Author(s): Meredith S. Martin
In a lively narrative that spans more than two centuries, Meredith Martin tells the story of a royal and aristocratic building type that has been largely forgotten today: the pleasure dairy of early modern France. These garden structures - most famously the faux-rustic, white marble dairy built for Marie-Antoinette's Hameau at Versailles - have long been dismissed as the trifling follies of a reckless elite. Martin challenges such assumptions and reveals the pivotal role that pleasure dairies played in cultural and political life, especially with respect to polarizing debates about nobility, femininity, and domesticity. Together with other forms of pastoral architecture such as model farms and hermitages, pleasure dairies were crucial arenas for elite women to exercise and experiment with identity and power. Opening with Catherine de' Medici's lavish dairy at Fontainebleau (c. 1560), Martin's book explores how French queens and noblewomen used pleasure dairies to naturalize their status, display their cultivated tastes, and proclaim their virtue as nurturing mothers and capable estate managers.
Pleasure dairies also provided women with a site to promote good health, by spending time in salubrious gardens and consuming fresh milk. Illustrated with a dazzling array of images and photographs, "Dairy Queens" sheds new light on architecture, self, and society in the ancient regime.
An innovative and pathbreaking study. Martin demolishes the assumption that pleasure dairies were the frivolous products of a 'let-them-eat-cake' state of mind. They helped shape a range of significant discourses on health, femininity, nobility, pleasure, nature, and utility. Written in clear, lucid prose, this book will appeal to a wide readership. -- Mary Sheriff, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Most of us are acquainted with tales of Marie-Antoinette's faux-pastoral activities-her hamlet at Versailles, equipped with a 'pleasure dairy,' where she dressed as a milkmaid and churned butter with her aristocratic pals. In her meticulously researched book, Martin places this diversion into its historical context. Discussing the tradition that celebrated the virtues of rural living, milk, and maternal care as means of social reform, Martin's wonderful book never fails to surprise and enlighten us. -- Francine du Plessix Gray Dairy Queens is a wonderful book, which I read with sustained pleasure. From Catherine de Medici to Marie-Antoinette, French queens and royal mistresses ordered the creation of dairy farms that became the intersecting sites of important architectural, decorative, and cultural trends. Martin deals with a plethora of subjects in this informed book, ranging from the prestige of milk baths and personal hygiene to politics. Readers will learn something new on every page. -- Patrice Higonnet, Harvard University
Shortlisted for Berkshire Conference of Women Historians First Book Prize 2011.
Meredith Martin is Assistant Professor of Art, Wellesley College.