In the late XVIII century it could take you eight hours to travel from Versailles to Paris. To Marie-Antoinette belongs the record of thirty-five minutes, sparing no horse or carriage. During one of those night rides the carriage did break down, and the passengers had to go on foot looking for another mode of transportation. Such is the collective memory left by that young, fun-seeking Queen to whose eroding popularity the royal propaganda machine was desperately trying to return the image of her Dauphine years.
“The artists are killing me; I have delayed the reply letter to see if I could add to it my portrait; no, there is very little resemblance! but I may get a better one next month.” Around 1775 Marie-Antoinette does send her portrait to the mother-Empress! It is what the French call a porcelain biscuit by Boizot, he is directing the royal factory at Sevres. The bust is 30 cm, pedestal included, and serves the purposes of spreading the official image of the Queen among the general public. Presently we have only three surviving copies, one of which came in pieces and was glued back to life after the Restoration of monarchy.
This portrait of a young Queen is the beginning of a good working relation with Louis-Simon Boizot. Undoubtedly Her Majesty is idealized: dissimulated are the thick lower lip, and the thick neck, the double chin, the eagle nose, the bulging forehead and the bulging eyes; and we have a new, flattering to the Queen, hairdo called tapé, which takes the hair away from her face, ending in a single twist on the right shoulder, all according to the court fashion of the day. The hair is crowned with a diadem. The dress! Her gown is simple and accentuates the roundness of shoulders, bringing the eye to the cleavage where the marble lace bars the eye of an indiscreet on-looker. The other side of the cleavage is covered with an ermine-lined coat. The fur of ermine tells us that this is no longer a Dauphine and, consequently, authorizes the idealization, while adding to the young woman the dignity of a few extra, riper years.