Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Rococo (pt. 10)

Louis XV is attributed with saying, at the end of his reign, "Après moi, le déluge."  He was right; it came.  Succeeding his father to the throne was Louis XVI, under whose sovereignty the French economic situation did not improve.  In fact, in just a few years it worsened at the mercy of a country-wide famine that left peasants starving.  The aristocratic party, called the bourgeoisie, did nothing to prevent the situation from worsening, and the entire country fell deeper into unrest.
Married to Louis XVI was a young Austrian archduchess named Marie Antoinette who was made the queen of France at age 19.  Marie Antoinette perhaps defines Rococo living at Versailles.  She was limitlessly wealthy and almost just as prodigal with her authority, although the quote about eating cake famously attributed to her is unsupported and probably inaccurate.  Among her other amusements about the palace, she had, constructed for own personal use, a private cottage, which she called "Le Petit Hameu" (the little Hamlet).  It was designed after the style of a peasant country house.
She would frequently retreat to this cottage to literally "play peasant," or pretend to be a lower-class farmer or unskilled laborer.  The house still stands to this day (above is a photograph taken back in 2006) as a testament to the young queen's idle and ignorant lifestyle.  She would discover the irony of her pretending to identify with the lower class when she actually met them face to face a few years later, as an angry mob of peasants and farmers stormed the palace and dragged her and her family off to Paris.
Madame Vigée le Brun, the official portrait painter of the king and queen, often painted Marie Antoinette with her children under the order of the queen herself.  It is thought that, perhaps, despite all her flaws as a queen, she was at the very least a good mother to her children; but there are varying schools of thought on this.  During her later trial she would be accused of abusing her son (among other charges), but this could well have been rumor spread by the unhappy public, who invented the nickname "Madame Veto" due to her husband's repetitive practice in office of refusing to consign to any reforms that would limit his power.  Whether Marie Antoinette was the honest and caring mother many scholars have argued her to have been is largely left in mystery.  The royal couple had four children together, but only one survived past the age of ten.

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