Analysis of  Vigée-Le Brun’s family portrait of Marie-Antoinette and her children


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Pimped-Out Dress: Was actually required to wear those famously enormous panniered hoopskirts, which were considered formal court dress (along with the idiotically high wigs and huge bright circles of rouge on each cheek). In private life, she greatly preferred the new trend of simplicity, escaping whenever possible into comparatively unfussy sashed frocks in lawn and linen, and scandalized many for wearing an wholly untrimmed loose blouse in one official portrait.

Upon arriving at Naples I began the portrait of the Queen forthwith. It was then so terribly hot that one day when Her Majesty gave me a sitting we both fell asleep. I took great pleasure in doing this picture. The Queen of Naples, without being as pretty as her younger sister, the Queen of France, reminded me strongly of her. Her face was worn, but one readily judged that she had been handsome; her hands and arms especially were perfect in form and colour. This Princess, of whom so much evil has been written and spoken, had an affectionate nature and simple ways at home. Her magnanimity was truly royal. The Marquis de Bombelles, the Ambassador at Vienna in 1790, was the only French envoy who refused to swear to the constitution; the Queen, being apprised that by this brave and noble conduct M. de Bombelles, the father of a large family, had been reduced to the most unfortunate position, wrote him a letter of commendation with her own hand. She added that all sovereigns should be at one in acknowledging faithful subjects, and asked him to accept a pension of twelve thousand francs. She had a fine character and a good deal of wit. She bore the burden of government alone. The King would have nothing to do with it; he spent most of his time at Caserta. Before I left Naples for good the Queen presented me with a box of old lacquer, with her initials surrounded by beautiful diamonds. The initials are worth ten thousand francs; I shall keep them all my life.

Memoirs of Madame Vigée Lebrun