Louis XVI was born on the 23rd August 1754. This 1769 engraving shows him as Dauphin, following a plough. Could this be the same one that was despatched to his new fiancée Marie Antoinette shortly after their betrothal. Imagine the disappointment!
I love this pretty portrait of the young Marie Antoinette, painted in around 1774 by Jean Martial Frédou, an artist who was first painter for her brother in law, the Comte de Provence from 1776. It’s a lovely painting but as usual, the little Queen complained that it failed to capture a likeness. I’m reading her letters to her mother at the moment and there seems to be a lot of angst about portraits not quite getting it right. Poor Marie Antoinette!
I swore that I’d NEVER write a sequel to my novel about the young Marie Antoinette but five thousand sold copies, many fab reviews and a LOT of nagging about ‘When’s the sequel coming out?’ has kind of changed my mind. What can I say? I like to listen to my readers and I also kind of need money for perfume, books and hot pink hair-dye.
I thought I’d be fed up returning to the world of Marie Antoinette’s Versailles for a fourth time, especially as I SWORE that the third time was the last but I’m actually having a LOT of fun. The sequel begins with Marie Antoinette’s wedding day and er ends at some unspecified point that I haven’t yet decided.
Best of all - it means I’m off to Paris and Versailles yet again this May to do some ‘research’. Ah, it’s such a hard life being a historical fiction writer…
Marie Antoinette painted by Joseph Boze. This rather unflattering and flat faced portrait was commissioned by her husband Louis XVI in December 1784 to the tune of 2,400 livres, which is peanuts compared to the 18,000 livres that Madame Vigée-Lebrun received for her painting of the Queen with her children.
A beautiful painting by Nikklas Lafrensen le Jeune of the fête given by Marie Antoinette at the Petit Trianon on Monday, 21st June 1784 in honour of Gustave III, King of Sweden. I adore the graceful way that the guests stroll around the illuminated Temple of Love. This painting was part of Gustave’s private collection, kept as a souvenir of a happy time.
You don’t have to look far to work out where Marie Antoinette got her taste for informality and a cosy, intimate ‘normal’ family life, that the snobs of Versailles disapproved of so thoroughly. This charming painting by the Archduchess Maria Christina of Austria (‘Mimi’) shows the Imperial family at their leisure on Christmas Day 1762. In front of the fire sits the Emperor Franz-Stephen, still dressed in his dressing gown, night cap and slippers, while behind him stands the dread Empress Maria Theresa herself, looking thoroughly unregal in a plain blue dress.
On the floor lies Maximilian, the youngest of the Imperial children, enjoying a plate heaped with gingerbread biscuits, while behind stands Maria Antonia, proudly holding aloft a new doll, clearly a gift from St Nicholas. Maria Christina chose to paint herself in the work, dressed in a pretty pink dress and playing the part of a teasing, yet affectionate elder sister as she asks a crying Archduke Ferdinand to choose between the treat of some biscuits or the punishment of some birches inside a shoe. The paper that the Emperor holds in his hand is probably a list of the unfortunate Ferdinand’s misdeeds throughout the year and he is caught as he is about to pronounce sentence. Which will it be?
The other painting by Maria Christina, shows another intimate scene, this time the birth of her niece, the Archduchess Maria Theresa on the 20th March 1762. The new baby’s proud parents were the Archduke Josef (later Joseph II) and his adored wife, Isabella of Parma, the granddaughter of Louis XV of France. The young couple look thrilled and exhausted: Josef is wearing a dressing gown and night cap and is wholly and proudly concentrated on his wife, while she looks back at him fondly as she eats some sustaining and restorative gruel with a long handled spoon.
Again, Maria Christina has painted herself into the domestic scene and watches proudly, dressed in blue, as a wet nurse feeds the baby some milk with a spoon.
Princess Isabella Maria Luisa Antonietta Ferdinanda Giuseppina Saveria Dominica Giovanna of Parma was born in Madrid on the 31st December 1741, the daughter of Louis XV’s adored eldest daughter, Louise-Élisabeth, who was the only one of his beloved daughters to ever leave Versailles to become a wife and mother, creating a ‘little France’ in her new home Parma. Her son, Duke Ferdinand of Parma was to marry Marie Antoinette’s feisty elder sister, Maria Amalia while her youngest daughter, Luisa Maria was to become the Queen of Spain, so infamously depicted by Goya…