By Helene Delalex, Alexandre Maral & Nicolas Milovanovic
Getty Publications – £32.50
I have seen all, I have heard all, I have forgotten all.
I do not share the king’s tastes. He is only interested in hunting and metalwork. I am sure you will agree that I would look quite awkward standing at a forge; I would not make a good Vulcan and if I were to play the role of Venus that would bother him far more than my real tastes, which he does not seem to mind.
The thought of the Viennese born Archduchess dressed as a Vulcan or working in a forge, does make for quite an image. Although had it been a reality, it may just as well have saved her life. That said, this Marie Antoinette essentially examines the the last and ill-fated French Queen’s personal collection at Versailles.
Assembled with all the authority of three curators (Helene Delalex and Alexandre Maral at the Chateau of Versailles, Nicolas Milovanovic at the Louvre Museum in Paris); this sumptuously compiled and altogether stunning book, really is something of a photographic treasure. An artistic approach to a book which sheds oodles of light on a subject, that unless one were actually/regularly in Versailles itself, has continued to remain something of an idiosyncratic enigma. Until now.
That Marie Antoinette (1755 – 1793) continues to intrigue historians, writers and film-makers more than two centuries after her death is a nigh given. Her glamorous role as arbiter of fashion and patron of the decorative arts in the French court, not to mention the overtly dramatic circumstances surrounding her death, still does much to trigger the imagination.
Lest we forget, Antoinette was the only French queen to have her own collection, the Garde Meuble de la Reine, upon which she spared no expense (much to the eventual chagrin of the Parisian populace at large might I add): ”Tracing her life from her upbringing in Vienna as the archduchess of Austria, to her ascension to the French throne, and finally to her execution, the three authors discuss the exquisite objects that populated her surroundings: beautiful gowns, gilt-mounted furniture, Chinese porcelains, and opulent tableware. Her more personal possessions are also represented, including her sewing kit, her harp, her children’s toys, and even the simple chemise she wore as a condemned prisoner. Excerpts from her correspondence offer a further glimpse into her personality and daily life.”
A life it would seem, to which she resolutely and openly adhered.
As much is touched on in the book’s third chapter (‘The Queen’) at the very outset of ‘Queen of Europe’s Greatest Kingdom,’ in which the authors write: ””Although God caused me to be born in the rank I now occupy, I cannot resist admiring the arrangements of Providence who chose me, the youngest of your children, for the greatest kingdom in Europe,” wrote Marie Antoinette to her mother a few days after her accession. Full of youthful beauty, charming and vivacious, the eighteen-year old queen was adored by the people of Paris and greeted with cheers on every public appearance, something that touched her deeply.”
From ‘The Future Queen of France’ to ‘Queen of Fashion,’ from ‘Petit Trianon -The Queen’s Refuge’ to ‘Platonic Love?’ to ‘A Tragic End,’ these 209 pages (excluding Bibliography and Illustration Credits) are throughout, more than substantiated with the most lavish collection of truly wonderful illustrations. Many of which, evoke in the reader, a place of the most exquisite, magisterial design.
Furthermore, a place many of us always knew existed, but one that nevertheless, has always remained (subliminally) hard to define. Hard to clarify. Even hard to come to terms with. Until now.
Marie Antoinette is one of those collections one will invariably return to time and time again, because some of the astonishing beauty within will simply refuse to leave us be.