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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Beauty Queen: Madame Du Barry

                                          Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Portrait of the Comtesse Du Barry. [1771] ? oil on canvas.

I had mixed feelings writing about yet another maîtresse-en-titre at the French court, especially since the role is a bit icky, and because Mme du Barry died fairly young at age 50, making her not entirely the best anti-aging candidate, even if it was the 18th century. Then, I read some more about Mme du Barry in Joan Haslip's biography, and realized a few things.  First, her sordid career choice, if you can call it that, wasn't exactly her choice.  Her family forced her into it. Second, she didn't really have too many options at that time since careers for women pretty much didn't exist, and if your own family wasn't helping you get married, you weren't going to be a respectable missus.

[Mme de Maintenon was a prime example of a respectable missus.]

Even becoming a nun required a dowry.  Third, getting the maîtresse-en-titre position got du Barry out of the whole courtesan circle, phew. So, I feel it's best to just accept she was pushed down a certain sad road, but that she did get some relief from it for a while in a sort of common-law marriage.  

Plus, du Barry was a kind person who:   

- pleaded with the King for the lives of the condemned and elderly Comte and Comtesse de Lousene;*
- intervened for a woman accused of infanticide when she'd borne a stillborn child;**
- forgave and assisted the same aristocracy who had snubbed her as lowborn when they became refugees during the French Revolution.***

Donc, on to du Barry's beauty regime!  Considering her rather sordid lifestyle, quite miraculously, she stayed pretty and fresh and with her own hair colour right up to her gruesome guillotine death at age 50.  Living as she did in the 18th century, a time known for terrible hygiene and horrible skin diseases, Baldrick.jpg

what were this fabulous beauty's anti-aging secrets?  They were, as follows:

1. Cold baths.  Every morning.  Probably also helped her stay healthy, and certainly would've stimulated collagen production, blood circulation - helps with keeping your hair its own colour! - and toned muscles.

[These corgis are random, true, but they make the point: cold = healthy fur, er, hair.]

2. Honey masks.  A honey pack on your face is anti-bacterial and moisterizing.  It would help keep infections and acne away, while minimizing wrinkles.****

3. A rather fabulous-sounding hair wash to help her hair stay a lovely blonde, specifically, a blend of saffron, turmeric, polypodium fern roots, St John’s Wort, Gentian, citrin-coloured sandalwood, and rhubarb.  Must’ve smelled and tasted delicious!****

Try any or all of these ,and stay fresh and healthy and pretty like Mme du Barry!  

[Portrait by Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun .]

Just don't get guillotined...

Usual disclaimer: as always, if you want to try any of these anti-aging treatments, check with your doctor and test for allergies.  And if you're a sensitive soul prone to nightmares or insomnia, don't read about guillotines.

Special thanks to Lauren of for help with some of the research.

*Stoeckl, Agnes de, Mistress of Versailles: the Life of Madame du Barry, John Murray, London, 1966, p. 27.
**Haslip, Joan, Madame du Barry: The Wages of Beauty, Grove Weidenfeld, New York, 1992, pp. 49-50.
*** Id. pp 164, 184.
**** "Madame du Barry, the infamous last mistress of Louis XV, who liked honey applications every morning"

Wilson, Bee. The hive: the story of the honeybee and us. New York : Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Griffin (2007): 205.

***** Madame Du Barry wanted to accentuate the natural color of her blond hair, and Fargeon promised to bring her a blend of saffron, turmeric, polypodium fern roots, St John's wort, gentian, citrin-colorued sandalwood and rhubarb. If she used the lotion regularly to wash her hair, it would be even blonder.”

Feydeau, Elisabeth de. A scented palace: the secret history of Marie Antoinette's perfumer. London: I.B. Tauris. (2006): 24.

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