Monday, December 15, 2008

Marie-Antoinette à la Rose

From the time I first started to write about Queen Marie-Antoinette, I have received comments from devout people about the low-cut gowns that she wore. Let me explain once again that, in the decadent old world, it was etiquette in most of the courts of Europe for ladies' formal attire to include a plunging décolletage. It was considered perfectly correct as long as the proper corset was worn.

The gown which evoked some disapproval for Marie-Antoinette was not one of the low-cut court gowns (shown above) but the simple white linen dress which she favored for her leisure time at Petit Trianon. The portrait in which she is shown thus had to be withdrawn from the public gaze because people took offense at seeing their Queen painted in casual attire. Now to us, the white dress is perfectly modest, but to people of the eighteenth century, it looked as if she were in her chemise, without the stiff corset prescribed for ladies of the royal family. Furthermore, it was interpreted as being a pro-Austrian picture, since linen came from Flanders, one of the Habsburg territories, and the rose the Queen held was seen as a symbol of the House of Austria.

In order to quell the outrage, Madame Vigée-Lebrun had to quickly come up with another painting. In 1783 the artist completed the portrait above, called "Marie-Antoinette à la rose" showing the Queen appropriately garbed in a silk court gown and headdress, trimmed with lace, ribbons and plumes. She is wearing pearls, as befits a Queen, with hair powdered and face rouged, in accord with court etiquette. She looks as if she has just stepped into her garden on a summer evening, bathed in moonlight. The nocturnal quality of the portrait softens the formality of her attire, alluding to Marie-Antoinette's love of nature, and the fact that she was much more at ease in her gardens than she was in the Hall of Mirrors.


Unknown said...

Thank you. I have always wondered about the low cut gowns, and this explanation sheds light on the topic. Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira once said Marie Antoinette was the swan of the human race. If I may say, "the decadent old world" seems like Paradise compared to our hellish world of brutality and vulgarity. This site is like a sweet perfume. Thank you again.

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Cesar!