In the 1780’s two Parisian jewellers find themselves burdened with a shitload of diamonds – 647 to be precise. They make them into an elaborate necklace, assuming they can sell it to the extravagant queen Marie Antoinette. But even for her it is too expensive. Now what? For help they turn to a self-proclaimed ‘confidante’ of the queen: the countess de la Motte. She and her husband conjure up a complicated scheme, which includes a lovestruck cardinal, a prostitute impersonating the queen, fortune tellers, and a trip to England. De la Motte embezzles the necklace, the jewellers are duped, and all along Marie Antoinette knows nothing about it. In the end the scammers are arrested and convicted, but the reputation of the court, and particularly that of the queen, has been damaged to such an extent that historians consider this affair part of the onset of the French Revolution.
Poor Marie Antoinette. The people of France hated her and called her the Austrian Bitch. They saw her bathing in luxury and blamed their poverty on her. Granted, she was the original fashionista, she played shepherdess in her cute little purpose-built hideaway, she spent a fortune on hair and makeup. But she was also a lonely girl, just 14 years old, who was sent to a strange country to marry a royal teenager who had no idea – not of being a king nor of being a husband. After eight years they apparently figured it out, because she started having children but two of them died in infancy. After the revolution she was incarcerated in the Conciergerie, a cold and horrible prison. On October 16th, 1793 she was beheaded, 37 years old.
1783 A rather controversial portrait of Marie Antoinette, by her court painter and friend Elisabeth Vigée-le Brun. It was considered completely inappropriate that the queen was depicted in such a flimsy negligé-like dress. She just could not do right. The collaboration between the two women, who were exactly the same age, produced countless portraits, also very stately ones:
That’s more like it. Marie Antoinette in full splendor, big hair, and ‘paniers’ under her skirt. Fashion of the day required dresses to be extraordinarily wide, so the women wore undergarments with basket-like contraptions on either hip. Needless to say, that was only for the happy few. No way you could work the land or clean the house in these!
1790 Self portrait of Elisabeth Vigée-le Brun. She is working on a painting of the queen. Pretty girl, isn’t she?
1792 Alexander Kucharsky. He made a series of portraits of the queen in captivity. This pastel is unfinished, and worked over by a revolutionary maniac with a club.
1793 Jaques-Louis David’s sketch of the queen on her way to the guillotine. After the execution the raging crowds dipped their sleeves in her blood (gross!), but she was dignified to the bitter end. She tripped climbing up the scaffold and apologised to the henchman, worried that she had hurt him.
2000 Cornelia Nauta, l’Autre Coté du Miroir. Marie Antoinette has always been an inspiration for artists – Sophia Coppola mellowed our opinion with her movie, and in the beautifully moving series l’Autre Coté du Miroir, Dutch photographer Cornelia Nauta shows us a different, more human side of the much maligned Rococo queen.