Tuesday, 10 September 2019

The Oddity of Madame Louise

The youngest daughter of Louis XV and Marie Leszczynska - Madame Dernière - was known as Madame Louise. Although few of the royal princesses were considered to be downright beautiful, Madame Louise was remarked as being somewhat odd looking and she certainly suffered from several disabilities. 

From birth, Madame Louise's spine had been slightly curved which gave her a little hump on the back. Her figure was further damaged by a notable limp and a remarkably short stature. Madame Campan relates how the Mesdames would alert each other when Louis XV came for a visit in Madame Adélaïde's apartments. Each would ring a bell which alerted the other and so on until they all headed to greet their father. However, Louise's apartment was the last in line and as such she would have to run to reach her sisters in time - often considerably slowed down by said limping.

Madame Louise at 11 years old

Perhaps in an effort to hide her disability, she would wear very high heels. Once she joined the Carmelites, she took to wearing their characteristic flat slippers which allegedly made her legs swell up. There was another reason why she might wish to don the heels; she was the only one of Louis XV's daughters who was distinctly short.

At court, there was a theory as to why Madame Louise never reached the stature of her sisters. When she was young, Louise had a severe fall from a balustrade which left her unconscious for a while. The surgeon declared that she would not be affected by the fall but ever since then it was noticed that she leaned slighted to the left and that she grew very little afterwards. Another difference between her and her sisters was her skin tone; apparently, Louise was not quite as pale as the other Mesdames. 

According to the Duc de Luynes, Louise's head appeared to be "too big for her body". Louise appears to have been aware of her large head but she took it with an ounce of humour. Once she was asked to sketch out her portrait to which she allegedly replied: "big head, big forehead, black eyebrows, grey eyes, crooked nose, forked chin and hunchbacked". Given that no account of her - by courtiers as well as family - describes her as unattractive, it is possible that she was being a tad hard on herself when describing herself as she did.

Louise as an adult but before entering the

Oddly enough, the features of Madame Louise were not ugly. According to Madame de Pompadour, her own father summed up her appearance as follows: "very small ... features bad rather than otherwise but with an expression which pleases much more than if she were beautiful". Her mother was convinced that her youngest daughter was the epitome of sweetness and had an air of spirituality.  She was not the only one to notice the inner fire of Madame Dernière. Edmond Jean François Barbier and the Duc de Luynes both noted that she was very lively and her inner spark made her pretty.

The portraits of Madame Louise certainly does not portray an unattractive woman - but then again, they wouldn't. Nattier painted her at the age of 11 and already at this point her eyes have that spark that drew attention from several contemporaries.

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