Friday, February 23, 2007

Le Hameau de la Reine

In 1783, Queen Marie-Antoinette commissioned the architect Mique to build a village and farm on the grounds of her private retreat, the Petit Trianon. The "little hamlet" was to provide food for the royal family, thus giving an example of self-sufficiency to other nobles, as well as celebrating the traditional agricultural life of the French people. The queen invited several destitute families to live and work in the hameau. She saw the farm as a way that her children could experience the healthiness of country life, without actually leaving Versailles. Life in the palace had little or no privacy for the royal family; Marie-Antoinette wanted her children to have one place where they could be themselves. Like many "home-schooling" parents, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette feared that their children would grow up too isolated from the real world. The farm was a "safe" environment where they could get an idea of how ordinary people lived, see the livestock, learn about plants and nature. Most of all, it was a place for the children to play.

The farm has often been cited as an example of decadence on the part of Marie-Antoinette, particularly the dairy with the porcelain milk pitchers. However, it must be taken into account that wealthy people all over Europe were building "follies" in their gardens, such as a fake ruined castles, ornate mosques, Chinese tea houses, solely for decoration. At least, Marie-Antoinette's hameau had a practical purpose. Of course, she would not wear an elaborate court gown when spending time on the farm; she would wear a simple cotton dress and sometimes an apron. Therefore she is still accused of "playing dairy maid." I somehow do not see how milking cows with her children and friends can be regarded as extreme frivolity; it seems like a fairly innocent past time to me. In the main "farm house" there was elegant furniture, a billiard table and such amenities for entertaining in the manner expected of a queen. Foreign guests and ambassadors were occasionally given hospitality at the hameau, although it was mainly just for the family.

There was also an orchard, berry bushes, fishing in the pond, and lots of vegetables in the garden. Everyone needs a refuge, a cozy corner, a place to be quiet. In our busy world there seems to be more of an appreciation of Marie-Antoinette's creative way of carving out a retreat for herself and her family, one which patronized and exulted French craftsmanship while simultaneously helping the poor.


Anonymous said...

Even in this age, leaders are critized for their places of retreat. People should realize that in order to function in top form a leader needs to find a place of 'refuge' occasionally from the burden of being on the job 24 hours a day. I enjoyed the pictures of "Le Hameau de la Reine". Thanks for including them. Seeing them was a 'first' for me. Lovely!

Anonymous said...

I didn't see this place while on a day excursion at Versailles while on study aboard in July '04. I did see Le Petite Trianon although there was landscaping work in the nearby garden. We must have passed the road to le Hameau or went the opposite direction.

Anonymous said...

I remember getting this version in college a long time ago, that Antoinette had created the little farming village as a sort of stage for her to play in. But (now that I have since been properly enlightened on the subject by reading Trianon--and now this blog) I think it is so unfair to think that of her, since no one would think to grudge any of the super-wealthy of today their get-away retreats, where they can escape the constant media attention and having to be dressed to perfection at all times. Surely Antoinette and her family felt the same barrage of the "paparazzi" of their own day-- if not more so!

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, what the queen had at Trianon was nothing compared to what many other rulers had and what many have today.