Thursday, May 14, 2009

The French Antigone

Ernest Daudet's biography of Madame Royale includes some prints from the early nineteenth century portraying the daughter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette supporting her gouty uncle Louis XVIII during their exile in the Russian empire. She was nicknamed the "French Antigone." The same book includes a description which Louis XVIII wrote in 1799 of his niece to his brother Artois, calling her "our daughter" and comparing her to their sister Madame Elisabeth. As Daudet recorded:
As for the King, he despatched an official announcement of the marriage to every Court, and every member of the family.

"The portraits you have seen of our daughter," he said to his brother," cannot give you an accurate idea of her; they are not in the least like her. She so closely resembles both her father and her mother that she recalls them absolutely, together or separately, according to the point of view from which one looks at her. She is not pretty at first sight; but she becomes so as one looks at her, and especially as one talks to her, for there is not a movement of her face that is not pleasing. She is a little shorter than her mother, and a little taller than our poor sister. She is well made, holds herself well, carries her head perfectly, and walks with ease and grace. When she speaks of her misfortunes her tears do not flow readily, owing to her habit of restraining them, lest her gaolers should have the barbarous pleasure of seeing her shed them. It is no easy task, however, for her listeners to restrain theirs. But her natural gaiety is not quenched; draw her mind away from this tragic chapter of her life, and she laughs heartily and is quite charming. She is gentle, good-humoured, and affectionate; and there is no doubt that she has the mind of a mature woman. In private with me she behaves as our poor Elisabeth might have behaved with my father; in public she has the bearing of a princess accustomed to holding a Court. She not only says courteous things to everyone, but she says to each individual the most suitable thing that could be said. She is modest without being shy, at her ease without being familiar, and as innocent as on the day she was born. Of that I have been absolutely convinced by her manner with my nephew since Tuesday, the day of her arrival here. In fact, to put it briefly, I recognise in her the angel we have lost."



tubbs said...

Were there any old photos or daugerrerotypes(sp?) of Madame Royale? I believe photography was around in her later years, but I cannot manage to google any up.
As for her mother, M-A, the later Vigee-LeBrun portraits are so wonderfully realistic --- they're as good as any photo.

elena maria vidal said...

I have never seen any. There may be some in a private collection somewhere, though.

May said...

I wish we could see a photograph. Even if she was said to be "not pretty", she looks quite handsome to me in the paintings (although sometimes she looks like a different person in different portraits).

What was people's ideal of beauty at that time, anyway?