Marie-Antoinette: Metamorphoses of an Image

On 26 November 2019, by Marie-Laure Castelnau

Pierre & Gilles, Marie-Antoinette, le hameau de la reine (The Queen's hamlet) (model: Zahia Dehar), 2014, painting, Ink-jet photograph printed on canvas and painted, 154 x 139 cm.
© Pierre et Gilles

Few women have been so often represented. Over the centuries, the last Queen of France has become what we call an icon. This exhibition sheds a new light on her, this time from a highly original angle: that of her image and the media coverage she has received. With two hundred exhibits mingling portraits, objets d'art, caricatures, archives, mangas, film excerpts and dresses, the curators have sought to show not only the richly varied representations of Marie-Antoinette, but also how they have developed over some two hundred years. Her image has constantly changed, from the ideal princess to the "wicked queen", from the foreign traitress to the figure of a martyr, from the teenage heroine to the bigoted mother, and from the woman of culture to the icon of style. The thematic circuit opens with the darkest chapter of her life in the Conciergerie (the exhibition venue), where she was imprisoned, and ends on a lighter note with the fashion designers she inspired. Attitudes to Marie-Antoinette have often been passionate, giving rise to both praise and mockery, and sometimes vehement attacks, as she was frequently misunderstood in her time. Court portraits and pious images are thus contrasted with various caricatures. Later, she regained popularity: a situation linked with the modernisation of a character now seen as a contemporary and emancipated young woman of our times. Some seized upon her, making her a film heroine or a consumer product. Though sometimes a little muddled, the exhibition impressively illustrates the plethora of images, and is well worth the detour.

Conciergerie, Paris 1st arrondissement.
Until 26 January 2020.
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