- Dairy Queens: The Politics of Pastoral Architecture from Catherine de Medici to Marie-Antoinette
Meredith Martin’s witty invocation of “Dairy Queens” to describe the queens of France from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries contrasts with her subtitle, “The Politics of Pastoral Architecture,” thus encapsulating the duality of her book: a reorientation of what heretofore has been considered a frivolous subject with a rigorous interpretation of architectural, archival, literary, and visual sources. Martin perspicaciously argues that the queens under discussion, from Catherine de Medici to Marie-Antoinette, appropriated the pleasure dairy to legitimize female rule. Frankly engaging gender studies, Martin’s lively and engaging prose provides an insightful reading of the pastoral as a complex matrix of ideologies that enriches our knowledge of political culture in early modern France.
Martin claims that “Pleasure dairies enabled the crown and the nobility to project an image of Arcadian peace and prosperity and to profess an enduring devotion to the land while also playing with new forms of courtly refinement, leisure, and display—thus merging old and new forms of the aristocratic self” (11). The production of milk, cream, and cheeses was particularly suited to female patrons who wished to stress notions of fecundity so central to the public role of queenship, but also as a metaphor for the fertile state. The subject of milk, deeply intertwined with Rousseauian notions of mother’s milk and breastfeeding, will certainly interest both food and medical historians. Similarly, art historians will be encouraged to reconsider their opinions about portraits of women portrayed as milkmaids. For eighteenth-century scholars, Martin investigates suppositions about work and leisure, nature and the natural, as the social, cultural, and economic relevance of dairies increased after 1750.
Martin explains that pleasure dairies were referred to as laiteries in building accounts, letters, and travel guides until “they were distinguished by their noble provenance, elegant design and decoration” and emerged as a building type known as laiterie parée or laiterie d’agrément. The pleasure dairy was always considered a pastoral retreat related to the villa, menagerie, hermitage, or hamlet located at [End Page 333] the boundaries of an existing garden and palace program.
Martin contends that Catherine de Medici’s dairy, built at the center of her model farm in the forest of Fontainebleau (the Mi-voie), represented an importation of Medici villa culture that the queen “naturalized” for France. Martin links Catherine’s dairy to the Cascina at Poggio a Caiano through a stimulating reading of the queen’s correspondence with her cousin, Cosimo I de Medici. Catherine’s dairy legitimized her roles as mother and Regent, “initiating an architectural language of female political agency that would resonate for centuries in pleasure dairies (laiteries d’agrement) and other forms of pastoral performance art” (31).
Louis XIV built two dairies contingent to and within the Menagerie at Versailles; the grande laiterie, designed by Louis Le Vau, and a second smaller one created for Marie Adelaide de Savoie, Duchesse de Bourgogne, by Jules Hardoin Mansart. Martin elaborates on Foucault’s panoptic interpretations of this space, astutely suggesting that Louis XIV’s dairy appropriated female images of fecundity to further promote his own fertility. Louis XIV’s dairy enabled a royal parthenogenesis that “transformed the red blood of war into the white milk of peace during state visits and festivals” (86). Martin expands her analysis to include other courtiers, such as the Grand Mademoiselle and the Grand Condé, who created dairies on their estates, notably at Chantilly, as a “pastoral veil” to critique Louis XIV’s patriarchal control (102–3).
Chapter three, dedicated to Madame de Pompadour, offers a fascinating discussion of the neo-Hippocratic medical revival and the milk cure. Martin argues that Pompadour exploited her dairies to present herself as “healthful, nurturing and feminine, perhaps to refute claims about her ‘unnatural’ dominance over the king” (118). Pompadour’s retreats to her hermitage-dairies associated them with moral regeneration a full decade before Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s...