Friday, March 29, 2013
This painting depicts the parting scene before Louis XVI returns to his room to prepare, spiritually, for death. Marie Antoinette begged him to return in the morning and he agreed to come at eight. ("Why not at seven o'clock?" to which he replied, "Well, then, yes, at seven o'clock.") The next morning, he was unable to put himself nor his family through another traumatic scene and charged Cléry with delivering his final farewell, as well as his seal to his son, his wedding ring ("Tell her I part with it with pain and only at the last moment.") to Marie Antoinette, and a packet of his hair. He spent his last night hearing Mass, said by the Abbé Firmont, in his room with Cléry. Not only was he not bitter, he even apologized for being sharp with one of the officers the day before, and thanked one or two of them for small kindnesses. During his last days, he also met with and consoled his lawyer, Lamoignon de Malesherbes, who was distraught in saying good-bye. (As usual, I can't remember the poignant words attributed to Malesherbes when he came out of retirement to defend the King, but will find and add them later. After the trial he returned to the country, only to be guillotined later, along with his family, for the service he rendered the sovereign.)
Jean-Baptiste Cléry, Louis's valet de chambre, is pictured, with his eyes to the floor, behind the door, waiting to accompany his master from the room. His is an interesting story that I'll tell some day. The revolutionary, wearing a red cap, is also waiting. I wonder if the artist made him smaller than the others in the room on purpose.
Cléry was first informed that he would accompany the King to Place de Revolution but, in the end, to his relief, only the Abbé Firmont was by Louis' side. When Sanson, the executioner, approached him to tie his hands, Louis resisted until the Abbé said to him, with tears in his eyes, "Sire, in this new outrage I see only a final resemblance between Your Majesty and the Savior who is to reward you." At this, Louis raised his eyes to heaven, and said, "Do what you wish; I will drain the cup to the dregs." He attempted to address his subjects and began, "I die innocent of all the crimes imputed to me. I pardon the authors of my death and pray God that the blood you are about to shed will never fall upon France." but the revolutionary, Santerre, mounted on horseback, signaled for a drum roll to drown out the King's words. After the blade fell, people rushed forward to catch his blood. Very recently, DNA tests confirmed that blood stored in an engraved gourd, is that of Louis XVI, as believed. I posted a picture of the gourd and a link to an article about it a couple of months ago. I also posted a picture of Louis' long hair (against my better judgement, perhaps) that's on display at Musée Carnavalet. This has been a somber enough post without re-posting it now.