Week 9: Famous Art

All this week's missions are about famous pieces of art!

More From Week 9: Famous Art

Mission 5: The Marquise de Seignelay

All this week we're finding out about some of the most famous paintings ever! Today's painting is called The Marquise de Seignelay

This is a famous painting of a rich mother with her two children all dressed as Greek gods.

Listen to this audio clip to find out a little more about the painting…

What’s the painting of?

It was painted in 1691 and it depicts a woman called The Marquise de Seignelay and her two children.

In the picture,¬†the Marquise and her sons are¬†all dressed up ‚Äď it‚Äôs not how they were normally dressed.¬†

She‚Äôs dressed as a Greek Goddess called¬†Thetis,¬†her eldest son is Achilles and¬†even¬†the toddler gets a Greek makeover too ‚Äď he‚Äôs¬†Cupid.¬†The robes they are wearing are brightly coloured in reds and blues. And there‚Äôs¬†golden armour and jewellery everywhere.

Why was this painting made?

The Marquise was married to a powerful nobleman who died quite young, so she was left alone with her children.

Women didn’t have the same rights then as they do now, and in those days, the only option she’d have was to find another nobleman to marry! So she used what money she had left to show how beautiful and rich she was by dressing as these God-like characters in this colourful painting.

Who painted it?

It was painted by a French artist called Pierre Mignard.

Pierre lived in the 1600s and was known for his religious and mythological paintings.

So what’s interesting about this painting?

Look at the colours in this painting. They have pink, blue and red cloaks and red and green flowers in The Marquise de Seignelay’s hair.

The bright colours were very important as it showed how rich she was.

Having bright colours now may not seem like a very big deal – you probably have every colour of the rainbow in your pencil set – but it was back then.

People back then didn’t know much about chemistry and making colours so they had to make coloured paint out of lots of things that they could find. This meant that bright colours were hard to make which meant they were expensive which is why this coloured painting showed her wealth.

So how did they make coloured paints back then?

Earthy colours (browns, blacks and whites)

These were the easiest to make. You could make them from mud, ashes and chalky rocks which were pretty easy to find and they keep their colour without fading too much.


This was a tricky colour to get.

Whilst¬†there are lots of green things in nature¬†it was hard for chemists and painters¬†to¬†capture the colour in paint in large amounts until the 1800s. Funnily enough,¬†lots of paintings¬†from then¬†started to feature¬†rolling hills and countryside ‚Ästsomething that had previously been¬†almost impossible to paint¬†realistically!¬†

The most successful greens were made from a very precious and expensive stone called Malachite. So only very rich patrons, like the Marquise, or artists could afford to create paintings using such vibrant greens.

Yellow and orange

These were made from ground-up minerals such as lead, orpiment or realgar.


A very bright red called Cochineal was made from squashed beetles. Yuck!


Blue is everywhere ‚Äď not least in the sea and sky.¬†But¬†blue¬†was always a very difficult¬†colour to¬†make because¬†it¬†doesn‚Äôt appear in things which can be made into paint.¬†

For a long time, the only way to get a good deep blue was to grind up a rock called Lapis Lazuli ‚Äď and that was¬†very¬†expensive to get hold of¬†because¬†it¬†had to come¬†all the way from Afghanistan and had to travel a long way across land and sea.

This is one of the reasons why the Marquise in the picture is draped in lush blue fabric because to use that much colour was a sign that the painting had cost a lot of money. It’s a massive show of her wealth and the way she’s dressed shows she thinks she’d be a pretty good catch for a nobleman.  After all, who wouldn’t want to marry a goddess?

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Week 9: Famous Art

All this week's missions are about famous pieces of art!

More From Week 9: Famous Art