Marie Antoinette

By Calouste Gulbenkian Museum

Sofa with corner seats (1784) by Jean-Nicolas BlanchardCalouste Gulbenkian Museum

Archduchess of Austria and queen consort of France and Navarre, Marie Antoinette is perhaps the most famous woman to be represented at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum and has been linked to more than one of the works in the Founder’s Collection. In 1770, aged just 14 years old, Marie Antoinette was sent to France to marry the Dauphin, the future King Louis XVI, in an attempt to calm tensions between the two kingdoms.

After ascending to the throne, her husband gave her a small palace in the park at Versailles, the Petit Trianon.

Pair of wall candelabra (c. 1787-88) by Pièrre-Philippe ThomireCalouste Gulbenkian Museum

The decoration included a pair of wall candelabra, featuring an apparently spontaneous distribution of natural elements to conceal the straight lines which became known as ‘Marie Antoinette style’.

Armchair (c. 1785-86) by Georges JacobCalouste Gulbenkian Museum

Marie Antoinette was involved in several scandals: she was accused of promiscuity, of promoting the Austrian court and of squandering the wealth of the kingdom, which was experiencing a severe economic crisis during the time of her reign. Although there is evidence of her kindness and good nature, the queen became a symbol of the problems besetting the French monarchy and some historians believe that she played a crucial role leading up to the Revolution. In 1793, when the monarchy was abolished, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were tried and sentenced to execution by guillotine.

Despite contradictory opinions about her, Marie Antoinette became an icon of popular culture and her life has been recounted from various perspectives in books, films and television programmes.

The queen also inspired musicians and fashion designers, who created works based on popular perceptions of her.

Besides the wall candelabra, Calouste Gulbenkian also purchased this armchair which belonged to the queen, part of a set made by master cabinetmaker Georges Jacob which is now lost.

Writing Table (c. 1772) by Martin CarlinCalouste Gulbenkian Museum

Also in the Collection is a desk commissioned for the quarters of Madame du Barry, Louis XV’s favourite, also came into the possession of the queen, who gave it to her sister Maria Carolina of Naples.

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