THE GENDER POLITICS OF PLEASURE DAIRIES
France was on the verge of Revolution, the ill-famed extravagances of Marie-Antoinette having poisoned the populace against her and the entire regime. Pornographic circulars featuring the Austrian-born Queen were rife in the streets of Paris as was an engraving entitled “La France Malade” (“France Is Sick”) representing a female allegory of France being bled while Marie-Antoinette, known as “Madame Déficit,” greedily grasps out for her blood. Louis XVI’s reign was in degenerative free fall. Something had to be done. The solution: the construction of a magnificent new pleasure dairy — a faux-rustic garden building where elite women gathered to consume milk products made on the premises by servants. It was called the “Queen’s Dairy,” built at Rambouillet, a rural royal property near the palace at Versailles. Its intended message was that the monarchy was intent on a policy of regeneration and reform.
Of course, in the end, the Queen’s Dairy couldn’t save the Ancien Régime, even if milk and the pleasure dairy were, by the mid-1780s, as Meredith Martin argues in her brilliant and gorgeous new book, Dairy Queens: The Politics of Pastoral Architecture from Catherine de’ Medici to Marie-Antoinette, embodiments of healthfulness. Moreover, the pleasure dairy symbolized female moral rectitude and was a locus of the domestic feminine virtues of fertility, nurturing, and maternity.
It couldn’t have helped matters much that the Queen’s Dairy was lavishly decorated and included a sixty-five-piece Sèvres porcelain service featuring “the breast cup,” a breast-shaped cup based on the ancient Greek mastos used for Dionysian drinking rituals. With no handles, the flesh-colored cup, culminating in a pert pink nipple, rested on a tripod base. To drink from it, the vessel was cradled in one’s palms, adding to the “reality effect.” An enduring rumor (disproved by Martin) is that the model for the porcelain cups was molded from Marie-Antoinette’s own breasts.