Madame de Pompadour

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Francois Boucher, Madame de Pompadour, 1756
By EMMA SHAPIRO

Jean-Antoinette Poisson, famously known by the name of Madame de Pompadour, defined herself as more than just the mistress of the French King, King Louis XV, exhibited perfectly by Francois Boucher. She became one of the most learned and intelligent woman of the 18th century while simultaneously satisfying the King through sexual pleasure. Francois Boucher, Madame de Pompadour's favorite artist, depicts her in his 1756 piece with a bookshelf in the background, obscured by a shadow. By placing the books in the back and an open one in hand, Boucher exhibits Pompadour's interest in the enlightenment and enlightening herself. 

Due to her admiration for fine arts and architecture, Pompadour commissioned countless paintings of herself, however, those composed by Boucher exclusively hung on the walls of her chateau. The lavish lifestyle illustrated dominates the identity of Madame de Pompadour. The eye immediately draws to the detailing of her ornate dress filled with flowers to symbolize love and passion. The books on the wall and flowers littered across the floor contrasts love with intellect . Boucher paints Madame with her legs crossed to present Pompadour as a conservative woman. Although a mistress, she did not necessarily enjoy the sexual side of her and the king's relationship but continued because she loved his company. The image of Madame de Pompadour encompasses desire and titillation, like many of Boucher's seductive paintings. The face of Madame de Pompadour appears unhappy and almost bored, suggesting the possible perils of luxury. The painting shows the understanding by the owner of the importance of nature and natural beauty and undermines the obsession with wealth, and materialistic cravings. The clock ticking in the back while Pompadour reads a book with a half-sealed envelope and quill, paired with Madame de Pompadour's blank face, leaves the viewer in wonder.

This painting brings in an element of wealth and beauty to wherever it hangs. The association of luxury and elegance with the face of Madame de Pompadour, intensify with the beautiful brushstrokes of Boucher. Even the paintings not done by Boucher of Madame de Pompadour, typically had some influence from him. Madame de Pompadour always has the same expressionless, soft, yet beautiful face no matter the setting, or her attire. Unlike some of Boucher's more seductive or nude paintings, the one of Madame de Pompadour has a timeless beauty that will remain appreciated through the ages. The idea of intelligence before wealth and materialistic cravings present in such a lavish artwork exhibits that although the art piece may be opulent like the life of Madame de Pompadour, the beauty owes to the intellect that went into the creation and out of the subject.

Editor's Note: The authors were asked to write sales copy for Edme-François Gersaint, the prominent rococo art dealer who offered a printed catalog of available works.

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