Here come the royals, fiddling with our jewels again. This time they’ve got their hands in naming a particular gemstone cut: the marquise. However, it’s not the British this go round, but the French, their King and his Chief Mistress (yup – that was a title for one lucky woman).
Marquise de Pompadour
When you’re the Chief Mistress (and not the Queen), I’m guessing you have a bit of time on your hands. You’re not responsible for any royal duties and the King can only come around so often. That leaves you with your needs well met, but lots of extra hours to fill. What’s a Chief Mistress to do?
Well, if you’re Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, the Chief Mistress of Kind Louis XV, your family had been vying for this position for you for years, maybe decades. You are introduced, not by chance, to the King and have been groomed to catch his attention. You are re-named the Marquise de Pompadour and your lot in life is sealed. Or is it?
Once your life’s mission has been achieved, what’s left? Well, for starters, if you’re Madame Pompadour, you become very involved in the enlightenment of the day. You hang out with Voltaire and Diderot. You lobby for the publication of France’s first encyclopedia. You become a patron of the arts. All long before Elvis’ hair cut is named after you.
During your many hours alone, you even learn to make art. You hire the best gem carver in all of the land and invite him to come live with you at Versailles. You even buy a drilling machine and move it into your apartments, and then petition him to teach you how to use it, while he’s making gems for you (oh the luck of some). You sketch. You etch. You switch floors at Versailles, a mere five years after you meet the King (signaling the end of your sexual relationship with him but yet you remain the official mistress the rest of your life. You had some serious pull with that man).
But your claim to fame? Your gem cutter bestie names his new cut after you: The Marquise. The rumor is that the King had the court jewelers cut a diamond to match her smile. But we think it was actually more likely that Mdme. Pompadour was the driver of that train. She was the one with the gem cutter residing in her apartment, after all.
And these days? Well, you have an exhibit of your work displayed at The Walters Museum. And maybe count your lucky stars that you made it through your life before it became fashionable to lose your head.
Want to learn more about the life of Madame de Pompadour? Nancy Mitford has written a book about her by the same name.