Dairy Queens

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

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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 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 ancient regime.

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Product details

  • Hardback | 336 pages
  • 156 x 236 x 28mm | 739.35g
  • HARVARD UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Cambridge, Mass, United States
  • English
  • 82 color illustrations, 8 halftones
  • 0674048997
  • 9780674048997
  • 1,130,867

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Review quote

[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 Bookslut 20110501 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 Choice 20110701

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About Meredith S. Martin

Meredith Martin is Assistant Professor of Art, Wellesley College.

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