Madame de Pompadour

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Jeanne Antoinette Poisson
Marquise de Pompadour
Madame de Pompadour by François Boucher.jpg
Portrait by François Boucher, 1756. Currently displayed at the Alte Pinakothek, Munich.
Coat of arms Shield of family de Pompadour.svg
Spouse(s) Charles Guillaume le Normant d'Étiolles (1717–99, m. 1741)
Issue
Father François Poisson
Mother Madeleine de la Motte
Born (1721-12-29)29 December 1721
Paris, Kingdom of France
Died 15 April 1764(1764-04-15) (aged 42)
Paris, Kingdom of France
Occupation Chief mistress to Louis XV

Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour, also known as Madame de Pompadour (French: [pɔ̃.pa.duːʁ]; 29 December 1721 – 15 April 1764), was a member of the French court and was the official chief mistress of Louis XV from 1745 to 1751, and remained influential as court favourite until her death.[1] She took charge of the king’s schedule and was a valued aide and advisor, despite her frail health and many political enemies, she secured titles of nobility for herself and her relatives, and built a network of clients and supporters. She was particularly careful not to alienate the Queen, Marie Leszczyńska, on February 8, 1756, the Marquise de Pompadour was named as the thirteenth lady in waiting to the queen, a position considered the most prestigious at the court, which accorded her with honors.[2] She was a major patron of architecture and decorative arts, such as porcelain, she was a patron of the philosophes of the Enlightenment, including Voltaire. Hostile critics at the time generally tarred her as a malevolent political influence, but historians are more favorable, emphasizing her successes as a patron of the arts and a champion of French pride.[3]

Early life[edit]

Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, otherwise known as Reinette ("little queen") to her friends, was born on 29 December 1721 in Paris to François Poisson (1684–1754) and his wife Madeleine de La Motte (1699–1745), it is suspected that her biological father was either the rich financier Pâris de Montmartel or the tax collector (fermier général) Le Normant de Tournehem.[4] Le Normant de Tournehem became her legal guardian when François Poisson was forced to leave the country in 1725 after a scandal over a series of unpaid debts, a crime at that time punishable by death. (He was cleared eight years later and allowed to return to France.)

At age 5 Jeanne Antoinette was sent to receive the finest quality education of the day in an Ursuline convent in Poissy, where she gained admiration for her wit and charm.[5]Due to poor health, thought to be whooping cough, Jeanne Antoinette returned home in January 1730 at age 9.[6]During this time her mother took her to a fortuneteller, Madame de Lebon, who predicted that the girl would one day reign over the heart of a King. Henceforth she became known as “Reinette”, meaning "little queen", and was groomed to become the mistress of Louis XV.[7] Tournehem arranged for Jeanne Antoinette to receive a private education at home with the best teachers of the day who taught her dancing, drawing, painting, and engraving, theatre, the arts, and the ability to memorize entire plays, it may have been this sponsoring of Jean Antoinette's education in particular that sparked rumors of his paternity to Poisson.[8]

Marriage[edit]

At the age of nineteen, Jeanne Antoinette was married to Charles Guillaume Le Normant d'Étiolles, nephew of her guardian, Charles Lenormand de Tournehem, who initiated the match and the large financial incentives that came with it.[2] On 15 December 1740, Tournehem made his nephew his sole heir, disinheriting all his other nephews and nieces, the children of his brother and sister,[2] these included the estate at Étiolles (28 km south of Paris), a wedding gift from her guardian, which was situated on the edge of the royal hunting ground of the forest of Sénart. Once married, Le Normant d'Étiolles fell passionately in love with his wife, whilst she maintained that she would never leave him – except for the King,[9] the couple had a son who died in infancy and a daughter, Alexandrine Le Normant d'Étiolles, born in 1744, who died at the age of nine.[10]

Attendance of salons[edit]

Jeanne Antoinette’s marital status allowed her to frequent celebrated salons in Paris, such as those hosted by Mesdames de Tencin, Geoffin, du Deffand, and others. Within these salons Jeanne Antoinette crossed paths with principal figures of the Enlightenment, including Voltaire, Charles Pinot Duclos, Montesquieu, Helvétius, and Bernard de Fontenelle. Jeanne Antoinette additionally created her own salon at Étiolles, which was attended by many of the cultural elite, among them, Crébillon fils, Montesquieu, the Cardinal de Bernis, and Voltaire. Within these circles Jeanne Antoinette learned the fine art of conversation, and developed the sharp wit for which she would later become known at Versailles.[11]

Meeting the King[edit]

Due to her involvement in Paris salons as well as her grace and beauty, Louis XV had heard the name of Jeanne Antoinette mentioned at court as early as 1742.[12]In 1744 Jeanne Antoinette sought to catch the eye of the King whilst he led the hunt in the forest of Sénart, because she occupied an estate near this location she was permitted to follow the royal party at a distance. However, wanting to attract the King’s notice, Jeanne Antoinette drove directly in front of the King’s path, once in a pink phaeton, wearing a blue dress, and once in a blue phaeton, wearing a pink dress, the King sent a gift of venison to her.[13]Though the King’s current Mistress, Madame de Châteauroux, had warned off Jean Antoinette, the position became vacant on 8 December 1744, when Châteauroux died.[14]On February 24 1745 Jean Antoinette received a formal invitation to attend the masked ball, held on February 25 at the Palace of Versailles to celebrate the marriage of the Dauphin Louis de France to Infanta Maria Teresa of Spain (1726–46).[15]It was at this ball that the King, disguised along with seven courtiers as a yew tree, publicly declared his affection for Jean Antoinette, before all of court and the royal family, Louis unmasked himself before Jean Antoinette, who was dressed as Dianna the Huntress, in reference to their encounter in the forest of Sénart.[16]

Charles Nicolas Cochin I, Decoration for a Masked Ball at Versailles, ca. 1860

Introduction to court[edit]

Madame de Pompadour, portrait by François Boucher

By March, she was the king's mistress, installed at Versailles in an apartment directly above his,[17] on 7 May, the official separation between her and her husband was pronounced.[4] To be presented at court, she required a title, the king purchased the marquisate of Pompadour on 24 June and gave the estate, with title and coat-of-arms, to Jeanne Antoinette, making her a Marquise.[4] On September 14 1745, Madame de Pompadour made her formal entry before the King, presented by the king's cousin, the Princess de Conti.. Determined to make her place at court secure, Pompadour immediately attempted to forge a good relationship with the royal family, after the Queen engaged Pompadour in conversation by enquiring after a mutual acquaintance, Madame de Saissac, Pompadour responded in delight, swearing her respect and loyalty to Marie Leszczyńska. Pompadour quickly mastered the highly mannered court etiquette; however her mother died on Christmas Day of the same year, and did not live to see her daughter's achievement at becoming the undisputed royal mistress.[18]

Royal mistress[edit]

Through her position as Court Favourite the Marquise, Madame de Pompadour she wielded considerable power and influence. Throughout her time as court favourite she was elevated on October 12, 1752 to Duchess, and in 1756 to lady-in-waiting to the queen, the most noble rank possible for a woman at court. Pompadour effectively played the role of prime minister, becoming responsible for appointing advancements, favors, and dismissals, and contributed in domestic and foreign politics.[19]

Madame de Pompadour as Diana the Huntress, portrait by Jean-Marc Nattier

Her importance was such that she was approached in 1755 by Wenzel Anton Graf Kaunitz, a prominent Austrian diplomat, asking her to intervene in the negotiations which led to the Treaty of Versailles,[20] this was the beginning of the Diplomatic Revolution, which saw France allied to her former enemy Austria.

Under these changed alliances, the European powers entered the Seven Years' War, which saw France, Austria, and Russia pitted against Britain and Prussia. France suffered a defeat at the hands of the Prussians in the Battle of Rossbach in 1757, and eventually lost her American colonies to the British, after Rossbach, Madame de Pompadour is alleged to have comforted the king with the now-famous byword: "au reste, après nous, le Déluge" ("Besides, after us, the Deluge").[21] France emerged from the war diminished and virtually bankrupt.

Madame de Pompadour persisted in her support of these policies, and when Cardinal de Bernis failed her, she brought Choiseul into office and supported and guided him in all his great plans: the Pacte de Famille, the suppression of the Jesuits and the Treaty of Paris (1763). Britain's victories in the war had allowed it to surpass France as the leading colonial power — something which was commonly blamed on Pompadour. But Madame De Pompadour supported great ministers like Bertin and Machaut who introduced important fiscal and economic reforms (trade, infrastructure, income taxes) which made France the richest nation in the world.

Pompadour protected the Physiocrates school (its leader was Quesnay, her own doctor) which paved the way for Adam Smith's theories. She also defended the Encyclopédie edited by Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert against those, among them the Archbishop of Paris Christophe de Beaumont, who sought to have it suppressed.[22]

The marquise had many enemies among the royal courtiers who felt it a disgrace that the king would thus compromise himself with a commoner, she was very sensitive to the unending libels called poissonnades, analogous to mazarinade against Cardinal Mazarin and a pun on her family name, Poisson, which means "fish" in French. Only with great reluctance did Louis take punitive action against her known enemies, such as Louis François Armand du Plessis, duc de Richelieu.

Friend of the King[edit]

L'Amitié sous les traits de Mme de Pompadour Pigalle Louvre

Madame de Pompadour was able to wield such influence at court due to the invaluable role she played as a friend and confidant of the King; in opposition to previous Mistresses of Louis XV, Pompadour made herself invaluable to the King by becoming the only person whom Louis trusted and whom could be counted on to tell him the truth. Pompadour was an indispensable comfort to Louis who was prone to melancholy and boredom, she alone was able to captivate and amuse him, and would entertain Louis with elegant parties, afternoons of hunting, and journeying between their various real estate holdings.[23]

Around 1750 Madame de Pompadour’s role as friend of the King became her solitary role, as she ceased her sexual relationship with the King,[24] the end of this sexual relationship was in part attributed to Pompadour’s poor health, as she suffered the after effects whooping cough, recurring colds and bronchitis, spitting blood, headaches, three miscarriages to the King, as well as an unconfirmed case of leucorrhoea.[25] In addition Pompadour admitted to having “the misfortune to be of a very cold temperament” and despite attempting to increase her libido with a diet of truffles, celery and vanilla, was unsuccessful.[26] Furthermore, in 1750 the Jubilee year placed pressure upon the King to repent of his sins and renounce his mistress; in order to cement her continuing importance as favourite in the face these impediments, Pompadour took on the role of friend of the King’ which she announced through artistic patronage. Pompadour’s announcement was most prominently declared through her commission from Jean Baptiste Pigalle, of a sculpture representing herself as Amitié [friendship], offering herself to a now lost pendant sculpture of Louis XV.[27]

Historical Misconceptions[edit]

Despite misconceptions perpetuated by her contemporaries and much of historical discourse, Pompadour did not supplant her role as mistress by employing replacement lovers for the king. Following the cessation of Pompadour’s sexual relationship with Louis, a private harem was created to satisfy his sexual needs, however Pompadour was not involved, other than to accept it as a necessity.[28]

When Pompadour was no longer able to perform her duties as mistress, she had become an invaluable friend and as such Louis did not want to find an official replacement. Accordingly his staff were instructed to create a private harem known as Le Parc aux Cerf or ‘Deer Park’, which would house low born, uneducated virginal girls to pleasure the King.[29]Pompadour’s only contribution to the Deer Parc was to accept it as a favorable alternative to a rival at court, as she stated: "It is his heart I want! All these little girls with no education will not take it from me. I would not be so calm if I saw some pretty woman of the court or the capital trying to conquer it."[30]

Patron of the Arts[edit]

Madame de Pompadour, pastel by Maurice Quentin de La Tour, shown at the Paris Salon, 1755 (Louvre)

Madam de Pompadour was an immensely influential Patron of the arts and played a decisive role in making Paris the perceived capital of taste and culture in Europe. Pompadour attained this influence through her appointment of her guardian Charles Le Normant de Tournehem, and later her brother, Abel Poisson in the post of Directeur General des Batiments, which controlled government policy and expenditures for the arts.[31]Pompadour championed French pride by constructing and later outright buying a porcelain factory at Sérvres in 1759, which became one of the most famous porcelain manufacturers in Europe and which provided skilled jobs for the region.[32] </ref> Numerous sculptors and portrait painters were patronized by Pompadour, among them the court artist Jean-Marc Nattier, in the 1750s François Boucher, Jean-Baptiste Réveillon and François-Hubert Drouais.[22] She patronized Jacques Guay, the gemstone engraver, who taught her to engrave in onyx, jasper and other precious stones.[33] Pompadour greatly influenced the Rococo interior decorative style, though her constant refurnishing of the fifteen residences she held with Louis. Pompadour has been hailed as a major innovator and influence of the Rococo style.[34]

Death[edit]

Her memorial portrait finished in 1764 after her death, but begun while she was alive, by her favourite portraitist, François-Hubert Drouais

Louis XV remained devoted to Pompadour until her death from tuberculosis in 1764 at the age of forty-two.[35] Louis nursed her through her illness. Even her enemies admired her courage during the final painful weeks. Voltaire wrote: "I am very sad at the death of Madame de Pompadour. I was indebted to her and I mourn her out of gratitude, it seems absurd that while an ancient pen-pusher, hardly able to walk, should still be alive, a beautiful woman, in the midst of a splendid career, should die at the age of forty-two."[36] Many of her enemies were, however, greatly relieved. Looking at the rain during the departure of his mistress' coffin from Versailles, the devastated King reportedly said: "La marquise n'aura pas de beau temps pour son voyage." ("The marquise won't have good weather for her journey.")[37] She was buried at the Couvent des Capucines (fr) in Paris.

Portrayals in film and television[edit]

Madame de Pompadour has been depicted on screen in film and television on many occasions, beginning in 1924 with Paulette Duval opposite Rudolph Valentino in Monsieur Beaucaire. A biopic came out three years later called Madame Pompadour directed by Herbert Wilcox, in which she was played by Dorothy Gish. Other actresses to have played her include:

In popular culture[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Eleanor Herman, Sex with Kings: 500 Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, and Revenge (New York: Barnes and Noble, 2011), 9 and Gere Charlotte and Marina Vaizey, Great Women Collectors (London: Philip Wilson, 1999), 45.
  2. ^ a b c Algrant, Christine Pevitt (2002). Madame de Pompadour Mistree of France. New York: Grove Press. pp. 9, 13, 115, 187. 
  3. ^ James A. Moncure, ed. Research Guide to European Historical Biography: 1450–present (4 vol 1992); 4:1646–53
  4. ^ a b c Antoine, Louis XV, Fayard, Paris (1989), pp. 493–95.
  5. ^ Christine Pevitt, Madame de Pompadour: mistress of France (New York: Grove Press, 2003), 8–9
  6. ^ Jones Colin, Madame De Pompadour: Images of a Mistress (London: National Gallery, 2002), 60 and Rosamond Hooper-Hamersley, The Hunt after Jeanne-Antoinette de Pompadour: Patronage, Politics, Art, and the French Enlightenment (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2011), 62.
  7. ^ Hooper-Hamersley, The Hunt, 64 and Gere and Vaizey, Great Women Collectors, 46.
  8. ^ Hooper-Hamersley, The Hunt, 64.
  9. ^ Nancy Mitford, Madame de Pompadour (Stockholm: HoÌkerberg, 1954), p. 20.
  10. ^ Thomas Kaiser, "Madame de Pompadour and the Theatres of Power", French Historical Studies 19:4 (1996): 1027.
  11. ^ Hooper-Hamersley, The Hunt, 66 and 72.
  12. ^ Jacques Levron, Pompadour (London: Allen and Unwin, 1963), 29.
  13. ^ Hooper-Hamersley, The Hunt,71 and Levron, Pompadour, 29.
  14. ^ Evelyne Lever, Madame de Pompadour: a Life (New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2003), 23 and Pevitt, Madame de Pompadour, 31.
  15. ^ Margaret Crosland, Madame de Pompadour: Sex, Culture and the Power Game (Stroud: Sutton, 2002), 44.
  16. ^ Hooper-Hamersley, The Hunt, 89.
  17. ^ "Madame de Pompadour" Archived 8 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine. Château de Versailles official website. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  18. ^ Hooper-Hamersley, The Hunt, 99–100.
  19. ^ Elise Goodman, The portraits of Madame de Pompadour: Celebrating the Femme Savante (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 11.
  20. ^ Amanda Foreman, Nancy Mitford. Madame de Pompadour. p. 213. 
  21. ^ Herman, Sex with Kings, 9.
  22. ^ a b Évelyne Lever, Catherine Temerson. "Chp.16—Patroness of the Arts". Madame de Pompadour: A Life. p. 176. 
  23. ^ Hooper-Hamersley, The Hunt, 102.
  24. ^ Posner, "“Mme. de Pompadour,”" 81.
  25. ^ Levron, Pompadour, 119 and Colin, Madame De Pompadour, 60.
  26. ^ Hooper-Hamersley, “The Hunt”, 121.
  27. ^ Katherine K. Gordon, "“Madame de Pompadour, Pigalle, and the Iconography of Friendship,”" The Art Bulletin 50:3 (1968): 248.
  28. ^ Mitford, Madame de Pompadour, 190.
  29. ^ Crosland, Madame de Pompadour,124.
  30. ^ Pevitt, Madame de Pompadour, 159.
  31. ^ Posner, "“Mme. de Pompadour,”" 74.
  32. ^ Sarah Coffin, Rococo: The Continuing Curve, 1730–2008 (New York: Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, 2008), 89.
  33. ^ Younger, Fletcher William (1897). Bookbinding in England and France. Рипол Классик. p. 70. ISBN 978-1-141-52870-7. Retrieved 2014-08-25. 
  34. ^ Posner, “Mme. de Pompadour,” 74–6.
  35. ^ Pevitt, Madame de Pompadour, 225.
  36. ^ Amanda Foreman, Nancy Mitford. Madame de Pompadour. p. 272. 
  37. ^ Ramage, Craufurd Tait. Beautiful Thoughts From French And Italian Authors: With English Translations And Lives Of The Authors. p. 379. 
  38. ^ Pixley, Andrew (6 November 2006). "Episode 4: The Girl in the Fireplace". Doctor Who Magazine – Series Two Companion (Special Edition 14): 44–50. 
  39. ^ Casanova (2015) on Internet Movie Database
  40. ^ a b Holmes, Richard (2002). Redcoat (paperback). London: HarperCollins. p. 43. ISBN 0-00-653152-0. 
  41. ^ Adams, Cecil (27 September 1985). "Were champagne glasses modeled on the breasts of Madame de Pompadour?". Straight Dope. Retrieved 6 May 2007. 
  42. ^ Operetta: A Theatrical History. Psychology Press, 2003, pp. 269–80, ISBN 0-415-96641-8
  43. ^ Bloom, Ken (2004). Broadway: Its History, People, and Places – An Encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis. p. 338. ISBN 9780415937047. 
  44. ^ "Henri Matisse. Madame de Pompadour. Los Angeles County Museum of Art". Collectionsonline.lacma.org. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  45. ^ "History of Marquise Cut Diamonds". Diamond Rocks (London). Retrieved 10 May 2016. 
  46. ^ "Madame de Pompadour". Madame de Pompadour. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  47. ^ Sherrow, Victoria (2006). Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 309. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Algrant, Christine Pevitt. Madame de Pompadour: Mistress of France (2003) excerpt and text search
  • Jones, Colin. Madame de Pompadour: Images of a Mistress (2002), by a leading scholar
  • Mitford, Nancy. Madame De Pompadour (1954) excerpt and text search

Historiography[edit]

  • Moncure, James A. ed. Research Guide to European Historical Biography: 1450–Present (4 volumes, 1992); 4:1646–53

External links[edit]