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About That Cake Hawaii

One of the world’s most well known quotes is Let them eat cake, uttered by Marie-Antoinette when she was informed that the French people were starving. To Americans, eating cake while you are starving seems like a splendid idea. What’s the fuss about? Well, firstly the phrase in French was qu’ils mangent de la brioche. Brioche is actually a type of egg and butter bread. Still, having bread when you’re hungry is a pretty good idea too. So, what Marie-Antoinette was really doing was mocking the citizenry, telling them to eat something they didn’t have.

That makes more sense, except there is no evidence whatsoever that Marie-Antoinette ever uttered those now infamous words. What is true is that Rousseau wrote those words sometime prior to 1769, long before he had ever heard of Marie-Antoinette. One biographer says the phrase was first uttered over 100 years before Marie-Antoinette. In reality, the phrase was simply picked up by French revolutionaries, and they used it to embolden their case against the extravagance and frivolity of the French aristocracy and Marie-Antoinette in particular.

On April 24, 1816, the statues of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were ordered by Louis XVI’s brother, Louis XVIII. The statues had a rather tortuous trip to their location in the Saint-Louis Chapel in Saint-Denis. Edme Gaulle (1762-1841) was commissioned to sculpt Louis XVI, and Pierre Petitot (1760-1840) was commissioned to sculpt Marie-Antoinette. The initial models came under immediate criticism Critics said Louis’ praying position wasn’t right. His arms had a strange shape and his face was expressionless. Marie’s statue was criticized for being too skinny and falling too far forward. Certain adjustments were made but the curator on monuments wasn’t pleased and especially not pleased with the size of the invoice from Edme Gaulle. Then one of the casts was damaged and it was back to the drawing board. More modifications were made and in 1828 they were presented to the Inspector General of Beaux Arts for approval. His unkind assessment included a list of everything that was wrong, most notably that Marie-Antoinette’s costume was in bad taste and downright ridiculous. Nevertheless, the two statues were finally approved, but because of an assortment of revolutions, there was confusion over where they should be placed (they were actually in a storeroom for some years). They were not actually installed in Saint-Denis until the mid-1970s. The statues soon became targets for critical tour guides and art historians, but the public could care less. There is almost always someone there taking pictures of the statues and their fellow tourists beside the statues. Interestingly, unlike many other monuments, there is no barrier to prevent tourists from touching the statues as Marie-Antoinette’s scuffed bosoms can attest.

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