The Farewell locket

Location: British Museum

Production Place: England

Museum number
1978,1002.1202

Materials: Rock (crystal)

Dimensions: Width: 4.65 centimetres

“Farewell, my good and tender sister. May this letter reach you. Think always of me; I embrace you with all my heart, as I do my poor dear children. My God, how heart-rending it is to leave them forever! Farewell! Farewell! I must now occupy myself with my spiritual duties, as I am not free in my actions. Perhaps they will bring me a priest; but I here protest that I will not say a word to him, but that I will treat him as a total stranger.” Marie Antoinette October 16, 1793.

Image of Marie Antoinette’s last letter: http://teaattrianon.blogspot.com/2007/05/last-letter-of-marie-antoinette.html

Love, compassion, loyalty, and chivalry, what value do theses different acts of affection have on us? During the eighteenth century, the verities of ways in which affection can be expressed from one to another, can be displayed in the form of commemorative objects. Despite the economic crisis that spread throughout France, which led to the increasing desire for social reform, commemorative objects played a significant role in the experiences of subject and state matters. The rights of common men in relations to the matters of state will eventually be the cause in the decrease of monarchy’ power in French society. In 1770 Marie Antoinette was sent to France to wed King Louis XVl, both were executed for treason in 1793. However, the objects representing this time in history will live on, and give us a true insight into the lives of these individuals, and the legacy they left behind. This heart shaped locket of Marie Antoinette displays the acts of love and loyalty she had for her family, however these acts of compassion have hardly been told. As Edmund Burke (1729-1797) states in his reaction to The Death of Marie Antoinette “the age of chivalry is gone; that of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded, and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom!” The misconceptions about material objects, in relation to Marie Antoinette character, and that of social and personal relations in the eighteenth century, is the topic of this blog.

Heart shaped silver lockets, were often a cheap enough item for middle age classes to obtain and were design to declare a formation of successful reunion with another. Even though Marie Antoinette’s locket has more luxurious features, than that of a simple silver locket, a locket in general is a symbol of courtship, an offering of ones affective interpenetration between public and private matters (McShane). In Angela McShance Subjects and Objects: Material Expressions of Love and Loyalty in 17th century England, she argues the value of objects such as jewelry, ballads, coins, and the impact it has over ones identity in society. In Belinda by Marie Edgeworth, we see how a simple lock of hair (Virginia’s) can interfere with Clarence Harvey identity in correlations with Belinda’s emotions towards him, due to the fact that she thought he was in love with another. This heart shaped locket, which obtains a lock of Marie Antoinette’s hair, was given by her to Lady Abercorn by whom it was given to her sister Lady Julia Lockwood, whose daughter Lady Napier gave it to W.S. 1853 (British Museum), is a form of compassion and loyalty expressed without words. Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Hair is essential to a face as a frame is to a picture.” Ones hair can be essential to ones political presence, or to commemorate ones union with another (Chertsey Museum).

Gold locket with hair: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/images/hb/hb_2000.532.jpg

In the mid-to-late 1600s, the general increase of manufactures, and the production of cheep political commodities, demonstrates the link between object and politics. For example the state had no legal control over the use of royal images in England, which led to the depletion of royal power over the people. (McShane, pg.879). The image below demonstrates the impacts the appearance of Marie Antoinette in the eyes of the French people. They look at her in disgusted, and depicted her as being an unwanted queen of France, in the sense of devaluing her over all persona as member of royal nobility (British Museum). Marie Antoinette was not executed in this manner that is depicted in this image below, in fact, she was in a plain white gown and her hair had been completely cut off. As stated in her letter, that if brought a persist she would treat him like a stranger, she protested in giving the people the satisfaction of seeing her fall by keeping her dignity intact, which Burke expresses in is reaction that never will we see the generous of loyalty to rank and sex, which exemplifies Marie Antoinette’s respectable characteristics.

Print of Marie Antoinette’s execution http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?assetId=102756&objectId=1480033&partId=1

Silver coins of Marie Antoinette’s execution
http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?assetId=30537&objectId=940871&partId=1

Political ballads and silver coins, expressed the support, or the lack of support, in contexts to political leadership and loyalty. Shortly after Marie Antoinette’s execution, Conrad Heinrich Küchler and Matthew Boulton produced coins displaying the portrait of the queen on one side, and the seen of her being paraded through the crowd on the day of her execution, which severed as reminder of her unpopularity to the French people (London, The British Museum Press, 1989). The lack of sympathy for the former queen of France is presented in these kinds of material objects, which weakened the overall obedience to Monarchy’s power. Edmund Burke expresses a sympathetic light towards Marie Antoinette, in fear that the spread of overthrowing royalty would be a recurring theme throughout Europe. Burke states “Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom!” This heart shaped locket can be used to symbolize the passion embedded in the form of constructional obligations between public and private affairs, and shed some light on Marie Antoinette’s true self-image and not that of the image depicted by French society.

Diamond Necklace
http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?assetId=1377463&objectId=3466355&partId=1

Michael Kwass states in Big Wig History of Consumption in Eighteenth-Century France, the value ones wig can influence a person’s idea of character. This can be applied to the material objects used to identify the true nature of Queen Marie Antoinette, and the miss representation of her ideal character. The historical significance, and the simplicity of this particular locket, does not fit the image of Marie Antoinette. Nancy Barker states in “Let them eat cake,” The Mythical Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution, “by the beginning of the 1780s, the basic repertoire of the pamphlets attacking the queen was already established. She was foreign; she hated and disdained the French; she was extravagant and luxury loving, deplet- ing the royal treasury by her expenditures and her lavish rewards to her favorites; she intrigued to manipulate the king; and she was profligate, capable of sexual excesses without limit (pg. 715).” The Diamond Necklace Affair, involving Jeanne de la Motte, was a drastic turning point for Marie Antoinette, with the increasing anxiety during the Old Régime and the conception of the aristocratic body; she was depicted as a threat to the degree of nobility, which only the rights of men could dominate (Koscak, 2/13/14). The empowerment of her presents began to impact the relationship between dress and political identity, by which she was call “the female monster of the Revolutionary years (Barker, pg.715).” The depiction of her as a monster is hard concept to acknowledge considering her last wishes was to her sister in-law asking for her to forgive her nephew based of the his accusations against his mother in court. She writes, “Forgive him, my dear sister; think of his age, and how easy it is to make a child say whatever one wishes, especially when he does not understand it.” These are the last words of a woman who, at most could have been deemed misguided, but never the vain and sinister creation that the French Radicals had described her to the people of France.

In the course of the French Revolution, different opinions that were stated throughout this blog, Marie Antoinette is seen as a key member of the French Revolution, and the fashionable statements during that moment in time. The wide range of opinions of the French radicals of Marie Antoinette, displays the power of people over the rights of royals, and the power embedded in these objects enforce these opinions. However, objects that hold sentimental value, such as this heart shaped locket, add in other opinions of Marie Antoinette being represented in a more sympathetic light. These objects continue to contribute to the distinctions between dress and political identity.

Hyperlinks:

Coin of Marie Antoinette
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_image.aspx?image=k93773.jpg&retpage=17536

Print of Marie Antoinette’s execution http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?assetId=102756&objectId=1480033&partId=1

Diamond Necklace http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?assetId=1377463&objectId=3466355&partId=1

Bibliography:

Kwass, Michael. “Big Hair: A Wig History of Consumption in Eighteenth-Century France.” The American Historical Review 111.3 (2006): 631-659.

Stephanie Koscak, “Lecture: An Introduction in to the French Revolution” 2-11-14

D. Bindman, The shadow of the guillotine: (London, The British Museum Press, 1989)

Barker, Nancy N. ““LET THEM EAT CAKE”: THE MYTHICAL MARIE ANTOINETTE AND THE FRENCH REVOLUTION.” Historian 55.4 (1993): 709-724.

Edmund Burkes http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1793burke.asp

The importance of hair in the eighteenth century: http://chertseymuseum.org/hair

The last words Marie Antoinette spoke
https://sites.psu.edu/famouslastwords/2013/02/04/marie-antoinette/

Cited Quote from her last letter:
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/marie-antoinette-134629573/?no-ist

Images of Letter: http://teaattrianon.blogspot.com/2007/05/last-letter-of-marie-antoinette.html

Locket
http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?assetId=813482&objectId=81203&partId=1

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