“There is nothing new except what has been forgotten” – Marie Antoinette
Several years ago I started reading and writing about Marie Antoinette. She is one of the most charged figures in history: judged, misunderstood, sheltered, aloof, a point of fascination.
As a woman so many artists and scholars have taken on, her life and death are well known. While it’s hard to relate to her excess and royal duties, she was also a daughter, wife, mother, mistress – and individual. And that’s what this project focuses on – looking beyond the layers of candy-colored fabric to reveal the woman beneath; and to look under our own surface to who we are inside – whether that is noble or not. How do the many sides of ourselves meet?
Two years ago I put a call out to female artists to send me their images of Marie Antoinette. As the artwork came in (each so vastly different from the last), I could see how the artist put herself, her own strengths and fears into her work – choosing a part of the French queen she could relate to. It’s an serpentine form of collaboration, to interpret somebody else’s interpretation, but isn’t that how history and stories are kept alive?
This series will be in three parts featuring the work of Merle Pace, Lucy Stephens and Anjeanette Illustrations – with Gina Rickicki as Marie.
PART 1 – Merle Pace, The Portrait
The fierce gaze and bold colors of Merle’s painting are what captivated us from the start. She seems dignified, but resigned and perhaps waiting for someone or something to happen. When Marie Antonia Josepha, Archduchess of Austria, arrived in France – she was only 14, had been through 3 months of corrective dental surgery (in the 1700’s!!) to straighten her teeth, had survived the small pox, and was married by proxy to a man she’d never seen, making her the Dauphine of a country she’d never been too, with different customs and expectations.
She was literally handed over to her French relations in May of 1770. On route to Versailles, they stopped on an island in the Rhine River, stripped her and dressed her in clothes of the French court.
And this is the moment of our portrait…an exchange of identity.
About her painting Merle says: “I like to mix cultures and styles in my work to show that we are all more alike then different, that something that perhaps seems very foreign to you actually fits right in with your own style and story if you can try to understand what is behind it a bit.”
Maybe then it’s not giving up one identity for another, but digging deep to find another part of yourself. In the above left photo, I see the 14 year old Marie, uncomfortable in her new skin. On the right I see a confident woman emerging, who would one day be queen. Gina and I talked about those moments when you’re growing up, and the seriousness of the world is before you, but you’re not always mature enough to handle it. And so we wanted to start with the Marie who was young and ready to fulfill her duty (though she didn’t have much of a choice). A place where the girl and the woman were fighting to take over.
And Gina is perfect for this. I’m thrilled to be working with her again (she also appears in my film The Jules Verne Project), and have more of a chance to build a character together. She’s a make-up artist, comedienne, writer, model, and what I like to term “actor with a thousand faces”. Traditional portraits are not overwhelmed by expression, but are capsules of subtle thoughts. And so we send our Marie off on her journey with a glimpse of who she is to become. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, yet I think you could take a thousand portraits of the same person and never say it all. But here are just a few of our thoughts about her, and about us…
In closing, a huge Thank You to Merle Pace for answering my call and entrusting me with her likeness of the queen. It’s an honor and pleasure to have such a beautiful piece of artwork as inspiration.
(Up next is the Marie Antoinette of artist Lucy Stephens. We’re waiting for snow for that shoot, and will post in the new year!)