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Members' Research Report Archive

Art and Queenly Authority: The Creation of Spaces for Marie de' Medici

Nicola Courtright, Amherst College
Ailsa Mellon Bruce Senior Fellow, spring 2018

Guillaume Dupré, Louis XIII as Dauphin between Henri IV as Mars and Marie as Pallas Athena [reverse], 16031603

Guillaume Dupré, Louis XIII as Dauphin between Henri IV as Mars and Marie as Pallas Athena [reverse], 1603, gilded bronze//With loop, Samuel H. Kress Collection, 1957.14.1151.b

Can the art and architecture made for an early modern queen help to identify the political significance she possessed for her society? In my book manuscript, “Art and Queenly Authority: The Creation of Spaces for Marie de’ Medici,” I contend that the growth of queens’ spaces in royal residences in sixteenth-and seventeenth-century France and of the attention given to their decoration were a means of persuasion, conveying a picture of authority granted to the queen.

Not surprisingly, then, in the same epoch in which French queens served as regents for extensive periods, there was a great expansion of queens’ domiciles in royal domains. My book focuses on the spaces devoted to Marie de’ Medici because I show that at the moment she was married in 1600, her husband, Henry IV, sanctioned a major campaign to increase the queen’s visibility by expanding her quarters and introducing new iconography of the queen as his partner. The spaces that the queen inhabited throughout her life—their art and architecture, from the royal residences of the Louvre and Fontainebleau to the widow’s Luxembourg Palace—suggest that the king and his advisers strategically developed an official presence for the queen in order to strengthen the Bourbon dynasty, even after his death. In my view, the queen became an essential, visible part of a monarchic system.

I began my time at CASVA by writing a review of a monograph by historian Oliver Mallick on Anne of Austria, Marie de’ Medici’s daughter-in-law, in which I addressed overarching questions of how scholars evaluate a queen’s political importance in early modern France. My in-depth research on French queens’ status and Anne’s apartments provided the basis for a revision of my own book’s first chapter, constructing the rationale for what I consider to be Henry IV’s innovation and communicating visually how he shared sovereignty with his consort.

I gave my colloquium on the core portion of the second chapter, “The Paradoxical Queen and the Gardens at Fontainebleau.” Henry IV first conceived of depicting the queen’s authority in permanent visual form as a complement to his own position at his château in Fontainebleau, where the kings of the previous Valois dynasty had sponsored major programs amplifying the historical and mythic character of their rule. The queen’s garden outside her apartment was altered for Henry’s new bride, Marie, in a playful manner, appropriate to a garden, that alludes to the contradictory position of a queen, a concept articulated in contemporary literary paradoxes. The fountain of Diana in the center aroused consciousness of a particular kind of joke through its witty juxtaposition of high and lowly beings. Joining an ancient statue of the huntress Diana with urinating dogs below her was a form of serio ludere, joking not only for the sake of pleasure but also in order to reveal the seriousness at the foundation of the conceit. Its clever union of contraries could be understood as an irreconcilable proposition: that queens (as women whobirthed heirs) were necessarily base, but yet (by association with the virgin huntress) simultaneously elevated. Further, because the sculpture alluded to a fountain owned by an earlier king’s mistress, it suggested that, despite Henry’s famous love affairs, the queen was indeed the sole beloved of the king.

I have also been researching and drafting the third chapter, “The Queen’s Gallery: Partnership of King and Queen,” on the corridor that flanked the queen’s garden. Although the decoration has been destroyed, its reconstruction from remaining visual evidence clearly delineates Henry IV’s language of partnership with his queen through intertwined monograms and portraits. At the same time it retains unusual imagery of erotic attraction—in mythological scenes recounting the loves of Apollo and those of his partner, the virgin goddess Diana—as an allusive bond for the royal couple.