Cultural depictions of Marie Antoinette

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Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, en grand habit de cour, by Jean-Baptiste Gautier Dagoty, 1775.

Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, is best remembered for her legendary extravagance and for her death: she was executed by guillotine during the Reign of Terror at the height of the French Revolution in 1793 for the crime of treason. Her life has been subject of many historically accurate biographies, as well as subject of romance novels and films.

In biographies[edit]

As were many people and events involved with the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette's life and role in the great social-political conflict were contingent upon many factors. Many have speculated as to how influential she actually was on the nature of the revolution, and the direction it eventually took. In light of the varying contingencies surrounding her life that made her a hated and despised figure in the eyes of the revolutionaries, during her tenure as Queen of France, these factors caused her to be viewed as a genuine model of the old regime, perhaps even more so than her husband, the king. Due to her frivolous spending and indulgent royal lifestyle, as well as her well-known desire to promote the Austrian empire, her caring, motherly nature was overshadowed, and revolutionaries only saw her as an obstruction to the Revolution.

The view on Marie Antoinette's role in French history has varied widely throughout the years. Even during her life, she was both a popular icon of goodness and a symbol of everything wrong with the French monarchy, the latter being a view that has persisted to this day far stronger than the former. However, there are some that would argue that the common historical perspective on Marie Antoinette is that she was yet another tragic victim of the radicalism of the Revolution, rather than a great symbol of French royal inadequacies. This view tends to sympathize with the plight of Marie Antoinette and her family and focus more on the documentation surrounding the last months, weeks, and days prior to her execution, where she is more clearly seen as Marie Antoinette the penitent, caring mother rather than the defiant Queen of France.

Some contemporary sources, such as Mary Wollstonecraft[1] and Thomas Jefferson,[2] place the blame of the French Revolution and the subsequent Reign of Terror squarely on Marie Antoinette's shoulders; others, such as those who knew her (her lady-in-waiting Madame Campan and the royal governess, the Marquise de Tourzel, among them) focus more on her sweet character and considerable courage in the face of misunderstanding and adversity.[3] According to Campan, the queen was totally mis-understood by not only her subjects, but also by the nobility at Versailles. Campan describes a number of people who, upon spending time with the queen, left with a more positive opinion of her. One such visitor, M. Loustonneau, first surgeon to the king, was humbled when the queen remarked that "if the poor whom you have succored for the past twenty years had each placed a single candle in their windows it would have been the most beautiful illumination ever witnessed."[4]

Immediately after her death, the picture painted by the libelles of the queen was generally held as the "correct" view of Marie Antoinette for many years, as the news of her execution was received with joy by the French populace, and the libelles themselves did not stop circulating even after her death.[5] However, she was also considered to be a martyr by royalists both in and out of France, so much so that the Tower was demolished by Napoleon in order to get rid of all symbols of the oppression of the royal family.[6] The view of the queen as a martyr was a generally held view in the post-Napoleonic era and through the nineteenth century, though publications were still written (such as by the ultra-republican work of Jules Michelet) portraying the queen as a frivolous spendthrift who single-handedly ruined France;[7] This view is not widely accepted as accurate by most modern historians, though even the less biased contemporary sources were quick to point out that the queen had faults which contributed to her condition.

The end of the nineteenth century brought about some more changes in how the queen was viewed, particularly in light of the (heavily censored) publication of Count Axel Fersen's Journal intime by one of his descendants; theories about a torrid decade-long love affair between queen and count has become an area of debate since then. In particular, the popular theory is that Louis Charles, the second Dauphin (who would ultimately die at the age of 10 from maltreatment) was actually Fersen's child, and that the king was aware of it. Those who argue in favor of this theory point to the words of insiders who knew of the queen's alleged affair and the words of Fersen himself regarding the child's death, which indicate it to be a possibility.[8] Others argue that the queen had a liaison, but that it produced no child; others do not believe that an affair took place at all.[9]

The twentieth century brought about the recovery of some items that belonged to the queen, thought lost forever, as well as a wave of new biographies, which began to show the queen in a somewhat more sympathetic light; even those that were critical of the queen were more balanced than their eighteenth and nineteenth century predecessors. Public perception was also aided in the twentieth century with the advent of movies based upon biographies of the queen, the most famous of them including the Oscar-nominated 1938 Norma Shearer feature Marie Antoinette (based upon the 1932 book Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman by Stefan Zweig) and the 2006 Kirsten Dunst feature (based upon the 2001 book Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Lady Antonia Fraser). The latter author's book is considered by some modern historians to be the most thorough and balanced biography of the queen, though it naturally builds upon earlier biographies, first hand accounts, and even the infamous libelles which destroyed the queen's reputation. Another book was written by famous American novelist Upton Sinclair in the form of a play titled Marie Antoinette.

In film[edit]

Date Title Director Actress
1934 Madame Du Barry William Dieterle Anita Louise
1938 Marie Antoinette W.S. Van Dyke Norma Shearer
1956 Marie-Antoinette reine de France Jean Delannoy Michèle Morgan
1957 The Story of Mankind Irwin Allen Marie Wilson
1989 La Révolution française Robert Enrico, Richard T. Heffron Jane Seymour
1989 L'autrichienne Pierre Granier-Deferre Ute Lemper
2001 The Affair of the Necklace Charles Shyer Joely Richardson
2006 Marie Antoinette Sofia Coppola Kirsten Dunst
2006 Marie-Antoinette, la véritable histoire Yves Simoneau, Francis Leclerc Karine Vanasse
2012 Farewell, My Queen Benoît Jacquot Diane Kruger
2014 Mr. Peabody and Sherman Rob Minkoff Lauri Fraser

In television[edit]

La Seine no Hoshi-alias The Seine Star or The Black Tulip- a popular Japanese cartoon, end 1970-beginning 1980s. Versailles no Bara- alias Lady Oscar- a Japanese manga and anime produced between the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s. Enormous worldwide success. In all these works Marie Antoinette plays an essential role, parallel and quite equal to that of the other female protagonists of the series. References to the queen even in the Japanese cartoons of Lupin III and Princess Sara.

Casual media references[edit]

Marie Antoinette has been referenced in numerous motion pictures and television shows, usually as a figure to denote extravagance or doomed beauty.

Some of the more notable examples include the movie adaptation of Gone with the Wind, in which a portrait of the Queen hangs above Scarlett O'Hara's bed in her new mansion in Atlanta. In The Addams Family Values, Wednesday Addams dresses up her new baby brother as Marie-Antoinette and attempts to guillotine him for crimes against the Republic.

In the CW American drama Gossip Girl, a sketch looking very much like Kirsten Dunst in the role of Queen Marie-Antoinette decorates the bedroom of the main character, Blair Waldorf. In the second series of Sex and the City, when Charlotte York criticises one of her friends for delusively believing that they live in a classless society, Carrie Bradshaw refers to her as a Marie Antoinette. During the wedding of Melanie and Lindsay in Queer as Folk, a decadent French dessert is given as an option for their dinner by a French caterer, to which Melanie sarcastically quips: "And just how much for Marie-Antoinette's last meal?" In the fourth series of Desperate Housewives, when the character Katherine turns up to a Halloween party thrown by a young gay couple who have just moved to the neighbourhood, one of the hosts quips that it is appropriate that the domineering Katherine has come as a "self-important queen who lost all her power."

In the Gareth Russell novel Popular, one of the novel's lead characters throws a sweet sixteenth birthday party with a Marie Antoinette theme, but is upstaged by one of her guests when she arrives in a costume worn by Kirsten Dunst in the 2006 movie.

In Robert Asprin's "Another Fine Myth" there's a pseudo-quotation as an epigraph to chapter 8: "In times of crisis, it is of utmost importance not to lose one's head." —M. ANTOINETTE

In historical fiction[edit]

The most famous historical fiction which features Marie Antoinette is the Alexandre Dumas, père novel Le Chevalier de Maison-Rouge (The Knight of the Red House,) which centers on the Carnation Plot. It is actually the first of a series of six books written by Dumas with Marie Antoinette featured, called the "Marie Antoinette novels", in which the queen is shown in a sympathetic light, particularly during the "Diamond Necklace Affair".

Some of the more famous historical novels that have portrayed Marie Antoinette in more recent years includes Carolly Erickson's 2005 novel The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette, as well as Elena Maria Vidal's 1998 book Trianon. A 2000 book in the young adult the Royal Diaries series is about Marie Antoinette's journey to France as a teenager, Marie Antoinette: Princess of Versailles (Austria-France, 1769-1771).

The two best-known movie portrayals of Marie Antoinette have been in the 1938 film Marie Antoinette, directed by W. S. Van Dyke, in which the Norma Shearer played the queen, and the 2006 film Marie Antoinette, directed by Sofia Coppola and starring Kirsten Dunst. The Affair of the Necklace is a 2001 film in which Hilary Swank played Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy and Joely Richardson played Marie Antoinette.

Marie Antoinette features prominently in The Ghosts of Versailles, partially an operatic adaptation of Beaumarchais' La Mère coupable with score by John Corigliano and libretto by William M. Hoffman.

In the film Amadeus, she is mentioned twice by her brother, Emperor Joseph II as "Antoinette", and her eventual downfall is foreshadowed when the emperor tells Mozart why he has banned the play Figaro.

In the 2007 film Shrek the Third, Princess Fiona wears a dress at one point in the film that closely resembles Marie Antoinette's oversized dresses.

In the Japanese manga series My Hime, Marie Anoinette is one of two QUEEN Hime who descend to the Earth to remake it. She is associated with roses and possesses a very aristocratic air about herself. In the eighteen episode of the anime adaptation of the Japanese manga series Black Butler, William T. Spears mentions that the Undertaker sent Marie Antoinette to Hell. Marie Anoinette is also one of the most prominent characters of the Japanese metaseries The Rose of Versailles (ベルサイユのばら, Berusaiyu no Bara). In this series of works, she is portrayed as a very sweet and gentle woman, a loyal friend of Oscar and a loving mother, but also as an easily influenced and irresponsible queen. Her voice actress was Miyuki Ueda.

The popular quote often misattributed to her, "Let them eat cake", was referenced in the 39 Clues book One False Note.

In Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy, there's a cartoon called "Marie Antoinette's Notepad". In this, Marie writes something down on a piece of paper, then she scratches it out. Then she begins writing again, only for her to scratch it out. Then she thinks, and writes something down. She puts the quill back in its container and she looks satisfied. Then the paper shows that she has written and scratched out "Let them eat shit" and "Let them eat pussy", and the last line says "Let them eat cake."

Marie Antoinette appears in the children's book Ben and Me by Robert Lawson, but does not appear in the 1953 animated short film adaptation.

Joan Rivers' book I Hate Everyone... Starting With Me, contains a quote by Marie Antoinette saying "Let her eat shit". Costco then refused to sell the book because of the explicit language.

Juliet Grey's trilogy of books starting with Becoming Marie Antoinette and ending with Confessions of Marie Antoinette tells Marie Antoinette's entire story from beginning to end, starting with her transformation from Maria Antonia of Austria into the Marie Antoinette of France, and ending with the events of the French Revolution and Marie Antoinette's execution.

Kate Beaton, cartoonist of webcomic Hark! A Vagrant, devoted one of her comic strips to Marie Antoinette.

In the two-part Season 6 finale of Totally Spies! Sam, Clover and Alex win a prize to stay in palace of Versailles itself. There, the spies' and their fashion-designer classmates are in a French fashion show based on Marie Antoinette and her favorite attire as Queen of France in the seventeenth century.

Carolyn Meyer had written a novel in her Young Royals book series titled The Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie Antoinette which is set from 1768-1792.

In music[edit]

Jucifer's 2008 album L'Autrichienne is a concept album about the life of Marie Antoinette, leading up to her death.

Queen also referred to her in "Killer Queen" from their 1974 album Sheer Heart Attack.

Richard Adler and Jerry Ross included a mention of her as one of the devil's own, in their song "Those Were the Good Old Days",[10] from the musical comedy Damn Yankees.

Darryl Way and Sonja Kristina Lockwood wrote a song titled "Marie Antoinette" for their prog rock band Curved Air.[11]

Wayne Shorter wrote a jazz tune of the same name; it was recorded by Freddie Hubbard.[12]

Michael Kunze and Sylvester Levay wrote a musical play called Marie Antoinette about the parallel lives of Antoinette and a fictional Margrid Arnaud. The play was written in English but premiered in Tokyo.

The portrait of Marie Antoinette entitled Marie Antoinette à la Rose features as the front cover of the US alternative rock group Hole's 2010 album Nobody's Daughter.

The Charlie Sexton song "Impressed" references Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

Madonna dressed as Marie Antoinette for her performance of "Vogue" at the 1990 MTV Music Video Awards.

The music video for the Girls Aloud song "Can't Speak French" features the band members dressed in elaborate French wigs and costumes, the style popularized and typified by Marie Antoinette.

In the Japanese series of songs "Story of Evil", made by the producer AkunoP (otherwise known as mothy), the evil princess Riliane Lucifen d'Autriche is based on Marie Antoinette, while a young researcher (Yukina Freesis) records the truth of her life.

Marie Antoinette is referenced by name in the song "The Headless Waltz", by artist Voltaire.

In 2011, Selena Gomez dressed up as Marie Antoinette in one of the scenes of her music video for "Love You Like a Love Song".

In 2012, Marina and the Diamonds mentioned Marie Antoinette as an inspiration for her album Electra Heart.

In video games[edit]

Marie Antoinette is one of the several bosses in Midway Games' arcade shooter CarnEvil.

In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, there is an assassin named Antoinetta Marie.

In the PC game Treasure in the Royal Tower, Marie Antoinette is mentioned throughout the game. The character Beatrice Hotchkiss is a scholar of French history and has written a fictional book about Marie.

In the PC game Rock of Ages, Marie-Antoinette is a boss in the level 16.

One of the boss songs in the arcade game Beatmania IIDX 16: Empress is called "Marie Antoinette". It was composed by Marguerite du Prê.

In the recent multiplatform game Assassin's Creed Unity, she is one of several historical figures present in the game, generally depicted as a lecherous, gluttonous, deficit spender.

She appears as a Rider-class and Caster-class Servant in Type-Moon's mobile game Fate/Grand Order.

In Fashion[edit]

The 9th edition of CR Fashion Book is inspired by Marie Antoinette.[13] She is portrayed by Rihanna on the cover, as well as models Lara Stone, Imaan Hammam, Joan Smalls, Guinevere van Seenus, Mariacarla Boscono, and others.

Chanel's 2013 Resort Collection drew inspiration from Marie Antoinette.[14]


  1. ^ Wollstonecraft, 33–35.
  2. ^ Fraser, 457–458.
  3. ^ Fraser, 129, 291.
  4. ^ Campan, Jeanne-Louise-Henriette (2006). The Private Life of Marie Antoinette: A Confidante's Account. 1500 Books, LLC, p. 125
  5. ^ Fraser, 442.
  6. ^ Fraser, 382.
  7. ^ Fraser, 455.
  8. ^ Hermann, chapter 6.
  9. ^ "Tea at Trianon". Elena Maria Vidal. Retrieved 2007-01-24.
  10. ^ "Those Were the Good Old Days Lyrics from Damn Yankees". Retrieved 2012-08-13.
  11. ^ "Phantasmagoria"
  12. ^ "Ready For Freddie"
  13. ^ "Rihanna As Marie Antoinette On the Cover of CR Fashion Book". CR Fashion Book. 2016-09-07. Retrieved 2018-01-04.
  14. ^ Blanks, Tim. "Chanel Resort 2013 Fashion Show". Vogue. Retrieved 2018-01-04.


  • Fraser, Antonia (2001). Marie Antoinette, The Journey. Anchor. ISBN 0-7538-1305-X.
  • Hermann, Eleanor (2006). Sex With The Queen. Harper/Morrow. ISBN 0-06-084673-9.
  • Wollstonecraft, Mary (1795). An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution and the Effect it Has Produced in Europe. St. Paul's.
  • Lever, Evelyne. Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France.