L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The First Dauphin

(A detail of the below painting.)

Louis-Joseph de France (Louis Joseph Xavier François; October 22, 1781, Château de Versailles – June 4, 1789, Château de Meudon), is always referred to in history books as the "first dauphin", because he died at the age of seven and it was then his younger brother who suffered during the Revolution, who was separated from his family and died of neglect, and who is known to very observant royalists as Louis XVII, though of course he never reigned.

Marie Antoinette and her children, by Vigée Le Brun, 1787.  The queen's elder daughter, Marie Thérèse, stands beside her mother, while
Marie Antoinette holds her younger son, Louis-Charles, on her lap.  The dauphin stands beside the cradle of his younger sister, Sophie,
who died at the age of eleven months - to the great sorrow of her parents - and was subsequently painted out of the large canvas.

Louis-Joseph was the second child and first male heir to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.  Through their youth and ignorance, the king and queen had not managed to conceive until eight years into their marriage; the birth of a son, three years later, was cause for much joy.  Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were unusual for their time and their rank, in that they were very close, very bonded with all of their children; with the high rate of infant and child mortality, it is understandable that not everyone did the same.

The dauphin Louis-Joseph, by Jean-Baptiste André Gautier-Dagoty, circa 1785.

At the age of three, the dauphin first began to show signs of ill health: high fevers which were in fact the early signs of tuberculosis of the spine.  From then on, he spent periods of time away from Versailles, it being believed that a better air quality would have restorative powers.  But his condition continued to worsen.  He developed a pronounced curvature of the spine which made it difficult for him to walk; he was made to wear corsets en fer - iron corsets - in an attempt to check the deformity.  By all accounts, he was an extremely intelligent child, and preternaturally wise.  He seemed to recognize as well as anyone, that he wouldn't survive.

The dauphin and his sister, Marie Thérèse, by Vigée Le Brun, 1784.

His death came in the midst of the meeting of the Estates-General in 1789, a political debacle for the regime, and the event that began the course of the French Revolution.  Many historians have theorized that the inability of the child's distraught parents to guide or weather events had much to do with the distraction of the grief they felt over the death of their little boy.

Marie Antoinette and her first two children in the park at Trianon, by Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller, 1785.


Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, see here.

Jean-Baptiste André Gautier-Dagoty, or Gautier d'Agoty (1740, Paris - 1786, Paris), French portraitist, from a family of painters.  He is generally considered a quite inferior artist, but the queen appointed him her personal artist and he painted her several times, including the first major state portrait after her husband came to the throne.  He also made portraits of her sisters-in-law, the comtesse de Provence and the comtesse d'Artois.

Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller  (February 18, 1751, Stockholm - October 5, 1811, Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania), Swedish painter.  He moved to Paris in 1772 to study under his cousin Alexander Roslin and French painter the Joseph-Marie Vien.  Though his portraits of the queen were generally thought to be unflattering, she was pleased with them and commissioned more work from him.  He emigrated to the United States in 1794, where he continued his work, which eventually included several portraits of George Washington.

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