Residence of Voltaire France


Madame de Pompadour, by Francois Boucher, 1757




Red morocco binding with Madame de
Pompadour's arms. Her books were all
bound in leather and gilt with her coat of
arms. Her library contained 3,525
volumes.
Madame de Pompadour

Madame du Pompadour was born Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson. Her father was a steward to the Paris brothers who ran the economy of France. Though her parents were not of the noble class, Jeanne-Antoinette was raised to be the wife of a wealthy man. She was extremely talented and could act, dance, sing, and play the clavichord. Her marriage brought her out into society and she became well known as a star of the Paris salons. Voltaire met her in the homes of friends and also attended her salon. He stated that she was "well brought up, amiable, good, charming and talented."

In 1744, Jeanne-Annette caught the eye of the King Louis XV and became his mistress. She divorced her husband and was awarded the title Marquise de Pompadour. Louis XV had a tendency to always be bored and Madame de Pompadour knew how to keep him entertained. She had a small theater built at Versailles and staged plays just for him. Famous artists were commissioned to paint the scenery, and Francois Boucher designed elaborate costumes for the actors. Madame de Pompadour played the leading role and directed the performances. Courtiers played the other parts.

The King and Madame de Pompadour both loved animals. Their pets included monkeys, dogs, and many different kinds of birds. Louis had a large white angora cat and Mme de Pompadour had a small dog that was always by her side.

Louis XV and Mme de Pompadour also shared an interest in architecture and the decorative arts. Madame de Pompadour's brother was appointed director of the King's buildings and he, the King, and Mme Pompadour planned and built a number of costly palaces, pavilions and summer houses. They also patronized all forms of the decorative arts. Painters, sculptors, cabinetmakers, and craftsmen of all kinds were commissioned to decorate buildings and create elegant works of art. The period of Madame de Pompadour's influence is considered the very height of refined taste in France.

Madame de Pompadour would have liked to patronize literature by providing pensions for many of the talented writers whom she knew from the Paris salons. Her attempts to influence the King in this direction did not meet with much success. He had no literary interests and even disliked intellectuals. Louis informed her that this was a bad idea because there were too many writers.

However, there was a need at court for some literary talent. It was at the urging of Madame de Pompadour that the King appointed Voltaire royal historiographer in April 1745, with a salary of two thousand livres per year. Voltaire was given a room at Versailles, and it is likely that much of his time was spent in the archives of the palace doing research for his book about the reign of Louis XIV.

On May 11, 1745, the French defeated the English at Fontenoy, and Voltaire wrote a poem of 350 lines to commemorate the victory.


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