadour, 1756, Munich, Alte Pinakothek

She was a passionate patron of the architects, furniture craftsmen, interior designers, writers, painters, and sculpturers. She was also an artist herself, she made engravings and drawings, and she even brought to Versailles the most talented gem carver to teach her how to make gems. She carved little scenes and cameos into semi-precious stones for rings and bracelets which she would later give out as gifts. She was also responsible for the development of Sèvres, which became one of the most famous porcelain manufacturers in Europe. She protected the Physiocrates, a group of French Enlightenment economists, and supported and defended the development of Diderot’s Encyclopédie against those of the Church who sought to have it suppressed.

A Portrait

madame de pompadour portrait François-Hubert Drouais Mme de Pompadour at her Tambour Frame, 1763-64 Oil on canvas, 217 x 156.8 cm London, National Gallery, madame de pompadour portraits

François-Hubert Drouais, Mme de Pompadour at her Tambour Frame, 1763-64, London, National Gallery

Portraits of Madame de Pompadour were a genre in itself. She used portraits to communicate with the king and the French, announcing her loyalty, love, intellect… She was hailed as a major innovator and “the sponsor and queen of the Rococo”, according to Goncourt brothers. François Boucher found in Mme de Pompadour his most enthusiastic admirer. Only after her death, however, in 1765, was he appointed First Painter to the King.

A scandal

madame de pompadour portrait François Boucher, Setting of the Sun, 1753, London, Wallace Collection,madame de pompadour portraits

François Boucher, Setting of the Sun, 1753, London, Wallace Collection

Besides portraits, she commissioned from Boucher projects for tapestries, which were meant to be woven exclusively for her. She picked the story from Ovid about rising and setting of the sun, everything was symbolic, as you can imagine. In this painting Boucher depicted her as the nymph Tethys welcoming the returning sun, Louis XV. The paintings were shown at the Salon in 1753 and raised quite a clamour.

Find out more:

Magda, art historian and Italianist, she writes about art because she cannot make it herself. She loves committed and political artists like Ai Weiwei or the Futurists; like Joseph Beuys she believes that art can change us and we can change the world.


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