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Marie-Antoinette: a modern icon at the Conciergerie

With her eponymous film, Sofia Coppola conveyed to Marie-Antoinette the status of contemporary icon. And this is precisely what is explored by Marie-Antoinette, metamorphosis of an image, the superb current exhibition dedicated to her at the Conciergerie, her last home.

How does one explain this comeback of coolness during the year 2000, is the question we asked to the exhibition’s curator Antoine de Baecque? “Marie-Antoinette, is a little like the big cousin of Lady Di. She is similar in her way of emancipating from Buckingham, in her relationship with children, her taste for culture and good deeds.” A similarity that was played up after the worldwide mourning in 1997!

The creation of a myth

While many artists painted portraits of the lovely sovereign during her lifetime, her favourite artist was a woman. It’s Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, who delivered the most flattering works and associated her great friend to the rose, which she makes her hold in most of her paintings. An emblem at this controversial time that replaced former symbols of the monarchy. Examples of her masterpieces are presented here, as well as interpretations by contemporary artists such as Botero or Pierre et Gilles and their cult scenography of Zahia.

Examples of masterpieces as well as interpretations by contemporary artists such as Botero or Pierre et Gilles and their cult scenography of Zahia

© Pierre et Gilles / Jean Feuillie -CMN / Fernando Botero

An avant-gardist queen

First Queen of France to raise her children by herself (which was then against the Etiquette), known as a prodigal spendthrift, Marie-Antoinette is also the “Minister of Beauty”. She was attributed a philanthropist role, indeed  traditional for important princesses, but she is truly the one who invented Haute Couture with her fashion merchant, Rose Bertin, who produced “tons of dresses for her.” So, it’s not surprising that John Galliano, Dolce & Gabbana or Guo Pei were inspired by her regal image for their creations, some of which are also presented. Magical!

Modern times

Marie-Antoinette is also a movie star, incarnated in turn by Michèle Morgan, Diane Kruger and of course Kirsten Dunst. A large part of the end of the exhibition is indeed dedicated to the work of Sofia Coppola, whose eponymous film contributed to the revival of queen mania.

The beginning of the end

Executed in 1793 during the French Revolution, Marie-Antoinette de Habsbourg-Lorraine spent ten weeks imprisoned at the Conciergerie waiting for the tragic outcome of her trial. And actually, the exhibition starts out in a death row style around several official and fascinating documents, such as her last letter written to the sister of Louis XVI which is a will of sorts, or the shoe which she lost when climbing up the steps of the scaffold.

It was whispered at the time that the queen displayed great dignity during the revolutionary trail and had a princely attitude while walking to the guillotine. A nice way to put into perspective the usual complainers on their way to the office every morning.

To be noted

In addition to symposiums and conferences around the exhibition (at the Conciergerie, and the Université Panthéon-Sorbonne as well as the École Normale Supérieure) for the most motivated fans, Le Champo cinema house will welcome a “Marie-Antoinette” cycle from the 5th of  November to the 3rd of December. Rendezvous at 51 Rue des Écoles, Paris 5th.

Marie-Antoinette, metamorphosis of an image at the Conciergerie from the 16th of October 2019 to the 26th of January 2020. Full rate tickets €9, reservations on www.ticket.monuments-nationaux.fr.

Also discover best exhibitions of the moment and the Toulouse-Lautrec retrospective at the Grand Palais.

Clémence Renoux

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