Monday, 26 February 2018, 5.30pm
Seminars in the History of Collecting: The Wallace Collection Lecture Theatre
“Heureux ceux qui ont un coeur de bronze…”
The French Financial Crisis in the late Reign of Louis XV and its impact on Royal Manufactures and Royal Patronage
By Professor Alden Gordon (Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of Fine Art, Trinity College, Connecticut, USA)
This talk will address the archival evidence for understanding the financial crisis of the late 1760s and early 1770s and chronologically synchronize the actions on behalf of workers with simultaneous royal commissions. This research points to Marigny’s anguish over the fiscal starvation of his administration as the real motivation for his repeated efforts to resign his post rather than the often stated hypothesis that he had lost influence with Louis XV in the years after the death of his sister, the Marquise de Pompadour.The French Royal Treasury experienced a crisis which began during the Seven Years’ War and persisted through the end of the reign of Louis XV and into that of Louis XVI. This particularly affected the Direction des Bâtiments du Roi which saw its allowances for the payments to the employees of the Gobelins and the entrepreneurs who maintained the many properties of the Maison du Roi cut to the bone in the 1760s and 1770s. To try to keep his skilled workforce intact, the Marquis de Marigny, Directeur-Général des Bâtiments, Arts, Académies et Manufactures du Roi, was forced to resort to exceptional tactics in paying employees while balancing the fulfillment of projects most essential to statecraft and the priorities of the royal family. Notable among the projects pending during these years were the preparations for the marriage of the future Louis XVI to the Austrian princess Marie-Antoinette. The financial crisis forced Marigny to confront difficult choices in assigning new commissions while witnessing the distress of his loyal artists and craftsmen. His secretary, Jean Étienne Montucla, wrote of the emotional distress in Marigny’s inner circle saying that “I am saddened to give you such frightful news; happy those who, under these circumstances, have a heart of bronze, and who would suffer a whole world to perish without experiencing any movement of sensibility.”
This research forms part of the book in preparation on The Life and Career of the Marquis de Marigny: Patron in the Enlightenment.