Monday, April 21, 2008

Marie-Antoinette and Style

Author Caroline Weber offers some interesting insights into Marie-Antoinette's clever use of fashion in this article. Here is an excerpt:

Needless to say, the use of clothing to enhance one’s symbolic power had been an effective political tactic at least since the days of Louis XIV. As historians from Voltaire to Louis Marin have rightly emphasized, the Sun King’s thoughtful and extravagant manipulations of costume did much to bolster his absolutist grip on an unruly nation. In this context, it may not be incidental that while still a teen-ager, Marie Antoinette declared Louis XIV her favorite French king—“because he is so great,” she is said to have informed her tutor, the Abbé de Vermond. In fact it is telling that, shortly after her accession, when she was, as she admitted to her brother Joseph II, anxious to cultivate “the appearance of credit” she enjoyed with her newly crowned husband, Marie Antoinette commissioned Louis-Auguste Brun to paint her portrait “riding like a man.” Brun complied, and depicted the young consort heroically straddling a rearing steed, outfitted in shocking male breeches and riding habit. Unconventional in the annals of royal Frenchwomen’s equestrian portraiture (in which subjects tended to strike a ladylike, sidesaddle pose), the Brun painting bears a startling resemblance to the great representations of Louis XIV on horseback. I cannot think of a single commentator who has dismissed the Sun King’s strategically deployed equestrian posturing as that of an immature youth endeavoring “to be thought cool.” Yet Marie Antoinette’s recourse to a similar iconographic strategy somehow fails to register—with the likes of Coppola and Thurman—as anything but garden-variety teenage rebellion, notwithstanding the fact that the young queen, still childless, had good cause for wishing to appear untouchable and strong.


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