Sunday, October 2, 2011

Rococo - Marquise de Pompadour

Francois Boucher, Marquise de Pompadour,  1756
(Alte Pinakothek Museum, Munich)

After the death of the 'Sun King', with another child king on the throne, the nobility fled Versailles and the strict and restrained life that was exerted by Louis XIV on his courtiers.  Since Louis XV was only five years old, Philippe, Duc d'Orleans, nephew of Louis XIV, who had a reputation as much for being accomplished in his understanding of literature, philosophy as a debauchee, philanderer and a rake acceded as Regent to the throne.  He moved the seat of government as well as the court back to Paris.1

This was a time when the aristocracy indulged in a very liberated and pleasurable life style.  The backdrop for their witty repartee and enlightened conversations was the intimate rococo interior.  The word Rococo comes from the French word for shell or rock, rocaille; this motif can be seen in many of the ornate and playful interior decoration that emerges specifically in the townhouses of aristocrats in Paris in the second part of 18th century.  The high ceilings with large mirrored walls where the juncture between the wall and the ceiling seems to blend in, organic forms gilded of gold, arrangements of cupids, flowers, vines and figures, all very sinuous and fluid, forming arabesques are all typical motifs of the rococo style.

This was the time of the Enlightenment, philosophers, writers and artists believed in the power of reason which could explain all natural phenomena. The playful libertine spirit of the age stimulated a new freedom of thought, and a willingness to challenge the convictions of the past.

Mme. de Pompadour became Louis XV's mistress in 1745 and ruled the king and the country for two decades.  She was a refined patron of the arts and literature who entertained Voltaire and Diderot, a connoisseur of  "good taste".  She was also the special protector of the Encyclopedie,  which was edited by the writer- critic- philosopher Diderot and the mathematician D'Alembert.2  

In this portrait by her favorite painter, Boucher, she is shown with a book in her hand which points to her aptitude for learning, the feather in the drawer by her side points to the fact that she writes as well. Books and manuscripts are strewn everywhere from the armoire behind her to the floor underneath the nightstand, all the signs of her interest in bettering of self. The sumptuous, satin dress she is wearing, decorated with satin bows and flowers, the cupid on top of the armoire behind her, the luxurious, excessive curtains and the roses at her feet are all the typical rococo elements of this painting.  Her feet peaking underneath her dress point to her promiscuous nature since no lady of good breeding could show her ankles in public.

Although, France benefited greatly form her influence on the arts and architecture (Louis XV had no particular interest in literature, or music or the arts until she came along) the French hated Madame de Pompadour because of her origins.  She was borne Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, to a bourgeoisie family and had captured Louis' heart with her looks and wit. She was well educated and her influence extended to all levels of government. After her demise, she was replaced by a pretty prostitute called Jeanne Becu, later Comtesse du Barry, who completed the corruption of Louis' court where sex had become the principal occupation. 3

1  Alistair Horne, Seven Ages of Paris, Vintage Books, New York, 145-148
2  Petra ten-Doesschate Chu, Nineteenth-Century European Art, Pearson Education, Inc. Upper Saddle River, NJ, 25-26
3  Alistair Horne, Seven Ages of Paris, Vintage Books, New York, 148-149

Jean-Philippe Rameau, La Dauphine

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