As Thomas Jefferson once said, predicting the way Marie Antoinette would be viewed by posterity, “I have ever believed that if there had been no Queen, there would have been no revolution.”
Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) was not simply one of the crowd when he sketched Marie Antoinette on her way to the guillotine on October 16, 1793. David, an eminent Jacobin and ally of Robespierre, voted for her death. He was the Revolution’s chief artist, costume designer, ritual planner.
Louis XV died in 1774, and Louis-Auguste succeeded him to the French throne as Louis XVI, making Marie Antoinette, at 19 years old, queen of France. The personalities of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette could not have been more different. He was introverted, shy and indecisive, a lover of solitary pleasures such as reading and metalwork; she was vivacious, outgoing and bold, a social butterfly who loved gambling, partying and extravagant fashions.
The Queen’s Hamlet
Marie Antoinette, seeking to flee the Court of Versailles, ordered the construction of her hamlet in 1783. There, she regularly found the charms of country life, surrounded by her lady’s companions. She enjoyed dresing as a young shepherdess and acting like a peasant, while surrounded by the comforts of a royal lifestyle. This unintentional mockery of the economically depressed French peasants helped build the resentment towards the monarchy among the French people, eventually leading to the French Revolution.