Chapter Five - Cultural Memory: Agnès as Celebrity
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 November 2022
AT SOME POINT in the early decades of the sixteenth century, Agnès, formerly a woman whom living people had known personally or known about through others who had known her, becomes a cultural memory, a figure of “objectivized culture,” that is, a figure known only through texts, images, or monuments. Agnès's image, in the forms that I have just discussed, was transmitted to the court of François I where courtiers accustomed to crossing paths with a highly visible royal mistress appreciated and adapted it, setting the “objectivized meaning into [their] own perspective, giving it [their] own relevance.” The visual images, coupled with the narrative of Agnès as saviour of the realm, gave the long-dead royal favourite a renewed presence among a relatively large audience.
With her transition to cultural memory, Agnès also attains what I suggest we can most usefully understand as posthumous celebrity, as a figure who fascinated and continues to fascinate primarily for her beauty and fashion. As helpful as the concept of cultural memory is for recognizing the values that Agnès came to symbolize long after her death, the notion of posthumous celebrity allows us to make still better sense of her afterlife's trajectory and the status that she still retains today as a popular figure in historical romance, documentary, and on numerous social media platforms. It is true that Agnès's celebrity is a strange case even among posthumous celebrities, whose rise normally begins while they are still alive. And yet, the concept provides precisely the right framework for exploring how a young woman whose most obvious attributes, according to contemporary chronicle accounts, were loveliness and charm became an internationally recognized icon long after her death. The nature of her fame is easily distinguishable from that of someone like Cleopatra or Elizabeth I, who were powerful queens. The concept also helps clarify her status within the genealogy of the French royal mistress, where she can be contrasted with members who never became celebrities, or, conversely, later royal mistresses like Diane de Poitiers or the Marquise of Pompadour, who were celebrities in the sense that they were observed as glamourous court figures while also being recognized as political actors.
- Agnès Sorel and the French MonarchyHistory, Gallantry, and National Identity, pp. 81 - 100Publisher: Amsterdam University PressPrint publication year: 2022