Sunday, November 8, 2009

Grace Before Beauty

There is an exhibition in Rome on the life of Princess Grace of Monaco (Via Terry Nelson.) I never knew that her confirmation name was "Bernadette." According to art historian Elizabeth Lev:
The exhibit, however, lingers on the elaborate costumes she commissioned for her sophisticated balls and parties. This section, titled "The Queen of the Ephemeral" by curator Fredric Mitterand, the French minister of culture, dazzles with the vast selection of outfits and letters from the international jet-set scene.

Here, Grace seems reduced to an actress once again, wearing costumes for less important roles. Suddenly this woman of substance appears very superficial. But scattered among the notes lie testimonies to her staunch defense and friendship of black entertainer Josephine Baker and her caring concern for the troubled recluse Greta Garbo.

I saw the first incarnation of this exhibit in Montecarlo three years ago, where there were a great many images of the princess' work as the president of the Red Cross of Monaco. She not only arranged fundraisers, but Princess Grace volunteered her time and efforts, visiting sick and assisting refugees. The Monaco show also emphasized her foundation of AMADE, formed to protect the rights of children worldwide. Amade, named so as "to sound like amour," the French word for love, seeks to "to create, promote, coordinate and support initiatives that assist the most vulnerable children."

Despite requests by Alfred Hitchcock and others to lure her back on screen, Princess Grace only returned in front of a camera shortly before her death for Family Theater, a production company founded in 1947 by an old friend, Holy Cross Father Patrick Peyton.

Princess Grace was filmed reciting the rosary in St. Peter's Basilica, a legacy greater than even her fabulous jewels exhibited in the show. Unfortunately, this work is not even mentioned by the curators, despite the fact that it was her first appearance on film in 25 years.

Photos of the Prince and Princess of Monaco with the Pope flank images of the couple visiting with the Kennedy's. But the show ignores the Catholic connection between Monaco and the Holy See, which have shared diplomatic relations since 1861.

Nor does it recount how in 1954, the 100th anniversary of the Immaculate Conception, Prince Rainier made a pilgrimage to Lourdes, to pray to Mary for a suitable wife. Several years later, Princess Grace revealed that her confirmation name was Bernadette, for the French girl to whom the Blessed Virgin appeared in Lourdes. On the 25th anniversary of the prince's pilgrimage, Princess Grace would also visit Lourdes in thanksgiving.

Princess Grace died in a car accident on Sept. 14, 1982, and was buried in the cathedral of San Nicola in Montecarlo (also dedicated to the Immaculate Conception), the same church that welcomed her for the "Wedding of the Century," 26 years earlier. The show evokes a sad nostalgia, not for the glamour queen of a modern fairy tale, but for an age when leaders remembered that noblesse oblige, and that a person's life was weighed in more than chiffon and jewels.


Gabriel Girl said...

Nobless Oblige may have been considered indicative of a class system, but it at least it provides a system of values to look after those who look up to you!

I'm of the firm opinion that individuals should be populist, and that the government should stay out of the way.

MadMonarchist said...

I've posted a few times on my Monaco-focused blog that a great deal gets glossed over and ignored when it comes to Monaco being an officially Catholic state. For instance, Prince Rainier's closest advisor was his confessor Father Francis Tucker who suggested his pilgrimage to Lourdes and his marriage to Princess Grace. Also, for most of his reign Prince Rainier gave over 4million francs to the Church every year. The Grimaldis may be most known for their scandals and failings but they've also produced some exemplary priests, sisters and cardinals. They fought in the Hundred Years War and most French conflicts thereafter, even lost a duaghter-in-law who was the last victim of the terror. Okay, I know I do go on. lol

Alexandra said...

She was so lovely! We would see them summering in Ocean City, New Jersey where my family has a place. They had a really nice place right off the boardwalk...very unassuming. Ocean City is a favorite vacation spot for Philadelphia(Grace's family).