Mme de Pompadour as Patron of the Arts…

Natalie will be our guide on this, but here are just a few musings….Why did Donald Posner choose to study this subject?  How could Mme. de  Pompadour be both the champion of the Rococo and the new Neoclassical style?  If the author’s goal is to reassess the patron’s non-impact on the art scene, has he proceeded in a logical way?  How would you have approached this problem?  When Louis XV and Mme. de Pompadour became friends “without benefits” as it were, did art supplant the role of sex?  What was Mme. de Pompadour’s relationship to Tournehem? to Marigny?  Did Mme. de Pompadour have “an aesthetic” of her own?  If so,  where is it manifest?  Why is architecture so favored by the king?  Why does Mme. de Pompadour support the Ecole Militaire project?  The porcelain, the porcelain!  At last, do we see a hint of influence of Mme. de Pompadour? In considering the sculptures that Mme. de P. favored, what do you think of her taste?  Does she reside strongly in the Rococo camp?  Why do you think she favored Boucher’s portrait of her?  Finally, discuss the aspect of Mme. de Pompadour that was revealed by her avid interest and ability in gem cutting.

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24 responses

  1. Hello everyone! I am so excited about this article and cannot wait to discuss it together! I think that it seems to reaffirm a theme we as a class have noted about our articles thus far. These art historians do not seem to like to give women any credit! Either they are masked or they only make people think they know about architecture and trick an entire society into thinking they have good taste. Basically, the moral of the story is that, as a woman in art, you cannot win. You are constantly the object, as seen in earlier articles, or you are the subject of extreme and somewhat unfounded scrutiny. I fount this article interesting and certainly intriguing, however, I also found it problematic. It is these problems I wish to discuss (let’s give Posner some of his own medicine!) I want this to be more “discussion” than “answer” based (I really liked that about Sarah’s presentation and am being a copy cat) so these are just points I would like to ponder together.

    Let’s start at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start…
    1. I thought it was interesting that Posner sets this article up as being an earnest, if not optimistic investigation of Mme. de Pompadour’s artistic tastes. Through presenting it is this way, the reader becomes sympathetic and realizes that this was as much of a surprise to him as it is to us. It places us on a “level playing field” of sorts with Posner (he has been just as fooled as us) and makes him into a friend who is telling us the truth (finally!) I found this hugely manipulative because as we read, it, to me, becomes apparent that Posner seemingly dislikes Mme. de Pompadour. This dislike manifests in many, often obvious ways. Did you read this in the same way? Am I being over protective of Mme. Pompadour? Did Posner have a bad relationship with a mistress that he is taking out on poor Mme. Pompadour?

    2. “It is understandable that pompadour was anxious to project this image of herself in the 1750s because her relationship with the king had changed by then and it was especially important for her to lay claim to social distinction on as wide a ground as possible.” (77) “This image” being the portrayal of herself as a lover of the arts and sciences. Posner seems to set this up in a way to make her supposed “love” of art and science illegitimate because she wanted people to know about it. This seems silly. One does not doubt a king’s Majesty because he holds a scepter and wears a crown. It is normal for someone to present themselves with attributes. This does not by default make them false attributes. What are your thoughts on this?

    3. “My brother is taking with him a certain Soufflot of Lyons, a very gifted architect. Cochin whom you know, and I think the abbe’ Leblanc. As for Collin, I have the impression that M. de Tournehem doesn’t want to send him to Rome.” This letter suggests that Tournehem, not Pompadour, made the final decisions, if not the initial suggestions, about the trip.” (79) Am I the only one totally baffled by this? In what way does this say what Posner thinks it says? Am I alone in my confusion?

    4. I think Professor Sadler’s question of “When Louis XV and Mme. de Pompadour became friends “without benefits” as it were, did art supplant the role of sex” particularly interesting and it was one I had while reading. Of course I am curious about their relationship on a purely nosy nature (just how did that work?), but I also wonder at the art that was created during this time. Those portraying friendship are particularly interesting and I would really like to hear your thoughts on those. I found this quote particularly interesting, Cardinal Bernis said of Mme. de Pompadour, “The Marquise knew none of the vices of ambition, but she suffered from all the petty afflictions typical for a woman intoxicated with her own appearance; and so, she hurt unintentionally, and she did good exactly the same way; her friendship was as jealous as love; and it was certainly as light and just as inconstant.” In what light does this assessment place her within her art and relationships?

    5. I found it particularly problematic that any taste she might have actually had, is tossed up to interior design, in the loosest sense of the word. On page 97 he says “At no point in the history of her patronage of painting does Pompadour appear truly insightful or fired by critical enthusiasm.” He then quotes Cordey as saying “One cannot therefore suppose that Mme. De Pompadour loved painting for itself, that she sought to exercise the least influence on its evolution. She saw in it only an indispensable element for the decoration of her apartments” I find this to be in incredibly sexist reading of her tastes in art. It also seems that he is making a “no true Scotsman” argument, in which he claims that “no true art lover” would act in a certain way. Let’s discuss!

    I cannot wait to see you on Tuesday!!! Also, sorry for being so wordy. I get excited!

    • Grr. Somehow my comments kept getting deleted last night…I’m not sure why, but I’ll look into it…
      What a world! Here we have a woman in the art world, making decisions and directly influencing art styles of the late 18th-early 19th century, whose motivation for that boil down to whether or not she and King Louis XV were sleeping together or not!
      i agree with Natalie! Regarding question 5…I understand that the “women’s sphere” was given to be domestic, ideally as housewife, etc, during and after Mme. de Pompadour’s time. However, Posner reducing all of Pompadour’s contributions to French art history–however long lasting the impact may have been–to mere interior decorating is so condescending!
      Supposing he is “correct” in crediting her collections to frivolous and uninformed tastes, wouldn’t her personal taste have influence on what types of artwork was produced and accepted?
      Was Posner saying that she was a champion of both Rococo and neoclassical art movements as a reflection of her changing relationship(s)?

  2. Can I just start off by saying “hear-hear” to Natalie. Donald Posner was definitely not a big fan of Mme Pompadour. With his use of loaded terms, and little snappy insults, it almost seemed like he was judging her as a person, rather than her role in the arts. This is not to say that we shouldn’t take his word seriously, he definitely is well-researched, but I just felt like he started the research already intending to have a negative view of Pompadour. Look at some of the phrases he uses when describing her, “whims, not particularly imaginative”. I promise I have more to say about the article than this, but it was just really hard to read the article without sensing his judgment of her hanging overhead. Although, I do have to say that he was quite tactful with his judgment at points, by subtly sliding in his own view amongst the general facts of her life. I couldn’t help but think when I was reading the article, how it almost seemed like he was “examining” (or should I say judging) Mme Pompadour, solely on the count that he was incredulous that a woman of her relationship with the king could have such authority with art (kind of snobbish if you ask me).

    I cannot wait to talk about this in class tomorrow, because this article was interesting! Sometimes I just love going to a women’s college, if only because we get to have moments like this in class where we can insert our college background into the discussion of articles such as this.

    There might not have been enough skepticism in this post, but I promise that I am saving it for class tomorrow!

    – Your Class Skeptic

  3. Well, this was a very interesting read! I love learning about the mistresses of kings, they always seem to hide something. Maybe Posner has a grudge against M. Pompadour…like she unjustly got credit for an incredible arts movement, but regardless she did have influence! I like his enthusiasm combined with pure skepticism, but I found myself struggling to hold back a little fury when he just kept pushing his skepticism to a point where she was seeming to be less of a patron of the arts. Every nook and cranny of her “interest in art” was interrogated and proved to be false or not having enough evidence to be true!

    Why can’t the nice lady have some of the credit, huh?

    I’m excited to discuss such an intriguing article in class tomorrow!
    –Sarah

  4. Ahh!! Dr. Sadler, I totally forgot about this! Oh my gosh. I think I may start tattooing my assignments on my body. Anyways, I got out of bed so that I could contribute:

    Wow. Posner. I don’t mean to parrot my other classmates, but seriously, this guy is really harsh. I would just like to call your attention to a footnote (I know that sometimes we have a tendency to overlook these) that I found particularly interesting (i.e. rough). Footnote 13 (pg.77) reads: “Undoubtedly Pompadour was well read and conversationally familiar with the world of current ideas, but whether she actually gave serious thought to “philosophic” literature cannot be determined. The inventory of her books shows that she owned, in fact, an encyclopedic library, covering subjects ranging from history, theology, jurisprudence, medicine, mathematics, and military science to literature, music, and the visual arts. ****My guess is that in its totality the library was acquired less from any passionate interest in learning than from a desire to make a conspicuous claim to intellectual stature.****

    The part I placed within the asterisks is what offended me the most. He “guess[es]?” Meaning, he doesn’t actually have proof. Did anyone else find his speculation to be particularly harsh? Parts of this article (interesting as it was) seem to suggest that his unwritten thesis was to disparage this woman’s reputation as a cultural patron.

    I do certainly look forward to talking about this more with you all in the morning. So, so sorry this is so late!! –Jenna

  5. Wow… First, off I would like to think thank that this article was far more easier to read than other wordy ones that felt like a catalog from a historian and thesaurus vomited once in a while over the pages. It allowed to me focus on the overall scrutiny and skepticism that Posner was presenting about the idea or “lack of” of Pompadour being a valuable contribution to the development of art. Though I can tell the man did his research quite thoroughly to support the matter of his “opinion” but I couldn’t help but feel he was judging too much of her character and made it seem more personal than it should have been. I couldn’t look over the negativity with every little detail. But then again, everything was a ‘belief’, and could not necessarily be proven, so why does Posner just make it seem so much more personal and offensive?

    Overall, I did enjoy the article. It was interesting turn of thinking, despite I never knew before about Pompadour or her overall significance to the art world. Or more so the controversy to her contribution from what I read. Can’t wait to discuss in class.

  6. The author of this paper comes across as extremely biased. His word choices indicate that he is not capable of giving Madame de Pompadour due credit for her influence and support of French art in the mid-18th century (ex: she was a schemer on page 102). Many of his statements begin by complimenting her efforts, yet he discredits her later in the very same sentence. I find it funny that it took 33 pages to “prove” she was not influential in the arts!

    I believe that Madame de Pompadour favored Boucher’s portrait of her because it is an idealized portrait. She appears royal, regal, youthful, beautiful. If you didn’t know she was the official mistress of Louis XV, you could easily mistake her as Queen. It’s not my style of art, but I must say, it is absolutely exquisite!

    Question: Posner stated that in some instances Madame de Pompadour’s name was used to label objects as part of an advertising gimmick (example: Pot-pourri Pompadour on page 92). Yet, in the beginning of the article he states that Madame had a reputation for being “wanton and meretricious.” If she was viewed as tawdry and cheap, how would associating her name with an object make it desirable to consumers?

    • I agree entirely with Beth. Even in what I assume to be his thesis on page 76 he comes off with an incredible amount of bias. By directing the reader away from the art Mme. de Pompadour owned and commissioned he cuts out a large piece of her contribution to the world of art. Speaking as someone whose sole income if from commissions, artists don’t simply put financing from a benefactor into pieces they make for said patron, but also into other works, and I think by cutting out talk of her contribution in that way is really the only way he’s able to support his argument. And personally, political/social gains or no, that to me says she most certainly contributed to the art world. I feel if this were any other area–science, medicine–and someone of power had given money in its favor no one would be arguing about their contribution to the cause.

      I don’t particularly feel Posner approached this subject correctly. I would say his first mistake was to villainize his subject right out of the gate. He immediately decries Mme. de Pompadour by posing that “[but] whether in those days [before Louis XV] she had more than a passing interest in their [art] concerns is unknown” (74). This reads as him brushing her off as a mere status climbing socialite rather than anything other historical account may suggest of her character. And that is what this article feels like; an attack of character rather than an analytical view of a woman’s contribution to the art world. His statement “[my] investigation has led me to conclude, however, that the presently accepted notions of the significance of Pompadour’s patronage and her role in fostering visual arts are vastly exaggerated, and often entirely wrong” (76) lends to this brushed-off harshness, and I can’t help but feel that if the discussion were one of a male patron of the arts, we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all. His entire argument seems to hinge on varying sexist ideas of women in social standing, rather than analytical evidence.

      Question: Do you think the use of Mme. de Pompadour’s letters and personal writings on page 83 are used fairly in representation of the events and as a portrayal of her character?

      • I think we are of one opinion here: this is character assassination in the first degree. And his antipathy for his subject colors his judgment of the evidence in my opinion. I think further that there is some hardcore misogyny at play here—where everything, from porcelain to gemstones, that Mme. Pompadour is associated with is “lesser than….”

  7. It seems to me that Posner goes about this article in all of the wrong ways. I agree with Rory in the sense that when I began reading I felt as though it was an attack of charachter and even her sex. The way in which he wrote about her lack of interest in innovation seemed unfair. He states, “We must defer for a moment a discussion of Pompadour’s architectural patronage, but it too supports a conclusion that she did not especially appreciate and was not particularly committed to advanced and innovative currents in modern French architecture” (80). That seems like a loaded claim to place on someone that seemed involved in supporting the arts at this time.

    I found the discussion of Louis XV and Mme. de Pompoudour’s switch to just friends I wasn’t sure what to make of this. I think in some ways art did supplement as the sex because Louis kept giving her any amount of money she wanted in order for her to buy, remodel, or even build a new Chateau.

  8. According to Posner, his argument should show that Madame de Pompadour, while historically being seen as an impactful person to the French Art World in the 18th century, should not be given as much recognition, and that nearly everything she is credited with doing was actually someone else’s work or was due to another person’s influence over her. I agree with you Rory that the thesis is on page 76, and something I find laughable throughout this is that, if his thesis is accurate, and Madame de Pompadour is remembered for all of this influence that isn’t hers, then doesn’t this make Madame de Pompadour’s fame even more amazing? Pompadour was influential and powerful enough to have 15 residences fully furnished with 3,000 lots of goods sold after her death, and to be commemorated in many works of art. She was at least publicly a force for the art world, and quite a lot of work was done to portray her as a huge supporter and friend to the arts. There are times when Posner’s research ends up being circumstantial, when he could not find if myths about Pompadour were just myths or if there was evidence for the myths. When he could not find evidence, or if he found evidence against his argument, he was quick to dismiss the claims about her. What are some of the ways Posner could have made his assertions about Pompadour in a more impactful way rather than dismissing everything about her? Major points against him would be tone, presentation of evidence, and probably how even the title for this article is misleading. What could the point of this article be, as generally it is very difficult to take away the fame of a historic person? And last, after all of this, if she really was not the person we thought she was, what are the implications?

  9. Exactly!!!! You all are right on the money. My question for Posner (Mr. Pompous hereafter) is why the hell did he study this subject and write this article if he felt this way? I think the most important thing in the academy is to love thy work—-why else do it???? This article was utterly infuriating. More anon….

  10. Here are my questions on the Domestication of Majesty:
    1. I feel that gender plays a major role in this article. Discuss! For example, how were kings depicted in royal portraits and how did this differ from queens?
    2. Did the images of royal families betray the actual political reality “behind the scenes?”
    3. What do the differences in the royal portraits of Nocrat and Landseer illustrate in the author’s opinion? Do you agree?
    4. Do the national proclivities of royal portraits surprise you? For example, that the prince from Holland should be portrayed as a moral exemplar rather than a deity?
    5. Do the traces of allegory ever completely vanish from royal portraiture, even when the latter shifts from coronation scene to the parlor?
    6. What rules did Zoffany break in his portrait of the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York from 1765?
    7. Vigee-Lebrun’s portrait of Marie Antoinette and her Children from 1787 is one of the most discussed works of art ever painted; do you agree with the author’s reading of the painting?
    8. Finally, what is the fate of informality in royal portraiture

    • I enjoyed this article (although I did have to go back and google lots of things because it’s been so long since I’ve studied this period in history!), and I was excited to see Vigee-Lebrun’s portrait of Marie Antoinette discussed. I vividly remember discussing this work in 150 and was captivated by it then. I agree with the author that it is an awkward depiction of the majestic and the maternal. Mom looks stiff as a board, and baby looks like he is ready to make a run for it. Is it the first time she’s ever held him? Even her expression says to me, “Hurry up and finish this painting! I have more exciting things to do!” I just love this work of art.

      Regarding the fate of informality in royal portraiture, I think of the very first image we saw in this class of Princess Kate. Nothing awkward about that one! On page 183 the author brings up the point that the power of royal families has atrophied, and as such, so has the need for authoritative, militaristic poses. I also believe that because we have so much insight into the daily world of royal families (thanks to paparazzi), that much of the mystique is gone. These days it is very difficult to present a false image with a camera on almost every block of almost every city in the world.

      • I agree—-at the same time, the aura of royalty—-presidents touching babies, which derives from the medieval healing of scrofula, a power imparted to the king during the royal anointing in Reims Cathedral, retains its magic! That’s why they still do it! Watch the next political rally closely for all the uses of touch that occur!

    • 7. I think the phrase “domestic” is what makes me disagree with the author’s statement on the portrait. It is completely doable to be portrayed as maternal and regal, but domestic has a certain connotation that does not go easily with royalty. The painting of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert has an air of domesticity to it while still being clearly the monarchs. The subject matter of Marie Antoinette and her Children creates a tension due to how people saw the queen, and there really is nothing about the image that seems domestic at all, and so it seems that the tension lies more in the fact that she is portrayed in a maternal role but not a domestic/private sphere role as well.
      8. It would seem that there has been even more increase in informal royal portraiture, and that is an important aspect of royal portraits for contemporary subjects. The English royal family has had to walk the fine line between formality and family, but also provide depth in their portraits as well. Kate Middleton’s photography offers an interesting aspect to this idea. As a commoner who married into the family, she provides a connection to the royal family similar to Princess Diana’s connection to the people, though without as much controversy. Kate has taken this further by even acting as the portrait artist, taking photos of the Prince and Princess and releasing them, and appearing in more casual artist settings than only royal portraiture. The royal family still has the official portraits made as well, but even these are tinged with the contextual knowledge that most have now of the royal family due to their prominence in popular culture.

      • In response to your first observation—-I think domestic may be a word used to distinguish the portrait from those images of royalty in mythological, historical, formal, ceremonial, etc.—-guises—-in other words, as “other.” M.-A. was inherently other!
        And I totally agree with your assessment of the fate of informality and the royal image—-Diana opened the floodgates for informality!

  11. To me, this article just felt like an argument. I think that he could of approached this subject in a better way. First of all, he villainize Mme. Pompadour. At least in my point of view, I could get a grasp of what he was talking about because I did not know if he was backing up his statement or continuously try to discredit Pompadour.

    I understand the importance of the King to her relationship to art but do you think too much emphasis was put on it? In this case, I think that art did supplement as sex in some ways because Louis continued to give her gifts of money so she can continue buying, remodeling or building a new Chateau. With the amount of money that Louis gave her, you would think that he still had feelings for her.

    I agree with Rory about Posner using “sexist ideas of women in social standing, rather than analytical evidence. ” It feels as if he is attacking Pompadour’s social life and sexual life rather than give specific reasons and evidence of why Posner thinks this is true.

    As evidence, the article speaks about many male individuals that may need the credit that Mme Pompadour is given. To me it feels as if the answers that Posner gives is conceptual. He said that Mme Pompadour deserves less credit but doesn’t give concrete examples of why.

    Question: Why does Posner choose to dismiss many of the impacts that art historians speak about? What implications can we make because of it? Was Posner arguing about Pompadour’s impact of art (Rococco/NeoClassical) or of her character? Is it both? Do you think Posner holds bias towards Pompadour?

    • I think we have covered much of this ground above in the questions and responses. As for Mme. de Pompadour’s impact on style, Posner is charting the change in style from Rococo to Neoclassical and the fate of the taste of his mistress.

  12. Like many of my classmates have suggested, Posner dismisses Mme. de Pompadour’s influence on art and seems to have a negative opinion of her. He attributes her influence to influence from men, often Louis XV. Even the Bellevue, which Posner, on page 81 calls “the major personal architectural project of her life,” is little more than a project passed to her by Louis XV. Additionally, Posner makes the argument that her only real contribution to the building is what she chooses to fill it with; on page 82, he dismissively hints at Pompadour’s boredom at “the long wait before moving in and decorating” suggesting she only had a shallow interest in the project.
    This article seeks to set the record straight, yet there is not enough evidence to dismiss Pompadour’s role in 18th century taste and establish such clear cut distinctions.
    After reading this article, I am left wondering how exactly Pompadour’s influenced manifested. I do not quite understand her role; I understand she was politically influential as well, so I feel that I am missing some crucial information in understanding just how she became a tastemaker. I do believe there is validity to Posner’s argument against her comprehensive influence simply because the ruling figure is obviously more likely to have a greater influence than someone who is not in power, yet her influence cannot be dismissed entirely (which seems to be the goal at times) since there is evidence of the contrary.

  13. What about the sheer quantity of porcelain that she acquired or her own role as an artist of gemstones? It was no small thing to decorate a chateau (not that I have had personal experience….) and that the funds seem to continue after the affair is also puzzling. In my view there are other ways to look at the evidence that Posner presents.

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