Monday, July 14, 2008

Portrait Gallery: the Unfortunate Archduchess

Today of course, is the legendary Quartorze de Juilliet. A big celebration in Paris and other centers of francophilia, but I tend to think of it as the beginning of the end for a woman who really deserved better. It was three more years before Marie Antoinette met her death before a jeering mob, but after July 14, it was only a matter of time.

Several of the most interesting portraits of the Queen were by artists who were themselves women of accomplishment, like Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun, who helped create the Marie with whom we are most familiar, a confection of feathers, powdered hair, and impressive frontage.

She started out a very long way from her sordid end; she was born the Archduchess Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna of Austria, daughter of the formidable Empress Maria Theresa.

Her place in the pop-cultural firmament seems continuous and unshakable, the subject of portrayals ridiculous...

...and sublime.

In the end, though, I can't shake the memory of how very badly it all turned out.

This posthumous portrait was by an aristocratic admirer, the Marquise de Bréhan - not quite the painter Vigée-Le Brun was, but I'm sure her heart was in the right place.

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