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Inside where Marie Antoinette stayed on her way to Versailles

By Yann Caradec from Paris, France - Marie-Antoinette en grand habit de cour - 1778 - Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

On her bridal journey across the Holy Roman Empire to Paris and already travelling according to her new status of Dauphine due to her first marriage ceremony by proxy, Marie Antoinette took some two and half weeks to reach her illustrious destination. There is a poignancy about her departure from Vienna, for she was witnessed as stretching her neck out of the window of her carriage to snatch the last sight of her home. We might here recall the weeping Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, clinging to that part of the ship nearest to the French coast as she set sail on her legendary voyage to Scotland, one in that long line of homesick princesses who were sent as ambassadresses of their countries into foreign lands, knowing that they would probably never see the land of their birth again. Marie Antoinette’s carriage reached Munich on 26 April 1770, and she was entertained by the Bavarian Elector, Maximilian III.

Marie Antoinette was given the exquisite pleasure pavilion and hunting lodge of Amalienburg, in the grounds of Nymphenburg Palace, the summer palace of the Wittelsbachs outside Munich, as her personal accommodation for a day of rest (Antonia Fraser, Marie Antoinette: The Journey, 68). This delightful building of gold and white stucco is widely regarded as the most perfect example of that style known as the Bavarian Rococo. Begun in 1734 by the Elector Karl Albrecht and completed in 1739, it was its own palace in miniature, with a sequence of royal rooms and even a Dutch-tiled kitchen. In exploring the interior of this pavilion where Marie Antoinette spent her day of rest on that long journey from Vienna to Versailles, I discovered some remarkable details which explain why this beautiful lodging was peculiarly suitable for her accommodation.

The Amalienburg pavilion was named for Electress Maria Amalia, the consort of Karl Albrecht and later Holy Roman Empress when Karl Albrecht became Karl VII, Holy Roman Emperor of the German Nations. The building was designed for private pleasure and the pursuit of hunting and therefore is without the architectural ambition of a palace built for representational purposes. The typical baroque pattern of a reserved exterior and richly ornamented interior is here in evidence. François Cuvilliés the Elder created the designs and the decoration was fulfilled by Johann Baptist Zimmermann, the carving by Johann Joachim Dietrich and the paintings by Joseph Pasqualin Moretti.

The rooms follow a functional pattern in the French manner and comprise of a Dog Room (we might remember Louis XIV’s beloved English spaniels in his Cabinet des Chiens [Dog Cabinet] at Versailles], a so-called ‘Retirade’ or retiring room, a Blue Cabinet, Bedroom and with true Versailles prescience, its own silver furnished Hall of Mirrors. We must, of course, remember that Versailles was the prototype for most royal architecture during this period, forming the inspiration for the palaces and residences of Europe’s kings, princes and archbishops and the aristocracy, but the unique design of the Amalienburg’s Hall of Mirrors with its love of illusion and reflection, would have prepared the young Marie Antoinette for Versailles and its great Galerie des Glaces without realising.

The bedroom in which Marie Antoinette presumably rested from her long journey on the road is decorated in silver and yellow, the latter shade known as ‘fond Citron’. The portraits of Karl Albrecht and Maria Amalia in hunting attire were painted by George Desmarées. The Venetian chandeliers are original to this room and according to an inventory of 1763, contained a clock and candelabra with Fo dogs in blanc de chine, whilst the daybed is reconstructed from the inventory of 1758 (Bayerische Verwaltung der staatlichen Schlösser, Gärten und Seen, Nymphenburg,  71).

Of particular interest for Marie Antoinette’s future story was that the Amalienburg, no doubt with its own Versailles inspiration, was conceived as a type of ‘trianon’, based on its form, ground plan and cour d’honneur (Ibid, 67). Marie Antoinette’s fabled retreat of the Petit Trianon remains one of those places that retains her presence, then as now. Marie Antoinette may also have realised that Electress Maria Amalia was a relative on her Austrian side, as Maria Amalia had been born in Vienna in 1701, as a daughter of Kaiser Joseph I; she was thus a cousin of Marie Antoinette’s mother, the great Maria Theresia.

It would have been an excellent choice for the Dauphin’s rest, as by 1755 the Amalienburg was surrounded by thick hedges and was not fully visible until you had reached a pathway which led off from the avenue of fountains (Ibid, 68). Joseph caused the Amalienburg to be restored for the first time in 1769 – the year before Marie Antoinette’s visit – so the interiors would have been looking at their best.

I discovered that the Hunting Room, painted with court hunting scenes by Peter Jakob Horemans, contained two French landscapes of the Seine by the artist Jean Baptiste Feret. Remarkably for Marie Antoinette, they depicted St Cloud and Meudon. Dating from 1712, they were painted to commemorate the French exile of Elector Max Emmanuel and had been moved from the small gallery in the north block of Nymphenburg Palace (Ibid, 75).

St Cloud and Meudon would be residences that Marie Antoinette would come to know well in her own right; St Cloud had been the Orleans residence of the brother of Louis XIV, Monsieur and his wife, Henriette-Anne. Marie Antoinette personally acquired it in 1785; years later, a silver ear of wheat was discovered on the floorboards of the Queen’s bedroom by the author Lafont d’Aussonne (Fraser, xviii). It would be at Meudon where her sickly eldest son, the Dauphin Louis Joseph, died in her presence having conceived the moribund idea of lying on the billiard table instead of on his bed, with the ‘the eyes of a dying child’ (cit., Ibid, 327).

But all this lay ahead. After her day of rest, Marie Antoinette again returned to the road that stretched between Vienna – and Versailles.

©Elizabeth Jane Timms, 2019

About author

Elizabeth Jane Timms is a royal historian, writer, poet and researcher. Her subject area is royal studies, specializing in Queen Victoria's family and Russian royalty. She is an authority on Russia's last Tsarina, Alexandra Feodorovna and also researches and writes about Queen Victoria. She has studied historic royalty as an independent scholar for over fifteen years and speaks on the subject for TV and radio, including the BBC.