The Fast and the Fugitive: Pompadour’s Curatorial Self/Portrait at Versailles

Susan M. Wager

Madame de Pompadour died in 1764. The following year, Diderot measured the royal mistress’s artistic legacy against the political and economic havoc she wreaked on France:

So, what remains of this woman, who drained us of men and money, deprived us of honor and energy, and devastated the European political system? The treaty of Versailles, which will last as long as it can; Bouchardon’s Cupid, which will be admired forever; some stones engraved by Guay, which will surprise future antiquarians; a good little painting by Van Loo, which will be looked at occasionally; and a sprinkling of ashes.[1]

This sardonic elegy suggests an incoherence in Pompadour’s patronage while betraying the philosophe’s own preoccupation with the materiality of artistic posterity.[2] The anachronic evocation of “future antiquarians” implies an incongruousness between the marquise’s revival of the ancient and durable medium of gem-engraving, and her taste for the fleeting and frivolous pleasures of the rococo.[3] Diderot’s eclectic inventory indexes the random and incidental aftermath of a life more consumptive than generative.

Fig. 1 Pierre-François Cozette, after Carle Van Loo, Allegorical Figure of a Woman Representing ‘Painting,’ 1763. Silk on cotton warp, 85 × 68.5 cm. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. Image courtesy of The Walters Art Museum, Creative Commons Zero (CC0).

Although the actual inventory of Pompadour’s estate furnishes ample evidence of a coherent artistic identity, one of its entries has puzzled scholars.[4] Item 1245b, a pendant pair found in Pompadour’s residence at Versailles, was catalogued as:

The bust of a woman, painted in encaustic by Carle Vanloo and an embroidered woman painter [une peintresse faitte de petits points].[5]

Even this incomplete and not quite accurate description conveys the pair’s internal dissonance. The objects in question were Van Loo’s (now lost) encaustic painting The Vestal Tuccia (1761), and a Gobelins tapestry-tableau (Fig. 1) after Van Loo’s oil on canvas Allegory of Painting (1754).[6] The “fire art” of encaustic was an ancient and durable technique revived in the masculinist context of nascent neoclassicism.[7] Tapestry, by contrast, was a notoriously fragile medium, and the tapestry-tableau’s small scale evidently evoked the mostly feminine pastime of “petit point” embroidery. In what follows, I will consider the logic (pace Diderot) of this materially dissonant assemblage. By installing the Allegory of Painting tapestry-tableau and The Vestal Tuccia encaustic as pendants, Pompadour staged a conception of self at the intersection of body, allegory, and the lived experience of time.

Pompadour created the tapestry-tableau/encaustic assemblage by severing a more conventional pair of oil on canvas pendants: Van Loo’s 1754 Allegory of Painting and Allegory of Sculpture. These bust-length depictions of female figures personifying the arts of painting and sculpture were in the collection of her brother, the marquis de Marigny.[8] In 1763, she commissioned a tapestry-tableau after Marigny’s Allegory of Painting, arranging for the painting’s transport to the Manufacture des Gobelins, where the weaver Pierre-François Cozette could work directly from the original. At the same time, she ordered a tapestry-tableau (The Vestal Tuccia) after Van Loo’s encaustic The Vestal Tuccia, presumably with the intention of displaying the two tapestry-tableaux together.[9] As we know from the inventory of her estate, Pompadour ultimately changed course, pairing the Allegory of Painting tapestry-tableau with the original Vestal Tuccia encaustic.

The tapestry-tableau version of The Vestal Tuccia later entered the collection of Pompadour’s friend, the duc de Choiseul.[10] It is depicted on a wall in Choiseul’s study on the so-called “Choiseul Snuff Box,” painted in 1770 by Louis-Nicolas van Blarenberghe. Choiseul seems to have acknowledged Pompadour’s role in commissioning the tapestry-tableau by installing it beside a likeness of the marquise in the manner of a donor portrait, or perhaps a “donor installation.” Along the same lines, I want to suggest that Pompadour’s pairing of The Vestal Tuccia encaustic with the Allegory of Painting tapestry-tableau functioned as a non-mimetic, “curatorial” self-portrait.[11]

Through translation and transposition, Pompadour altered the meaning of Van Loo’s Allegory of Painting in a self-referential way. In its original role as pendant to the Allegory of Sculpture, the work referred to a long tradition of allegorical sets representing the arts, and to the paragone—the Renaissance debate over the relative merits of painting and sculpture.[12] When the pendants were exhibited at the Salon of 1755, Guillaume Baillet de Saint-Julien noted the more “voluptuous” charm of the figure of Painting relative to Sculpture, quipping that Van Loo’s intention must have been to settle the paragone in favor of painting.[13] The critic then suggested, less polemically, that Van Loo “merely sought to oppose [painting’s] brilliant colors and compositional variety with the more masculine and less fickle solidity of the sculptor’s chisel.”[14] The gendered language of this comparison overlaps with a separate but related paragone in early modern painting theory: the debate between colore and disegno.[15] In Van Loo’s allegory, Painting’s heavily made-up face, beribboned coiffure, and abundance of jewelry evoke the femininity and cosmetic artifice associated with colore.[16] But any expression of allegiance to colore was qualified by the work’s pairing with the Allegory of Sculpture. Painting and sculpture were understood as sister arts “born from one father, that is, design [disegno].”[17]

By dislocating the Allegory of Painting from the Allegory of Sculpture to unite it instead with The Vestal Tuccia, Pompadour alienated the work’s subject from its sister art of disegno and strengthened its alliance with colore. As Jacqueline Lichtenstein has shown, ancien-régime discourse on colore and disegno associated the former not only with makeup but also with the illicit femininity of the courtesan or whore, whose disegno-foil was the chaste wife or virgin.[18] Van Loo’s Allegory of Painting hints at this eroticism through allusions to Venus: the figure virtually drips with pearls, and a cupid’s face emerges on her partially finished canvas.[19] Pompadour reinforced this erotic metaphor by juxtaposing the Allegory of Painting tapestry-tableau with the encaustic depiction of chaste Tuccia, a member of the ancient Roman cult of virgins devoted to the goddess Vesta. She thus converted the depicted conception of painting from art of disegno into art of cosmetic and seductive colore, and into a kind of personal emblem. As Melissa Hyde has shown, the painting/makeup/Venus metaphor figured prominently in Pompadour’s sustained engagement with self-fashioning and performance.[20]

Fig. 2 François-Hubert Drouais, Madame de Pompadour as a Vestal Virgin, c. 1763. Oil on canvas, 100 x 81 cm. Musée Stewart, Montréal, Canada. Image courtesy of the Musée Stewart.

Paradoxically, the opposing figure of the Vestal Tuccia—against whom Pompadour defined Painting’s seductive femininity—was also connected to the marquise’s repertoire of performative identities. In eighteenth-century allegorical portraiture, the guise of Vestal Virgin was frequently adopted by female sitters, including Pompadour.[21] In a portrait attributed to François-Hubert Drouais and dated to around 1763 (Fig. 2), a veiled and relatively mature Pompadour poses beside Vesta’s eternal flame, holding her copy of the abbé Nadal’s 1725 Histoire des Vestales.[22] In the eighteenth-century imagination, Vestals appealed to a prurient fascination with secluded virgins and their presumed potential to be despoiled.[23] This titillating fantasy was perhaps heightened by the knowledge that Vestals (according to many accounts) could enjoy the sensual pleasures of material luxury.[24] Pompadour’s glittering pearls and makeup play on this ambivalence, suggesting that even the identity of a virgin can be performed through the wiles of feminine artifice.[25]

Tuccia, however, represented a more chaste and heroic version of the Vestal mythology. To disprove false accusations of incest, she was said to have transported a sieve of water from the Tiber to the Temple of Vesta without leaking a single drop.[26] The sieve’s impermeability signaled the inviolability of her uncorrupted body. In Van Loo’s encaustic The Vestal Tuccia (known only through the tapestry-tableau made after it, The Vestal Tuccia), the young Vestal appears in profile, bowing her head as she presents her sieve, the figuration of her impenetrable body. Feminine artifice was useless to Tuccia, whose identity as virgin was not a performance, and whose body was made knowable by the magical sieve. While seductive ornament and Vestal purity could coexist (if ironically) in Drouais’s portrait, they were strictly segregated in the pairing of Painting and Tuccia.

Pompadour heightened the figures’ iconographic opposition through the contrast between mediums. She initiated the installation by commissioning the tapestry-tableau copy after Van Loo’s oil Allegory of Painting. Distinct from large-scale tentures, tapestry-tableaux were imitations of easel paintings meant to deceive and delight.[27] Of a tapestry-tableau portrait displayed at the Salon of 1763, one critic wrote that, if not for the livret’s explanation, “almost the entire public would have mistaken it [for a painting], not just on first glance, but after devoting leisurely attention to it.”[28] These virtuosic imitations were entertaining, but the weak dyes required to reproduce the subtle color nuances in eighteenth-century painting made the slavishly imitative tapestries dangerously fragile.[29] In the discourse of the coloredisegno debate, the instability and impermanence of color’s seductive charms were cited by partisans of disegnoas a significant defect in painting.[30] The Allegory of Painting’s reproduction in the notoriously fugitive color palette of tapestry would thus have shored up its identification of Painting with the illicit femininity of colore.

At the same time that Pompadour commissioned the Allegory of Painting tapestry-tableau, she ordered a tapestry-tableau copy of The Vestal Tuccia. Although these were likely intended to be pendants, Pompadour ultimately elected to pair the Allegory of Painting with The Vestal Tuccia encaustic. The ancient medium of encaustic was revived in the eighteenth century because of its colorfast durability and was implicated in the debate between colore and disegno. In his 1757 “Avis aux Dames,” Charles-Nicolas Cochin facetiously suggested the use of encaustic to permanently affix rouge to a woman’s cheek, aligning the transience of colore with the deceptively fleeting artifice of makeup.[31] In Pompadour’s installation, the encaustic’s putative preservation of color underscored Tuccia’s preservation of her virtue and threw into relief the tapestry-tableau’s physical and iconographic staging of Painting’s inconstancy. The assemblage of these materially dissonant objects deepened the divide between Painting/colore/whore and Tuccia/disegno/virgin.

The opposition presented by the tapestry/encaustic pairing was underpinned, nonetheless, by a structural analogy. In both oval tableaux, bust-length female figures in three-quarter profile hold rounded objects—palette and sieve—against the lower arcs of their respective supports. The visual rhyme between Painting’s palette and Tuccia’s sieve, I would argue, hints at a conceptual rhyme: each object represents the medium through which its bearer communicates. Painting’s artistic inventions are expressed through the medium of liquid paint held by the palette; Tuccia expresses her body’s intimate secrets through the “medium” of water contained by the sieve. The analogy, however, remains inscribed within difference. While the sieve was conceived as a transparent and truthful medium, the palette—loaded with wild pools of cosmetic paint—was a medium of artifice and deception. Whether or not Pompadour (who famously mediated between Louis XV and his court) was conscious of this parallel, the contrast between depicted media (palette and sieve) self-reflexively echoes the contrast between actual media (tapestry-tableau and encaustic).

Even without the encaustic, the sight of the Allegory of Painting tapestry-tableau alone was enough to invoke the problem of material fragility. When it was exhibited with another tapestry-tableau in the Salon of 1765 (the year after Pompadour’s death), Diderot praised its convincing illusionism, then lamented its impermanence through an oblique reference to a more durable medium:

My word, if someone standing a few feet away could distinguish the painting from the tapestry, I would give him both. The Chinese substitute bird feathers for the dyed wools whose colors are so quickly corroded by air’s vicious bleaching. [Bird feathers] are more brilliant, more durable, and they can furnish any shade. And Laus Deo, pax vivis, requies defunctis.[32]

Diderot’s reflection on the work’s material vulnerability is framed by the issue of artistic posterity: the Latin epigram likely refers to Van Loo’s recent death. If only the artist’s Allegory of Painting had been reproduced in Chinese featherwork rather than wool, Diderot seems to say, it could ensure the survival of his legacy into future generations.

Pompadour’s conjunction of the Allegory of Painting tapestry-tableau with The Vestal Tuccia encaustic was a curatorial analog of Diderot’s textual juxtaposition between the ephemeral tapestry and durable featherwork. One could speculate that Pompadour’s juxtaposition was, like Diderot’s, bound up with an awareness of mortality—she was in her early forties and sickly. But the issue of artistic posterity held less relevance for Pompadour’s installation, which could only survive as long as she did. The impermanence of her curatorial interventions at Versailles was made clear by the protocol set in motion immediately after she died. In his introduction to the marquise’s estate inventory, Jean Cordey wrote:

The presence of a dead body is not tolerated in a royal house. So, mere moments after she let out her last breath, the marquise was placed on a stretcher… and was transported… to her nearby hôtel, the present-day hôtel des Réservoirs. Then, everything that had belonged to her was removed, furniture, objets d’art, papers and books, and nothing remained in the palace to recall the memory of she who, for almost twenty years, held such a significant place there.[33]

The depictions of Painting and Tuccia could survive independently, but the union of their contradictory allegorical identities was dependent in a literal way on Pompadour’s physical occupation of space. Felicity Nussbaum has identified a tendency among eighteenth-century women autobiographers to construct textual selves out of conflicting stereotypes of femininity. While women were deemed naturally “lustful, vain, and inconstant,” they were simultaneously held to the exceptional standard of the “manly” woman who could prevail over her nature.[34] Women writers preserved this impossible “complex of contrarieties” in the structure of their autobiographical texts:

Eighteenth-century women who represented their subjectivity in text, even private texts, were inevitably caught in mimicking male definitions of themselves…. It [was] common for women to position themselves simultaneously in opposing attitudes toward self and gender in their autobiographical writings, in an attempt to find a coherent subject position, to declare a consistent ‘I.’[35]

In a similar way, Pompadour structured her assemblage of the Allegory of Painting and The Vestal Tuccia along the contradictory virgin/whore axis of conventional femininity. Her installation was not autobiographical, but like autobiography, it delineated her personal experience of lived, everyday time. In contrast to conventional portraiture’s fantasy of allegorical timelessness or arbitrary freezing of a moment, Pompadour placed Painting and Tuccia—allegorical figures drawn from her personal repertoire of identity performance—into the physical and measurable temporality of her residence at Versailles.

Presumably, the disparity in color permanence between tapestry-tableau and encaustic would become increasingly visible with the passage of time. It is unlikely that Pompadour witnessed this material divergence in her lifetime—she died one year after commissioning the tapestry-tableaux. But the contiguity of the two objects signaled their inequality. Like Diderot imagining the Allegory of Painting’s disappearance by juxtaposing it with Chinese featherwork, Pompadour could imagine the seductress slowly fading toward oblivion beside the pristine virgin, mapping the duration of her life at Versailles.

If it is tempting to interpret the temporal disparity between the ephemeral tapestry-tableau and durable encaustic as an expression of Pompadour’s self-alignment with the virtuous woman (Tuccia) who eventually will triumph over the sinner (Painting), we must recall that the installation would perish long before either of its material components. A curatorial self-portrait is intrinsically temporary: it produces meaning by bringing together objects that were separate before and will be separate again.[36] The impermanence of Pompadour’s installation, coextensive with her tenure at Versailles, superseded the material temporalities of tapestry-tableau and encaustic. The possibility of resolving the conflict between Painting/whore and Tuccia/virgin—of reaching the definitive moral conclusion implied by the works’ material contrast—was deferred indefinitely.

After Pompadour died, the tapestry-tableau and encaustic passed into the collection of Marigny. By the 1781 inventory of his estate, they had been catalogued as separate items.[37] When in 1765 Diderot, ever concerned with material posterity, had predicted that Pompadour’s legacy would consist of nothing more than a disjointed smattering of objects and “a sprinkling of ashes,” he echoed the fierce critics and inventors of Poissonades whose ruthless attacks on the marquise during her lifetime often traded on the theme of impermanence.[38] Pompadour’s extravagant expenditure on ephemeral things was a spectacular drain on the royal coffers, but—these critics liked to speculate—her power and favor were surely on the verge of their inevitable demise.[39] Her position at court was indeed supposed to be temporary, even more so as it was tenuously predicated on the whims of an easily bored king. It is perhaps fitting, then, that Pompadour should choose, at least on one occasion, to represent herself by means of a curatorial self-portrait, a “medium” for which impermanence is not a weakness but rather a fundamental premise. Who better to exploit the expressive power of the provisional than the most temporary woman at Versailles?

Susan M. Wager is Assistant Professor in Art History at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, NH

Note: All translations are the author’s unless otherwise stated.

[1] Denis Diderot, “Salon de 1765,” in Œuvres de Denis Diderot: Salons (Paris: Brière, 1821), vol. 1, 100. “Eh bien! qu’est-il resté de cette femme, qui nous a épuisés d’hommes et d’argent, laissés sans honneur et sans énergie, et qui a bouleversé le système politique de l’Europe? Le traité de Versailles, qui durera ce qu’il pourra; l’Amour de Bouchardon, qu’on admirera à jamais; quelques pierres gravées de Gai [sic], qui étonneront les antiquaires à venir; un bon petit tableau de Van Loo, qu’on regardera quelquefois; et une pincée de cendres.”

[2] On the extended debate between Diderot and Étienne-Maurice Falconet over the role of posterity in artistic creation, see Denis Diderot, Le pour et le contre ou Lettres sur la postérité, vol. 15 of Œuvres complètes, ed. Emita Hill (Paris: Hermann, 1986). See also Zsófia Szür, “Réflexions sur l’art de la sculpture au XVIIIe siècle,” in Simon Daniellou and Ophélie Naessens, eds., Quand l’artiste se fait critique d’art: échanges, passerelles et résurgences (Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2015), 19-30; Marc Buffat, “Diderot, Falconet et l’amour de la postérité,” Recherches sur Diderot et sur l’Encyclopédie 43 (2008), 9-20; Martin Papenheim, “Le Pour et le Contre: La correspondance entre le philosophe Diderot et l’artiste Falconet sur la postérité et l’immortalisation,” in Thomas W. Gaehtgens, ed., L’art et les normes sociales au XVIIIe siècle (Paris: Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, 2001), 331-341. On Diderot’s interest in the material aspects of this topic, see Oliver Wunsch, “Diderot and the Materiality of Posterity,” Early Modern French Studies 40:1 (2018), 63-78.

[3] For a discussion of the engraved gems and temporality, see Susan M. Wager, “Boucher’s Bijoux: Luxury Reproduction in the Age of Enlightenment,” (PhD diss., Columbia University, 2015), 41-49.

[4] There is no shortage of literature on Pompadour’s strategic self-fashioning within individual mediums. For an intermedial consideration, see Katie Scott, “Framing Ambition: The Interior Politics of Madame de Pompadour,” Art History 28:2 (2005), 248-290.

[5] Jean Cordey, Inventaire des biens de Madame de Pompadour rédigé après son décès (Paris: Société des Bibliophiles François, 1939), n. 1245 bis. “Le buste d’une femme, peint à l’encoastique [sic] par Carle Vanloo et une peintresse faitte de petits points.” Jean Vittet writes: “Il est surprenant que, lors de l’inventaire de la marquise, la tapisserie de La Peinture et la cire de La Vestale Tuccia se soient trouvées réunies dans un même lot à la manière de pendants, compte tenu de la différence des techniques et de l’opposition des sujets; mais les identités de format et d’auteur ont pu justifier ce regroupement.” (“It is surprising that, at the time of the marquise’s inventory, the Painting tapestry and The Vestal Tuccia wax were found united in a single lot as pendants, given their difference in technique and disparate subjects; but this grouping can be justified by their shared format and author.”) Jean Vittet, “Commandes et achats de madame de Pompadour aux Gobelins et à la Savonnerie,” in Madame de Pompadour et les arts, exhib. cat. (Paris: Réunion des musées nationaux, 2002), 374. In the present essay, I suggest that the pairing was motivated by more than shared format and author.

[6] Jean Vittet, “La Vestale Tuccia,” in Madame de Pompadour et les arts, exhib. cat. (Paris: Réunion des musées nationaux, 2002), 200-202; Vittet, “Commandes,” 374.

[7] On the encaustic revival, see Danielle Rice, “The Fire of the Ancients: The Encaustic Painting Revival: 1755 to 1812,” (PhD diss., Yale University, 1979).

[8] The paintings were exhibited in the Salon of 1755 and were identified in the corresponding livret as the property of Marigny. Their present location is unknown, though several painted replicas of the Allegory of Painting exist, including one in the Musée Jacquemart-André.

[9] Vittet, “Commandes,” 374.

[10] Vittet, “La Vestale Tuccia,” 202.

[11] Anne Higonnet has theorized a similar phenomenon in private collection museums: “self-portraits in the medium of museum installation.” See Anne Higonnet, “Self-Portrait as a Museum,” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 52 (2007), 198-211. The curatorial self-portrait I recover here shares certain qualities with Higonnet’s “self-portrait as a museum,” including the use of “oblique forms of self-representation” and the signaling of self-portraiture through “a sudden contrast, or even a clash.” A crucial distinction between the two, however, is that Pompadour’s installation was not meant to outlive her.

[12] Van Loo depicted the art of painting as a woman wearing a gold pendant mask on a chain, as prescribed by Cesare Ripa in his 1593 Iconologia. Little is known about Van Loo’s Allegory of Sculpture, other than that it too depicted a female personification of the art.

[13] Guillaume Baillet de Saint-Julien, “Lettre à un partisan du bon goût. Sur l’Exposition des Tableaux faite dans le grand Sallon du Louvre le 28 Août 1755,” 5. “Le buste de la Peinture est plus volupteux [sic], plus aimable & plus intéressant que celui qui représente la Sculpture. M. Vanloo se seroit-il proposé d’obtenir tous les suffrages en faveur de la Peinture?”

[14] Baillet de Saint-Julien, “Lettre,” 5. “Ou plutôt n’auroit-il recherché qu’à mettre en opposition le brillant des couleurs & la richesse des positions avec la solidité plus mâle & moins variée du ciseau du Sculpteur.”

[15] On the gendering of colore and disegno in Renaissance theory, see Patricia L. Reilly, “The Taming of the Blue: Writing Out Color in Italian Renaissance Theory,” in Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard, eds., The Expanding Discourse: Feminism and Art History (New York: Icon Editions, 1992), 86-97.

[16] The defense of color and theorization of painting as makeup in France are associated above all with Roger de Piles. See Roger de Piles, Cours de peinture par principes (Paris, 1708), esp. 346-347. See also Jacqueline Lichtenstein, “Making Up Representation: The Risks of Femininity,” Representations 20 (1987), 77-87; and Melissa Hyde, Making Up the Rococo: François Boucher and His Critics (Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2006), 83-105.

[17] Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, trans. Gaston du C. de Vere (London: Macmillan, 1912), 1, xxxiv. Vasari posits this shared genealogy as a means of resolving the paragone.

[18] Lichtenstein, “Making Up,” 80.

[19] On the conceptual overlap between Venus and painting, see Hyde, Making Up, 135.

[20] Melissa Hyde, “The ‘Makeup’ of the Marquise: Boucher’s Portrait of Pompadour at Her Toilette,” The Art Bulletin 82:3 (2000), 453-475; Hyde, Making Up, 107-144. See also Ewa Lajer-Burcharth, “Pompadour’s Touch: Difference in Representation,” Representations 73 (2001), 54-88; Elise Goodman-Soellner, “Boucher’s ‘Madame de Pompadour at Her Toilette,’” Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art 17:1 (1987), 41-58.

[21] Kathleen Nicholson, “The Ideology of Feminine ‘Virtue’: The Vestal Virgin in French Eighteenth-Century Allegorical Portraiture,” in Joanna Woodall, ed., Portraiture: Facing the Subject (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997), 52-72.

[22] Drouais’s authorship of the portrait is not certain. In a 2002 catalogue entry, Humphrey Wine gives the painting to Drouais and workshop. Humphrey Wine, “Madame de Pompadour en vestale” in Madame de Pompadour et les arts, exhib. cat. (Paris: Réunion des musées nationaux, 2002), 164.

[23] Nicholson, “Ideology,” 58-65.

[24] In his entry on Vestals in the Encyclopédie, Louis de Jaucourt claimed that they “lived in luxury and idleness.” (“Elles vivoient dans le luxe & dans la mollesse.”) Jaucourt, “Vestale,” in Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert, eds., Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, etc. University of Chicago: ARTFL Encyclopédie Project (Autumn 2017 Edition), Robert Morrissey and Glenn Roe (eds.),

[25] Nicholson argues for reading the portrait as part of a “series” of allegorical portraits in which Pompadour explores the malleability of identity. Nicholson, “Ideology,” 66.

[26] The story is recorded in Book 28, Chapter III of Pliny’s Natural History. See also Andrew Belsey and Catherine Belsey, “Icons of Divinity: Portraits of Elizabeth I,” in Lucy Gent and Nigel Llewellyn, eds., Renaissance Bodies: The Human Figure in English Culture c.1540-1660 (London: Reaktion, 1990), 15.

[27] On tapestry-tableaux, see Maurice Fénaille, État Général des Tapisseries de la Manufacture des Gobelins depuis son origine à nos jours 1600–1900 (Paris: Hachette, 1907), vol. 4, 343-345. See also Jean Vittet, Les Gobelins au siècle des Lumières: Un âge d’or de la manufacture royale (Paris: Swan, 2014), 317-325.

[28] Mercure de France (Nov 1763), 203-204. “Cet effort… méritoit d’être placé au milieu de nos chefs-d’œuvre de Peinture, avec laquelle presque tout le Public l’auroit confondu, non pas au premier aspect seulement, mais après une attention très-reposée, sans l’indication qui se trouve à la fin du Livre d’explication.”

[29] See Jean Coural, Les Gobelins (Nouvelles Éditions Latines, 1989); Michel Florisoone, “La Tapisserie Classique du XVIe au début du XXe siècle,” in Joseph Jobé and Pierre Verlet, eds., Le Grand Livre de la Tapisserie (Lausanne: Edita, 1965), 78-104; Lucien Reverd, “La Manufacture des Gobelins et les Colorants Naturels, I,” Hyphé 1:2 (1946), 91-104; Pascal-François Bertrand, “Le XVIIIe siècle, un art du décor et de l’ameublement,” in Fabienne Joubert and Amaury Lefébure, eds., Histoire de la tapisserie: en Europe, du Moyen âge à nos jours (Paris: Flammarion, 1995), 206-261.

[30] Lichtenstein, “Making Up,” 81.

[31] Charles-Nicolas Cochin, “Avis aux Dames,” Recueil de quelques pièces concernant les arts (Paris: Jombert, 1757), 47-48.

[32] Denis Diderot, “Salon de 1765,” vol. 1, 400-401. “Ma foi, si quelqu’un discerne à quatre pas le tableau du morceau de tapisserie, je les lui donne tous deux. Les Chinois ont substitué aux laines teintes, dont l’air, ce terrible débouilli, ne tarde pas à manger les couleurs, les plumes des oiseaux qui sont plus éclatantes, plus durables, et qui fournissent à toutes les nuances. Et Laus Deo, pax vivis, requies defunctis.

[33] Cordey, Inventaire, vii. “Dans les maisons royales, la présence d’un mort n’était pas tolérée. Aussi, peu d’instants après qu’elle eut rendu le dernier soupir, la marquise fut placée sur une civière et, recouverte d’un seul drap qui laissait deviner les formes de son corps, transportée par deux hommes à travers les jardins jusqu’à son hôtel tout proche, l’hôtel actuel des Réservoirs. Puis, tout ce qui lui avait appartenu fut enlevé, les meubles, les objets d’art, les papiers et les livres, et rien ne subsista dans le château, rappelant le souvenir de celle qui, pendant presque vingt ans, y avait tenu une si grande place.”

[34] Felicity A. Nussbaum, “Eighteenth-Century Women’s Autobiographical Commonplaces,” in Shari Benstock, ed., The Private Self: Theory and Practice of Women’s Autobiographical Writings (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1988), 154.

[35] Nussbaum, “Eighteenth-Century Women’s Autobiographical Commonplaces,” 154-155.

[36] In private collection museums (a nineteenth- and twentieth-century phenomenon; see Higonnet, op. cit.), a collector can prohibit the movement of objects and thus guarantee the survival of a curatorial self-portrait. The objects, nonetheless, are still moveable, and I would argue that the fact of their mobility is what lends expressive power to the act of bringing them together.

[37] Alden R. Gordon, The Houses and Collections of the Marquis de Marigny, vol. 1 of Documents for the history of collecting: French Inventories, ed. Carolyne Ayçaguer-Ron(Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2003), n. 768 and n. 779.

[38] For Diderot, see note 1. On Poissonades, see Robert Darnton, Poetry and the Police: Communication Networks in Eighteenth-Century Paris (Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010).

[39] For example, the marquis d’Argenson wrote that with “money becoming scarce for finance and for the pressing war, one might finally persuade the King to rid himself of this blood-sucking leech, who ruins everything, spoils everything, and dishonors the monarchy. It would take but a moment to accomplish this coup d’État; the King would moan for a while, then never think of her again.” (“Or l’argent devenant rare pour les finances et pour la guerre qui presse, l’on pourra enfin persuader le Roi qu’il faut se défaire de cette sangsue qui ruine tout, qui gâte tout, et qui déshonore le règne. Il ne faut qu’un moment pour consommer ce coup d’État; le Roi gémirait quelque temps, puis n’y songerait plus.”) Journal et mémoires du marquis d’Argenson (Paris: Renouard, 1859), 9, 109. Author’s translation adapted from E. J. B. Rathery, ed., Journal and Memoirs of the Marquis d’Argenson, trans. Katharine Prescott Wormeley (New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1901), 334.

Cite this note as: Susan M. Wager, “The Fast and the Fugitive: Pompadour’s Curatorial Self/Portrait at Versailles,” Journal18 Issue 8 Self/Portrait (Fall 2019),

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