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.

Comtesse_de_La_Châtre_by_Vigée-Lebrun

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 Interrogation of Count Cagliostro Part 4

I have been pretty negligent in my efforts to translate and bring to you bits of the interrogations of various prominent characters in the Affair of the Diamond Necklace. I last brought you part 3 of this interrogation in 2013. I have (finally!) gotten around to translating the fourth and final part of Count Cagliostro’s interrogation.

Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3

As a reminder, Count Cagliostro was a friend of Cardinal Prince Louis de Rohan. In 1785, Rohan was arrested on suspicion of defrauding the royal jewelers out of a very, very expensive diamond necklace. As it happens, he was duped by a woman named Jeanne de La Motte, who claimed to be an intimate of the queen’s. Cagliostro, a mystic and charlatan, was arrested because he was, at the time of the Affair, living in Rohan’s household. Mme de La Motte had also implicated him (and Rohan) as the masterminds and perpetrators of the theft.

Previously, the interrogator asked about a seance of sorts that took place in Rohan’s palace and was apparently conducted by Cagliostro. He described a seance that took place in the Cardinal’s household. He does his best to characterize it as harmless, while the interrogator tries his best to characterize the little event as suggestive and damning.

He was previously asked about whether he’d seen the missing diamond necklace and whether he’d seen the contract (no and yes). Now the questions turns to some diamonds that Cagliostro and his wife were seen to possess . . . 

The Interrogation of Count Cagliostro Part 4

We asked whether it was true that the Cardinal gave diamonds to the respondent’s wife, whether she had not been seen there [in Paris] with several [diamonds] [“si on ne lui en a pas vu beaucoup”], and whether those diamonds came from the necklace.

He replied that he had told [the Cardinal] about a very rare and precious gem of gold and diamonds that comprised the head of a cane [“qui fait une pomme de canne”], inside of which was a very curious bell and which the Cardinal found very appealing. He [Cagliostro] asked the Cardinal to accept it [as a gift], which is what the Cardinal did. [Presumably, this elaborate cane belonged to Cagliostro. The Cardinal saw it and expressed his admiration of it, which in this context more or less obligated Cagliostro to give it the Cardinal as a “gift”.] He [the Cardinal] wanted to show his gratitude and gave him [Cagliostro] some presents in return, which he [Cagliostro] refused; except, on various occasions, notably on the fête [presumably, “name day”] of his wife, the Cardinal gave him various pieces of diamond jewelry. Namely: a small “saint-esprit”, a frame for a portrait of the respondent [“l’entourage du portrait de lui répondant”], and a jeweled necklace [“chaîne garnie”], all of them in diamonds, and a small clock [or watch]. He [Cagliostro] did try to return them all several times, but the Cardinal always obliged him to keep [the gifts]. Moreover, every one of his wife’s diamonds that came from him is right here [“tous les diamants tant de sa femme que de lui sont ici’]. His wife never had never had any others, and those are known in every court he has travelled to. [He seems to be saying that all the diamonds they own were gifts from the Cardinal or were in his and his wife’s possession before they came to Paris.]

We asked whether he had not persuaded the Cardinal that his wife was a close friend of the queen and that she visited and corresponded with her. [Basically, the interrogator is suggesting that Cagliostro’s wife—instead of Jeanne—is the one who was conning the Cardinal.]

He responded that he never said that. His wife never knew the queen, she had never been to Versailles, and she could have had no correspondence with anyone, being unable to write. [Cagliostro’s wife was illiterate.]

We presented to him a copy of a note containing clauses relating to the necklace, and we challenged him to declare whether he knew of it and whether the Cardinal had sent it to him [Cagliostro] or his wife. We requested that he initial it.

After examining it, he responded that he did not know it and that the first time he had seen it was that very day and he did not want to initial it, considering it as inappropriate. As a result, the said note was not initialed either by the respondent, who refused to do so, or by us, whom he was before.

We asked whether he convinced the Cardinal that he would get as high as the ministry [i.e., rise as high as becoming Prime Minister, which was Cardinal Rohan’s dearest desire].

He responded no, that instead of encouraging him to pursue [a place as Prime Minister], he suggested on the contrary that the Cardinal should remain in his current station.

We asked whether the Cardinal had not given to him [Cagliostro] or his wife a portion of the diamonds from the necklace [“provenant du collier”] or money from the sale [“le prix de la vente”] of these diamonds.

He responded no, that his actions had all been public since arrived there [in Paris]. He had never bought or sold diamonds here, and he had no diamonds except the ones he brought with him.

We asked whether he was in the process of buying a house worth 50,000 écus [a denomination of money] and whether he was going to pay cash.

He responded no.

We represented to him that, according to what he had told us, he always practiced medicine for free and most often on behalf of the poor than on behalf of others. It was astonishing that he was able to support his level of spending. We demanded of him where his fortune came from.

He replied that he draws on several bankers, notably Sarrasin de Bàle and de Hans Costard at Lyon and that he has considerable resources. Wherever he goes, he always pays exactly what he owes and leaves behind no debt.

We asked whether he would like to confront the witnesses. [I believe that’s what is being asked here; as part of the French legal system, defendants were often put in the same room with witnesses/accusers in hopes that the confrontation would produce the truth.]

He said yes, it they tell the truth.

“How to Ruin a Queen” by Jonathan Beckman: New Nonfiction on the Diamond Necklace Affair

There is a story associated with this little shout-out, but it is neither here nor there. There is a recently-published nonfiction book out about the Affair of the Diamond Necklace: How to Ruin a Queen by Jonathan Beckman. I haven’t read it yet; I’m currently working through a history of the 1864 Shenandoah Valley campaign. This book, however, is next on my list. Until then, I’m sure the book is worth mentioning to all who stumble upon this blog:

http://www.amazon.com/Jonathan-Beckman-How-Ruin-Queen/dp/B00N4GH4VA/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1412721552&sr=8-3&keywords=how+to+ruin+a+queen

Writerly Wednesdays–Accents and Historical Fiction

This exceptional article about accents and Shakespeare (a great read by the way; it turns out Shakespeare may have sounded more American than British) got me thinking about the treatment of accents in historical fiction:

http://the-toast.net/2014/03/19/a-linguist-explains-british-accents-of-yore/

Now, it’s very common on TV and in movies to have any story set before the 19th century be populated by folks who speak British English. Indeed, it’s very difficult to find an American accent in a period drama unless that period drama is actually set in America (and even then, if it’s before the 19th century, it’s back to British accents). There’s even a TV trope for this:

The Queen’s Latin

Obviously, Ancient Romans and Egyptians (à la the HBO series Rome) spoke with various British accents. And of course, so did Frenchmen in the 17th-century world of The Three Musketeers (choose your version). It just makes sense, right?

Well, no. Because technically, the ancient Romans spoke in vulgar Latin, the Egyptians in Coptic (or Greek, or sometimes Latin), and Frenchmen in the 17th century spoke French. But, unless you’re The Passion of the Christ, you don’t want the entire movie or TV show to be subtitled.

It’s one thing to have ancient Romans speak British English because, hey, they have to have some kind of accent, and if the BBC is producing it . . . well, when in Rome (or, whatever). . . . The choice becomes blurrier when you reach the 18th and 19th century. Until about that time, there were only British accents, because only folks on the British Isles spoke English. Granted, there were scattered colonies, but the colonists were all fairly recent imports from the English-speaking homeland. I’m no linguist, but I’d have to assume that small communities of marooned pioneers sitting on the frontier weren’t big on changing the way they spoke.

By the 1700’s, the American Colonies were establishing themselves as separate from the mother country. They had their own governments (largely autonomous, given the vast distance between the colonies and Parliament), way of life (log cabins! opossums! coon skin caps!), and traditions (Puritans were very serious about observing the Sabbath, for instance). As the piece above notes, this is when the two dialect groups began to branch off: it was, ironically, the British dialects that began to change, while American English retained older pronunciations and forms.

So if you are, say, a TV show set during the Revolutionary War (like, I don’t know, the AMC show Turn), how are you to suss out the accents? Did they sound like modern Americans? Like modern Brits? Like neither? A little like both? Frankly, we have no idea what they really sounded like, though we can have some idea. In Turn, there’s a veritable medley of accents, especially amongst the Americans—they’re kind of Irish or from Northern England or somewhere in between. The Red Coats are speaking the Queen’s (or King’s) English because, well, they’re Red Coats and what the hell else would they be speaking? (To answer that question, 18th century British soldiers might actually have spoken quite differently from modern Brits—see the link above—and might have had all kinds of accents instead of just Received British Pronunciation.)

The examples of shows and movies using British accents when, quite frankly, an American accent would do just as well is long: everything from the aforementioned Rome to silly teenage television shows like Vampire Diaries (yes I watch it; no, I don’t think “Viking” vampires would speak with British accents). Why so many British accents? Well, a linguist would probably tell you that there’s no reason to value a British accent over an American one, but I’m not a linguist. And I think British accents just sound cooler. And there’s a caché. Fancy people—and everyone from the past was fancy!—should have fancy accents, right? And what’s fancier than the accent of the Queen of England? Oh, and there are the many centuries of history the Brits have under their belts, as compared to the piddling 238 years the United States has existed. (For the record, American history stretches back beyond its official founding, and though brief is at least as rich as any European country’s history.)

Counterexamples tend to prove the point that British accents carry particular cultural baggage. The movie Marie Antoinette (directed by Sofia Coppola) is an example. The stodgy old guard at Versailles speak in very posh British accents, while the spirited young folk—Marie Antoinette and her friends—all speak in American accents. Hardly an accident.

Yes, you are saying, but you write novels, not scripts. TRUE. That is true. But the written word is just as subject to dialect as the spoken word. There are differences in word meaning—tell a Brit that you got a stain on your pants, and they might look at you funny—and slang—Brits will say “cheers” as a way to end a conversation, but an American will not—and syntax—have you noticed that Brits will shorten “I have two good reasons” to “I’ve two good reasons” but an American will not?—and cadence—the ebb and flow, the emphasis and rhythm. All of those things are equally as much about the words on the page as the way the words are pronounced.

So far, I’ve written mainly in two eras: pre-revolutionary France and Antebellum America. As far as accents go, the second was an interesting challenge in its own right. After all, Americans of the 1850s spoke substantially the same kind of English that we speak now. They used the same syntax and even slang. The challenge is that it’s very close, but just a little different from 21st-century English. And readers have expectations of what they think people sounded like back then (words like “reckon” and “chaw” and overall folksiness).

Perhaps more interesting, however, was the novel I wrote about the Affair of the Diamond Necklace, set in the 1780s in Paris. Naturally, they spoke French, but I don’t. I had a choice to make. Given the narrator’s occupation—prostitute—it might have been fitting to use colloquial English. After all, this was an uneducated, poor young woman who probably spoke the colloquial French of her day. Why not translate it into the colloquial English of today? I have to translate it to something, so why not to something with the same kind of cultural feel as the language she would have used?

I was stopped by reader expectations and by my own preferences. Readers don’t expect someone from the 1700s to start saying things like “dude” and “whatever”. They expect a certain cache to go along with their historical fiction (see above reasons for use of British accents in TV/movies). Also, I didn’t really want my character to come across as too frivolous or too accessible. She makes some pretty cunning moves, and I want her to come across as canny. Her personality is rather chilly, and her narration slightly detached. So, at the very least, I was going to use a less colloquial form of English.

So—British usage, or American? This was also a bit of a toss-up. I’m not British. I couldn’t get away with writing a whole novel in the guise of a Brit. I’m sure I’d mess up something because I’m just so used to American English. I’m an Anglophile, however, and am pretty aware of the usage differences. Spelling was never a question: I cannot and will not spell words like color with a “u”. No can do. Diction was a somewhat murky area: most of the things that Brits and Americans disagree about (suspenders/braces, toilets/bathrooms) just weren’t things in the 1700s. For those things that did exist, I used the European (ie, British) term. So a man wore trousers instead of pants, and it is referred to as rubbish instead of trash. Syntax is probably where I skewed most towards British conventions. I tried to make the sentences a little crisper, with prepositions and sentence modifiers in different places and contractions put to use for different purposes. This is all about voice, of course, which is notoriously difficult to pin down. (I had a discussion with someone who had been told their voice was too “young adult” for the adult market but didn’t know how to fix it. The answer is to comb through sentence-by-sentence, analyzing every choice. It’s an indefinable something that affects each word.) What I chose for Grove of Venus was intermediary: American spelling and punctuation, a few Britishisms, and some more formal British constructions. I hope that the resulting voice comes across as neither strongly British nor strongly American. I want the reader to be able to imagine a slight, charming French accent. Looking back, I think skewing towards British syntax and diction helped achieve this. (I think it was effective, but let’s see if the novel ever gets published!)

I have written another story, set in Roman Britain, which has since been trunked. Pretty much everything but the spelling there was British, to the best of my ability. These folks I imagined speaking in British English, because, well, The Queen’s Latin, that’s why.

In a lot of genres, figuring out what form English to use isn’t an issue: you generally write in an American mode if you’re American and a British mode if you’re British. Rarely do the two cross. But in historical fiction, the lines are a bit blurred since we’re delving into the past, which is, as L.P. Hartley said, a foreign country.

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

A Crash Course in French and the Diamond Necklace Affair

I will be the first to admit that I don’t really know French. I sometimes pretend I do, though. There are plenty of sources in English regarding the ancien-régime France (see what I did there?), the French Revolutionary, Marie-Antoinette, and even the Affair of the Diamond

A young Marie Antoinette as dauphine.

A young Marie Antoinette as dauphine.

Necklace. You don’t need to learn French to learn about the history. But as you read, you’ll probably pick up more than a few French phrases. I know I did.

French is more than a language; it’s a state of mind. That probably sounds silly, but there’s a reason that there’s an institution (the Académie Française) that is dedicated to preserving French (and similarly, there’s a reason why there’s no equivalent for the English language; but that is neither here nor there, n’est ce-pas? See what I did there?). As a result of the Académie, modern French hasn’t deviated greatly from the version of French that was spoken by the heroes of our 18th-century misadventure. Compare that to English, which has changed markedly since the same time period. Writings from the 1700’s are perfectly understandable but sound strange (and just plain old) to modern ears. Have we lost or gained by allowing our language to morph? After all, the slight changes in language put a distance between us and the Founding Fathers (for instance). They didn’t speak quite like us and, therefore, they weren’t quite like us: they thought differently; they felt differently; they were just plain different. That conclusion isn’t precisely true, of course. But the difference in language does put a wedge between us and our ancestors. (As a side-note to my digression, the same isn’t true of, say, the Civil War era; the English of that era sounds very much more familiar to the modern ear than that of the Revolutionary era.)

The French, at least as far as language goes, don’t have the same kind of distance between themselves and their ancestors. They are, however, distanced from the past by culture. The cultural difference between ancien-régime France and modern France is, I think, greater than that between colonial America and the modern United States.

So, let’s just say you don’t know much French, but you’re studying the Affair of the Diamond Necklace (as you should!). What French phrases might you come across,  what do they mean, and what do they say about 18th-century France?

Let’s start with one that’s already come up in this post:

Ancien régime: Literally, the old/former regime. More specifically, in this context the phrase means France before the Revolution. More loosely, the phrase is used to describe the government (or way of doing things) that is now passed. So, it can be used to describe the previous administration when the new one is in office.

Here is a phrase not familiar to many people, even those who study French. It has a specific place in the Affair of the Diamond Necklace: Continue reading

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”].