Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Man Who Died Twice

To die twice is not a commonplace occurrence. Yet this is what happened to a hero of the boudoir, who was in the revolutionary France at the height of his popularity, and figured in the dreams of all the fine ladies of Marie Antoinette’s Court. His name was Jean François Autié, his alias Leonard, and he was a barber by profession.

by Patrick Bernauw
Image via Wikipedia

He was nicknamed “le Marquis Leonard” to distinguish him from his brother, “le Chevalier”, whose office was confined to the cutting of hair. In 1791, his gigantic headdresses, two feet in height, adorned with a collection of accessories and supported by a framework of steel wire, were very much “en vogue’. Leonard gave them ridiculous names, like “valgalas” or “toquets en lubie”, which the ladies thought enchanting. 
“If Leonard was not a perfect imbecile, with neither refinement nor taste,” the historian G. Lenotre wrote in his book The Flight of Marie Antoinette, “he must certainly have been a profound philosopher, and have spent hours of exquisite enjoyment in observing the measureless folly of those brainless grandes dames, whom he treated with the rudeness of a slave-trader, being repaid by them with all the more idolatry and admiration.”
When a woman was of sufficient importance to receive his ministrations,  the artist would arrive – always in a hurry – and take a quick look at his client. He would appear to study the figure of the patient for some minutes, and then, as he felt the inspiration come, he would pounce upon the first objects that came to hand: a cabbage, a scarf, a sponge, some apples, a child’s toy boat.
With these accessories he would build up his extravagant edifice on the head of his delighted victim. Thus it was that the Duchesse de Luynes presented herself one day in the royal circle with one of her chemises in her hair, an idea which was thought to be “quite too delightfully foolish”, and that Madame de Matignon made her appearance with her locks dressed a la Jardinière, carrying on her head an artichoke, a head of green broccoli, a pretty carrot and a few little radishes. Rousseau had made nature fashionable; or, as one of the ladies put it: “Vegetables are so much more natural than flowers, are they not?”
The noblest and the most charming heads passed through the hands of Leonard. Every day his fingers gently touched those pink and perfumed necks that were so soon to be torn by the steel triangle of the guillotine. In the days of the Terror this man must have been tortured by horrible visions every evening as he read in the gazettes the account of the executions of the previous day. Visions, for instance, of the horrible basket under the guillotine in which were heaped the long curls, fair and dark, that his own golden comb had so often smoothed.

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The Man Who Died Twice | Socyberty -

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