Monday, December 10, 2007

Au reste, après nous, de deluge...

Madame de Pompadour is perhaps one of the most influential women in history of Europe. Breaking through the bushes of tradition and status, she self-elevated herself to a position of power and influence in 18th century France. Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson was born in 1721 in the rue de Clery. Her father was a steward to the Paris brothers, French financiers. However, some say her biological father was a rich financier Tournehem, who became her legal guardian after her official father flew from Paris after a scandal. When she was 9, her mother took her to a fortune teller and was told that one day she would become the mistress of the king. So, she gave her the best education. She was also given the nickname “Reinette”, ‘little queen.’

After her marriage to the nephew of her guardian, she began entertaining the whole Paris and started patronizing artists and writers. Voltaire and Motesquieu were among her favorites. In February 1745 she was invited to a masked royal ball at Versailles to celebrate the marriage of the King’s son. By chance or design she was dressed as Diana, the goddess of Hunting. At this ball she drew the attention of the King (Louis XV). By September 15, 1745 she was legally separated from her husband and pronounced Marquise de Pompadour, the King’s official mistress. Because of her bourgeois background, she was immediately a target at the court—- many hated her. But soon she proved to have an enormous influence on the King, by having removed her enemies from posts.

She became to be known as the patron of arts and literature. She had given her patronage to Voltaire. She also supported Diderot’s Encyclopedie project. She had a huge influence on a trend in architecture and decorative arts that is better known as ‘Rococo.’ The fashion at that time came to be identified as the ‘Pompadour style.’ In art history this was a major period that affected the rest of European arts not only in the 18th century, but continuously through the 20th.

After 1750 her relationship with the King turned strictly into a friendship, but she continued forging huge influence on the King’s affairs. On October 12, 1752 the King made her a duchess, a big elevation from her status in the past.

When France was on the verge of war with England, she played a major role in bringing forth the ‘Diplomatic Revolution.’ The Treaty of Versailles signed on May 1, 1756 allied France with former enemy Austria, which disastrously led to the Seven Years’ War. After the French defeat at Rosbach in 1757 she supposedly comforted the King by famous now words, ‘After us, the Deluge.’ (au reste, après nous, de deluge).

When she died at the age of 42 on April 15, 1764, the King was in great grief. While they had been only friends since 1750, he remained very devoted to her while the public blamed her for the War and financial bankruptcy of France.

The King reportedly said when bidding farewell to this remarkable woman:

I am very sad at the death of Madame de Pompadour. I was indebted to her and I mourn her out of gratitude. It seems absurd that while an ancient penpusher, hardly able to walk, should still be alive, a beautiful woman, in the midst of a splendid career, should die at the age of forty.

Francois Boucher (1703-1770) painted numerous portraits of Madame de Pompadour.

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