Dictionary of Art and Artists


that Changed the World


  Lascaux Caves Manesse illuminated Massys Callot Friedrich Picasso
  Tutankhamen's tomb Lorenzetti Grunewald Rembrandt Constable Matisse
  Europa and Minotaur Karlstein Castle Baldung Claude Lorrain Delacroix Marc
  Banquet Tomb Limbourg brothers Altdorfer Velazquez Turner Kandinsky
  Pompeii Van Eyck Cranach Vermeer Ingres Monet
  Birth of Christianity Della Francesca Holbein Rigaud Manet Chirico
  Hagia Sophia Uccello Titian Watteau Burne-Jones Modigliani
  Book of Kells Mantegna Bruegel Canaletto Seurat Chagall
  St Benedict Botticelli Vicentino Boucher Van Gogh Kahlo
  Bayeux Tapestry Anonymous Arcimboldo Fragonard Toulouse-Lautrec Dali
  Donizo manuscript Durer El Greco Gainsborough Munch Ernst
  Liber Scivias Bosch Theodore de Bry John Trumbull Cezanne Hopper
  Carmina Burana Da Vinci Caravaggio David Gauguin Bacon
  Falcon Book Michelangelo Rubens Gros Degas Warhol
  Giotto Raphael Brouwer Goya Klimt  

From Lascaux to Warhol

Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truth,
passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius,
but never abandoned.

William Butler Yeats




A Clever Mistress

Madame la Marquise de Pompadour and Louis XV



I am always being blamed for the general wretchedness, the Cabinet's unfounded policies, the disastrous war campaigns and the triumphs celebrated by our enemies. I stand accused of having sold everything, of having my fingers in every pie, of ruling behind the scenes. One day at dinner the King asked an old man to be so kind as to give his compliments to the Marquise de Pompadour. Everyone laughed at the poor man as a simpleton. But I did not laugh.

Madame la Marquise de Pompadour (1721-1764), Letters, 1922


Louis XV, King of France (1710—1774) by Louis-Michel van Loo;
Madame de Pompadour by Jean-Marc Nattier; Madame de Pompadour by
Maurice Quentin de la Tour


There was a small secret staircase at Versailles that led from the king's Cabinet to the second floor. There dwelled a lady named Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, who has gone down in history as the Marquise de Pompadour. Louis XV of France, the Sun King's great-grandson and his successor, frequently climbed the steps to visit her. He is said to have preferred to disappear from Cabinet meetings for trysts with his mistress. When that happened, the ministers had to sit and wait for the king until he returned as Court etiquette forbade their the room without the monarch. Thus Court lackeys could be deceived into thinking the king had spent the entire time m conference with his ministers. Witty, cultured and beautiful, Madame de Pompadour may have been the daughter of a head-groom working on a duke's estate; her mother was a beauty in her own right. Madame de Pompadour was the fourth official royal mistress. Although married to the Polish princess Maria Leszczynska since 1725, Louis XV seems to have embarked on his first extramarital affair in 1733. The first years of his marriage had been happy ones and six daughters and a son survived the union with Maria, who was deeply humiliated by her husband's infidelity. The first three royal mistresses to be established successively at Court from 1738 spent their time giving parties at the king's expense and behaving in a way that aroused public indignation. Years afterwards the queen was still complaining of having nightmares about her husband's dreadful mistresses.

Madame la Marquise de Pompadour was altogether different. She was unlike the others. No Bacchanalian parties took place in the private apartments of this grande dame. She gave exquisite little dinners with the king and invitations to them were coveted indeed. Moreover, Madame la Marquise was anxious to be on a good footing with the queen. She visited her every day, brought her flowers and chatted with her. The Marquise was even known to have served on occasion as an intermediary between the king and queen. When she heard one day that the queen had lost a considerable sum at gambling but was afraid to tell her husband what had happened, Madame de Pompadour asked the king for the privilege of paying the queen's debts of honour herself. Submitting to fate with gentle piety, Maria Leszcyriska allowed Madame de Pompadour to take her place at the king's side. The bourgeoise, whose paternity has never been satisfactorily established, became the power behind the throne at Versailles. When it came to appointing officials and ministers and making major decisions, Louis XV always consulted his mistress. For this reason Francois Boucher, once her drawing master and Court Painter to the king, painted a semi-official portrait of her. The seal and letter probably hint at her political ambition. That she was an accomplished singer is symbolised by the scores scattered at her feet. Even the little spaniel was not a prop provided by the painter. Her name was Mimi and she really did belong to Madame de Pompadour.


Francois Boucher
Portrait of Madame de Pompadour

Francois Boucher
Portraits of Madame de Pompadour


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