Chambre 216 (French Edition)

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I forgive all my enemies for the pain they have inflicted on me.

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On the left of the chapel one can see a small altar onto which a monogram of Marie-Antoinette with a crown of thorns has been applied fig. Three paintings on the walls surrounding the altar show Marie-Antoinette as prisoner of the Jacobins. Considering the sacred atmosphere of the room, the altar, and the crown of thorns, the scenes represented on the three paintings illustrate the last sufferings of Marie-Antoinette.

The painting on the left, Les Adieux de Marie-Antoinette ; fig. The scene represents the beginning of Marie-Antoinette's isolated captivity. In Pajou's neo-classical painting we see her gripped firmly by a grim-looking member of the Paris Commune, taking leave of her fainted daughter who is being held by Madame Elisabeth. On the far left is a woman with a candle, maybe a servant; on the right, one can see, suggestively, another member of the Commune waiting in the door. In the center of the composition, the jailer connects the painting's dramatis personae. In this devotional picture that Edme Miel described in as "simple and touching," [30] the queen's fate and that of Jesus Christ are shown related to each other.

Viewers are invited to reflect upon Marie-Antoinette's destiny as she reflects upon the destiny of the Savior. In Simon's picture, however, history is transformed into a sentimental melodrama, or rather anecdote, and apparently the painter took a great interest in the given surroundings, the interior decoration, and the supposed appearance of the queen's prison in With loving attention to detail, Simon shows the ancient floor of bricks, a small carpet, a room divider, an ordinary wooden camp bed, and a wallpaper with the fleur-de-lys, emblem of the Bourbons.

The picture on the right wall next to the altar, La Reine Marie-Antoinette communiant dans sa prison ; fig. Both later claimed that they had also successfully entered Marie-Antoinette's cell where they celebrated Mass with the agreement of the queen's two guards. It seems rather unlikely that the Last Communion really took place. Contrary to Pajou's Farewell of the Queen with its pathetic gestures, Drolling's Last Communion achieves pathos by a distinctive chiaroscuro.

Marie-Antoinette looks longingly at the host shining miraculously in the priest's hand. The picture shows more than just a religious event—it demonstrates the ideas of divine revelation and salvation that the queen experiences during the ceremony. The paintings are not uniform in style.

Victor Hugo, who visited the chapel in , remarked laconically: "You could see … on the walls two or three abominable paintings in which the bad style of the Empire fought against the bad taste of the Restoration. As mirrored in his Last Communion , Drolling was affected by Italian Baroque painting when he studied as "pensioner" at the French Academy in Rome from to He does not portray a major historical event, but gives an anecdotal account of the queen's life in prison including the surrounding material world. Stylistically, we can assign him to the early 19th-century school of French troubadour painting, which depicted scenes of the middle ages and the early modern period in a very detailed manner.

Troubadour painting attempted to generate a colorful and authentic image of the past by exactly describing historical sites, environments and clothing. In Simon's picture, however, the promise of Christian salvation neutralizes historical fatality. Christian sentimentality and romantic melancholy go hand in hand. The paintings' stylistic heterogeneity reflects the "coming-of-age" of the visual arts in the beginning of the 19th century; that is to say the evolution of artistic self-consciousness, self-reflexivity, and pictorial intertextuality.

However, the iconography of the program is coherent, as is the iconography of the expiatory chapel as a whole. Looking back at the interior decoration, the propagandistic intent becomes quite evident. The royal victim of the Revolution is shown as a loving mother, brave heroine of history and, especially, faithful Christian. The intent becomes particularly apparent in the two highly allegorized marble sculptures that dominate the expiatory chapel at the rue d'Anjou, a portrait of the king, ca.

The queen, also kneeling, but wearing a rather simple, unadorned dress, is supported by the upright figure of Religion in whose hands she put herself.

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While there exists some discrepancy between the artistic styles, genres, and sizes of the chapel at the rue d'Anjou and the one in the Conciergerie, both memorials basically share the same iconography. Both of them indicate that the king and queen had received Christian mercy. At the same time, they emphasize that the royal couple itself also provides spiritual succor and offers forgiveness: the last words of Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI were, as quoted in both chapels, "je pardonne. By highlighting that the royal couple had forgiven their enemies, memory could be eased, and national conciliation made possible.

Even though this official iconography of the royal couple was discreet and deliberate, it was not sufficient to reconcile the nation or to legitimize the monarchy. While the counter-revolutionary propaganda of the s had preferred the image of a heroic, virtuous royal family, the iconography of the Restoration era demonstrated, from a liberal perspective, a fragile monarchy that was willing to make sacrifices and to passively accept its fate, contradicting, the enlightenment's idea of man and the concept of the bourgeois hero.

Thus, emerging controversies regarding the meaning and design of expiatory monuments touched some major political issues of the Restoration era. Focusing solely on the monuments' iconography and political significance, however, does not account for their complexity as sites of remembrance. Memorials also demonstrate concepts and tendencies of contemporary approaches to, and representations of, history. In this regard, Marie-Antoinette's expiatory chapel is an extraordinary case study. Radical Transformations: From Prison Cell to Chapel In when police minister, Elie Decazes, and the prefect of the Seine department, Comte de Chabrol, decided to transform Marie-Antoinette's former cell into an expiatory chapel, they did not confine themselves to restoring the room or keeping it intact.

The queen's cell was not only meant to be a memorial—it was intended to be what it became, a religious chapel. This transformation far exceeded the decoration of the room with just cenotaph, altar, and paintings. It was also altered architecturally: the original window aperture was enlarged and new colored windows were put in; the cell was vaulted; silver tears covered the dark blue painted walls; and its size was reduced drastically. One can trace the full alteration by means of a drawing fig.

Beneath it we see three "medals" fig. The central one bears an inscription naming the monument, its architect, and construction date. The left medal shows the floor plan of the queen's cell in , and the right one shows the floor plan in after its "restoration," as the inscription reads euphemistically. By comparing the two plans, one can quickly see what was changed.

In the queen's cell is the one on top, consisting of two rooms separated only by two floor-to-ceiling partitions. Beneath it there is another narrow cell, [48] and at the bottom the actual prison chapel of the Conciergerie on a semicircular plan. In the upper part of Marie-Antoinette's cell is now completely separated from the lower part—the new expiatory chapel—by a wall. A small vestibule connects the queen's chapel with the prison chapel.

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Peyre also shows the location of the cenotaph in the former and the altar in the latter, which are both situated on the same axis. Obviously, the spatial connection of Marie-Antoinette's cell with the greater chapel of the prison was meant to reinforce the sacred atmosphere of the newly built memorial. One may wonder why the queen's cell, which had two parts only discretely separated from each other, was "halved," and why only the lower part became the actual expiatory chapel. According to C. Montjoye's Histoire de Marie-Antoinette which was published in Paris in [50] and remains to this day one of the most important sources for the circumstances of the queen's imprisonment in the Conciergerie, the queen in fact only inhabited the lower part of the cell; her guards spent their time in the other half of the room.

Considering the historical facts, it becomes obvious that the radical alteration of the queen's cell and its reduction in size was not meant to transform it solely into a place of religious devotion, but also into a place free from painful memories: one must forget that the queen was guarded constantly, and that she was a prisoner waiting to be condemned and, finally, executed. One must only remember the woman who was mother and Christian until her death.

One can conclude, therefore, that Marie-Antoinette's former prison cell was changed for ideological purposes and that it lost its historical authenticity as a result of these changes. But at this point we are confronted with a paradox. Was it not the authenticity of the queen's cell that made it meaningful? In this room, Marie-Antoinette had actually suffered and prayed and written her last letter to her sister-in-law.

The symbolic value of the cell resulted from its historical value. Accordingly, the French newspaper Le Moniteur Universel in an account on the chapel's inauguration highlighted its historical significance: the chapel had been built "in the very same room the royal victim inhabited during her detention," and the cenotaph had been erected "on the very same spot where the queen had presumably written her last and memorable letter to the Princess Elisabeth. While pointing out the historical relevance of Marie-Antoinette's prison cell, it seems that, at the same time, those responsible for the cell's transformation into a chapel did their utmost to destroy precisely this historical site or at least the historical traces that generated its meaning.

Before discussing and maybe resolving this contradiction, let us take a closer look at the idea of "authenticity" and its alleged agent, the eyewitness, and their importance for historical awareness in Restoration France. The Modern Quest for Authenticity: Eyewitnesses, Memoirs and the Royalist Cult of Remembrance in Restoration France Nowadays, the eyewitness plays an important role in historiography and popular history. The eyewitness, with first-hand experience, supposedly has the capability not only to provide factual information on a specific event but also to give genuine and vivid insight into his experiences and to draw a colorful portrait of the past.

This belief is questionable. Eyewitness testimonies are compromised by several factors, such as the limitations of sensory perception, the complexity of memory, and social and cultural imprints and conventions. Therefore, contemporary historiography is not only concerned with the question of whether a witness's testimony is accurate, but also—in a postmodern approach—whether objective testimony is possible at all, and whether something like "historic authenticity" really exists.

However, in popular history there is a widespread assumption that eyewitness accounts revive the past in a striking and extraordinary manner. This modern understanding of historical authenticity and testimony is not a historical constant but emerged slowly in early modern times. In this complex history, the period of the French Revolution and its aftermath—including the Restoration era—is especially significant.

The French Revolution apparently had an immense effect on the historical consciousness of the time. Through its drastic, violent, and unpredictable process, it helped to develop an understanding of history as a sequence of unique events, while at the same time questioning the idea that history has a meaning or is rationally explicable. Likewise, they were eager to share information and to take over the role of the eyewitness.

After Napoleon's downfall—twenty-five years after the storming of the Bastille— new interest was aroused in eyewitness accounts of revolutionary events. Of course, in Restoration France, these reports no longer met daily information needs; they were now regarded as historical sources and belonged to the literary genre of memoirs. Different reasons can be given for this astounding popularity.

After Napoleon's downfall, the interest in the Nation's history generally intensified, either out of curiosity, political calculation, or because looking back in history promised national self-assurance and identity. Memoirs responded to the growing public interest in the Revolution, and specifically in the victims' perspective, which finally, after the end of intense Napoleonic censorship, could be openly considered.

Eyewitness accounts of the s as well as subsequently published memoirs of the Restoration era also satisfied the desire for historical authenticity. The term "authentic" or "authenticity" became significant as a commonly used catchphrase in the context of contemporary testimony, [61] referring to something being "genuine," "credible," "attested by witnesses," "approved" or even "canonical. In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, however, the meaning of "authentic" was based on the Greek and Latin as "genuine," indicating that the given account had actually been written by the person claiming to be its author, and had originated in the year as alleged; therefore, it is truthful.

The history of the term "authentic" also helps one understand the concept of the figure of the eyewitness in late 18th- and early 19th-century France. Contemporary eyewitness accounts indicate that the witness to history took on the role of the authority who guaranteed "authenticity"; that is to say he verified history. The witness himself was fully aware of his significance: he perceived himself as important and considered it his duty to make his experiences public.

This especially applied whenever he could tell of an extraordinary event that had happened secretly and only few people had witnessed; for example, the confinement of the royal family in Paris. His Journal , published for the first time in in London, was a huge success in Europe. The eyewitness's awareness of being a unique "historical source" resulted in a specific literary style which seems meant to increase the credibility of his reports, which often have a formal character, similar to official accounts or certified documents, giving exact descriptions of objects, places and chronology.

But at the same time, they were epistemologically convinced that objective perception and representation were possible, and they believed in the concept of an "impeccable" witness who could report the historical facts as they had happened. This conviction lead to a high appreciation of eyewitness accounts as historical sources, and explains how memoirs could have become some kind of "historiographical principle" [67] in Restoration France.

Representations of History in Nineteenth-century France It was and still is common to draw conclusions about authenticity based on outer appearance and formal criteria. In Restoration France, historical curiosity was inspired by this kind of "visible" authenticity that became manifest in appearances and material. The reviewer states:. Above all, nothing will amaze the attentive reader more than the accent of truth and sensibility that characterizes this script, historical monument of the highest interest … Here, everything bears the character of authenticity: everything is consistent with public and confirmed facts, and things we only know imperfectly will be explained with the aid of documents of an eyewitness who could neither misdirect us nor delude himself.

Thus, history not only had to be authentic, it also had to look authentic; all kinds of historical sources and relics—including sites—were considered fascinating witnesses that seemed to have preserved history directly. Louis XVI's testament and Marie-Antoinette's letter to her sister-in-law, for example, were appreciated as such witnesses. During the Restoration, both manuscripts, which the king and the queen had written with their own hands, were often published as facsimiles. At the moment, it is not enough to discover the soul of an excellent prince, we also want to know the traits with which his hand has painted it, and we are impatient to possess the original of this precious Testament, sacred relic of a Martyr-King, presented … as facsimile, or as a perfect imitation.

The quest for "authentic history" was part of a decidedly modern approach to the past, and marked the beginning of modern historiography as well as the development of an understanding of cultural heritage. With reference to Friedrich Nietzsche's categorization of approaches to history, Stephen Bann has demonstrated the antiquarian foundations of the romantic "cult of the past.

Romantic artists and writers, being inspired by the imaginative force of historical relics, developed a new dramatic and detail-loving way of historical representation.


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Gervais Simon's troubadour-style depiction of Marie-Antoinette can be cited as an example of this kind of antiquarian romanticism in painting fig. Hence, I would like to come full circle and return to Marie-Antoinette's expiatory chapel and the question of how to solve the contradiction between authenticity and politics. Marie-Antoinette's Expiatory Chapel: Authenticity Behind the Staging As we have seen, Marie-Antoinette's expiatory chapel was, on the one hand, meant to be part of the political propaganda of the Restoration era.

Its decoration aims at an "image" of the queen that does not follow the rules of authenticity and historical truth, not least in the fact that its original architecture was destroyed. On the other hand, contemporaries were fully aware of the location's historical significance and symbolic meaning as a place of remembrance.

Knowing the high regard in which memoirs and historical truth in Restoration France were held, the transformation of the queen's cell into a chapel appears even more contradictory. Therefore, I want to ask whether the desire for authentic history was taken into consideration when the queen's cell was transformed. The rise of modern historical consciousness in 18th-century France became manifest in an understanding of history as being a single, coherent narrative that doesn't repeat itself.

The desire to erect expiatory memorials primarily at the sites of unique historical events, consequently highlighting the significance of where history actually took place, attests to the contemporary appreciation of historical uniqueness and its protagonists' individual fates. As a result, the original form of Marie-Antoinette's former prison cell in the Conciergerie was destroyed, but it was not to be forgotten, as Peyre's drawing of the chapel indicates fig.

Chambre (216) - Picture of Le Grand Hotel Cabourg - MGallery Collection, Cabourg

He depicted not only the newly built monument, but also the genuine floor plan of the cell in His drawing shows the transformation of the site and therefore also allows the beholder to reconstruct the original cell in his mind. In situ, this mental reconstruction could be based upon tangible objects. There was one single conserved relic of the cell which was of great importance: the floor, distinctive due to its herringbone pattern fig. Montjoye's representation of the floor plan of the cell puts special emphasis on its pattern by showing and even naming it fig.

His account of Marie-Antoinette's incarceration had been the contemporaries' main historical source, which might explain why the characteristic floor pattern is also represented, among others, in Peyre's fig. Being the sole empirically verifiable residue, the herringbone pattern was meant to guarantee the pictures' historical integrity.

Balcon (chambre 216) - Picture of Le Grand Hotel Cabourg - MGallery Collection, Cabourg

This becomes evident if one thinks about the paintings that were put in the expiatory chapel: the conserved floor which viewers can see and touch in reality is, at the same time, precisely depicted in Simon's and Drolling's paintings. Represented past and existing present overlap. Therefore, the pictures can authenticate the room by identifying it with the one in which the queen had prayed and suffered. In turn, reality can authenticate representation: the pictures may give the impression that they had been painted "on the spot. At this point, the underlying idea of the chapel's interior decoration becomes clear.

The authorities wanted the event to be visually represented where it had actually taken place; they aimed at an interplay of historical site and the depiction of history. In , journalist and art critic Edme Miel claimed that the best way of vividly communicating historical knowledge would be through pictures, and he called for a prolific interaction of historical representations and monuments:. The best way to write the history of France, and the best way to engrave it into the memory and the heart of the French, is to paint it.

But these national representations will only exert all of their influence if they are truly monumental, that is if they decorate the sites where the events have taken place. It is exactly the kind of "monumental painting" Miel had in mind that appeared in Marie-Antoinette's expiatory chapel: a pictorial historiography at the site of history.

Here, pictures, historical traces, and the site itself equally serve as pillars of remembrance. Gervais Simon's detailed depiction of Marie-Antoinette's cell particularly serves this interpretation of a "monumental history painting. By contrast, Pajou and Drolling both concentrate on theatrical pathos and atmosphere. However, they, too, do try for historical truth.

Most likely, both follow the same model for the queen's looks and garment: a portrait by Aleksander Kucharski — [75] showing Marie-Antoinette as widow and prisoner in the Temple, painted in fig. This often-copied and well-known picture was famous for being one of the last portraits the queen actually posed for. A visitor to the Conciergerie in Paris today, comes across Marie-Antoinette not only once, but twice.

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On the one hand, there is a life-sized figure of the queen in a small room that attempts to provide a truthful reconstruction of the cell in which she was imprisoned in fig. On the other hand, Marie-Antoinette's fate is recalled through paintings hung in the cell that she actually inhabited until her execution and that had become an expiatory chapel in Thus, we are confronted with two different models of representation and transfer of historical knowledge. The first one reproduces the historical environment—it stages authenticity for educational or entertainment purposes.

The expiatory chapel, on the contrary, aims at a heroic, Christian re-interpretation of actual events—it stages history for political purposes.


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  7. Nietzsche called this interpretive approach to history "monumental": the past is glorified; its heroes are worth emulating. A cookie is a small file, usually consisting of letters and numbers, sent by server of our website to the cookie file of your browser. This allows our website to remember your presence when establishing a new connection between our server and your browser. The main purpose of a cookie is to allow our server to present personalized web pages that can convert the visit to the web in an individual experience and adjusted to personal preferences.

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