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New Marie Antoinette exhibition in Paris celebrates her life

By Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun -, Public Domain,

Marie Antoinette died on the guillotine at the hands of French Revolutionaries on 16th October 1793. Upon her death, the de-throned Queen was the most hated woman in France and was used a scapegoat for all that was failing in the country at the time following her husband’s reign. Now 226 years after her execution, a new exhibition Marie-Antoinette: the Metamorphosis of an Image, is opening in Paris, presenting the changing image of Marie Antoinette and showing us other sides to the much-maligned Queen.

At the age of just 37, the former Queen was taken from her prison by horse-drawn carriage to meet her fate. The streets were filled with people shouting insults at her, spitting and throwing things. The Austrian born Marie was by then used to such insults and was nicknamed ‘Madame deficit’ and was accused of spending France in to ruin without a care for the people of her country. Even now we associate Marie Antoinette with saying ‘let them eat cake’ to the starving people, although there is no evidence she ever uttered the uncaring phrase!

Nowadays we know a lot more of what was happening in France at the time of the Revolution and we are able to look upon records of Marie Antoinette’s charitable works and donations as well as all of the negative press and form a more well-rounded view of her as a Queen and as a mother living her day to day life.

The new exhibition is running from this week until 26 January 2020 and is being held at the Concierge on the banks of the Seine, a building which once held Marie’s prison cell before her death. There are over 200 items in the collection which show Marie Antoinette at the time and how people have remembered and reinvented her over the years. These days she is remembered as an icon and her image is plastered all over French souvenirs and buildings.

Visitors will be able to see letters and portraits from the eighteenth century as well as modern-day comics and film clips all representing the Queen. The exhibition traces Marie’s reputation from that of a traitor, to a martyr, to that of a fashion icon and a woman who was hounded by the press much like the more recent Diana, Princess of Wales. The president of the French Centre for National Monuments has expressed that like Diana, Marie was a young woman unprepared for her role in life and had a tragic destiny. This exhibition aims to rehabilitate Marie Antoinette as a woman and shows the harsh treatments she faced, even if did make mistakes.

This fascinating exhibition is running at the Concierge, Paris until January 2020.