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  • Fecund Fathers and Missing Mothers:Louis XV, Marie Leszczinska, and The Politics of Royal Parentage n the 1720s
  • Jennifer Germann

On the morning of August 14, 1727, Louis XV became a father for the first time. After the birth of his twin daughters, images of the young king celebrated him as patriarch of the royal family and as father of his state. In this article, I will consider prints, paintings, and architectural settings that refer to or illuminate the context of the 1727 birth. In particular, I will concentrate on a 1728 printed almanac and a 1729 painting by the artist François Le Moyne. (fig.1 & 2) These two images, though different in terms of medium and intended audience, frame the politics of royal parentage succinctly. The almanac presents both parents, but uncomfortably and, in fact, inaccurately. The painting displays the king alone with his daughters, yet hangs in the queen's apartment at Versailles. These images, I argue, present Louis XV in the earliest incarnation of one his most recognizable guises, the king as father, while attempting to erase the presence of the queen as mother, one of the last roles left to her within the monarchy.

This almanac, like most other images published to celebrate this birth, features the king and select members of the court surrounding the newborns.1 Queen Marie Leszczinska is shown lying-in. Though present, she is visually diminished and does not participate in the ceremonies depicted in the foreground. The scene is clearly set in the Chambre de la Reine (a fact that I will discuss later), though the ceremony depicted actually took place in the Grand Cabinet, the room next to it. I take the blurring of these spaces to be [End Page 105]

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Figure 1.

"Representing the Birth of the Princesses Mesdames de France, with the ceremonies of the baptism performed by Monsieur l'Abbé de Pezé, the King's Almoner, in the presence of Monseigneur the Cardinal de Fleury, Curé of Versailles, His Majesty, and all the Court, assisting," 1728. Photo courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

emblematic of the situation facing the king and queen: the place of the queen in the monarchy was uncertain but she was still necessary to the continuity of the line. Did she share her husband's place in the center of the monarchy, or was she on the periphery? For the king, moreover, this tension rendered his position unstable. In theory, absolute monarchy was structured only around the king.2 Yet despite the decline in the queen's status these images reveal a significant aspect of the births of the enfants de France; at no other time was the king's dependence on his royal consort more visible. Birth is the one moment when, without question, the queen's body emerges and takes center stage. Yet in these representations, the queen's body is suppressed, and the king's body becomes the principal figure in images of successful royal reproduction. And though the position of birthing mother seems a weak one, to be the embodiment of such success linked one to other successes: the triumph of peace, bountiful harvests, flourishing commerce, and the flowering of the arts. [End Page 106]

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Figure 2.

François Lemoyne, Louis XV Giving Peace to Europe, 1729. Photo courtesy of the Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Art Resource, New York.

Unlike the almanac image, Le Moyne's painting does not depict the queen at all. Rather it is a heroic portrait of the king as peacemaker and father. Le Moyne's painting was destined for the Salon de la Paix, in the queen's apartment, and is in striking contrast to Antoine Coysevox's Louis XIV, Victorious and Crowned by Glory in the Salon de la Guerre, which it parallels.3 Whereas Louis XIV brought glory to France through his military triumphs, his great-grandson and successor would bring peace and its accompanying benefits through his reproductive success. If the Salon de la Paix was to be the feminine counterpart to the Salon de la Guerre, than what [End...


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