THIS IMAGE NEEDS TO BE LIGHTENED A LITTLE

Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun was hired by Queen Marie-Antoinette of France to paint her portrait many times. The scene of Marie-Antoinette and Her Children, 1787, was painted two years before her and her husband’s (King Louis XVI) arrest, and six years before they were both guillotined. The Queen wanted the portrait to serve as damage control (spin) to help her doomed public image (art in the service of political propaganda). What is the perception of her body proportions? Oval head, delicate features, broad shoulders, full breasts, extremely wide lap, and large knees. Why such an odd shaped body? Because, broad shoulders are equated with carrying burdens and responsibilities and a large bustline, wide hips and lap are equated with birthing and motherhood.

Props and accessories: why is she wearing red? Red is a warm color. (She’s a warm mother.) Her most important props in her image are her children which further define her warm and caring disposition (though she pays them little, if any, attention). All four are dressed in the best silks, satins, and velvets befitting the royal family of France. The pillow on which she rests her feet (her feet would never touch the floor), the hand-made rug, elaborate cradle for the toddler, fancy armoire in the back right, and Hall of Mirrors behind, add to the touch of elegance, wealth, and familial coziness that would translate into a political relations stunt. Literally, this painting was staged by the artist and the Queen herself for public consumption.