Her difficulties at court were almost never with the King – by all accounts, for a long time their desires matched up almost perfectly. They tended to be with aristocrats, who, unlike the king, were not charmed by her bourgeois background. They certainly weren’t charmed that she was an advocate of the ideals of enlightenment, which, admittedly, were later used by revolutionaries. But at the time, lots of aristocrats loved democratic philosophy, so Pompadour wasn’t alone in being interested in that. Still, people said mean things. A popular ditty about her ran:
Fille de sangsue et sangsue elle meme
Poisson dâ€™une arrogance extreme
Etale en ce chateau sans crainte et sans effroi
La substance du people et la honte du Roi.
(Daughter of leech, and leech herself, Poisson (Fish), with an extreme arrogance, flaunts in this chĂ˘teau, without fear or dread, the substance of the people and the shame of the King.)
Frankly, that was like a “crazy internet commenter” comment, though. It didn’t really mean anything other than a certain small group of anti-Pompadour people existed (who called themselves Poissonades) they seemed to understand that both fish and leeches were water dwelling creatures. And they could rhyme, a bit. Louis occasionally lashed out at them, but very rarely – though he did increasingly support censorship of books, especially those criticizing the government, as he grew older.
More worrisome to Pompadour were the aristocrats claimed that her expenses were excessive. I mean, they were. She did collect a huge amount of beautiful things – her apartments were filled with Dresden candlesticks, Vincennes china, wood carved by Verberckt – the list goes on for a long time. She patronized all the artists and all the writers. After her death, it took lawyers a full year to make an inventory of all the objects of value in her apartments.
That said, something nice about Pompadour is that, while she collected an enormous amount of art, and she loved beautiful things,Â she made sure she paid for everything. She paid every single artist. It’s astonishing to realize how many aristocrats traded on the credit of their good names and never actually paid for any of their works (if they didn’t, there really wasn’t much the painters could do). Pompadour made sure she paid for everything she commissioned, and claimed that the financial difficulties of her early childhood made her realize how much it meant to people.
This does not seem like an extraordinary act on her part, but it is one of those situations where just being a decent person elevates you above a lot of your peers.
She also worked to restore many buildings which characterize Paris today. It was Madame Pompadour that called for the restoration of the Louvre, and helped with the design of the Place de la Concorde and the Pantheon (built by an architect she patronized). And she formed the Ecole Militaire with the intent of training members of lesser nobility to be officers, and not “useless, broke people”. Social mobility and some democratic ideals FTW!
She also truly believed in the artists she believed in – later in his life, Voltaire wrote verses maligning her (it was after Louis XV had disapproved of some of his writings). She continued to patronize him, and arranged for his sinecure at Versailles. Because he was Voltaire, and Pompadour was just all kinds of classy.