04.09Marie Antoinette's Gossip Guide to the 18th Century: 04.09

April 30, 2009

So you like Fragonard?

I don't blame you!

If you are interested in learning about the group of works he painted for Madame du Barry, now known as The Progress of Love, then you are in luck!

The fabulous Frick Collection is hosting an education seminar, Monday May 4, from 2-3:30pm. The seminar will discuss the pieces, including the reason for their commission, the intended positioning, and the subjects themselves. You will get to see the works up close in their lovely Fragonard Room, and participate in discussion. The price is $100 per person, and you can register now!

If you can not make it to New York City for the education seminar, do not worry! You are more than welcome to visit the Gossip Guide, as we are halfway through our exploration of the Progress of Love! So you can follow along from the comfort of your own home!

Read the first two installments here, and feel free to discuss the works! The 3rd and 4th installments will be here shortly!

1) The Progress of Love: The Pursuit
2) The Progress of Love: The Meeting

April 29, 2009

Oh my! Mirabeau

Mirabeau was in the habit of sleeping in the Italian fashion....

The Italian fashion was to sleep completely naked!

April 25, 2009

Femme of the Week: Marie-Jeanne Laboras de Mézières, Madame Riccoboni

"It is not always the lover a woman regrets when compelled to cease to love, it is the feeling, the charm, the joy of loving, joy so great that nothing can replace it."
Marie-Jeanne Laboras de Mézières (b. 1714, Paris) was not a lady of the court, yet had been born into a family once wealthy and noble, the Béarn. The family had been stripped of their wealth, and when she was a young girl she lost both her parents and had to live with an aunt. Marie-Jeanne was well educated, and grew up with fortunate looks, dark eyes, fair skin and an even figure. Where she lacked rank and wealth she made up for with wit and charisma.

At 18 she caught the eye of a well off Englishman. She was 18 and in love, and he was older and surely saw her as a mere distraction, as she was not of rank or wealth to consider for marriage! A fact of life she would learn from experience.

Marie-Jeanne would later publish her letters to her English man under the title "Letters of Mistress Fanni Buttlerd to Milord Charles Alfred de Caitombridge Earl of Plisinte Duke of Raflingth." The story tells of Fanni who is a young girl who makes mistakes and falls in love all the while putting full trust into her man. From this first edition with origninal letters (so they seem) we can tell that this 'first love' really affected Marie-Jeanne later in life, at least as a growing and learning experience.

She (Fanni or literally Marie-Jeanne) sacrifices everything for him, but he, nothing. She loses virtue and modesty, but who could be blamed but herself? Through the collection of letters you pity her, but she has learned what it means to be young, ignorant and too trusting. Whether the experience left her bitter or just damaged, it did her well. Think, Alanis Morissette... her realization of the lesson learned turned to creative energy and by 1734 she had received a role as an actress in the French play "The Surprise of Love."

She married François Riccoboni, also an actor who had written many popular plays. His parents were very successful, both actors and authors. Marie-Jeanne discovered a taste for literature and writing after meeting her husbands family. Her marriage had cooled after a few years, however she remained devoted to her absent husband. A loss of love left her miserable, but tough and she knew she needed to convince herself to deal with it. She really focused on writing as an escape, something to look forward to.

So she wrote, and she was good. So good, in fact, François began to consult her for writing advice! He went as far as publishing under her name! Now, by 1757 she decided to publish her work, and that is when she pulled out those letters between her and that Englishman that scared her heart. The style of telling a story through letters was a bit popular, yet she published anonymously. Eventually her identity was revealed, even though she did not want it to be. (friends with big mouths!)

Her later works such as The History of the Marquis of Cressy and Juliette Catesby. By 1761 she received a pension from the court, but continued to write, because it was really her passion! Eventually she was accused of not being the true author of someworks, but the claims were later dismissed. With the revolution she lost her pension, and became incredibly poor. Madame Ricconboni died on December 6, or 7th, 1792.

April 22, 2009

Dress of the Year, 1774 that is.

I just want to say that I find this gown AMAZING. It's exactly how I grew up imagining gowns of fairy tales!

It is the wedding gown of Edwige Elizabeth Charlotte Holstein-Gottorp (1774 France/Sweden.) Would you wear it for you wedding?? I just love the detail, its unreal! I am going to direct you all to the Court Pomp and Royal Ceremony (featured by Chanel=fabulousness ensues) website, which is wonderful! Get browsing!

And if you are so fortunate to go to this show, please report back, only a few select items are on the site, and I wont be in town before the exhibition closes!

Here is an image of Elizabeth Charlotte in the gown from Madame Berg via 18th Century Blog!

April 20, 2009

Continuez l'opéra! Sacchini

Marie Antoinette loved music, theater, concerts and was a great patron of the opera. She even had her own theater! By 1777 she was taking singing lessons by the composer Piccinni two times a week! He came to Paris from Italy where he was very well known, and Italian opera continued to increase in popularity while he was there.

Antoinette's brother, the Emperor Joseph, wrote to her suggesting another Italian composer, Sacchini. Sacchini had been working in London at the time. It was only natural for her to look into the composer. Soon after she received Joesph's letter Sacchini was working on French operas in Paris! He worked in the style of Gluck, but his pieces never gained much success until his Oedipe à Colone. Unfortunately, although it became very popular, this did not happen until 1786, a year after he died!

Listen to clips from his famous opera below and then fill out the new poll! (it will take you to a new window to see the results)

April 18, 2009

Femme of the Week: Suzanne Curchod

In 1737 Suzanne Curchod was born. Her father was a pastor and insisted on a strong education for her. Well she got one! Author J. Christopher Herold noted that she received an "education suited for Leonardo Da Vinci." And although she never would admit it, she was quite the Latinist!

After her father died she took care of her mother, which she managed by teaching and being a governess. She worked all the time and it was very draining. When the offer to go to Paris with a friend arose, she decided to accept. She did not know the city or have much money for herself, so it was a bold move. Even though she knew she had limited funds the first thing she did in Paris was shop for clothes and accessories! When the bills came that sinking feeling in her stomach hit and at this point she realized, despite her high standards in men that had developed, she would have to marry.

In 1764 she met Jacques Necker, who was a Swiss financier, in Paris. He was smart, ambitious and his career would lead him to be the French minister of finance. It was natural that the kind, smart and lovely Suzanne caught his eye. He pulled a total Mr. Darcy and did not make his feelings known to her, and left Paris on business. Now Suzanne had already decided he fit her standards in men, she just had to wait for his return.

When he finally returned he wrote to her right away, asking to see her, and she responded, "I must then write to you what I should not have dared to say to you. If your happiness depends on my sentiments, I am afraid that you were happy before you desired it. I will remain at home all the evening and will see no one else." You can only imagine the excitement Jacques must have felt at this letter, and he certainly visited her that evening. They were married shortly after and would forever be completely in love with each other. How often did that happen!

Life In Paris
Madame Necker would also advance her career, as a socialite, among the most learned persons. With the new comfort of married life she slowly gained correspondence with the hottest philosophers. It was her education that brought her so far. Some women hosted salons for artists, writers, scientists and politicians, but Madame Necker chose the circle of philosophers. She hosted gatherings where displays of wit, and eager, interesting discussions would occur. She scheduled her salons on Friday where she would host a dinner. She planned this because other popular salons were held during the week, so that everyone of importance was available on Fridays! Soon everyone was saying thank god it's Friday and headed over to her house. A glimpse of her salon from Galiani:
"A Friday does not pass but I go to you in spirit. I arrive, and I find you one minute adjusting your dress; the next minute you are lying on the duchesse. I seat myself at your feet. Thomas groans to himself silently; Grimm and Suard laugh heartily; and my dear friend Creutz notices nothing...Dinner is announced. We go out' the others eat meat; I abstain...We rise from the table and drink our coffee, everyone speaking at the same time."
Health & Death
Suzanne's stress and anxiety deteriorated her health. She was always head to head with her daughter and when it came time for her to marry things worsened. When it was time for marriage, Suzanne's choice was William Pitt. Her daughter was against the match and refused. She was constantly struggling with her daughter, and she was concerned her husband did not love her as he once did. Jacques' feelings had not changed towards his wife, and she remained his one true love.

In 1784 the couple retired to a lovely château near Geneva, which was both restful and beautiful. She devoted herself to charity and organizing and working in the hospital setting. Her health continued to fade with her anxieties, one of which was a fear of death and being buried alive, an anxiety gained from her charity work. She began making very specific arrangements for her own funeral, and in May of 1794 she passed away. She is buried among trees which she planted by hand, and along side her beloved husband, so that their ashes would mix as one.

April 15, 2009

Remember, Elbows off the Table!

At Versailles the King and Queen would dine publicly. You may recall the awkward yet humorous dining moments from the 2006 movie, Marie Antoinette.

This tradition took place in the Queens antechamber, and both the public and members of the court would attend. Those traveling to Versailles from abroad made sure to make an appearance to the event. People did not just gather around the table and stare. They were allowed to walk through the rooms, checking out the decor and mirrors! It was like walking around a museum but they could not quite approach the dining table.

Standing between you, the viewer and the royal couple's spread, was a line of impenetrable Swiss guards. There were also guards at the main entrance making sure all that were attending the event were dressed in a presentable manner! So if you didn't wear your best, you may not be able to watch your sovereigns eat!

April 13, 2009

Oh, I am hardly a Latinist

It was polite convention to plead inadequacy in talents, including spoken languages. Even if you excelled at it.

April 09, 2009

Femme of the Week: Elizabeth Charlotte, Duchesse d'Orléans

Elizabeth Charlotte was Marie Antoinette's great grandmother. She was chosen by Louis XIV to marry his brother, the Duc d'Orléans after his first wife passed away. The marriage made her the second lady at the court of Versailles next to the Queen.

She was whisked over to France to meet her future husband, Philippe Duc d'Orléans. He appeared to her decked out in precious gems and wearing strong perfume. His surprise was just as great as hers no doubt on first sight, she did not wear much make up, in fact seemed to neglect material luxuries completely in her attire. Elizabeth (Liselotte) was fair skinned, and blond, she could pass for a "Swiss-peasant" in the way about her. In short he was not pleased and had immediately said, "how on earth am I to sleep with that?"

Maybe the irony here is that Philipe preferred men. Together they were a true odd couple. Liselotte cared not for material possessions, had no desire to follow fashion, and she loved to hunt and fish.

The duc loved fashion, scandalous gossip, and he loved being catty! He liked to spend afternoons with toys to tinker with, merely for amusement, sweets, and talking about people at court with people from court, all the while injecting wit into conversation. How did these two get on? Rather well!

Neither of them enjoyed sex. Liselotte said "the task of manufacturing children..a nasty dangerous, stupid business, from no stage of which did I ever derive the slightest pleasure." Perhaps this was because her husband had a very difficult time doing the deed. (with her.)

In any case they had 2 sons, the Duc de Valois and the Duc de Chartres. She had drama in her life, especially when her son, the Duc de Chartres, was to marry the daughter of the marquise de Montespan, a lover of the king and her enemy. Liselotte wanted to just die when this decision was made and her disgust of the match only grew with time. She went as far as slapping her son in front of the court! She wrote to her family complaining about Françoise-Marie, and this caught up with her later in life when she was confronted with the letters. She was warned to turn her attitude around!

Eventually her son would become Regent to the young Louis XV, making her the 1st lady at Versailles. But Montespan was still alive and kicking, near 15 years her senior. Liselotte viewed it a goal to outlive her rival, and she took very good care of her health. She would write about how she took care of herself and avoided medical practices of the day she disagreed with, such as bleeding. She viewed French women as sickly, and felt herself much more healthier than they were. Instead she was known to take make walks out doors and avoid medicines.
"It has become the fashion here to complain about the air; the princesse de Conti does not want to go out at all...neither does [my daughter in law]; they are forever having purges (artificially induced), bleedings, acidulous waters, and baths (extremely hot);...I tell them...if I were to live as they do, I would be even sicker than they are..."
excerpt from A Woman's Life
Her efforts seemed to pay off and she outlived Montespan and died at the age of 70, 12.08.1722

April 08, 2009

A Day in the Life of Maria Theresa

Marie Antoinette's mother, Empress Maria Theresa, lived a life quite different from that of her daughter. She was very focused on her work, and you may have heard when Antoinette was born Maria Theresa was reading through some documents and had to sit low in her chair when labor kicked in. As soon as the baby came mother went right back to work!

April 02, 2009

How Rich am I These Days?

No matter how rich you may have been, you could never truly live like a queen. There was no doubt that the French court was built on etiquette and duty; responsibilities to the person whose rank was above you made your rank what it was. This hierarchy among the court also lent itself by way of ....furniture!

The furniture that was made for Louis & Antoinette was of the highest grade, we are talking top of the line, not overly gilt and gaudy but crafted by the best and most respected makers. As could be imagined the pieces built for the royal children were also ridiculously splendid! They were, however, not of the same quality reserved for mom and dad. Even if this difference was slight, it was a difference.

Now we are led to our favorite occupants of the court, the comtesses, dukes and madame de's! They all had different amounts in their bank accounts, but what they could afford was not the only factor keeping them from living like kings. They could not own pieces of the quality which was reserved for the king & queen nor their children. They could try but they would not get the same stuff. They were a step below and there was a glass roof above! The system was based on the persons station (a comtesse would have a nicer secretaire than a madame de) but it was also based on the château to which the ordered pieces were to be sent!

Basically, if you lived in Versailles, you had it made. You would receive very fine quality pieces, and put all your 'suburban friends'...rather - 'urban friends' to shame. If your sister lived at Versailles and you resided at Fontainebleau, you could count on the fact that her decor would be far superior, and more luxurious. But fear not, because your annoying cousin who married the comte you had a crush on, was residing in the château la Muette, and her items were even less quality than yours!