Gabrielle d'Estrées et une de ses sœurs

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Portrait présumé de Gabrielle d'Estrées et de sa soeur la duchesse de Villars
Scuola di fontainebleau, presunti ritratti di gabrielle d'estrées sua sorella la duchessa di villars, 1594 ca. 06.jpg
Yearcirca 1594
Typeoil on wood
Dimensions96 cm × 125 cm (38 in × 49 in)

Gabrielle d'Estrées et une de ses soeurs (Gabrielle d'Estrées and one of her sisters) is a painting by an unknown artist dated c. 1594. It is in the Louvre in Paris and is usually thought to be the work of a painter from the Fontainebleau School.[1][2]


The painting portrays Gabrielle d'Estrées, mistress of King Henry IV of France, sitting nude in a bath, holding a ring. Julienne-Hypolite-Joséphine, Duchess of Villars, her sister, sits nude beside her and pinches d'Estrées' right nipple.[3]


Announcing Gabrielle's pregnancy[edit]

The nipple-pinching gesture is often interpreted as a symbolic announcement that Gabrielle is pregnant with Henry's child, César de Bourbon. According to the Louvre's website: "The oddly affectionate way in which the sister is pinching Gabrielle d'Estrées' right breast has often been taken as symbolizing the latter's pregnancy with the illegitimate child of Henry IV. This interpretation would seem to be confirmed by the scene of the young woman sewing – perhaps preparing a layette for the coming child – in the background."[4] The ring that Gabrielle holds is said to be Henry's coronation ring, which he supposedly gave to her as a token of his love shortly before she died.

Other interpretations[edit]

In the early years of the seventeenth century, Pierre de Bourdeille, seigneur de Brantôme tells a story about a group of women who went to view the painting. He claims that the painting shows "fair naked ladies" together in a bath, and adds that they "touch, and feel, and handle, and stroke, one the other, and intertwine and fondle with each other." Brantôme reveals that while the group of women were viewing the painting, "one great lady" who was a part of the group "los[t] all restraint ... before the picture, say[ing] to her lover, turning toward him [as if] maddened [by] the madness of love she beheld [in the painting]: 'Too long have we tarried here. Let us now straightway take [my] coach and go to my lodging; for ... no more can I hold in the ardor that is in me. Needs must away and quench it; too sore do I burn.'"[5]

In the first half of the nineteenth century, Gabrielle d'Estrées et une de ses soeurs was hanging in the Prefecture of Police in Paris. Dr. Ver Heyden de Lacey states in an article from 1935 that "Nobody knew why or how it came there; [it was] placed above a door in one of the halls to which the public had access."[6] He explains that one day, a "pusillanimous high official" noticed the painting and "conceived [of] the idea to screen the picture...from the curious public gaze, by drawing a green curtain in front of it." This action suggests that the official considered the painting to be erotic or even obscene, but instead of removing it, he had it veiled, and he thus visibly marked the image as an open secret, or as something which should not be seen. At some point after that, Dr. Ver Heyden de Lacey claims that "Somebody had the happy inspiration to expose [the veiled image] to the artistic and art-trained eyes of those called upon to take part in [a] civic function [at the police station] ... In preparation [for this] special function ... a thorough cleaning of the picture itself was ordered .... [But] Upon drawing the curtain, [they found only] an empty picture frame."

In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the Gabrielle d'Estrées painting is regularly understood to represent female homosexuality. There is an entry for it in the Encyclopedia of Lesbian Gay Histories and Cultures and it appears on websites about lesbian history like[7] Even outside of the LGBT community, the painting is frequently understood as a representation of lesbianism. In 1991, it appeared on the cover of the French magazine L’Événement du jeudi to illustrate a story on lesbian chic.[8] In 2002, the German Green Party created a poster to announce their support of same-sex marriage, featuring two female models reenacting the Gabrielle portrait.[9]

Bias toward left-handedness[edit]

This painting is peculiarly biased toward left-handedness. Julienne-Hypolite-Joséphine is pinching Gabrielle's right nipple with her left hand; Gabrielle is holding the ring with her left hand, and the seamstress in the background is sewing with her left hand. Additionally, the painting hanging in the background is of the lower body of a naked person, but contrary to rumor, he is not holding his penis with his left hand; a piece of red fabric is draped over his genitals.



  1. ^ Gabrielle d'Estrées and one of her sisters, mheu, 2009, archived from the original on 19 December 2013, retrieved 17 December 2013
  2. ^ Usher, Phillip John (2014). Epic Arts in Renaissance France. OUP Oxford. p. 151. ISBN 9780199687848. In the School of Fontainebleau painting, Portrait présumé de Gabrielle d'Estrées et de sa sœur la duchesse de Villars (Presumed Portrait of Gabrielle d'Estrées and of her Sister the Duchess of Villars)…
  3. ^ Hagen, Rose-Marie; Rainer Hagen (2002). What Great Paintings Say, Volume 2. Köln: Taschen. p. 205. ISBN 9783822813720.
  4. ^ Official site of the Louvre Museum – Portrait présumé de Gabrielle d'Estrées et de sa soeur la duchesse de Villars Archived 2009-04-27 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "Selections from Pierre de Bourdeilles, Seigneur de Brantôme, Lives of Gallant Ladies: A Critical Introduction and Annotated Edition, trans. by Jessica Veaudry". Archived from the original on 2021-05-08. Retrieved 2015-01-29.
  6. ^ "A Picture of Gabrielle d'Estrées attributed to François Pourbus le Jeune", Connoisseur, vol. 96 (1935): 137–8.
  7. ^ Encyclopedia of Lesbian and Gay Histories and Cultures, eds. George Haggerty and Bonnie Zimmerman. NY: Garland. ISBN 9780815333548.
  8. ^ L'Événement du jeudi Number 361, 3–9 October 1991.
  9. ^ "Skurrile Wahlwerbung: Sex, Lügen und Wahlplakate" [Absurd Political Advertising: Sex, Lies and Election Posters]. Der Spiegel. 15 January 2009. Retrieved 24 October 2018.