THE LAST MINUTES OF MARIE ANTOINETTE, 16 OCTOBER 1793

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Jacques-Louis David, Marie-Antoinette Led to the Scaffold, 1793, Paris, Louvre.

Jacques-Louis David, the chief artist and designer of the Jacobin government, watched the public execution of former queen Marie Antoinette on 16 October 1793 from a window of a friend’s apartment overlooking the Place de la Guillotine, as the Place de la Concorde had been renamed. He made this quick sketch of the gaunt, expressionless 38-year old prisoner as she was led to the scaffold  before a large mob of spectators. The king, Louis XVI, had been beheaded on 30 January.

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Elizabeth Vigée-LeBrun, Marie Antoinette, 1785, Prague, Konopiste Castle.

Marie Antoinette had been convicted, after a two-day trial, of ruining the nation’s finances by renovating the Petit Trianon, conspiring with foreign powers to overthrow the revolutionary régime, and having molested her son, the Dauphin, who was forced to testify against his mother (all charges were patently false).  A witness noted her composure and dignity in her last moments.

As for David, once the grisly event was over, he went to his next appointment, the official unveiling of his portrait of the martyr of the  revolution, Jean-Paul Marat, who public obsequies he had choreographed on in July 1793.

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