Portrait of a Woman Scorned - Marie Antoinette and her Children

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Portrait of a Woman Scorned
The Fairer Sex Treated Not-So Fairly
Curated by Katherine Anderson

Vigee Le Brun, Marie Antoinette and her Children,  1787.
Marie Antoinette started her career as France's leading lady with a bad reputation. As a meek Austrian princess trying to save her homeland's grace by marrying the heir to the French throne, Marie's actions were questioned by every soul in Europe. Why did Louis XVI want this girl when he could have any maiden across the globe? The answer: money.

The French government was already poor, and for a small donation from Austria, marrying Marie Antoinette was the least Louis could do. So, when Marie pranced off to bed with her various gigolos, just as every queen did at the time, the public refused to turn a blind eye. Her expensive taste only amplified the skepticism. Marie Antoinette was more scorned than Eve, for her actions on the throne were more despicable than eating a forbidden apple.

Thus, in a fit of shame, Queen Marie hired the esteemed painter, Vigee Le Brun, to fix her tarnished reputation. Instead of a scantily clad depiction of Marie in her sleeping quarters, as she was most commonly viewed in France, Le Brun illustrated a maternal homebody, cradling her treasured children as though she had no cares in the world aside from building her family. Her somewhat plain red frock portrays a practicality unseen by the French public, and her feathered hat asserts the power that Queen Marie Antoinette had over the French crown. Most importantly, Marie lacked the "bling" for which she was most notorious. Le Brun portrayed Marie Antoinette as an ordinary woman, wise and understanding of France's needs.

Despite the portrait's beauty, its irony infuriated the French public. Its lies spurred even more vengeance against the frivolous French monarchy, for the people were appalled at the monarchy's attempt to become more relatable through a gigantic, expensive portrait of the country's most shameful figurehead. No matter how nice or motherly Marie Antoinette could be, her reputation preceded her. The rule of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette would forever be a joke, filled with gluttony and disregard for the French people.

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