photo courtesy WYPR
She was born Jeanne Antoinette Poisson but is most recognizable by the name given her by King Louis XV; Madame de Pompadour. Groomed since childhood for the job, Jeanne gained a position in the court of King Louis XV in 1745, rising through the ranks to Duchess in 1752 and eventually to “lady-in-waiting to the Queen” by 1756. The latter was the highest, most noble position a woman could attain in the court. She was also a close friend, advisor, and confidant to the King, and held so much influence over him that many considered her the prime minister. In that capacity, she was responsible for hiring and firing within the court, and also held much influence in domestic and foreign policy decisions.
Apart from politics, however, Jeanne was a great champion and patron of the arts. It is she, who is considered responsible for making Paris the cultural capital of the world. As a “minister of the arts”, she hosted parties, plays, musical performances, and outings for the royal family and court. She was also responsible for the construction of the famed Sévres porcelain factory, sponsored a number of court painters and lobbied for the publication of the first encyclopedia. She decorated the Versailles palace with such opulence that many considered it a flame that would stoke the coming French Revolution.
She was herself was also an artist. Bringing drills and other implements of her trade into her Versailles apartment, she at first, drew suspicion. Later it was learned that she was actually making art in her room! Jeanne sketched, engraved, and make jewelry. Overall, she made 52 engravings of miniature scenes and of animals, which she then carved into cameos and semi-precious gemstones many of which were then made into necklaces and bracelets. A portfolio of her original etchings was recently found and are now on display at the Walters Museum in Baltimore, MD.