Saturday, March 6, 2010

Belle Paule of Viguier

This was an early translation I did; the translation is quite free and in many ways is more of an adaptation of an article originally found at the (apparently) now defunct Author Le Disciple gave his blessing for publishing it. It originally appeared on my old website but eventually all that stuff will migrate to LoS.

Paule of Viguier was widely considered to be the most beautiful woman of her time. The Maréchal de Montmorency called her “one of the marvels of the universe.” She went about the streets with her face hidden in order to avoid attracting unruly crowds.

She was in love with her cousin, Baron Philippe de Fontenille, but her parents preferred that she marry a member of parliament from Raynauget. He died young, leaving a considerable fortune to his companion, and thus the most beautiful woman in France was able to marry her true love.

She died just shy of one hundred years old.

“Accompanied by two chaperons, ugly next to such a marvel, arrives a young woman all of twenty years, holding her dress in two hands so that it doesn’t drag upon the ground. Her hazel, almond-shaped eyes fix upon the line of an imaginary horizon, not out of pride, nor to ignore the low people, but done so as not to add to public disorder if she happens to rest her eyes on someone in particular. Despite the ample cloth of her dress, one divines the forms of Venus.

She walks, she glides—perhaps a little haughty—but she must be. People find themselves watching her pass as if she were a Madonna on a procession day. She is passing, she has passed, she moves farther away. It is finished.”

Posterity has unfortunately not left us with any portraits of her. The one on this page can be found in the Mairie of Toulouse in the “Salle des Illustres.” [Painted by Henri Rachou in 1882] Does it reflect the truth? One never knows. Her charm and beauty seems to have run in the family; her mother, born of Lancefoc, was already greatly admired, as all of her six children would later be.

A contemporary of Paule, Gabriel de Minut, seneschal of Rouergue, described with exactitude the complete anatomy of her beauty in a book entitled “De la Beauté” (“On Beauty”) which is comprised of “The Paulegraphy,” an intimate geography, published in Lyon in 1587 after the death of her husband, Baron de Fontenille. Did De Minut want it believed that he had received the favors of a woman known for her virtue, or did he in fact chance to observe, perhaps through a door slightly ajar, the body of this beauty? No one knows, but his sentences describe at length Paule de Viguier.

“Her forehead was large and harmonious, her hair was of golden blond, falling in curls over her shoulders.”

“Underneath this, a nose which doesn’t breath hard or wrinkle, and no matter how hot or cold it gets never changes color.... A nose so well-formed and clean that it is not necessary to offer her a handkerchief, by way of being kind, even if in the warmest, stillest summer...."[1]

“God placed a mouth which eclipses in beauty all the mouths that were ever forged in the forge where mouths are forged.”

“....a beautiful neck full and white, polished and neat and where there is nothing at all of what is commonly called “d'abreuvoir de pigeon”[2]

“I strongly and firmly maintain that the Pauline breasts have nothing to do with the Floral[3] breasts and if the breasts resemble two beautiful balls of ivory, in the middle of which sits a beautiful little strawberry, there is neither blossoming bush nor bloom in the vicinity which is not indebted to the breast yet nevertheless approaches but far from so perfect a beauty.”

“These beautiful and round, white and blushing, firm and solid and strong, gentle breasts have to defend them two beautiful and long, strong and firm branches of arms.”

“The door by which infants leave: As we have said many times, this region is inaccessible to all except one. I cannot say that the will to approach there does not sometimes seize some presumptuous, timorous spirits but it is only to have stories to tell their mothers.”

Thus you have a description that leaves you with the impression that Lord Gabriel de Minut knew the Pauline anatomy intimately. That is, perhaps, what he wanted you to believe. But he himself also declared: “There is yet to be born the man who can boast of having assailed the fort of bashful chastity of our loyal and worthy Paule, who was not immediately and bravely pushed back.”

The thought that such a beauty could belong to one sole man made the chroniclers suspicious. Perhaps fabulists. One among them recounts that on August 1, 1533, François I made his entry into Toulouse and was received by Jean Bernuy in his private residence. The king wanted to pay homage to the man who had guaranteed his ransom while he was prisoner of Charles Quint, King of Spain. In honor of his illustrious guest, de Bernuy gave a splendid party. That is the historical truth. But this chronicler adds that “la belle Paule” danced before the king, scantily clad.

This story is dubious, at best. This was a familial gathering and she was only fifteen. Her virtue was legend and she has been called “the honor of Toulouse and of her century.” One poet even found an almost perfect anagram for Paule de Viguier: “la pure vertu guide”: “Pure virtue guides.”

We owe it to François I that her nickname became famous. While he was received by the Capitouls, they lavished upon him the best welcome possible to make him forget the low taxes they had brought to the kingdom due to bad harvests. Upon his arrival François was told about one who—dressed in white and wrapped in a blue scarf—was to give him a bouquet of flowers, the keys to the city and recite compliments in French verse. Those who overheard him remember that François I, perhaps not quite remembering her family name, responded in a loud and strong voice: “Ah! La belle Paule?” The expression stuck and one no longer spoke of her as anything but the “Belle Paule.”

Long from settling into the role of an admirable beauty, she used her reputation and fortune to open the doors to her private residence to poets, writers and singers. It was the height of the Renaissance and Toulouse needed a little art and finesse because it had long stayed deaf to changes coming from the outside. Paule de Viguier contributed to the evolution of this mentality and the renewal of the arts in the city which was so dear to her. Perhaps she was too successful; according to legend, the Capitouls of Toulouse, under popular pressure, had to oblige her to appear at regular intervals at her balcony to calm the heated spirits unable to freely admire her otherwise.

When in 1564 Catherine de Medici came on an official visit to Toulouse she was piqued by curiosity and came to visit Belle Paule. Some wonder if it was her brother—who held high functions at the court with Nostradamus, doctor of the king who sojourned in Toulouse—who spoke of the admirable Paule to the queen mother? Catherine said of her: “Her beauty is well above her reputation.”

Born in 1518, Paule de Viguier died in 1610.

Not much is written of her death but some point before the Revolution, a mummy shown in the vault of the Cordeliers was said to be the body of la Belle Paule. Far from this indignity, she was placed among the number of the four marvels of Toulouse: “La bello Paulo, San-Sarni, Le Bazacle et Matali.[4]

Photo from the Mairie of Toulouse

[1] A nose which is "si beau et si net, que le mouchoir n'y est requis que pour lui donner, par une façon de faire fort gentille, en temps d'été le plus chaud, un peu de vent, plutôt que pour en tirer tant soit peu d'ordures et vilenies ." I can't figure out how to translate this.....

[2] I have found this exact phrase at only one place on the internet, and that is the site that this text is translated and adapted from. Abreuvoir generally translates to drinking trough. I suppose the term here is a weird metaphor for a form or movement of the neck. A bird’s head wobbling up and down at the trough? Or perhaps in form an overly concave neck ? I’m befuddled.

[3] Flora, mistress of Pompey, was renowned for the perfection of her figure.

[4] La Belle Paule, Saint-Sernin basilica, the Bazacle road and Matali (French violinist)


For other manifestations of the mythical feminine in Toulouse see:


  1. I don't think that I quite get the difference between the Pauline and the Floral breasts.

    Perhaps you could supply some photos to help illustrate the distinction? ;)

    Seriously, though, thanks for re-posting this here; it's an interesting article.

    Seems like there's some sort of compulsive need for movie stars.

    BTW--you might want to fix the footnote links. They're linking out to the original article instead of to the relevant textual area within your post.

  2. It's more or less a translation. I would've written it differently.....the similarity to (legendary) Clémence Isaure is worth exploring more....

    Re: the linkage. I know you've foot-noted some of your's not such a big deal that they link out I suppose....what tag do I need to fix 'em? (He asks instead of simply Googling it, hoping Gid'll say, "Pish-posh old bean, I'll take care of it")....

  3. I think yr footnotes are working correctly now. Give it shot.

    The way that I did it seems preposterously complicated...

  4. They seem to be working perfectly. Thanks. The options while writing in the text area are a bit limited, I think. I saw your footnote practice as a draft. Perhaps we can leave it there to refer to as needed.


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