Saturday, August 9, 2008

On Gowns, Queens, and Escape

photo of a painting of Marie de Medici and Louis XIII as a child at Château de Blois

This is a photo of a painting at château de Blois (Blois Castle) of Marie de Medici and Louis XIII as a child. I believe the painting is on permanent display, so when you visit the castle, you’ll be able to see it. Marie de Medici acted as regent for her eldest child when Henry IV was assassinated in 1610. But when her son came of age to rule, she wouldn’t relinquish her position, forcing Louis XIII to send her on exile in château de Blois.

Marie de Medici never liked it in Blois. First, maybe it’s because Blois a little bit far from Paris where the seat of power is located. Second, the castle is in the forest of Sologne (the royal hunting grounds) which might have given here the impression of being in the outback, contrary to the glitz and glamour of the capital. And third, it’s quite an obvious reminder of her exile and having her regency wrestled from her hands by her own son. Well, these are just my assumptions. But she definitely detested being in Blois for she tried and managed to escape by descending down a rope from her apartment to the ground (source: Châteaux de la Loire, Sélection du Reader’s Digest, 1997). I believe it was quite a feat for a queen! Marie de Medici was on the overweight side at that time, plus all those layers of clothing a queen usually wore (she might be desperate to escape but I don’t think she went down the rope in her undergarments *winks*) --- I assume it wasn’t an easy task, no matter how desirable it is. But then, as they say, “when there’s a will, there’s a way”.

Here is Louis XIII as a child. In case you’re wondering why he was painted wearing a gown, well, during those times, male toddlers were made to wear dresses due to practical reasons. First, such garments are practical for toilet training and second, clothes are expensive at that time. Gowns leave enough room for growth and I believe many mothers would agree with me that kids grow at a fast rate during their toddler years. So by wearing gowns, people save money, not to mention the convenience they provide for the child’s toilet training. In paintings, male infants were given something “masculine” to hold or to wear like swords, batons, bow and jewelries (if they are worn) are in darker colors to distinguish them from female children. And when young boys reach the “age of reason” (usually around two to seven years of age) they were allowed to wear trousers or breeches. Their first time to wear such clothing (called breeching) is a celebrated event. (source: wikipedia on breeching). I guess it’s because it is symbolic of a male child entering the world of men; from being an infant into being an adult, so to speak; from being dependent into being independent.

I find paintings such as this interesting, not only for their aesthetic value but also for giving a glimpse of old customs and a window to the past. Well, I am not hoping to find any codes or hidden meaning in many of them, but if ever there is one, I guess that would be quite exciting *winks*.


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