Madame de Montespan

Madame de Montespan

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  • Madame de Montespan and her children.

    MIGNARD (after) Pierre (1612 - 1695)

  • Madame de Montespan and her children: the characters

    MIGNARD (after) Pierre (1612 - 1695)

Madame de Montespan and her children.

© RMN - Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Gérard Blot

To close

Title: Madame de Montespan and her children: the characters

Author : MIGNARD (after) Pierre (1612 - 1695)

Creation date : 1676 or early 1677 [?]

Date shown: 1676 or early 1677 [?]

Dimensions: Height 206 cm - Width 252 cm

Technique and other indications: oil on canvas

Storage location: National Museum of the Palace of Versailles (Versailles) website

Contact copyright: © RMN - Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Gérard Blot

Picture reference: 12-548395 / MV 8237

Madame de Montespan and her children: the characters

© RMN - Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Gérard Blot

Publication date: March 2015

Academy Inspector Deputy Academic Director

Historical context

A court portrait

The date of this painting is uncertain. We can however suggest an interval thanks to the dates of birth of the children: Mademoiselle de Tours (in the foreground on the left [no 5]) was born in 1674, while Mademoiselle de Blois, born in 1677, is not shown in the painting. The date of 1676 or the beginning of 1677 is then the most probable, unless the painter has done his work later, by representing a situation corresponding to the year 1676 or the beginning of the year 1677.

By this time, Madame de Montespan had been Louis XIV's mistress for ten years, first concurrently with Louise de La Vallière, then exclusively. Born in 1640 and from a family of ancient nobility, Françoise de Rochechouart - who likes to call herself Athénaïs - married the Marquis de Montespan in 1663, but lives separated from the body with him. Many contemporary portraits, literary and pictorial, have been preserved of her, which pay homage to her beauty and to her lively and biting wit.

It is not known who painted this canvas, even if the inspiration of Pierre Mignard (1612-1695) is strong. Rival of Charles Le Brun, his style is characterized by a round modeling, conventional expressions, contrasting colors (blue and gold, for example), from which he draws the best in delicate figures of children. These characteristics are found in this family portrait of Madame de Montespan, without however allowing the authentication of its author.

Image Analysis

A family portrait without a father figure

Madame de Montespan [no 1] poses half-lying in a natural setting with a horizon blocked by greenery, which contrasts with her rich low-necked dress and simple pearl adornment - the author of The Life of Pierre Mignard (1730) explains that to paint her, "it was not only to paint a very beautiful person, it was to paint nobility, spirit & beauty itself".

Surrounded by four of his children: Louis-Auguste, Duke of Maine, born in 1670 (located on the right, in a red coat, feathered hat and leaning on a cane [no 2]), Louis-César, Count of Vexin and Abbot of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, born in 1672 and of fragile constitution (hidden to the waist by the bushes, in the background on the left [no 3]), Louise Françoise, titled Mademoiselle de Nantes, born in 1673 (holding an armful of flowers in her raised dress, in the foreground on the right [no 4]), and Louise Marie Anne, titled Mademoiselle de Tours, born in 1674 (sitting naked on a quiver, undoubtedly to testify to the effects of Love armed with its bow, in the foreground on the left [no 5]).

The subjects pose in fixed attitudes and stand out clearly from the verdant setting, testimony to the contemporary appeal of gardens. The eyes of the four children converge on the viewer, while that of their mother is lost to the right.

The absence of a father figure refers to the position of favorite, which art is rarely allowed to legitimize. However, the king is shown in the guise of his legitimate descendants. The canvas must therefore be understood as a family portrait of the court. It is indeed the children who capture the attention with their gaze, the favorite being only a conductor of the king's presence, entirely contained in the transmission of his blood.


The portrait of a favorite in search of recognition

By nature illegitimate, the doubly adulterous relationship of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan constitutes for the favorite a cause for concern. The rays of royal glory will enlighten her only as long as the royal inclination for her exists. This is why this portrait is also a manifesto intended to affirm a legitimacy, that of the Capetian blood transmitted to the four natural children of Louis XIV. Another portrait of Madame de Montespan surrounded by her children, formerly attributed to Charles de La Fosse, develops the same intention.

If the fragility inherent in the position of favorite is thus circumvented by the presence of the four children, it is also bypassed by the voluntarism of Madame de Montespan on a daily basis to fight against her competitors in the heart of the king - she has even been accused , during the Poisons affair, for having given the king some potions to drink to keep his favors. The legitimation of her children by Louis XIV, which took place in 1673 for the two boys and in 1676 for the two girls, is also essential for Madame de Montespan. The children who were born in 1677 (Françoise Marie, Mademoiselle de Blois) and in 1678 (Louis-Alexandre, count of Toulouse) confirm its base on the royal descent. Later, ties with the royal family were strengthened by a policy of matrimonial alliances: Mademoiselle de Nantes married the Duke of Enghien, Louis-Auguste married Anne Louise Bénédicte de Bourbon, Mademoiselle de Blois married the future Regent.

However, her pregnancies and the legitimization of her children were not enough to give Madame de Montespan a political role, as the king tried to distinguish between the affective and political spheres. In his Briefs, he advises his son "that the beauty that is our pleasure should never have the freedom to talk to us about our business, or the people who serve us there".

In spite of the sincere bond which unites the king to his adulterous children (which is shown by the multiple favors and endowments of which they are the object), the disgrace of Madame de Montespan intervenes a few years after the realization of this painting, in 1683, at the profit from the king's exclusive liaison with Madame de Maintenon, former governess of the adulterous royal children. The cut flowers carried by Mademoiselle de Nantes, which Madame de Montespan nonchalantly shows, take on a symbolic dimension; like these flowers which represent the fragility of the world, the glory of Madame de Montespan was only fleeting. She ended her life in devotion in 1707, far from the Court, after having seen several of her children die, two of whom are painted here.

  • Louis XIV
  • royal mistress
  • portrait
  • absolute monarchy
  • Great Century
  • Montespan (Madame de)
  • Maintenon (Françoise d´Aubigné, Marchioness of)


BERTIÈRE Simone, The Queens of France at the time of the Bourbons. II: the women of the Sun King, Paris, Editions de Fallois, 1998.NIKOLENKO Lada, Pierre Mignard: The Portrait Painter of the Grand Siècle, Munich, Nitz, 1983. PETITFILS Jean-Christian, Madame de Montespan, Paris, Fayard, 1988.SARMANT Thierry, Louis XIV: man and king, Paris, Tallandier, coll. “Biographies”, 2012.

To cite this article

Jean HUBAC, "Madame de Montespan"

Video: s1-2 monsieur;