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Tuesday's Titillating Treasure: Marie Antoinette's Favorite Things

Photograph by Francis Hammond
Jewelry Cabinet
This jewelry armoire was designed for Marie Antoinette by the cabinet maker Jean-Ferdinand Schwerdfeger and decorated with bronze work by Pierre-Philippe Thomire.  It was delivered to the Palace of Versailles in 1787 -  just two years before the beginning of the French Revolution. 

When I first saw this splendid armoire, I imagined the priceless baubles and sparkly pieces it must have once contained.  However, I have since been informed that Marie Antoinette's priceless jewels were not kept inside this cabinet, that it was, rather, for show.

Photograph by Francis Hammond
Lacquered Box
Did you know that Marie Antoinette was a collector (some might even say a Royal Hoarder)?  One of the things she enjoyed collecting was Japanese lacquerware. 

Collecting Japanese lacquerware was a popular past time among eighteenth century French aristocrats and those with a surplus of sous.  Technically, many of the items came from China, but the term Japanese Lacquerware was used to describe painted and heavily lacquered pieces from Asia or pieces with Asian influence.

The box pictured above is in the shape of a reclining puppy.  Did the queen look at the box and fondly remember the beloved pup she had to leave behind in Austria when she became Dauphine of France? 

(Side note:  I've often spoken of the strange connections Marie Antoinette and I both share - from birth date, number of pregnancies, physical ailments, to hair and eye color.  Now I discover that we both enjoyed collecting boxes.  When I was younger, I had a huge box collection, including one from China and two from Japan.)

Viennese Guéridon
A guéridon was a small, round table used for holding a candlestick or vase.  Sometimes, it was also used in a dining room to hold side dishes.  

There were hundreds of these tables in the Palace of Versailles by Marie Antoinette's reign, including the one pictured on the left.  This table was given to Marie Antoinette by her sister, Maria Christina, and featured a unique top with petrified wood marquetry.

Photographer Francis Hammond's exquisite photography of one of France’s most significant historical landmarks can be viewed and appreciated in his book, Versailles: A Private Invitation.

Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

Let us bid adieu to Pierre Ambroise François Choderlos de Laclos, author of Dangerous Liaisons, who died of dysentery and malaria on this day in 1803. 

Dangerous Liaisons was a masterpiece of fiction based on the real-life, tangled amorous relations of 18th Century French aristocrats (Any similarity between myself, la Comtesse Marie, and characters within the novel are purely coincidental, I assure you.)

Did you know:

  • Although Laclos successfully wrote about the diabolical machinations of members of the ancien regime, he was actually born into a bourgeois family.
  • One of Laclos's first literary attempts was a comedic opera based on Marie Jeanne Riccoboni's popular novel, Ernestine.  The play, which debuted on July 19, 1777, was a tremendous failure.
  • Marie Antoinette attended the premiere of Laclos's first play.
  • The Chevalier Saint-Georges, a deadly swordsman, skilled equestrian, gifted musician, and unmatched lover, was one of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos's closest friends. 
  • The title of Dangerous Liaisons in French is Les Liaisons Dangereuses.
  • Vicomte de Valmont, the sexual predator in Pierre Choderlos de Laclos's Dangerous Liaisons, was indeed based on a real nobleman, a calculating libertine.
  • For a time, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos served in the French Army.
  • After his stint in the military, Laclos entered the service of Louis Philippe, Duke of Orléans, who was a cousin of Louis XVI and an instigator of the Revolution.  During the Revolution, the traitorous Orléans voted in favor of the execution of Louis XVI.  Karma is just though:  Orléans, who had changed his name to the more republican Philippe Égalité, was later sent to the guillotine.
  • Laclos was buried at Forte de Laclos, a military fort in the Isola di San Paolo in Italy.
  • The 1988 movie, Dangerous Liaisons, starring Glenn Close and John Malkovich, was based on Laclos's novel.  It won three Academy Awards and sixteen other cinematic awards.

First edition of
 Les Liaisons
from the King's Collection,
Palace of Versailles

Illustration from the first edition
of Les Liaisons Dangereuses.
This engraving, which was
included in the original book,
 was done by Charles Monnet.

Une fleur pour la reine

Botanical painting by Pierre Joseph Redoute
A mournful gray cloud hovered over Kansas City yesterday, weeping copious tears.  It seemed the perfect day to see Farewell, My Queen.
The historical drama depicts the highly fictional relationship between Marie Antoinette and Sidonie Laborde, a young woman selected to be the queen's official court reader.
Mademoiselle Laborde, a skilled embroiderer, nurtures great affection for Marie Antoinette, so when she is asked by Madame Bertin to embroider a pink dahlia that will become part of the queen's latest ensemble, she willingly obliges.
Watching Sidonie embroider a great pink dahlia got me to thinking about Marie Antoinette's floral infatuation. 
Did you know that Marie Antoinette had a rose garden situated on the grounds of le hameau, her private village on Versailles?  Wearing a sheer muslin gown, she would prune the prickly bushes.
Did you know Marie Antoinette liked to add orange blossom water to her hot chocolate?
Did you know Marie Antoinette wore an intensely floral scent distilled from the essences of rose, iris, jasmine and orange blossom?
Marie Antoinette adored flowers and used them copiously in her personal adornments and decorations.
Indeed, it is nearly impossible to find a piece of furniture, wallpaper, or accoutrement that belonged to Marie Antoinette that has not been embellished with flowers.

Controversial Vigee Lebrun portrait of
Marie Antoinette in her chemise.
Official portrait of Marie Antoinette by
Elisabeth Vigree Lebrun.  The
queen holds a rose as dark
storm clouds gather behind her,
symbols of the political climate
in France at that time.

Marie Antoinette's coffer.  Notice the
roses painted on the porcelain

Marie Antoinette's private apartment at
the Chateau de Versailles.  Her bed is draped
in floral fabric.

Le Hameau, Marie Antoinette's
private hamlet on the grounds of
Versailles.  Here, the queen would
tend her roses, milk her cows, and
pluck strawberries from the vines

Marie Antoinette's gown, embroidered
with flowers.

A chair made for Marie Antoinette, covered
in floral silk.

This harp belonged to Marie Antoinette. 
The sound board has paintings of Peace and Minerva,
patroness of artists and clusters of flowers.

Embroidered pocketbook once owned by
Marie Antoinette.  The oval medallion
in the center features sprigs of pink flowers.

Marie Antoinette's chocolate service set, embellished
with blue flowers.

This scrap of fabric was embroidered by one of Rose
Bertin's embroiderers for Marie Antoinette.  Notice
the lovely pink flower.

A Sèvres ice stand made for Marie Antoinette.

Lions & Tigers & Bears, Mon Dieu!

Do you spy the monkey in the bottom left corner of the above engraving by Hogarth?  Does the creature seem to be out of place in the eighteenth century salon? 


But, did you know that in 18th Century France, many aristocrats kept exotic animals as pets?

Marie Antoinette's chief lady-in-waiting, Laure-Auguste de Fitz-James, the Princesse de Chimay, kept a monkey as a pet.  On fine days, the princesse enjoyed parading her monkey through the gardens at Versailles.  Wearing a tiny suit, he would scamper about, delighting visitors with his silly antics.  Some say the monkey enjoyed more popularity that his mistress.

The princesse was not the only aristocrat in 18th century France to nurture a passion for the exotic.  Parrots, lions, tigers, ocelots, capuchin monkeys, elephants, white peacocks, and leopards were owned by various members of the aristocracy, who would pay to have the creatures brought from Africa, India, or South America.

The naturalist, scientist, and cosmologist, Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte of Buffon, was fascinated with exotic creatures and kept a beautiful green parrot as a pet.  Parrots were an extremely popular pet choice for men and women.
In 1782, the prince de Poix arranged to purchase an ostrich, dromedary, camel, tiger, and a pair of lions. In 1783, he added jackals, hyenas, and antelopes to his list of much longed for beasts.

The menagerie at Versailles

Did you know...
  • Did you know there was a Royal Menagerie at Versailles?
  • Did you know Louis XIV once entertained the ambassador of Persia with a gruesome fight between a tiger and an elephant?
  • Did you know Louis XVI encouraged scientists to look upon the Royal Menagerie as a place to further study beasts of the wild?
  • Did you know bear baiting was a popular entertainment within the streets of Paris?
  • Did you know the Saint Germain and Saint Laurent fairs in Paris featured animal shows, which were extremely popular with Parisians?
  • The average citizen could not afford to keep an exotic animal as a pet, but they could purchase engravings of tigers, lions, and assorted exotic beasts?
  • Did you know the Rococo artist Jean-Baptiste Oudry spent much of his time drawing and painting exotic animals?
After the Storm:
For her ties to the royal family, the Princesse de Chimay was briefly imprisoned at the prison Osieaux.  Fortunately, she survived the Revolution.  What became of her monkey nobody knows. 

18th Century Gentleman poses for a
portrait with his menagerie in the

Painting by Jean-Baptiste Oudry

Gros-Madame: Louis XVI's Other Sister

Louis XVI's other sister, Clotilde

Much has been written about Louis XVI's faithful sister, Élisabeth-Phippine-Marie-Hélène de France, but did you know he had two other sisters?

Marie Zéphyrine was a petite princess with wide blue eyes and a complexion of peaches and cream.  Born in August 1750 - four years before Louis - she would live but a short time.  In 1755, Marie Zéphyrine suffered from violent convulsions and died.   She was buried at the Royal Basilica of Saint Denis outside Paris.

Louis XVI's other sister was Marie Adélaïde Clotilde Xavière, who was born at the palace of Versailles on September 23, 1749.  Clotilde, a plump baby, possessed a voracious appetite.  Courtiers who gathered to watch the royal family at table described her as a "round little ball" who devoured meat, vegetables, and anything else placed before her.  Her dining room antics - and ever widening mid-section - soon earned her a nickname at court - Gros Madame (Fat Madame).  In the painting above, a young Clotilde balances a plate of ripe fruit on her lap as she sits astride a goat.  Her brother, the Comte d'Artois, rests his hand on her shoulder.

When Marie Antoinette arrived at Versailles, she spent much time with her husbands sisters.  Though she liked the pretty, energetic Princess Élisabeth, she found Clotilde to be fat and priggish. 

In 1775, Louis XVI arranged a match between Princess Clotilde  and Charles Emmanuel, the Prince of Piedmont (future King of Sardinia).

Despite her ever growing girth, Clotilde took the baton she was handed and sprinted with it.  That is to say, she devoted herself to her husband.  Theirs would prove a loving matrimony.

Although Clotilde never returned to France, she remained close with her sister.  When Madame Adélaïde and Madame Victoire (Louis XV's doddering, spinster daughters) fled Revolutionary France, Clotilde held out her flabby arms and welcomed them to her palace.