Art History in Antonia Fraser’s “Marie Antoinette: The Journey”

I listened to Donada Peter’s audiobook version courtesy of my local library app.  Unfortunately, it had glitches.  The audiobook kept skipping and static noises showed up occasionally, so I may have missed something while Peters read to me.

In the Author’s Note, Fraser references Madame de Stael’s use of Nicolas Poussin’s Et in Arcadia Ego to help symbolize Versailles’s sumptuous decadence and the oncoming French Revolution.  For Fraser, she intended “not to allow the sombre tomb to make its presence felt too early.”  (1)  Gazing at the painting, you can see the heavy-looking stone coffin underneath the unsettled figures who drape themselves all over it.

Nicolas Poussin [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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If you want my opinion, it seemed that Marie Antoinette’s difficulties started the minute she stepped foot on French soil.  While Versailles may have resembled Arcadia, France’s poor and rich population could not put their anti-Austrian feelings to rest, so they ending up damning her in the process.  While Marie had pleasures, her life still felt miserable to me.

Further into the book, Fraser mentions more artists who came in and out of Marie Antoinette’s life, such as Jean-Baptiste GreuzeJean-Honoré Fragonard, and of course, Elizabeth Vigée-Lebrun.  Whenever she mentioned art in the book, she gave examples of the medium working as both positive and negative propaganda for the last era of French monarchy.  The choosing of artists hinged on whether they acted as an appropriate tool for promoting the royal subjects.  On Marie Antoinette, Fraser records people’s positive dehumanization of Marie by seeing her as living art.

On the negative propaganda, Fraser mentions multiple pamphlets containing prints that depict Marie in an obscene light.  The French artists turned her into this insatiable woman, and these prints sowed the seeds of this lady’s destruction and execution.  Propaganda killed Marie Antoinette slowly and morphed her into this Austrian monster who drained France dry.

1.  Antonia Fraser, “Marie Antoinette: A Journey” Amazon. Accessed November 1, 2013, http://www.amazon.com/Marie-Antoinette-Journey-Antonia-Fraser/dp/0385489498/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1376847572&sr=8-1&keywords=antonia+fraser+marie+antoinette#reader_0385489498.

Update 2-17-2018:  Removed all my earlier updates (wanted to make this look somewhat clean) and added new links and pictures.

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