Carnival at Versailles, and the appearance of the Marquise de Pompadour

Madame de Pompadour by Boucher 1759

Madame de Pompadour, by Boucher, in 1759

Carnival celebrations were not limited to Paris, of course. The Court at Versailles also indulged in costume balls. One such masquerade was given in the Hall of Mirrors during the night of the 25th and 26th of February 1745. Two days earlier, the sixteen-year old Dauphin Louis-Ferdinand, son of Louis XV (and future father of Louis XVI) had married his cousin, Infanta Maria Teresa Rafaela of Spain.

Queen Marie Leszczynska, wearing no mask, appeared at midnight. She was very elegant in a white gown, all embroidered with pearls, and the enormous Régent and Sancy diamonds sparkled in her hair. She was accompanied by the Dauphin, dressed as a gardener, and his lovely bride as a flower vendor. The new Dauphine danced all night with the utmost grace, only to discover in the morning that the elegant masked Spaniard who had been her dancing partner was not a grandee, as she had believed, but a cook!

The Princesse de Conti, a member of the royal family, was tired of dancing and went to a nearby salon where refreshments were served. Alas, all the chairs were already taken by other ladies. She took off her mask to reveal her identity and rank, but everyone pretended not to recognize her, and not one guest stood upto give her a seat. Incensed, the Princess left the ball.

What about King Louis XV? He was part of a group of eight gentlemen, identically disguised as the trimmed yew trees that decorate the park of Versailles (do you notice them to the left of the picture below?) This gave this famous ball its name: Bal des Ifs, “Ball of the Yew Trees.” The ladies eager to attract His Majesty’s notoriously roving eye faced an awful dilemna: which of the eight identical yew trees was the King?

Yet one of them was more clever than the rest and managed to identify Louis XV, and more importantly be noticed by him. An ambitious young woman, who would soon be known as the Marquise de Pompadour…



Versailles, the Hall of Mirrors: the Ball of the Yew Trees

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10 Comments to “Carnival at Versailles, and the appearance of the Marquise de Pompadour”

  1. Penny says:

    the more I look at the Boucher the more I love it. thanks for another wonderful blog entry and thanks for your responses etc

  2. Scintillating post, Catherine! I have always wondered if any other figures are identifiable within this engraving. Anyone?

  3. Ree says:

    I’d read somewhere that the Pompadour had bribed a member of the King’s household to subtly indicated which “tree” was His Majesty…Leave nothing to chance in the “vamp” business…

  4. Yes, Penny. Symbolism? Certainly. I think there is an allusion to the dual source of Mme de Pompadour’s hold on Louis XV. Her beauty, of course (the mirror) and her intellectual allurements (the book, the sheet music.) Here she seems to be captured as she has grasped her hat, and is ready to go out. See how her gaze is directed sideways, as though someone (the King?) were calling her.

  5. Penny says:

    who is pom pom? Madame de pompadour?

  6. Penny says:

    I think she is lovely and that is why I think both covers are Boucher and maybe the same dress. I am speaking of course of the biographies. the party though looks like a success unlike poor Madame Royale.
    I also wonder if there is symbolism in the portrait because of the books on the floor and clothing in her hand.

  7. Yes, Penny, isn’t it lovely? Boucher was indeed Madame de Pompadour’s favorite painter. What I particularly like about this work is that it feels like a mere study, so it has a lot of freshness and spontaneity. Her charm comes through.

  8. Penny says:

    thanks for this. It is lovely. Madame de Pompadour’s portrait is familiar is she painted here by one of her favorites? It reminds me of the covers of her biographies.

  9. You are most welcome, Leah Marie. That was indeed a most eventful evening!

  10. An absolutely fantastique piece. I loved reading about the irrate Princesse de Conti and even more about the incomparable Madame “Pom Pom”. Thank you!

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