Dairy Queens: The Politics of Pastoral Architecture from Catherine de' Medici to Marie-Antoinette

Dairy Queens: The Politics of Pastoral Architecture from Catherine de' Medici to Marie-Antoinette

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by Meredith Martin
     
 

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In a lively narrative that spans more than two centuries, Meredith Martin tells the story of a royal and aristocratic building type that has been largely forgotten today: the pleasure dairy of early modern France. These garden structures—most famously the faux-rustic, white marble dairy built for Marie-Antoinette’s Hameau at

Overview

In a lively narrative that spans more than two centuries, Meredith Martin tells the story of a royal and aristocratic building type that has been largely forgotten today: the pleasure dairy of early modern France. These garden structures—most famously the faux-rustic, white marble dairy built for Marie-Antoinette’s Hameau at Versailles—have long been dismissed as the trifling follies of a reckless elite. Martin challenges such assumptions and reveals the pivotal role that pleasure dairies played in cultural and political life, especially with respect to polarizing debates about nobility, femininity, and domesticity. Together with other forms of pastoral architecture such as model farms and hermitages, pleasure dairies were crucial arenas for elite women to exercise and experiment with identity and power.

Opening with Catherine de’ Medici’s lavish dairy at Fontainebleau (c. 1560), Martin’s book explores how French queens and noblewomen used pleasure dairies to naturalize their status, display their cultivated tastes, and proclaim their virtue as nurturing mothers and capable estate managers. Pleasure dairies also provided women with a site to promote good health, by spending time in salubrious gardens and consuming fresh milk. Illustrated with a dazzling array of images and photographs, Dairy Queens sheds new light on architecture, self, and society in the ancien régime.

Editorial Reviews

Bookslut

[A] brilliant and gorgeous new book...Until now, little has been written about the pleasure dairy and this is certainly the first I've heard of it. An explanation for its disappearance from our cultural history and consciousness is that almost all of the actual buildings no longer exist. But the pleasure dairy's gender coding and associations with female exclusivity and power is likely another reason. It is a testament to Meredith Martin's talent as both writer and scholar that the pleasure dairy has now become so vivid in my imagination, a part of our political and cultural history, that I feel as if I have always known about the phenomenon, Martin's book serving as an exquisite reminder.
— Jenny McPhee

Choice

Marie Antoinette herding sheep and milking cows in the peasant hamlet that she built at Versailles seems the least likely subject for an essay in cultural history. Yet, as Martin shows in her stunning work of scholarship, the queen's interest in pastoral retreats—dairies in particular—was an established and complex court tradition going back to Catherine de' Medici in the 16th century. Martin argues that Catherine, a foreign consort to Henri II, and thus particularly vulnerable to the machinations of a chauvinist court, erected a dairy at her estate to ally herself to ideas of regal fertility, purity, and maternal care as a means of deflecting criticism. Later, during the reign of Louis XIV, the aristocrats who resisted the Sun King's efforts to centralize power at Versailles constructed at their country properties "pleasure dairies" and picturesque gardens as symbols of their repudiation of courtly life and affirmation of feudal order. By the mid-18th century, reformist ideas about responsible child-rearing and proper sanitation encouraged Mme. Pompadour to reintroduce dairies to Versailles. Marie Antoinette's seemingly frivolous exercise in peasant rusticity, then, should be seen as a continuance of elitist expressions of virtuous behavior.
— L. R. Matteson

Mary Sheriff
An innovative and pathbreaking study. Martin demolishes the assumption that pleasure dairies were the frivolous products of a 'let-them-eat-cake' state of mind. They helped shape a range of significant discourses on health, femininity, nobility, pleasure, nature, and utility. Written in clear, lucid prose, this book will appeal to a wide readership.
Francine Du Plessix Gray
Most of us are acquainted with tales of Marie-Antoinette's faux-pastoral activities—her hamlet at Versailles, equipped with a 'pleasure dairy,' where she dressed as a milkmaid and churned butter with her aristocratic pals. In her meticulously researched book, Martin places this diversion into its historical context. Discussing the tradition that celebrated the virtues of rural living, milk, and maternal care as means of social reform, Martin's wonderful book never fails to surprise and enlighten us.
Patrice Higonnet
Dairy Queens is a wonderful book, which I read with sustained pleasure. From Catherine de Medici to Marie-Antoinette, French queens and royal mistresses ordered the creation of dairy farms that became the intersecting sites of important architectural, decorative, and cultural trends. Martin deals with a plethora of subjects in this informed book, ranging from the prestige of milk baths and personal hygiene to politics. Readers will learn something new on every page.
Bookslut - Jenny McPhee
[A] brilliant and gorgeous new book...Until now, little has been written about the pleasure dairy and this is certainly the first I've heard of it. An explanation for its disappearance from our cultural history and consciousness is that almost all of the actual buildings no longer exist. But the pleasure dairy's gender coding and associations with female exclusivity and power is likely another reason. It is a testament to Meredith Martin's talent as both writer and scholar that the pleasure dairy has now become so vivid in my imagination, a part of our political and cultural history, that I feel as if I have always known about the phenomenon, Martin's book serving as an exquisite reminder.
Choice - L. R. Matteson
Marie Antoinette herding sheep and milking cows in the peasant hamlet that she built at Versailles seems the least likely subject for an essay in cultural history. Yet, as Martin shows in her stunning work of scholarship, the queen's interest in pastoral retreats--dairies in particular--was an established and complex court tradition going back to Catherine de' Medici in the 16th century. Martin argues that Catherine, a foreign consort to Henri II, and thus particularly vulnerable to the machinations of a chauvinist court, erected a dairy at her estate to ally herself to ideas of regal fertility, purity, and maternal care as a means of deflecting criticism. Later, during the reign of Louis XIV, the aristocrats who resisted the Sun King's efforts to centralize power at Versailles constructed at their country properties "pleasure dairies" and picturesque gardens as symbols of their repudiation of courtly life and affirmation of feudal order. By the mid-18th century, reformist ideas about responsible child-rearing and proper sanitation encouraged Mme. Pompadour to reintroduce dairies to Versailles. Marie Antoinette's seemingly frivolous exercise in peasant rusticity, then, should be seen as a continuance of elitist expressions of virtuous behavior.
Francine du Plessix Gray
Most of us are acquainted with tales of Marie-Antoinette's faux-pastoral activities—her hamlet at Versailles, equipped with a 'pleasure dairy,' where she dressed as a milkmaid and churned butter with her aristocratic pals. In her meticulously researched book, Martin places this diversion into its historical context. Discussing the tradition that celebrated the virtues of rural living, milk, and maternal care as means of social reform, Martin's wonderful book never fails to surprise and enlighten us.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780674048997
Publisher:
Harvard
Publication date:
02/15/2011
Series:
Harvard Historical Studies Series, #176
Pages:
336
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.00(d)

What People are saying about this

Francine du Plessix Gray
Most of us are acquainted with tales of Marie-Antoinette's faux-pastoral activities—her hamlet at Versailles, equipped with a 'pleasure dairy,' where she dressed as a milkmaid and churned butter with her aristocratic pals. In her meticulously researched book, Martin places this diversion into its historical context. Discussing the tradition that celebrated the virtues of rural living, milk, and maternal care as means of social reform, Martin's wonderful book never fails to surprise and enlighten us.
Mary Sheriff
An innovative and pathbreaking study. Martin demolishes the assumption that pleasure dairies were the frivolous products of a 'let-them-eat-cake' state of mind. They helped shape a range of significant discourses on health, femininity, nobility, pleasure, nature, and utility. Written in clear, lucid prose, this book will appeal to a wide readership.
Mary Sheriff, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Patrice Higonnet
Dairy Queens is a wonderful book, which I read with sustained pleasure. From Catherine de Medici to Marie-Antoinette, French queens and royal mistresses ordered the creation of dairy farms that became the intersecting sites of important architectural, decorative, and cultural trends. Martin deals with a plethora of subjects in this informed book, ranging from the prestige of milk baths and personal hygiene to politics. Readers will learn something new on every page.
Patrice Higonnet, Harvard University

Meet the Author

Meredith Martin is Assistant Professor of Art, Wellesley College.

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