The Queen’s Dairy at Rambouillet: Regenerating the French Monarchy in the Late 1780s

Meredith Martin
Seminar, 17 May 2007

Meredith Martin, Mellon postdoctoral fellow in the Art History Department at Columbia University, explores the building type of the laiterie d’agrément, or “pleasure dairy,” in ancien régime France, focusing on the second half of the eighteenth century.

Despite its illustrious patronage (Louis XIV; Madame de Pompadour) and architectural pedigree (Ange-Jacques Gabriel; Hubert Robert; Claude-Nicolas Ledoux), the pleasure dairy has received virtually no scholarly attention. By tracing and analyzing this little-known aspect of French history, I demonstrate how these sites contribute to a new understanding of cultural life in the ancien régime.

My talk focuses on one notable site, the Laiterie de la Reine, built for Marie-Antoinette at the royal estate of Rambouillet from 1785-87. The Rambouillet dairy differed from Marie-Antoinette’s other faux-rustic dairy at Versailles by taking the form of an antique temple. Its interior featured a neoclassical decorative program that included “Etruscan” furniture, Arcadian sculptures of milkmaids and nursing mothers, and antique-inspired Sèvres porcelain vessels that were used in the production and consumption of milk products. I examine this site in the context of a late-eighteenth-century campaign to revitalize French arts and manufactures and to regenerate the ailing monarchy—in particular, to restore the sullied reputation of its queen.


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