Marie-Antoinette at Saint-Denis

A follow-up on my my prior post on the Chapelle Expiatoire, thanks to a pertinent question by Penny: are the funeral monuments of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette at the Basilica of Saint-Denis good likenesses of the royal couple?

Marie Antoinette St Denis

Marie Antoinette St Denis statue

First it should be noted that the monuments date from the Restoration of the Bourbons, almost forty years after the executions of the King and Queen. However it is obvious that physical likeness was a prime concern of the sculptors, Edme Gaulle and Claude Petitot.

Louis XVI is represented suitably tall and stout (he was 5 foot 7, which made him a six-footer in modern English measurements.) The features are also true to the original, though somewhat idealized, but I find his expression unnecessarily stern and aloof.

As for Marie-Antoinette, I didn’t want to answer Penny’s question without posting a close-up of Marie-Antoinette statue as an orante (praying) since she appeared in the background in the other photograph.

In her case too an effort was made to achieve the best likeness. In terms of body shape, Marie-Antoinette was tall, though less so than her husband. As a grown woman, after four pregnancies, she had the full breasts and round arms shown here. These were then considered beautiful (that was long before the current fashion of extreme emaciation in women.)

The only odd notes come from the hair, too curly, and the dress, which both reflect the fashions of the 1820s, not those of her lifetime. But what matters is that you can recognize the Queen’s high forehead, small mouth and prominent nose. The sculptor obviously followed the excellent busts (her best portraits, by her own account) made during Marie-Antoinette’s lifetime.

However, in those busts, she is presented proudly upright, her head thrown backward in a characteristic, somewhat defiant pose. Here, on the contrary, she is pensive, humble, leaning forward and sideways towards her husband. This is very moving in light of the evolution of the royal couple’s complex relationship: mutual coldness at first, then disdain on her part, gradually followed by ever increasing closeness, respect and affection. During their last months together at the Temple, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette cared for each other in the deepest sense of the word. She was devastated by his death, and his last earthly concerns were for her and their children.

I believe this sculpture beautifully captures this. There was definitely more than propaganda to the Saint-Denis reburials.

Photograph: Sailko

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14 Comments to “Marie-Antoinette at Saint-Denis”

  1. brittany braun says:

    Wow I look just like her by description. And have been saving her name my whole life. Finally just looked her up and now I know why: :!

  2. Catherine Delors says:

    Penny – You are right about the hands, and yes, we will all wait for a good movie/TV treatment of the story of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. Let’s hope Elena’ novel gets adapted, and falls into good cinematic hands. Please, no Keira as MA…

    Carlyn – I don’t know if we can describe the Revolution as “things getting good!” From a director’s standpoint, certainly. All this drama. This is when people were tested, and failed or passed. I think Coppola began with a certain (skewed and incomplete IMO) vision of Marie-Antoinette, the eternal teenager, and her actual part in the Revolution didn’t fit. Actually the Revolution itself didn’t fit: it wasn’t pretty. The Temple wasn’t pretty, the Conciergerie wasn’t pretty, the bloodshed wasn’t pretty, and the movie so wanted to remain pretty. So rather than make the character grow and evolve, show the enormity of the storm, she chose to cut the story short.

  3. C Beccia says:

    Great job summing up the likeness. I think the sculptor really captured her features – chin and nose especially. Ya, hair is too idealized.

    Coppola – she cut the story off just when things were getting good!

  4. Penny says:

    I forgot to mention, I like the hands, very expressive for both monarchs. and it would be nice to see either a documenttary or movie about them in proper context and acting with unknowns not some Keira Knightley vehicle(she has done some good movies but also bad Jane Austen and “the Dutchess”)

  5. Penny says:

    Catherine,
    what a lovely story. actually I had imagined their love story as him being afraid of her she being humiliated by his avoidance of her bed and eventually a reconciliation. actually in the right hands it would make a good tv series/movie love the statue of Marie Antoinette. did their faces come from ohter portraits?

  6. I don’t know…there were so many strange things about that film. Thank you and yes the King and Queen deserve better than how most films have portrayed them.

  7. Catherine Delors says:

    I wish from my heart it will happen. Not only for you, but for Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, who deserve a far better treatment than they have received so far from Hollywood. How could Coppola do a film on this subject without treating at all the Revolution?

  8. Yes, Catherine. We tried hard for years to make contacts with producers and have at time explored working with certain screenwriters. When the Coppola film came out, we put the project aside, but have not yet given up hope. The second part of my novel deals entirely with the Revolution, not covered at all in the Coppola film, and how Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette became forged into a couple whom only death could separate.

  9. Catherine Delors says:

    Lisa – I would love to hear more about this documentary.

  10. Catherine Delors says:

    Thank you, Elena! Any chance of Trianon being turned into a movie?

  11. Lisa Yarde says:

    Catherine, it’s a beautiful likeness of the queen in this monument. I’ve been fascinated with the French Revolution since reading your work and in particular with Marie Antoinette; last night, I watched a 2-hour documentary on the revolution on cable. I was surprised to find out I was born on the same day as Marie Antoinette.

  12. The novel has been written, and has been selling steadily for over ten years.
    http://astore.amazon.com/httpteaattria-20/detail/0911845968

    But yes, we need a decent film.

    Excellent post, Catherine, and people do not understand how complex their relationship was and how it evolved. People like to say they “Marie-Antoinette was never in love with Louis.” However, like every marriage it went through several stages, many changes. The the main thing is that Marie-Antoinette had the chance to escape but she would not leave Louis.

    Great post!

  13. Catherine Delors says:

    Absolutely, Sandra. What a great idea!

  14. “This is very moving in light of the evolution of the royal couple’s complex relationship: mutual coldness at first, then disdain on her part, gradually followed by ever increasing closeness, respect and affection. During their last months together at the Temple, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette cared for each other in the deepest sense of the word. She was devastated by his death, and his last earthly concerns were for her and their children.”

    This is such a lovely love story, Catherine. It would make a wonderful novel or movie, if done realistically.

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