According to the marquise du Deffand she was "large and dry-looking" with a ?florid complexion ("le teint échauffé"), thin face, pointed nose and small sea-green eyes. She remarks on her discoloured and damaged teeth. Emilie's figure also comes in for criticism: she is "without hips, narrow in the chest, with fat arms and legs and enormous feet". The Souvenirs attributed to Madame de Créquy likewise mentions the big hands and feet.
The surviving portraits are more flattering, but to some extent confirm the descriptions. They clearly show the same woman, big boned, with a low forehead, long nose and small closed mouth (no doubt concealing those imperfect teeth)!
Here are the main portraits, in so far as I have been able to find them on the internet.
By Bernard-François Lépicié
|1910 engraving after Lépicié|
Here is a description of the painting from an 1892 exhibition catalogue:
Cent chefs-d'oeuvre des écoles françaises et étrangères ...(Paris; G. Petit, 1892)
Marquise du Châtelet by Lepicie, no.24
Seated in a white silk dress with paniers; low-cut bodice decorated with ribbons knotted in the shape of sunflowers; loose brown fur boa behind the neck and extending the length of the bodice. Hands covered by two long mittens which extend to the sleeves; the left hand holds a closed book, the right a piece of paper showing figures of geometry. The head, slightly to one side, faces forward; the mouth is serios, but with laughing and spirited eyes (les yeux railleurs et spirituels)
Collection of the Baroness N. de Rothschild
Nattier portrait from 1743 is again "location unknown". This reproduction is from Elise Goodman's The portraits of Madame de Pompadour: celebrating the femme savante (2000) [Extracts on Google Books]
As Elise Goodman points out the picture falls within a clear tradition of depictions of the "femme savante" who is both beautiful and learned. The book on display is Madame du Châtelet's own Institutions de physique, first published anonymously in 1740, then in revised form in 1742. It has to be said that Émilie tranforms a little awkwardly into a typical white glossy Nattier subject.
By Marianne Loir ("after Nattier")
|Marianne Loir, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux Oil, 118 cm x 96 cm|
Entry on Joconde:
On the website of the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux
It is unclear to what extent Marianne Loir's picture is "after Nattier". Elise Goodman (p.103) reproduces two engravings after a "lost" Nattier which are very similar indeed to the Loir picture. The Institut Voltaire also owns a copy (left) which they feel is "very probably" a late Nattier:
See comments in La Gazette des Délices, Autumn 2005
I am sure the Institut Voltaire knows what it is talking about. Nonetheless, this face does not resemble the known Nattier portrait, which seems altogether more characteristic of his work.
By Quentin La Tour
It compares with La Tour's studies of Voltaire which were done in 1735.
It would be nice to think this is a close likeness of Émilie. Certainly it is unencumbered by any symbolic intent, though it is possible that the intelligent eyes and confident amused expression owe more to La Tour's interpretation than to Émilie herself.
By an unknown artist
|Portrait in oils, 120 cm x 100 cm|
Château de Breteuil
By Nicolas Largillière?
Since then the Largillière expert Dominique Brème has challenged the identification, concluding that the picture dates from about 1725 and represents a generic "docte Uranie". Madame du Châtelet's biographer Elisabeth Badinter agrees, as does the English expert Andrew Brown who took the picture down from the Madame du Châtelet French Wikipedia page!