This portrait historié, whose rich and beautifully preserved impasto reveals Aved's masterly technique, is an outstanding example of Turquerie in 18th-century French painting. Shown full-length and striking an elegant, almost nonchalant pose, the Marquise de Sainte-Maure leans against the stone pedestal of a large garden vase from which descend the intertwined tendrils of a nasturtium. In the distance, behind a grove of trees, the dome and slender minarets of a mosque rise into the lowering sky. Though her crossed-legged pose – which presages the Grand Manner compositions of Pompeo Batoni and Joshua Reynolds – conveys a relaxed sensibility, the Marquise's sumptuous costume is anything but. Her blue and white silk robe is tucked into a multicolored sash tied at the waist and adorned with shimmering tassels, while a diaphanous pink-and-white striped caftan peeks out from underneath. The heavy, short-sleeved pelisse (“kurdi”, in Turkish) that she wears atop all this billowing silk and satin is made with silver brocade and lined with sable, and her turban is ornamented with a tuft of dark blue feathers. The whole exotic attire is decorated with pearls of various sizes, some of which hold the coiffure in place and are strung into a torsade around the long braid of powdered hair that falls over the Marquise's shoulder, while others appear at the edge of the bodice and cuffs of the undergarment. In her right hand the Marquise clutches a large silk handkerchief fringed with gold, while on her feet she wears a pair of babouches, or Turkish slippers, probably made of soft leather.
The bouquet of orange blossoms in Madame de Sainte-Maure's left hand suggest that the portrait may have been intended to commemorate her 1739 marriage to Louis II de Saint-Maure, Seigneur d'Origny et de La Tour-du-Pré, called the Marquis de Saint-Maure. As a military officer, Saint-Maure seved in the regiment of the Royal-Étranger during the War of Polish Succession (1733-1738). The couple had one child, Louis Marie Cécile.
The present work, which dates to 1743, reflects the recent vogue for portraits à la Turque in French aristocratic circles. Indeed, just the year before, Aved had painted a full-length portrait of the Turkish ambassador to the court of France, Mehmed Saïd Efendi (fig. 1; Musée national du Château de Versailles) for Louis XV. Efendi – witty, cultivated, and French-speaking – was hugely popular during his visit to France in 1742, and earned the rare privilege of an audience with the king in the Galerie des Glaces at Versailles. Efendi's popularity resulted in a surge in à la Turque portraiture in the following years, and Aved himself executed several commissions in this style. As the present painting and the portrait of Efendi are thematically related and of identical proportions, one wonders if the Marquise may have been painted to serve as a pendant to the portrait of the Turkish ambassador. Indeed a costume identical to that worn here by the Marquise is found in a roundel portrait of a woman identified as Louis XV's mistress, Pauline Félicité de Mailly, Comtesse de Vintimille, and when exhibited at the Salon of the Académie Royale in 1743, the present painting was described as depicting the Marquise in “le Jardin du Sérail”, or “the garden of the seraglio”, which housed the sequestered living quarters of wives and concubines in an Ottoman household.