Madame de Pompadour  

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Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour, also known as Madame de Pompadour (29 December 1721 – 15 April 1764), was a member of the French court, and was the official maîtresse-en-titre of Louis XV from 1745 to 1750.

Pompadour was a woman of verve and intelligence. She planned buildings like the Place de la Concorde and the Petit Trianon with her brother, the Marquis de Marigny. She employed the stylish marchands-merciers, trendsetting shopkeepers who turned Chinese vases into ewers with gilt-bronze Rococo handles and mounted writing tables with the new Sèvres porcelain plaques. Numerous other artisans, sculptors and portrait painters were employed, among them the court artist Jean-Marc Nattier, in the 1750s Francois Boucher, Jean-Baptiste Réveillon and Francois-Hubert Drouais.



Childhood and education

Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson was born on 29 December 1721 in Paris to François Poisson and his wife Madeleine de la Motte. However, it is suspected that her biological father was either the rich financier Pâris de Montmartel or the tax collector (fermier général) Le Normant de Tournehem, who became her legal guardian when François Poisson, a steward to the Pâris brothers—foremost financiers of the French economy—was forced to leave the country in 1725 after a scandal over a series of unpaid debts, a crime at that time punishable by death. Poisson was cleared eight years later and allowed to return to France. Her younger brother was Abel-François Poisson de Vandières who would later become the marquis de Marigny.

Jeanne-Antoinette was intelligent, beautiful, and refined. She spent her younger childhood at the Catholic Ursuline convent in Poissy where she received a good education. At adolescence, her mother took personal charge of her education at home by hiring teachers who taught her to recite entire plays by heart, play the clavichord, dance, sing, paint and engrave. She became an accomplished actress and singer, and also attended Paris's Club de l'Entresol (formed in 1724 and suppressed in 1731). The greatest expense of her education was undoubtedly the employment of renowned singers and actors, such as Pierre Jélyotte, much of it paid for by Le Normant de Tournehem; and it may have been this in particular that sparked rumours of his paternity to Jeanne-Antoinette.

She later claimed that, at the age of nine, she was taken by her mother to a fortune teller and told that she would someday reign over the heart of a king.Template:Citation needed Apparently, her mother believed the prophecy and accordingly nicknamed her "Reinette".


In 1741, at the age of nineteen, Jeanne-Antoinette was married to Charles-Guillaume Le Normant d'Étiolles, nephew of her guardian, who accepted the match and the large financial incentives that came with it. These included the estate at Étiolles (28 km south of Paris), a wedding gift from her guardian, which was situated on the edge of the royal hunting ground of the forest of Sénart. With her husband, she had two children, a boy who died the year after his birth in 1741 and Alexandrine-Jeanne (nicknamed "Fanfan"), born 10 August 1744. Contemporary opinion supported by artwork from the time considered the young Mme d'Étiolles to be quite beautiful, with her small mouth and oval face enlivened by her wit. Her young husband was soon infatuated with her and she was celebrated in the fashionable world of Paris. She founded her own salon, at Étiolles, and was joined by many of the great philosophes, Voltaire among them.


As Mme d'Étoilles became known in society, the King came to hear of her. In 1745, a group of courtiers, including her father-in-law, promoted her acquaintance with the monarch, who was still mourning the death of his second official mistress, the duchesse de Châteauroux.

Jeanne-Antoinette was invited to a royal masked ball at the Palace of Versailles on the night of 25 to 26 February 1745, one of the many fêtes given to celebrate the marriage of the Dauphin Louis de France (1729-1765) to the Infanta Maria Teresa of Spain (1726-1746). At the chosen moment in the Grand Ballroom, eight costumed figures appeared, dressed as topiary figures, one of which was the King in disguise (an event preserved in a watercolor by Charles Cochin).

On 24 June, after the funds had been advanced to the Crown by Pâris de Montmartel, the purchase contract of the marquisate of Pompadour, with title and coat-of-arms, was signed, and Louis XV gave the estate to Jeanne-Antoinette, making her a marquise for, in order to be presented at court, she required a title. On 14 September, Jeanne-Antoinette was formally introduced to the court by the king's cousin, the princesse de Conti. She quickly mastered the highly-mannered court etiquette, although initially it is said the king joked to his close friends that he would have much to teach her (clearly referring to her bourgeois roots)Template:Citation needed. Unfortunately, her mother died on Christmas Day of the same year, and did not live to see her daughter's achievement at becoming the undisputed royal mistress, who was to command considerable power and soon become embroiled in the world of politics, alliances and conspiracies.


Contrary to popular belief, the marquise de Pompadour never had much direct political influence, but supported the Maréchal de Belle-Isle and endorsed the duc de Choiseul to the king. However, she did wield considerable power and control behind the scenes, which was highlighted when another of the king's mistresses, Marie-Louise O'Murphy de Boisfaily, "la belle Morphyse", attempted to replace her around 1754. In 1755, the younger and less experienced Morphyse was married off to an Auvergne nobleman, Jacques de Beaufranchet, seigneur d'Ayat (Lord of Ayat) and uncle of the illustrious General Louis Desaix, who fought during the French Revolution under General Napoleon Bonaparte. Their son (1757-1812), Louis Charles Antoine de Beaufranchet, a maréchal de camp, was present at the execution of Louis XVI.

The marquise de Pompadour had many enemies among the royal courtiers, who felt it a disgrace that the king would thus compromise himself with a commoner. She was very sensitive to the unending libels called poissonnades, a pun on her family name, Poisson, which means "fish" in French. Only with great reluctance did Louis take punitive action against known enemies such as the duc de RichelieuTemplate:Citation needed.

Her importance was such that she was even approached in 1755 by Wenzel Anton Graf Kaunitz, a prominent Austrian diplomat, asking her to intervene in the negotiations which led to the 1756 Treaty of VersaillesTemplate:Citation needed. This was the beginning of the so-called Diplomatic Revolution, which temporarily lessened the long antagonism between France and Austria.

This alliance eventually brought on France's participation in the Seven Years' War, with all its disasters, like the loss of New France in Canada to the British and the defeat at the hands of the Prussians in the Battle of Rossbach, in 1757. After Rossbach, she is alleged to have comforted the king saying this now famous by-word: "au reste, après nous, le Déluge" ("After us, the Deluge")Template:Citation needed. France emerged from the war diminished and virtually bankrupt.

However, Mme de Pompadour persisted in her support of these policies, and when Cardinal de Bernis failed her, she brought Choiseul into office and supported him in all his great plans: the Pacte de Famille, the suppression of the Jesuits and the Treaty of Paris (1763) sealing the loss of CanadaTemplate:Citation needed. Britain's victories in the war had allowed it to surpass France as the leading colonial power—something which was commonly blamed on de Pompadour.

Reasons for the Marquise de Pompadour’s lasting influence over Louis XV

There were several reasons for the marquise de Pompadour’s lasting influence over Louis that distinguished her from past mistresses. First, she decidedly established a cordial relationship with Marie Leszczyńska. The Queen had been snubbed by the king’s previous mistresses but de Pompadour realized that showing respect for Marie eased Louis’ guilt and allowed him to have a strong relationship with his children. She also put all of her effort into bringing fun into the melancholy life of the King. Unlike his wife or the other females in Louis’ life the marquise de Pompadour accompanied him while hunting, playing cards, and touring properties. She also threw dinner parties for him and put on plays that exalted him. Lastly, the royal mistress continuously reminded Louis of her beauty by frequently commissioning paintings, mostly by Francois Boucher, that highlighted her exquisite features and hid her aging looks.

Positions at court

The marquise de Pompadour was an accomplished woman with a good eye for Rococo interiors. She was responsible for the development of the manufactory of Sèvres, which became one of the most famous porcelain manufacturers in Europe and which provided skilled jobs to the region. She had a keen interest in literature. She had known Voltaire before her ascendancy, and the writer, essayist, philosopher apparently advised her in her courtly role. She also discreetly endorsed Diderot's Encyclopédie project. After the War of the Austrian Succession, when economy was the thing the French state needed most, she drew more and more resources into the lavish court. Her influence over Louis increased markedly through the 1750s, to the point where he allowed her considerable leeway in the determination of policy over a whole range of issues, from military matters to foreign affairsTemplate:Citation needed.

Mme de Pompadour was a woman of verve and intelligence. She planned buildings like the Place de la Concorde and the Petit Trianon with her brother, the Marquis de Marigny. She employed the stylish marchands-merciers, trendsetting shopkeepers who turned Chinese vases into ewers with gilt-bronze Rococo handles and mounted writing tables with the new Sèvres porcelain plaques. Numerous other artisans, sculptors and portrait painters were employed, among them the court artist Jean-Marc Nattier, in the 1750s François Boucher, Jean-Baptiste Réveillon and François-Hubert Drouais (illustration, right). Moreover, she defended the Encyclopédie edited by Diderot and d'Alembert.


Mme de Pompadour suffered two miscarriages in 1746 and 1749, and she is said to have arranged lesser mistresses for the King's pleasure to replace herself. Although they had ceased being lovers after 1750, they remained friends, and Louis XV was devoted to her until her death from tuberculosis in 1764 at the age of forty-two. Even her enemies admired her courage during the final painful weeks. Voltaire wrote: "I am very sad at the death of Madame de Pompadour. I was indebted to her and I mourn her out of gratitude. It seems absurd that while an ancient pen-pusher, hardly able to walk, should still be alive, a beautiful woman, in the midst of a splendid career, should die at the age of forty." Yet, at the time of her death, many enemies were greatly relieved and she was publicly blamed for the Seven Years' War. Looking at the rain during the leaving of his mistress' coffin from Versailles, the King reportedly said: "La marquise n'aura pas beau temps pour son voyage." ("The marquise won't have good weather for her journey.")

Popular Culture

On Screen

Madame de Pompadour has been depicted on screen in film and television on many occasions, beginning with Madame Pompadour in 1927, in which she was played by Dorothy Gish. Other actresses to have played her include:

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