The Centre des Monuments Nationaux is a cultural tourism operator, unique in its national dimension and in the strength of its network. With almost 100 monuments open to visitors, the Centre welcomed more than 10 million visitors in 2018. Among the sites are the Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel, the Châteaux of Angers and Azay-le-Rideau, the Arc de Triomphe and the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, to list only a few.
These exceptional witnesses of centuries past are, for some, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list and represent all the eras and types of architecture from the Paleolithic to modern times, such as the decorated caves of the Vézère, or Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye.
Marie-Antoinette, metamorphoses of an image
Few figures have prompted such a proliferation of representations: however, this is the case for Marie-Antoinette, in her lifetime and even more so after her death on 16 October 1793. This exhibition offers an informed, entertaining and critical perspective on the diverse, multiform and contradictory images that have ended up reconstituting the figure of Marie-Antoinette in a revealing portrait.
It is as if each era, each group, has wanted to construct “their” Queen, from foreign traitor to martyr figure, from adolescent heroine to exemplary mother, from cultured woman to fashion icon, or as if each country has created its own vision of Marie-Antoinette, in Japan, in the United States or in England.
Marie-Antoinette has become the historical figure most represented by contemporary artists, in films and fashion, as well as the most recycled through objects and products of every kind: dolls, advertisements, cakes, furniture, mirrors and video games. Why this profusion of images and metamorphoses?
This exhibition in situ – the Queen spent the last weeks of her life at the Conciergerie – offers an insight into this global over-mediatisation of Marie-Antoinette and her revival, both by immersing the visitor in the visual history and taking a comparative and critical approach to the images.
These representations illustrate those final ten weeks that saw the most dramatic moments experienced by the queen in the “corridor of death”, during her trial by the Revolutionary Tribunal. The Conciergerie was a special place for Marie-Antoinette, particularly the cell where she spent her last days and prepared for death, watched over by the guards, with few visitors and in the presence of other prisoners.
The exhibition will show these various moments through portraits, engravings, and paintings produced in the months and years following her death. But the Conciergerie, continually reorganized, even quite recently, to suit the political regime and version of history being promoted, is also a place of memory, for commemorating or explaining Marie-Antoinette’s stay here. Several memorial fetishes testify to this: shirt, shoe, belt, and archival documents from the trial and execution of the Queen.