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Leisure & Landscape: Marie Antoinette

(Added 24 June 2006)

La reine Marie Antoinette dans le parc de Versailles – 1780
Elizabeth Vigee Le Brun
Black chalk stump heightened with white chalk on grey-blue paper. (23-1/2” x 16”)

Marie Antoinette
Petit Hameau
Exerpt: Casid, Jill H. “Queer(y)ing Georgic: Utility, Pleasure, and Marie-Antoinette’s Ornamented Farm”

“Rather than start with a site that would signify “pure” farm, I take up in this essay the historic example of the farm gone bad, Marie-Antoinette’s ornamented farm, the Hameau at Versailles. It is the contention of this essay that mucking around in messy, hybrid sites like this one—both central and peripheral, privately enclosed and publicly advertised, artificially constructed and real-ly functioning, combining utility and pleasure, maternity and desire between women—may not only tell us more about the construction of nature, family, and sexuality but give us more opportunity to queer them.

Marie-Antoinette’s Hameau designed by the architect Richard Mique was begun in 1783 and substantially completed by 1786. Consisting of a Norman-style rustic hamlet and a farm, the Hameau was considered a type of ferme ornée or ornamented farm which combined agricultural production or utility with pleasures for the eyes and other bodily senses. Farms like these which served both as spectacle and…”

Petit Hameau
General information (Wikipedia)

Petit hameau, the English translation of which is “Little hamlet”, is sometimes called “Le Hameau de la Reine”. This land was part of the private area of Queen Marie Antoinette at Versailles in France. It is situated in a part of the Versailles Park, centred on Ange-Jacques Gabriel’s Petit Trianon, which Louis XV had built for Madame de Pompadour, and which royal successor Louis XVI subsequently gave to his wife, Marie Antoinette.

The petit hameau was small, a rusticated but ultimately ersatz farm (or ferme ornee) built around a landscaped pond. Created in 1783, the farm was complete with farmhouse, dairy, and the “Temple of Love”. Here, it was said, the Queen and her attendants would dress as shepherdesses and milkmaids. Particularly docile, hand-picked cows would be washed and cleaned. These cows would be milked by the ladies, with porcelain milk churns specially made by the royal factory at Sèvres. These churns and pails featured the Queen’s monogram. The ambiance at the petit hameau has been evoked in paintings by Fragonard – simple and rustic. However, inside the farmhouse, the rooms were far from simple, featuring the luxury and comfort Marie Antoinette and her ladies were accustomed to. Yet, the rooms at the petit hameau allowed for more intimacy than the grand salons at Versailles, or at the Petit Trianon itself. Such model farms were fashionable among the French aristocracy at the time, and one primary purpose of the hameau was to add to the ambiance of the Petit Trianon, giving the illusion that the Trianon itself was deep in the countryside rather than within the confines of Versailles.

The queen was accused by many of being frivolous, and found herself a target of innuendo, jealousy and gossip throughout her reign. For Marie Antoinette, this farm was an escape from the mounting horror of the real world. She reigned supreme in this small area, and even the King only went there at her invitation. Still, the slander continued – with questionable activities presumed, probably wrongly, to have been carried out in this idyllic domain, including free love and lesbianism. This alleged lifestyle was raised at the queen’s trial, which led to her subsequent execution.

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