Louis XVI and his family

Louis XVI and his family

  • Miniature on ivory representing Louis XVI and his family

  • Marie-Antoinette and her children at the foot of a tree. 1790

    DUMONT François (1751 - 1831)

  • Marie-Thérèse Charlotte, future Duchess of Angoulême, known as Madame Royale.

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Title: Miniature on ivory representing Louis XVI and his family

Author :

Creation date : 1789

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: (1789-1793)

Storage place: Historic Center of the National Archives website

Contact copyright: © Historic Center of the National Archives - Photo workshop website

Picture reference: AE / Via / 53

Miniature on ivory representing Louis XVI and his family

© Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

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Title: Marie-Antoinette and her children at the foot of a tree. 1790

Author : DUMONT François (1751 - 1831)

Creation date : 1790

Date shown: 1790

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Storage place: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - M. Bellot website

Picture reference: 88DE4324

Marie-Antoinette and her children at the foot of a tree. 1790

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - M. Bellot

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Title: Marie-Thérèse Charlotte, future Duchess of Angoulême, known as Madame Royale.

Author :

Creation date : 1795

Date shown: 1795

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Storage place: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - Kodak website repayment

Picture reference: 98BE7774

Marie-Thérèse Charlotte, future Duchess of Angoulême, known as Madame Royale.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - Kodak repayment

Publication date: May 2003

Historical context

A prohibited and compromising object

Seized under the Terror on the accused Charles-Simon Vanesson, former bailiff at the Grand Chancellery, this miniature was placed in his file as evidence [1]. The minutes of the arrest and search precisely mention the discovery, "hidden [sic] in the manure", of a "tortoiseshell snuffbox surrounded [sic] by a circle of steel around a medallion representing Capet, his wife and his two children [sic] ”.

In spite of its mediocre quality, this small painting relates to the delicate art of the miniature, which reaches in France an exceptional artistic quality from 1760. Alongside renowned artists like François Dumont, author in 1790 of the miniature portrait Marie-Antoinette and her children at the foot of a tree, there are workshops of miniaturists who reproduce portraits in series; those of the royal family are very popular. We use watercolor, a technique whose principle is transparency, executed with particular meticulousness from colors diluted with water and gum. In addition, as for this piece, the miniaturists carry out this transparent painting on a thin ivory plate glued on cardboard, to better render the skin tones. These miniature portraits are often mounted as jewels

(ring, brooch or bracelet) [2] or encased in the lid of a fly box, candy box or snuff box, as here. Under the Revolution, the royalists strove to conceal and preserve the small effigies of fallen sovereigns, which had become compromising.

Image Analysis

A representation of the contemporary royal family of the Revolution

The miniature of the National Archives, whose diameter does not exceed 5.8 cm, is touched by the impression of proximity that each member of the royal family exudes, as a photograph would do today. Carried out between June 1789 [3] and November 13, 1793, the date of the seizure, this miniature appears to be a copy; two other copies are known, one at the Musée des Arts décoratifs in Bordeaux and the other at the Musée Carnavalet, in Paris [4], which seems the most complete, but could also be only a copy [5] .

The four faces sketched with some brown features for the profiles, eyebrows and eyes and a little carmine for the lips, nose and ears, are rendered with precision, but this miniature, no doubt executed in haste, does not the modeling of the faces. The hair is highlighted in gray, brown and black gouache, and the clothes are summarily colored. The composition surprises by its lack of unity: the king and queen are shown in profile, and the children in front. This could be explained if the artist had produced it after the imprisonment or even the death of the sovereigns in order to evoke their fate through a different register. But this representation is neither intended to flatter the physical nor to idealize fallen rulers. The affable expression of the four characters, who have the corners of their lips raised by the same smile, only gives the whole a serene and naive accent.

A true reverence is expressed by the representation of the cross of Saint-Louis and the blue cord of the order of the Holy Spirit worn as a sash by the king and the dauphin. Marie-Antoinette's hairstyle, adorned with feathers, an aigrette and pearls mounted in jewels, awkwardly reproduces the refinement of other portraits of the queen. The little dolphin, known under the name of Louis XVII, looks puny. He died in the Temple on June 8, 1795.

The powdered curls of the young Marie-Thérèse Charlotte, future Duchess of Angoulême known as Madame Royale, are held in place by a ribbon matching the dress. Louis XVI's daughter was 14 when she was imprisoned in the Temple. She remained there alone after the execution of her aunt, Madame Elisabeth (May 10, 1794). The Directory will use it, at the end of 1795, as a bargaining chip, to free the commissioners of the Convention delivered by Dumouriez to the Austrians. She then lived in Vienna then followed her uncle Louis XVIII to Mittau, where she married her cousin Louis-Antoine, Duke of Angoulême, son of the Count of Artois (1799). His miniature portrait, made in the entourage of Füger Friedrich Heinrich, is marked by seriousness despite his youth [6].

Interpretation

The witness of an attachment to the royal family

Any representation of royalty is strictly prohibited by the Revolution. Since August 10, 1792, the royal statues have been removed from public places. The Convention ordered, in 1793, the destruction of the tombs of the kings in Saint-Denis, that of the royal portraits and even the demolition of the gallery of kings in Notre-Dame de Paris [7]. Because any image, however small, has a dangerous power of evocation. The determination of the revolutionary regime to destroy and prohibit any representation of royalty and any effigy of a member of the dynasty extends well beyond the Terror and is explained as a deep necessity, in order to ensure the grip of new ideas.

Despite its awkwardness, this miniature testifies to the feelings of attachment to the royal family that remain in part of the population. Far from being trivial at the date of its seizure, it constitutes a recent portrait of dead sovereigns and their living children, adorned with attributes hated by the Ancien Régime.

The mannerism of the representation restores an atmosphere far removed from the revolutionary era. In its naivety, this miniature evokes a vanished world. The luxury art to which it is attached, which interests a wealthy clientele, too dark, in large part, with the Ancien Régime.

  • Bourbons
  • family
  • Louis XVI
  • Marie Antoinette
  • ideologies
  • symbols
  • royalty
  • monarchy

Bibliography

The Golden Age of the Small Portrait exhibition catalog, Paris, RMN, 1995.Miniatures on ivory , inventory of miniatures on ivory kept at the Cabinet des Drawings, Musée d'Orsay and Musée du LouvreParis, RMN, 1994. Morris SLAVIN, The French Revolution in Miniature Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1984.Louis XVI and his image , exhibition catalog, Nîmes, Association Louis XVI, 1988.

To cite this article

Luce-Marie ALBIGÈS, "Louis XVI and his family"


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