Shades of Facial Hairiness at the French Court: The Case of Marie-Joséphine of Savoy, Countess of Provence
Marie-Joséphine of Savoy was a princess whose fame was eclipsed because she was living at the Court of Versailles at the same time as Marie-Antoinette. She married Louis XVI’s younger brother and had a somewhat quiet life at court. Only two authors have written monographs about her. Tony-Henri-Auguste de Reiset published his essay in 1913 and, in 1993, Charles Dupêchez wrote La Reine velue (The Hairy Queen) using new documents that were unknown to Reiset. Unfortunately, the lack of footnotes limits The Hairy Queen’s use for historians. Despite using the sobriquet as his title, for instance, it is impossible to determine when the nickname ‘hairy queen’ was first used to mock the princess, to make her seem like a kind of monstrous figure with hairs everywhere, including her shoulders and chest. Marie-Joséphine was known for her eye-catching hairiness, which elicited various reactions. It is the various meanings behind those reactions that the author aims to understand. Understanding the specific reactions to Marie-Joséphine’s appearance will help to illustrate the complex perceptions of female facial, and body, hair during the Enlightenment. It will reveal that notions of female facial hair were less of an aesthetic canon than a kind of language meant to speak volumes about the woman’s personality.