Vigée Le Brun at the Met

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So, as I mentioned in a previous post, there is an exhibit going on right now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City highlighting the work of Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun. She was one of the most sought-after and talented portrait painters of her time, and as this previous post explains, one of her paintings played a part in the Affair of the Diamond Necklace. Vigée Le Brun painted Queen Marie-Antoinette multiple times, and her paintings were prominent in the public mind: in addition to the portrait of the

la reine en gaulle

Marie Antoinette en Chemise [or “en gaulle”], 1783 by Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Queen “en chemise” that caused a minor scandal in 1783, there was the painting of the queen with her children which didn’t entirely succeed in softening the queen’s reputation.

 

But Vigée Le Brun painted many more people than just Marie-Antoinette. She began painting as a young woman, was sought after among the elite of French society, escaped the French Revolution just before it exploded, moved from capital to capital painting prominent people, and continued to paint late into her life (she died at 86).

The exhibit at The Met includes 80 paintings, some of them of familiar figures to those of us familiar with late-18th-century France: Madame du Barry, the Duchesse de Polginac, Calonne, and Mesdames Adelaide and Victoire. There are also less familiar figures, some of them important men’s mistresses, some of them princes and princesses from across Europe, some of them noted intellectuals. What they all have in common, at least in Vigée Le Brun’s portraits, is a vibrancy and movement that you don’t see in many portraits. There are expressions on their faces, and they all look like they’re about to do or say something. They portraits are engaging. The commentary I listened to during my walk-through of the exhibit (I spent

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Portrait of Marie Antoinette, 1783 by Elisabeth Vigee-Le Brun. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

two hours there) suggested that this was because Vigée Le Brun herself was engaging and personable, and she drew out her subjects’ personality. It’s hard to say–one suspects that a large part of it was simply her skill as an artist.

The paintings are also visually stunning. I’ve seen images of the paintings, via the Internet, but they simply don’t do justice to the originals. There is an exquisite delicacy to the way  Vigée Le Brun handled fabrics, especially sheer fabrics like muslin fichus or wraps in ladies’ hair. The white dress worn by the Comtesse de La Châtre in her portrait, for instance, has delicate matte-white dots spread across the white satin fabric below. It’s a subtle but beautiful detail.

In fact, I’d say that “beauty” more or less characterizes all of Vigée Le Brun’s work. Everything she painted has a heightened elegance to it–it’s very much like arranged flowers. This wasn’t an artist interested in capturing people “warts and all”; she was interested in aesthetically beautiful paintings.

And that is more than alright by me. I’m not fond of modern art because it feels so self-indulgent; instead of creating something pleasurable, art is supposed to make us “think” (usually about humanity’s failings). I admit to just wanting a pretty picture. And boy does Vigée Le Brun deliver those!

I should also make a note of the colors: Vigée Le Brun used the most remarkable colors. They’re bright and bold and perfectly chosen. There are blues paired with golds, dramatic reds with black and white, a punch of pastel-colored flowers amid more somber grays and blues, and forest greens paired with royals blue and vibrant whites.

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Comtesse de la Châtre. 1789. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Did I mention that I adored this exhibition?

It was definitely worth the five-hour drive in the pouring rain, worth braving the streets of New York City, worth the $35 for parking and the $40 in tolls (yeah . . . the I-95 corridor is expensive!). And it was definitely worth the two hours that I spent there, drooling over the beauty of it all.

I was definitely intensely pleased when I got to see Marie Antoinette en Chemise and Marie Antoinette avec une Rose side-by-side. As the audio guide explained, it’s the first time the two have been exhibited side-by-side.

Why was I so excited? Well, again, I refer you to this post, but to give a quick overview of the story behind these paintings: Vigée Le Brun painted the portrait of Marie-Antoinette “en chemise” and presented it in public at a salon in 1783. “En chemise” means that Marie was in a white muslin or “chemise” dress. Now, a chemise was an undergarment that went beneath everything else, stays (“corset”) included. It was scandalous to show the queen in a portrait in what looked like her underclothing. It was too informal, too suggestive. So Vigée Le Brun took down that painting and quickly dashed off another one, with the queen in the same pose but wearing a more appropriate/regal blue satin gown.

In both portraits, you’ll notice, the queen is holding the same thing in her left hand: a rose. Not long after this painting was displayed, in 1785, a young adventuress named Jeanne de La Motte-Valois convinced a credulous Cardinal that she was friends with the Queen (she did it to steal a very expensive necklace). To win him over, she hired a prostitute (Nicole d’Oliva) to play the part of the queen (oh dear!), dressed her  in a white muslin dress and gave her a rose to hand to the Cardinal. Sound familiar? It seems pretty likely that Jeanne got the idea from the portrait of the Queen en chemise. In fact, one of Jeanne’s friends, Jacques Claude Beugnot, remembered that Jeanne had a candy box with a copy of Marie Antoinette en chemise painted on the inside of its lid!

And of course, the reason I started this blog way back when was to tell more of this story. I’d written an entire novel about it, but I wasn’t nearly done. Yes, this blog has shifted focus, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have an abiding interest in the Affair of the Diamond Necklace and everything related to it. I was even willing to make a harrowing trip into New York City to see this exhibition, just to get a glimpse of the originals of these two paintings. I was rewarded by more beauty than I’d even imagined. I went for the pair of paintings of Marie-Antoinette, but I stayed for the 78 other exquisite pieces of art.

(I would be lying if I said I didn’t sneak a few pictures while inside the exhibit, but I don’t want to share them on principle, and they aren’t very good anyway!)

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The National Gallery of Art and Vigée-Le Brun

So, I was at the National Gallery of Art the other day for a guided tour of the gallery’s statues. It was a great tour, and I really liked getting to know more about the statues that most people just walk by. But it was on my way out that I found something that totally made my day. I was on my way out of the gallery, walking past an open doorway, when what to my wondering eyes should appear, hanging on the wall above a roll-top desk, but this:

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I just about flipped out. I may have made some sounds of excitement that surprised the guard keeping watch over that set of rooms. I whipped out my camera and started snapping pictures. Glare is always a major problem when trying to take pictures, but I did my best.

Why was I so excited? Well, somewhat obviously, that is Marie-Antoinette. Perhaps less obviously, this image played an integral part in the Affair of the Diamond Necklace. I wrote a post on it here. The summary is this: Elisabeth Vigée-Le Brun, one of the finest painters of her day, was the queen’s favorite artist, and the queen had a penchant for discarding decorum. A fashion trend she helped set off was the craze for light, white muslin dresses like the one she’s wearing in this portrait. The trouble is that this dress resembled the underclothing of the day that people were shocked when this painting by Vigée-Le Brun was put on public display. Why has she been painted in her underwear? How tacky! Marie-Antoinette’s reputation took a hit.

Oh, but that wasn’t all. This painting also inspired the “Grove of Venus” scene in which a prostitute named Nicole d’Oliva dressed up in a very similar outfit to the one in this painting and handed a rose to Cardinal Rohan. (Also, there was a candy box with a copy of this painting on the underside of its lid. See this post.) This little stunt would later blow up into one of the most sensational trials of the century, one that deeply affected the public’s view of the Queen.

In any case, having written a whole novel about the topic, I was delighted to see this portrait hanging in the National Gallery. I had no idea it was there (silly me!). From what I understand, however, this is actually a period copy, not the original. A Google search seems in to indicate the original Vigée-Le Brun painting is in a private collection. I really don’t care, though. I was so incredibly pleased to see it that I almost started jumping up and down and pointing. People would have had no idea what the heck was so exciting, so I restrained myself.

Nearby was another lovely portrait, this one of Madame du Barry, the mistress of Louis XV and a lady who was not well-liked by Marie-Antoinette:

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The National Gallery also has two other Vigée-Le Bruns on display (she’s a fantastic portraitist, and I love almost everything she painted) and one not on display. So, if you happen to be in the Washington DC area and want to see these paintings (as well as all the other fabulous art), then stop by the National Gallery. It’s more than worth your time. (By the way, it’s not a Smithsonian; it’s funded/run by the Federal government, as I found out when I tried to get a discount with my Smithsonian membership card.)

Here’s a link to the National Gallery’s listing for the painting (notice the “Anonymous”):

http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/Collection/art-object-page.46065.html

And here’s a link to the National Gallery’s listing for Vigée-Le Brun:

http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/Collection/artist-info.1953.html?artistId=1953&pageNumber=1

The Interrogation of Count Cagliostro Part 3

Previously in the interrogation of Count Cagliostro:

[Part 1] and [Part 2]

A Masonic mystic and “healer” named Count Cagliostro has been arrested as part of the investigation into the disappearance of a very–very–expensive diamond necklace. The royal jewelers say that Cardinal Rohan (Cagliostro’s patron) acted as the Queen’s agent in purchasing the necklace. Marie-Antoinette, however, is denying ever having wanted to purchase the necklace. The key to the enigma is an adventuress named Jeanne de La Motte-Valois, who convinced the Cardinal to act as go-between and guarantor for the purchase of the necklace. The Cardinal never saw the Queen (though he thought he did), never got anything in writing from the Queen (though he thought he did), and ended up stuck with the bill. Meanwhile, the necklace disappeared, and Madame de La Motte was the last one to see it . . .

Up to this point, the interrogators have been asking mostly about the goings-on in Cardinal Rohan’s household. Though my French isn’t very good, it’s pretty clear there are some sexual overtones. Cardinal Rohan had a reputation as a lady’s man in spite of being a “prince of the church”. In the latest installment below, Cagliostro employs some of his skills as a mystic for the benefit of the Cardinal’s friends.

This appears to be what is happening: Madame de La Motte is friends with a “great lady” of the court. The great lady is pregnant, and it has been prophesied that she will die in childbirth. The great lady is worried, so Mme. de La Motte brings her to Cagliostro to get his prognostications. His method of telling the future: he puts innocent girls into a trance, then asks them questions about what they see. Apparently, this is meant to foretell the future. In this case, it seems, the auspices are good. It’s possible that “great lady” is meant to be the queen, but the language barrier keeps me from being certain. In any case, the Cardinal’s actions here come across as sketchy: he brings young girls into his home and puts them in trances. He gives them colorful ribbons and crosses and tells them to be good. It’s a little creepy! The interrogators, at least, seem to think that the Cardinal and Count Cagliostro teamed up to take advantage of young girls, and that Mme de La Motte was part of it, too.

Here is my best attempt at translating another chunk of the interrogation of Count Cagliostro:

Interrogation of Count Cagliostro Part 3

We asked whether the Cardinal did not make her [the young lady] go behind a screen, where there was a table and a bottle of plain water [“eau claire”] and whether he did not make her put her hand on the bottle.

He responded that that was very true and that he would explain to us the events as they truly occurred. Madame de la Motte had told him [Cagliostro] that she was on good terms [“était fort bien”] with the Cardinal and with a great lady of the court [“une grande dame de la cour”–almost certainly referring to the Queen, since Jeanne was pretending to be the Queen’s close friend]. This “great lady” was with child, and it had been foretold that she and another lady of the court would die in childbirth. The second lady had died, which greatly anguished the great lady, who feared she would come to the same end. Madame de La Motte would have been very glad to be able to reassure the “great lady”. Because of this, she sought out the respondent, knowing that he was very knowledgeable.

To which he replied: “Madame, my knowledge is in physical medicine, and although I do not believe much in magnetism [which was all the rage at the time—such as Mesmer], I imagine that it might have more effect on young people. Perhaps through magnetism we can discover something by inducing catalepsy [a trance].” He said this because the Cardinal had agreed with him to say these things to restore the spirits of the “great lady”. He said, therefore, to Madame de La Motte, “If you want, bring a child tomorrow, someone pure, and we will observe her.”

Madame de La Motte returned the next evening with her niece. He asked her [Madame de La Motte] whether she was well-convinced of the girl’s innocence, to which she responded “yes”. He asked the niece whether she had always behaved herself, whether she loved God well, whether she had ever failed her mother and father, and other such things. He did this to determine whether, if she could not see what they were going to show her, it would be a sign that she was not innocent. Then, he made her go behind a screen and made her lay her hands on a bottle, telling her: “If you are innocent, you will see beautiful things; and if not, you won’t see anything.”

And he said to her, “Stamp your innocent little foot. What do you see?” “Nothing.” The respondent stamped his foot and said, “This proof that you are not innocent.” She started to say, “Wait, monsieur, I see, I see!” “What do you see?” “The Queen!” The respondent was surprised and asked, “How is she dressed?” “In white. She is pregnant; I see her great belly.” She gave at that moment an exact portrait of the queen. He was even more astonished and said to her, “See if she lowers her head, she will have a smooth delivery [“accouchera heureusement”]. It will be a sign that you are innocent.” She said, “Yes, monsieur, I see her lower her head.” He responded, “You are indeed innocent. The queen will have a safe delivery.”

After this experiment, Madame de La Motte, her niece, and the Cardinal had a collation [a light snack allowed on holy days]. The respondent observed that there were no oaths demanded, nor any ceremony, and there was nothing unusual in the room.

He could attest to the fact that M. de Carbonnières [an underling of Cardinal Rohan’s] had entered the room a quarter of an hour earlier, as had others who came after him whom only the Cardinal could name. He [Cagliostro] added that the same experiment was repeated a second time the next day on another child at the behest of the Cardinal to satisfy Madame de La Motte and to put at ease the mind of the “great lady”.

We asked whether, after this scene finished and the child was released, they did not bring out a table; whether he did not put on the table many candles, a naked sword laid out with a dagger like a cross, various medals, the crosses of Jerusalem and Saint André; and whether he did not ask Madame de La Motte to swear not to tell about what she had seen, about what she had heard, or about what he was about to offer to her.

He replied that these were lies. He said he had compelling evidence, as he just told us, from those people who came into the room at various times, and from all the people of the Prince’s [Cardinal Rohan’s] household.

We asked whether or not he told the Cardinal, “Here’s to you, Prince, go ahead then!” and whether or not the Cardinal went to his secrétaire [desk] and brought back an eggshell white [probably enameled] box. We asked whether or not he [Cagliostro] said to the Cardinal, “There is still another box; bring it here.” We asked whether the Cardinal brought it to him, and whether these two boxes were filled with diamonds. We asked whether or not the Cardinal, in the presence of Madame de La Motte, asked if her husband was going to England; and we asked whether the Cardinal said, “Here are some diamonds; I know their price. I recommend to your husband that if he sells them without mountings, no one will be able to trace them back to here.”

He responded that this was very false [“très-faux”].

Naming Names: The Trial of the Affair of the Diamond Necklace

I’ve been humming along on several random projects, a few of them related in some tangential way to the topic of this blog. I’m working on a historical novel set in the mid-1850’s in the South. I’ve struggled with it immensely, but I’m invested in the story and will see it trough to the end if it kills me. I’ve also been working on a much shorter-term project, one a little more related to the Affair of the Diamond Necklace: I love Gainsborough, so I am working on a recreation of “Mr. and Mrs. William Hallett” in colored graphite. It’s one of my favorite paintings of his. I will at some point regale you all with my artistic endeavors. But not today.

I recently found “Marie-Antoinette et le procès du collier d’après la procédure instreite devant le parlement de Paris” through Google Books. It’s (obviously) in French, published in 1863. I haven’t been able to decipher some parts of it (and some parts don’t interest me, to be honest), but it includes the transcripts of several of the interrogations that took place during the Affair of the Diamond Necklace trial. This is thrilling for me, because thus far I’ve only had bits and pieces of those interrogations. Unfortunately, it’s all in French, and my French is woefully lacking. Google Translate, my knowledge of Spanish (similar root words and syntax), and my mad skillz allowed me to get a decent translation of Nicole d’Oliva‘s interrogation. There was nothing surprising in it; most of it was discussed by Frances Mossiker in The Queen’s Necklace.

My translation still needs to be cleaned up to be presentable, but I thought I would bring up this amusing little piece, which I highlighted because it made me laugh out loud:

The respondent was asked whether she ever saw at Madame de La Motte’s home a certain Monsieur Ogeard or Augeard, or another individual sometimes called Marsilly, a sometimes-counselor [lawyer?]. She responded that she did not intend to name names here.

I can almost hear the derisive sniff in Nicole’s voice.

The humor is in the irony, not because Nicole d’Oliva ever named any names, but because others did so. When she was arrested, Jeanne de La Motte was selective in whom she named and didn’t name. It appears she didn’t want to give the names of the attractive young men she liked (for instance, her old friend Jacques-Claude Beugnot, later Comte Beugnot, who was never implicated in the Affair even though he clearly had some knowledge of it).

One of those who “sang like a canary” was Retaux de Villette, Jeanne’s “personal secretary” (a bit of a euphemism). In my own novel about the Affair, Nicole (who is the narrator) says the following:

In April, the news was brought to me that Retaux de Villette had been captured in Switzerland and had signed the Bastille registry. Almost as soon as he was given leave to open his mouth, he spilled out the contents of his black heart. If the Comtesse had hoped to count upon him, then she had misjudged her lover.

I will work along diligently at making my translation of Nicole’s interrogation readable, and will move on at some point to Retaux de Veillette’s testimony. That, I think, will be juicy.

Dumas’s Telling of the Affair of the Diamond Necklace

I’m a little shocked at how long it’s been since I last wrote a blog post. That’s what happens when you’re having fun! With the holidays and various other real-world things to deal with, I’m afraid I haven’t been focused on this blog.

However, I got a Kindle for Christmas. Among the benefits of a Kindle is being able to download pretty much any out-of-copyright book for free. One such book is The Queen’s Necklace by Alexandre Dumas. This is Dumas’s version of the Affair. As a novelist writing about the same incident, I was, of course, interested in how a great novelist like Dumas treated it. Dumas had two things going for him: he was born only twenty years or so after the Affair, and he was French. He also was a great writer.

Victorian novels were not the same as modern novels. They were the same format, but the conventions and styling were different. The narrator often spoke to the reader (“Reader, I married him,” says Jane Eyre to us, the readers), and events were more theatrical. There was much less internal dialogue. These things are true of Dumas’s work as well. It’s not florid like so many Victorian novels; in fact, I would say the details are pretty sparse. It’s driven largely by dialogue and exposition.

The Queen’s Necklace begins with a very entertaining dinner party put on in 1784 by Richelieu, one of the old guard at Louis XVI’s court. He and his servant banter about the coming party. It’s interesting to see the interaction, because you’d expect a sly old dog like Richelieu to always get the upper hand, but it’s the servant who ends up on top in the verbal sparring. He has everything under control, though he lets Richelieu question him and fume at him. It’s amusing–but has little to do with the Affair.

The party itself, however, is another story. The most interesting guest at the party is Count Cagliostro, the one and only. Dumas presents him as someone you’re inclined to laugh at. Everyone there at the supper party, at least, is inclined to laugh at him, including Madame du Barry and Governor de Launay. They test his powers of precognition and his claims to have lived long enough to see the pyramids built. Cagliostro answers them, but we the reader aren’t (supposed to be) convinced (I don’t think). But then Cagliostro begins prophesying the deaths of those at the party. For those who know these people’s ultimate fate, it’s eerily accurate. So, is Dumas saying Cagliostro really had some mystical powers and was able to tell the future? Or is this just an entertaining in-joke? I mean, the fates of the supper guests would have been commonly known to his original audience. Are we meant to chuckle at the irony when du Barry poo-poos the idea that she might be executed like a common criminal? No matter what the case may be, Dumas uses Cagliostro to his full, theatrical potential.

The story moves on to slightly more mundane things after this. We meet the Queen getting out of her sleigh in Paris. We don’t know immediately that it’s Marie-Antoinette, but it doesn’t take long to figure that out (again, a healthy dose of knowledge about the people and places involved is helpful). The Queen is on her way to meet a young lady in a ramshackle house. The lady is Jeanne de La Motte. I haven’t gotten very far in The Queen’s Necklace, but it appears that in Dumas’s version the Queen is innocent of wrongdoing. However, there’s no historical reason to think the Queen ever met Jeanne before the trial, so this meeting plays into the stories/lies that Jeanne told. I won’t fault Dumas for it, though; it’s possible that it happened and it makes for a good story.

After the meeting, the queen gets into some mild trouble trying to get home to Versailes. We meet a few dashing young men as well as the Duc d’Artois, Louis XIV’s brother and therefore Marie-Antoinette’s brother-in-law. She gets into a disagreement with the king, and the Diamond Necklace itself is brought up. The king offers to buy it for her, but she refuses because it’s too extravagant. This is certainly true. The queen refused to buy it, both because it was too expensive and because it had been intended for the late king’s mistress, du Barry. The necklace had been around for a while; the increasingly-desperate jewelers had been looking for a buyer since the late king’s death.

The last I left off, Jeanne is unaware that her anonymous visitor was queen, and she was waiting for a visit from Cardinal Rohan. I highly expect the fireworks to begin. It was this relationship that gave Jeanne the opportunity to enact the swindle of the century.

So far, the story has been charming. Most of the story has been treated pretty lightly thus far, which is perfectly alright since thus far nothing all that dramatic has happened. This has all been a set-up for what’s to come. I’m excited to see exactly whom Dumas thinks did what, when, and why.

But for now, I am reading another book about the era, Michelle Moran’s Madame Tussaud. So far, so good; not great, but good. Perhaps I should stop jumping from book to book and just finish reading one?

The Bastille and the Diamond Necklace

Since Bastille Day was just a few days ago, I am taking the chance to write about the role of the infamous, famous, and perhaps misunderstood Bastille, in particular as it concerns the Affair of the Diamond Necklace.

The Bastille was famous in its day. In the public imagination, the Bastille was a dark hulk of a prison full of terror. Unlike other prisons, the inmates of the Bastille were largely important, or well-to-do, or liable to rouse the rabble. The fortress, built in the 14th century,

The Bastille

was deep, dark, mysterious, and secretive. Jeanne de La Motte referred to it as “that dread prison, the very name of which brings a shudder.” “There, countless victims of arbitrary power languished amidst groans, tears, and curses for the day that gave them birth,” according again to Jeanne (who had a tendency for melodrama when it came to her own suffering and who liked to play victim to the monarchy, justifiably or not).

Like the Tower of London, it was a place of legend, where people had a tendency to simply disappear. Like the Tower, its reputation probably wasn’t entirely earned: Less than a dozen people were executed inside the Tower, and a grand total of seven prisoners were being held in the Bastille when it fell.

But three years before the Bastille was stormed on July 14, 1789, it was the holding pen for Cardinal Rohan, Jeanne de La Motte, Count Cagliostro, and Nicole d’Olva.

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Madame du Barry and the Diamond Necklace

The Characters #7: Madame du Barry

Every good story starts somewhere, and the origins of the Diamond Necklace Affair–in fact, the origins of the necklace itself–lie with Madame du Barry, the mistress of Louis XV, grandfather of Louis XVI and grandfather-in-law to Marie Antoinette.

Women like Madame du Barry weren’t uncommon in royal courts. Generally, they were expected to exist, a la Louis XV’s earlier maîtresse-en-titre Madame de Pompadour or Louis XIV’s mistresses (Madame de Montespan, La Vallière, and many others). There was a delineation of duties between the queen/wife and the mistress. The queen bore children, acted royal, and cemented an alliance with the kingdom from whence she came. The mistress pleased the king, was often the leader of fashion, and was generally there because the kings never got to choose their wives.

Madame du Barry, mistress of Louis XV and intended purchaser of the Diamond Necklace. (Painted by Vigee Le Brun)

The du Barry was one of the more flamboyant personalities of her time. She entered the king’s life after Madame de Pompadour’s death. She was a courtesan, a beautiful blonde girl who caught the eye of the king. She was married off to a comte du Barry to make her eligible for the vaunted position of royal mistress–yes, apparently even the mistress had to be noble. The king was very fond of du Barry and lavished gifts on her. This is where her personal tastes made an impact on history.

Knowing that she loved diamonds and that her tastes verged on the vulgar, the royal jewelers Boehmer and Bassenge began to assemble diamonds for an enormous necklace named the Slave Collar, meant to grace the neck of Madame du Barry. It was, relatively speaking, reasonable to expect the King to purchase this necklace for his favorite, or for him to give her the means to purchase it for herself. The jewelers, however, didn’t receive a commission for this necklace. They had taken upon themselves the risk of purchasing the diamonds and assembling it in a gaudy setting.

Before the diamonds had been placed in their setting, the King died of smallpox in May 1774. This put his grandson Louis XVI on the throne alongside his wife, Marie Antoinette. The nation rejoiced, but this king was a very different king from his grandfather. Not for him the procession of mistresses. He was, alas, not able in the first years of the marriage to consummate it. This was bad news for the jewelers, who needed someone with flashy tastes who the king was willing to lavish their necklace on. They’d gone deeply into debt to purchase the necklace, and only royalty on the caliber of the French monarchs could afford their necklace.

Luckily, the queen was Marie Antoinette, who as a young woman had expensive tastes and flashy ways. The jewelers obviously weren’t going to be able to sell the necklace to du Barry anymore, since she’d been exiled to a convent. But if the new, pretty, extravagant queen would buy the necklace, they would be saved from ruin. Unfortunately for them, Marie Antoinette didn’t want to buy their necklace. She and du Barry hadn’t gotten along while Marie Antoinette was the dauphine, so aside from the necklace being gaudy and too expensive for even Marie Antoinette to buy on a whim, it also had negative connotations because it had first been offered to the du Barry.

Without Madame du Barry for whom to create this diamond necklace extraordinaire, the entire Affair of the Diamond Necklace probably would have never unfolded. The implications for what might have happened to the monarchy and French history are potentially huge.

Madame du Barry must have been shocked when she learned about the plots surrounding the necklace that had been intended for her. In fact, in the parade of witnesses brought into the Palais de Justice when the conspirators in the theft of the necklace that was initially meant for Madame du Barry, the dead king’s mistress was questioned. As Frances Mossiker, her sudden reappearance on the scene started the rumors flying. What did Madame du Barry know? What part had she played in the theft of the necklace by the Comtesse de la Motte, or Cardinal Prince Louis de Rohan?

Madame du Barry arrived at the Palais de Justice on December 7, 1785 to answer the questions of the Parlement (the court). Du Barry told the court that Madame de La Motte had introduced herself with the proposition of being taken on as the royal mistress’s dame de compagnie. She painted herself as graciously turning down the idea because she didn’t need a companion and besides Madame de La Motte made a lot out of having royal blood, which made her overqualified for the position. Madame de La Motte came back again to get Du Barry’s help in putting forward a petition to the king for more money.

The story according to Madame de La Motte is almost unrecognizable. She objected to accusations made by du Barry–that Madame de La Motte had long ago signed her name with “de France”, an incriminating detail. The accusations, she said, came from a twisted memory of genealogical tables Madame had shown du Barry. According to Madame de La Motte’s version, du Barry was unpleasant to the interrogators, refusing to give her name and age.

In either case, Madame du Barry’s evidence didn’t provide the “smoking gun”. In fact, the du Barry knew very little about the necklace. The piece of evidence she gave was intriguing, but didn’t necessarily prove anything. Her recollection of a document on which Madame de La Motte signed herself “de France” was significant because there was a contract to purchase the diamond necklace signed “Marie Anoinette de France.” A real queen of France would never add “de France”; she would let her name stand alone, since she was powerful and regal enough to do without a last name. This suggests that the contract was forged, but then again this was a pretty fair assumption to make anyway.

So in the end, Madame du Barry’s evidence didn’t really add much, but her presence at the trial created a stir and she was, all things considered, the catalyst for the Affair of the Necklace.

Unfortunately, Madame du Barry was a victim of the French Revolution. She was executed in 1793, during the Reign of Terror.