Degree Granting Department
Christine McCall-Probes, Ph.D.
French Literature, 17th Century portraits, Mademoiselle de Montpensier, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, Cardinal de Retz
Introduced in French Salons as a parlor game, the literary portrait appears in mid Seventeenth-Century. It is similar to the literary portraits inserted in roman à clés but it does not hide the identity of the subject behind a pseudonym, it depicts the individual as is. In a self-portrait subjects look at, observe, evaluate then describe themselves. They offer themselves to the gaze of others and propose a true reading of what they are. The self-portrait attempts to harmonize the appearance and the inner being, to render visible the essence of the person. However, in the Seventeenth Century, people reinvent themselves, and the answer to the question "who am I?" changes under the gaze of a sophisticated society where everyone must play the role assigned by their class and their gender. The nobility and the cultured elite want to be a work of art; the art of pleasing, the art of conversation, the art of story telling, and also the art of knowing others.
Everything is hyperbole: nobles are gods and goddesses-when they are not fairies-and life is a vast performance where self-image and representation are tirelessly adjusted because the observer is looking to catch what is behind the fac?ade. At court or in Salons, gazes interpret more than what is on display because they observe signs: body language and facial expressions convey feelings visibly and communicate them better than words. Charles Le Brun, painter of the Court of Louis XIV, stated that the face is not the mirror of the soul but the readable expression of passions.
This study examines literary and artistic representations of three representative individuals: Mademoiselle de Montpensier, the Duc de La Rochefoucauld, and the Cardinal de Retz, with the intention of demonstrating that, for the Seventeenth-Century, the portrait is the place where the conflict between "the inner being" and "appearances", the discomfort of the visible and the veiled, and also the uneasy co-existence of honnêteté and amour-propre, converged.
Scholar Commons Citation
Landis, Martine J., "Regards sur l'être et le paraitre dans trois portraits du xviie siècle" (2008). Graduate Theses and Dissertations.