Friday, November 23, 2012

Je Vous Donne

Je vous donne.  With the words, "I give you...," Louis XVI gifted the Petit Trianon to Marie Antoinette on August 15, 1774 by way of a key encrusted with 531 diamonds.  Some accounts state that he also said something along the lines of "You love flowers.  I have a bouquet for you...  the Petit Trianon."  Whatever the words, the sentiments behind them were of love and generosity and untainted by even a tinge of foreshadowing.  Neither husband nor wife had an inkling of the role that this (relatively) unostentatious building would play in her vilification and their eventual tragic end.  Courtiers' jealousy, provoked by the exclusivity of the invitation and the rumors of lavish decorations (Diamonds on the walls?  For Heaven's sake, people will believe anything.) and wild parties, were fuel to the fire that consumed them.

Originally, the Petit Trianon was built by Louis XV for Madame de Pompadour who died before it was complete.  His next official mistress, Madame Du Barry, became the first to enjoy it.  It was there that he became ill with the smallpox that would, after a hasty carriage ride back to Versailles, end his life.  (Louis XV had a dread of death and often said to courtiers experiencing cold symptoms, "That's a churchyard cough you have there."  There's something about that line that grabs me.)

Marie Antoinette used the Petit Trianon as a place to escape from stifling Court life with it's Levée to Coucher etiquette-dictated performance on the stage of Versailles.  Although he didn't stay overnight, her husband occasionally spent time there, as well.  If the Marquise de Bombelles is to be believed, Louis XVI was even able to loosen up a bit. The Marquise wrote, in a letter to her husband, that she'd had to fend off the flirting King at the Trianon. I'd like to think that's true and that he had some moments of confidence and lightheartedness. Socializing didn't come easily to him, but he did have a certain innocent charm about him.

Louis XIV had purchased the land from the nuns of Abbey of Saint-Genevieve, in 1662, and the villagers who lived on it were relocated.  Ironically, with the building of Le Hameau, peasants were re-introduced to the land by Marie Antoinette and it all came full circle - sort of.  Now, it's basically a museum, not a peasant to be found.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Billiard Room

I read somewhere (Man, I say that way too often) that this isn't the original billiard room.  (Not the one in which that hothead Comte de Vaudreuil snapped Marie Antoinette's pool cue in half.  Serious breach that Louis XIV wouldn't have let pass.)  The billiard table completely dominates this room and the impression it gave me was that it was just a thrown together display, but maybe it was exactly how it should've been.  Don't know.  Count Fersen's presence would improve the space considerably - just lounging around, pool cue in hand.  He may not have been much of a lounger, though, unless an especially elegant one.
The route to the entrance of the Petit Trianon passes through this garden courtyard, so it was my first glimpse at the interior (it was outside, but it felt like we'd already entered) of the palace.  I expected it to be much less formal than Versailles, of course, but I was surprised and charmed by just how unassuming it was.  The hydrangeas reminded me of my mother.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

She came by it naturally.

One of Marie Antoinette's older sisters painted this cozy, bourgeois Christmas morning scene.  The future Queen of France is depicted holding up her new doll.  This looks almost Pride and Prejudice-ish and certainly her childhood was usually more splendid and formal, but still it was a far cry from that of her husband-to-be.  She must've suffered some serious culture shock when she moved in with those dysfunctional Bourbons.  It's no wonder that she loved the Trianon and Le Hameau.

The relationship between Marie Antoinette and her mother, Empress Maria Theresa, is well-worth exploring and some day I'll write more about it.  This excerpt, from a letter Marie Antoinette wrote her mother on September 19, 1780, touches on her life at the Trianon:  "Madame, my very dear mother....  I have settled in Trianon for eight or ten days so I can take walks in the morning;  this is essential for my health and was not possible at Versailles.  Trianon is only ten minutes away in a carriage, and one can easily walk there.  The King seems to like it a great deal;  he comes here for supper every day and visits me in the morning just like in my Versailles apartment.  I chose this moment for my stay here because it is the month when the King hunts almost every day and needs me the least.  My health and that of my daughter are very good.  As for a pregnancy, I dare not talk about it, although the way we live gives me every hope...."  I know it's partly the language of the time, but I feel a twinge of pity every time I read her closing words to her imposing mother, always something along the lines of "May I kiss my mother very lovingly?" or "I kiss you with all my heart." or "I am always all yours."  Sweet girl.

Voiture de Le Dauphin

To be honest, I don't know for sure that it did, but because it's on display in the Trianon, I'm assuming this carriage belonged to the children of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.  There's a full display of carriages at the Royal stables which I intend to visit in March.  My friend, Barbara, and I, whose friendship was forged as a result of the friendship between our daughters, who rode together, attended a demonstration at the Versailles stables with my cousin, Nathalie, who lives in Versailles.

Petit Trianon chapel

By some stroke of luck, the Petit Trianon chapel was open when Micah and I visited a few years ago.  Next time, I'm going to stand there until I can really get it.  I'm getting so
psyched for my upcoming visit!


I want to stand in this theatre and really contemplate the scenes that must've taken place here...  Play practice with the Comte d'Artois, Comte de Vaudreuil and the other actors, Campan watching from the wings;  choosing their costumes, laughing over the inevitable missed cues and flubbed lines;  Louis XVI laughing with the careless abandon denied him in the rest of his daily life;  the luxurious fabrics used in the costumes and curtains; the glowing candles and torches.  This little theatre must've been such a source of great joy to Marie Antoinette and her family.  And, I bet it, and the rest of the surrounding buildings, smelled a lot better than Versailles.  That would matter to me.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Au Revoir

This painting of Madame Royale at the Petit Trianon, kissing her mother's cheek as she leaves with her governess, Madame de Guéméné, is one of my favorite likenesses of Marie Antoinette.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Temple of Love in the background

Marie Antoinette, party planner extraordinaire, had a merry-go-round, see-saw, and a "ring game"  on the rolling lawns of the Petit Trianon.  The merry-go-round was operated by two men running in a trench underneath.  Two impeccably-dressed men, no doubt.  Tents erected, booths built, food and drink for all.  I like to imagine the thousands and thousands of candles and fires illuminating the scene, a flickering, glowing wonderland surrounded by a dark, dark, electricity-less beyond.  Close friends, favored family and the occasional head of state - her privileged guests - were often given small scrapbooks as mementos of their visit.
This is a view of the Trianon one might see approaching from the Hameau.  Pretty much like the view one would see approaching from any direction.  The beauty is in its simplicity, I suppose.

The words of the Baron de Oberkirch say it well:  "Early in the morning I visited the Petit Trianon of the Queen.  My goodness, such a charming walk!  Those beautiful groves scented with lilac, inhabited by nightingales!  The weather was lovely, the air was balmy, the butterflies were stretching their golden wings in the rays of the spring sunshine.  Never in my life have I spent a more enchanting time than those three hours visiting this retreat.  The Queen passes the greater part of the summer there, and I consider it a marvel."

Petit Trianon Glaciére

This little treasure sits at the rear of the Petit Trianon, near the Lac du Trefle, were built by Louis XIV in 1686 and used until 1909.  Ice was gathered in the winter and stored, layered with hay, in the inner chamber within thick stone walls to be used to preserve food and to make the flavored ices of which XIV was fond. This is just the visible section of a building that reaches deep into the ground.  One entered through a two-door airlock, the second of which was not to be opened until the first one was tightly sealed and the air temperature had dropped.

The Dauphin

Marie Antoinette was the driving force behind the creation of Le Hameau, but Louis XVI was temperamentally disposed to the simple, rural life and didn't disapprove of her projects.  The first painting of the young Dauphin, Marie Antoinette's intended, that the French sent to her after the wedding deal was struck, was of Louis-Auguste at the plow.  It seems like an odd choice and the Austrians were somewhat underwhelmed, but it was representative. This is one of two different paintings that I've seen billed as that famous first portrait.  The other looks the same except more crowded.   Louis loved to work with his hands, to build, to make locks, and was often disheveled and rumpled.  Sort of like Pigpen in the Charlie Brown cartoons.  According to some guy, whose name will remain a mystery, (duc de Choiseul, I believe,)  it's too much trouble to search for where I read it,  he looked as if he had been brought up in the woods. Underneath it all, though, he was a gentleman... a gentle man.

Grove of the United States

American patrons have been significant contributors of restoration funds of Versailles, Petit Trianon and Le Hameau.  John D. Rockefeller donated twenty-three million dollars for various projects including roof covering 26 acres - that number seems high, but that's what the book said- the Grand Canal, which had been turned into a pasture, statues and the Hameau.  Others, beginning with Napoleon, understood the importance.  He gave it, first, to his sister, Pauline and, later, to his second wife, Marie Antoinette's niece (he said he "married a womb") Marie-Louise, then it passed from hand-to-hand for years and years.  I hope they continue to build on the work they've done and restore every building to its former glory.

In defense of her Queen

Marie Antoinette's Lady-In-Waiting, Madame Campan, was already a well-respected Court member when Marie Antoinette arrived in France, having been Reader for Louis XVI's aunts for some time. She was a Royalist who remained in Marie Antoinette's service well into the Revolution.  Her memoir seems to seek to set the record straight on Marie Antoinette's private life and is a prime source of information about events, in the specific, and Court life, in general.  In this reference to the Petit Trianon, she downplays the extravagance of a party given on the occasion of a visit from Marie Antoinette's oldest brother, the Emperor Joseph of Austria:  "A fete of a novel description was given at Petit Trianon.  The art with which the English garden was not illuminated, but lighted, produced a charming effect.  Earthen lamps, concealed by boards painted green, threw light upon the beds of shrubs and flowers, and brought out their varied tints.  Several hundred burning fagots in the moat behind the Temple of Love made a blaze of light, which rendered that spot the most brilliant in the garden.  After all, this evening's entertainment had nothing remarkable about it but the good taste of the artists, yet it was much talked of.  The situation did not allow the admission of a great part of the Court;  those who were uninvited were dissatisfied; and the people, who never forgive any fetes but those they share in, so exaggerated the cost of this little fete as to make it appear that the fagots burnt in the moat had required the destruction of a whole forest.  The Queen being informed of these reports, was determined to know exactly how much wood had been consumed; and she found that fifteen hundred fagots had sufficed to keep up the fire until four o'clock in the morning."
Michele and I couldn't figure out what these women were excitingly watching.  And, they weren't about to tell us.

Courtyard at The Farm


Marlborough Tower

The Marlborough Tower, from which guests fished, was named after a song that the Dauphin's wet nurse, Geneviéve Poitrine, crooned to him.

"In the midst of this little Hamlet, a high tower, known as the Marlborough Tower, dominated its surroundings.  Its exterior staircases, covered in wallflowers and geraniums, had an elevated parterre.  One of the cottages contained the dairy, and the cream, stored in superposed porcelain vases on white marble tables, was chilled by a stream running through the room.   Close by was the real farm where the Queen kept a magnificent herd of cows that grazed on the surrounding meadows."  Félix, Comte de France d'Hézecques, memoirs of a page at the court of Louis XVI.

The Queen's House at Le Hameau

The Grotto

It was here, in the Grotto, that Marie Antoinette received the news that a mob of angry people was marching to Versailles from the capital.  That should be "was," not "were," right?  Because the mob is single.  Grammar keeps me awake at night.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

"What do you have to do with crowns?"

The next time I go to the Petit Trianon and Le Hameau, I'm going to sit quietly and try to absorb the moment and the atmosphere.  Every time I've been, I've felt rushed.  Who knows?  Maybe a spirit will visit me.  Heaven knows, they couldn't find a more receptive victim, um, receptor.  There have been numerous reports of sightings at Versailles and the Petit Trianon.  In the most famous, two middle-aged spinsters (or as I like to think of them "Single Ladies," Beyoncé-style), Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain, academics from St. Hughs Oxford, published an account of their experiencing what's referred to as a "time slip."  To make a long story short, they were tourists, wandering on the grounds of the Petit Trianon on Aug. 10, 1901, when they encountered several people whom they later decided they believed to be spirits from the 18th Century.  One of the women said she saw a woman in an old-fashioned dress, wearing a straw hat sitting in the grass, sketching.  She later identified the woman as Marie Antoinette when shown a portrait by Adolph Wertmüller.  I'm not sure if it was this portrait or the one below.  They spoke of the odd one-dimensional, oppressive quality of the scene in a quite detailed description.  Others have shared stories of supposed instances of seeing or feeling spirits.  In 1950, Henri Racinais, a member of the professional staff at Versailles, wrote, in a scholarly account, that that he had found himself "in the presence of phenomena which I have not been able to explain to myself."  The Duchesse of Devonshire claimed that Marie Antoinette appeared to her.  She doesn't seem too reliable, but who am I to say?  Long Island Medium has legitimized mediumship enough for me to admit that last year, out of curiosity, I accepted a furtive, whispered invitation to a party/reading at a friend's home.  Pretty fascinating stuff.  How did that woman know to ask me what did I have to do with crowns?

In case you'd like to read the the Ms. Moberly and Jourdain's little book, An Adventure: ...

Saturday, November 3, 2012