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Queen Marie Antoinette in Portraits

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Queen Marie Antoinette in Portraits

Marie Antoinette was the last Queen of France and Navarre before the French Revolution. During the Revolution, she became known as Madame Déficit because the country’s financial crisis was blamed on her lavish spending and her opposition to the social and financial reforms. She is also famous of her response: If they have no bread, “then let them eat cake.”

Well, it wasn’t wise to say that. After a two-day trial begun on 14 October 1793, Marie Antoinette was convicted by the Revolutionary Tribunal of high treason and executed by guillotine on the Place de la Révolution on 16 October 1793.

But before the wind of history howled for Marie Antoinette, she was well-known of amassing artworks of extraordinary opulence and beauty. The queen also ordered a lot of portraits. They largely the work of Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun, but not only. Here we have gathered some:

1. Marie Antoinette at the age of thirteen

Joseph Ducreux, Marie Antoinette at the age of thirteen, 1769 Portraits Marie Antoinette

Joseph Ducreux, Marie Antoinette at the age of thirteen, 1769

This miniature portrait was sent to the Dauphin to show him what his future bride looked like. Well, he must have felt convinced.

2. Marie Antoinette in a “muslin” dress

Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Marie Antonine in a muslin dress, 1783,  Palace of Versailles

Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Marie Antonine in a muslin dress, 1783,  Palace of Versailles

This controversial portrait was considered by her critics to show improperly informal attire for a queen. Marie Antoinette wears a gown in a style called gaulle. This meant a simple white muslin dress that fit relatively loosely over the body and had a sash around the waist.

3. Marie Antoinette playing the harp

Marie Antoinette playing the harp, Jean-Baptiste André Gautier-Dagoty, 1774, Palace of Versailles Portraits Marie Antoinette

Jean-Baptiste André Gautier-Dagoty, Marie Antoinette playing the harp, 1774, Palace of Versailles

For Marie Antoinette, the harp was the perfect way to entertain and perhaps show off for her guests. It also allowed for a more intimate perspective on the Queen. Not yet dressed in her full regalia, Marie Antoinette wears a morning gown while she elegantly holds herself in the center of the room.

4. Marie Antoinette with a Globe

Marie Antoinette, Jean-Baptiste-Andre Gautier d'Agoty,1775, Castles of Versailles and Trianon, Versailles Portraits Marie Antoinette

Jean-Baptiste-Andre Gautier d’Agoty, Marie Antoinette,1775, Palace of Versailles

Gautier-D’Agoty shows Queen Marie Antoinette of France as a strong ruler. When the portrait was presented to Marie Antoinette and the court, it was strongly disliked, suggesting that the artist had incorrectly or unflatteringly rendered the Queen.
Part of the power of this portrait comes from Marie Antoinette being portrayed as a wealthy, majestic queen surrounded by her trappings. Her right hand rests on the globe expressing worldliness and global knowledge; her left hand floats delicately by her waist giving her the appearance that she, too, might be floating, slightly above her voluminous skirts.

5. Archduchess Marie Antoinette, Queen of France

Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun, Archduchess Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, 1778, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna Portraits Marie Antoinette

Élisabeth Louise Vigée-Le Brun, Archduchess Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, 1778, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

The Queen is dressed in an elaborate golden white dress. Her hair is piled high and she wears a feathery headdress. All around her are the accoutrements of her station: huge columns, a marble bust of her husband, Louis XVI, displayed high atop a pedestal and behind a table on which sits a crown. The painting was originally meant for the queen’s brother, Emperor Joseph II of Austria, but Marie-Antoinette was so pleased with it that she ordered copies made for Catherine the Great of Russia and her own apartments at Versailles.

6. Marie Antoinette with her two eldest children, Marie-Thérèse Charlotte and the Dauphin Louis Joseph, in the gardens of the Petit Trianon

6. Marie Antoinette with her two eldest children, Marie-Thérèse Charlotte and the Dauphin Louis Joseph, in the gardens of the Petit Trianon (by Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller, 1785) Portraits Marie Antoinette

Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller, Marie Antoinette with her two eldest children, Marie-Thérèse Charlotte and the Dauphin Louis Joseph, in the gardens of the Petit Trianon, 1785, Nationalmuseum Sweden

Wertmüller portrays the Queen in an environment where she spent much of her time: the gardens surrounding her palace Petit Trianon, near Versailles. This portrait was part of a strategy to change the official image of Marie Antoinette from a frivolous foreigner who loved life’s luxuries to the mother of all France.

Marie Antoinette was 30 years old when the portrait was painted. Louis-Joseph was four. He died three years later of tuberculosis. Marie-Thérèse Charlotte was the only member of the family to survive the Revolution.

7. State Portrait of Marie Antoinette

Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun, Portrait of Marie Antoinette with Her Children, 1787, Musée National du Château de Versailles Portraits Marie Antoinette

Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun, Portrait of Marie Antoinette with Her Children, 1787, Musée National du Château de Versailles

This State Portrait of Marie Antoinette and her three surviving children, Marie Thérèse, Louis Charles (on her lap), and Louis Joseph holding up the drape of an empty bassinet signifying the recent death of Marie’s fourth child, was again meant to improve her reputation by depicting her as a mother in simple, yet stately attire.

8. Marie Antoinette prisoner in the Temple Tower

Alexandre Kucharski, Marie Antoinette prisoner in the Temple Tower, ca. 1792, private collection Portraits Marie Antoinette

Alexandre Kucharski, Marie Antoinette prisoner in the Temple Tower, ca. 1792, private collection

Early on 16 October, Marie Antoinette, then called “Widow Capet” was declared guilty of the three main charges against her: depletion of the national treasury, conspiracy against the internal and external security of the State, and High treason because of her intelligence activities in the interest of the enemy; the latter charge alone was enough to condemn her to death.

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Art Historian, founder and CEO of DailyArtMagazine.com and DailyArt mobile app. But to be honest, her greatest accomplishment is being the owner of Pimpek the Cat.

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