TWO DEGREES OF SEPARATION: The Marquise de Chatelet, Madame de Tencin and Marianne Loir

14 Mar TWO DEGREES OF SEPARATION: The Marquise de Chatelet, Madame de Tencin and Marianne Loir

Marianne Loir, Alexandrine Guerin de Tencin and Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil (Marquise de Chatelet) were three women with a common link, whose achievements in male-dominated eighteenth century France are particularly notable. Marianne Loir, whose portrait of the elegant Monsieur de Fontaine is on exhibition on Stair Sainty’s stand at The European Fine Art Fair, Maastricht, was the only French woman artist to achieve some renown during her lifetime, two generations before Vigée Lebrun. Her portrait of the Marquise de Chatelet (Bordeaux, Musée de Beaux-Arts), presents the brilliant mathematician, author, and natural philosopher seated at her desk and holding mathematical dividers as a symbol of her scientific genius.


Marianne Loir, Monsieur de Fontaine     

Marianne Loir, Marquise de Chatelet


Émilie de Chatelet left an intellectual legacy that influenced scientists and philosophers for two centuries after her death and is not only renowned as the translator and commentator of Isaac Newton’s Principia and her development of the concept of kinetic energy and the science of fire but her work in mathematics had a profound influence on the encylopédiste, Le Rond d’Alembert, the illegitimate son of Alexandrine de Tencin, while her writings on free will influenced Emanuel Kant. Émilie and Alexandrine were close friends, the former being a frequent visitor to Alexandrine’s renowned Salon, but Voltaire, Émilie’s long term companion and collaborator detested Alexandrine, whom he had met when together serving brief terms of imprisonment.


Alexandrine de Tencin was a brilliant investor and successful author who also used her political influence to advance the interests of her friends and family. She was the lover of the Regent, the Duke of Orléans and Louis XV’s first minister, Cardinal Dubois, and later obtained the appointment of her brother, Cardinal Pierre Guerin de Tencin as first minister. Visitors to her celebrated Salon were greeted on entering by this painting by François Boucher, with its very personal and flattering tribute to their hostess held aloft by a putto. Her guests not only included leading intellectuals and politicians but several beautiful young women for whom she engineered introductions to the King. The most notable of these was the newly married Jeanne Le Normand d’Étoiles whom Alexandrine tutored in the arts and literature and who was to achieve even great fame as Marquise de Pompadour.


François Boucher, The Enchanted Home (circa 1740)

TWO DEGREES OF SEPARATION: The Marquise de Chatelet, Madame de Tencin and Marianne Loir was last modified: March 15th, 2018 by Thomas Smith