Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Oh lovely lady!..

Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, better known as the Marquise de Pompadour, was born in 1721 into a bourgeois family on its way up in the world thanks to its links to the world of finance. She received a refined, elegant education.
As a child, she studied music and dance with Rameau’s favorite singer, Jélyotte. Crébillon père introduced her to the theatre and the art of declamation. He was a great rival of Voltaire, who was later to become a great friend of hers. She was a young protégée of the farmer-general Le Normant de Tournehem, who may in fact have been her real father. At the age of twenty, she married his nephew Guillaume Le Normant d’Etiolles, also later to become a farmer-general. She was then in a position to be admitted to Louis XV’s court, and became the king’s official mistress in 1745.
As a well-educated young woman who had made an advantageous marriage, she was invited to salons where conversation was worshipped as an art form. There she met Diderot, Marivaux, Voltaire and Rousseau - France’s intellectual elite who prided themselves on the sharpness of their wit. As the king’s mistress, she was able to offer them patronage. Upon her marriage, she took possession of the domain of Etiolles, some thirty kilometers from Paris, on the edge of the forest of Sénart where Louis XV often hunted. From 1743, Jeanne-Antoinette’s name was included on the list of notable ladies in the vicinity who received part of the spoils of the hunt as a gift from the king.

The sudden death of the Duchesse de Châteauroux in 1744 left the king without a mistress, and Jeanne-Antoinette obtained the position in 1745. A poem by Voltaire suggests that Louis XV seduced Jeanne-Antoinette – who did not yet hold the title Marquise de Pompadour – at the Costumed Ball and the Yew Tree Ball held at Versailles in honor of the Dauphin’s nuptials. The king and seven members of his retinue are shown dressed as topiary yew trees on the left-hand side of the drawing.
Jeanne-Antoinette lost her noble status after breaking her marriage vows, and had to be granted a new title to be able to appear at court and become the royal mistress. That was how she became the Marquise de Pompadour.

She received an annual pension which enabled her to buy several superb properties, including chateaux in Crécy, La Celle-Saint-Cloud, and Ménars, and a magnificent townhouse, the Hôtel d’Evreux, now the Elysée Palace. She decorated the interiors in lavish style. She was a great patroness of the arts, counting many of the leading artists of her day as friends, and was able to call on the highly skilled craftsmen who worked on the royal buildings. In the autumn of 1745, she moved into the Château de Versailles, taking over the Duchesse de Chateauroux’s former rooms, known as the upper apartments.
In 1749, she moved to apartments on the ground floor of the central building, the lower apartments. This move reflected a change in her status. From 1751, she was no longer the king’s mistress, but remained an adviser and friend.

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