Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Marie-Antoinette as Venus

Marie-Antoinette was often painted as various characters from Greek and Roman mythology, as was the custom of the time. It is thought to be the Queen in the painting above. Marie-Antoinette is shown as some kind of a classical deity, holding coral and rushes, crowned in pearls, with a dolphin at her side. Catherine Delors discusses this unique miniature, saying:
More to the point, the nautical character of the work is obvious: the branch of coral and bunch of rushes held by the lady, the seascape in the background, and the fish on which she rests her arm. All quite unusual for a miniature. This one is dated as of 1781, the year when Marie Antoinette gave birth to the heir to the throne, the Dauphin Louis-Joseph. “Dauphin” in French was the title given to the heir to the throne, and also the name of the dolphin. So here the “fish” wouldn’t be a fish at all, but a dolphin, and the allegory of the long-awaited achievement of the royal couple: the birth of a male heir. Some artifacts around the time of Louis-Joseph’s birth reflect the form of a dolphin to celebrate the momentous event. (Read entire post.)
I am wondering if Marie-Antoinette is supposed to represent Venus, the goddess of love and beauty who, according to the myth, rose out of the foam of the sea. Furthermore, coral, symbolizing joy and happiness, has a classical association with that goddess. Venus was the wife of Vulcan, god of the forge. Perhaps the potrait was a gift for Louis XVI, whom she once likened to Vulcan because of his dedication to his locksmith work. A dolphin was on the coat-of-arms of the Dauphin. I think this miniature was intended as an intimate gift from the Queen to the King to celebrate the birth of their son and heir. Share

2 comments:

Matterhorn said...

Fascinating! The Venus idea would make sense.

Anna Amber said...

The face is also similar to a few other Campana portratis of the Queen... it definitely makes for an interesting look into what might have been a more intimate/personal gift, when compared to the exhibited portraits of Lebrun!