Madame Du Barry

Madame Du Barry

Portrait of Madame Du Barry en Flore.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre Museum) / Gérard Blot

Publication date: October 2012

Historical context

From Jeanne Bécu to Madame Du Barry: the new royal favorite disputed

Louis XV's last romantic relationship began in the spring of 1768. She quickly became one of the mistresses of Jean Du Barry, dit le Roué, a Toulouse gentleman well known in the world of Parisian gallantry.

Introduced to the court thanks to her connections in the libertine nobility, such as the Duke of Richelieu, the young Bécu immediately pleased the king who, after having married her to Guillaume Du Barry, the brother of the Roué, gave her the title of countess so that she could appear before the king. Only an old penniless countess accepts, in exchange for the cancellation of her debts, to present her officially to the king on April 22, 1769. This portrait was commissioned in December 1768 from François-Hubert Drouais who, after having been Madame's appointed painter de Pompadour and the portrait painter of the Duke of Berry (the future Louis XVI) and the Count of Provence (the future Louis XVIII), put himself at the service of the Countess Du Barry. This portrait formalizes the position of the new favorite at the Salon de peinture of 1769.

Image Analysis

A perfect illustration of the art of portraiture in the 18th centurye century

The young countess is represented here as Flora, one of the most powerful agrarian deities in the Roman pantheon. Her benevolence was sought to ensure flowering and to promote the coming harvests by organizing games in her honor in April. Exhibited at the Salon of 1769 alongside another painting by Drouais showing her in hunting costume, this representation combines the two themes that characterize the neoclassical movement: Antiquity and nature. In addition, the use of a neutral background, the bright colors and the oval shape of the painting make it a perfect example of portraiture from the second half of the 18th century.e century. But this portrait does not win the favor of all contemporaries. Speaking of which, Bachaumont criticizes the painter for not having grasped the beauty of the model. As for Diderot, he deplores "the excess of red on the white chalk".

Interpretation

Tense relationship between the nobility and the commoner

In the second half of the XVIIIe century, relations become more and more difficult between the nobility and the commoner. The second-order unit is purely theoretical since it constitutes a complex and heterogeneous group. The immemorial nobility whose roots go back beyond the XVe century is opposed to the small provincial nobility and families ennobled by royal decision for service rendered or by the purchase of an office in the magistracy. However, wealth is not enough for the elites of the third estate to satisfy their ambition and reach the upper echelons of society while it allows some members of the nobility to lead a lavish lifestyle. Thus, the tensions are multiple. The upper aristocracy shows a real desire to harm the newly ennobled and the bourgeois elites by questioning the social lift, for example with the edict of Ségur in 1781 which requires four quarters of nobility to reach the rank officer, while the commoners, whose irritation grows in the face of this noble reaction, crystallize their criticisms on the second order and through it on all the privileged members of the society of the Ancien Régime.

  • Louis XV
  • royal mistress
  • portrait
  • absolute monarchy
  • scandal

Bibliography

Michel ANTOINE, Louis XV, Paris, Hachette Littératures, coll. “Pluriel”, 1989, reed. 2006.

François BLUCHE, Louis XV, Paris, Perrin, coll. "Tempus", 1999, reed. 2003.

Bernard HOURS, Louis XV, a portrait, Toulouse, Privat, 2009.

To cite this article

Maxime HERMANT, "Madame Du Barry"


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