February 27, 2010

The Fashionable Male: Italian or French?


1) This suit boasts a a herringbone-pattern which stands out in cream, pink and brown against a soft aqua.  It is silk with metallic details.  The buttons are overlaid with pink foil so they pop against the silk catching light. Flashy.

2) This suit, possibly a court suit, is made of blue silk. It includes geometric patterns, organic and floral shapes with "satin stitch and embroidery."  It is delicate yet bold, and seems to shout "I am refined."


3) This suit is made of navy blue velvet and has gold lace and embroidered details.  Floral and ribbon motifs decorate the vest with silver foil buttons, and the breeches also of velvet are tapered to highlight the legs. This suit is regal and clearly very expensive.

A little style to start the weekend!
Here is an interesting comparison.  What do you think of them?  Do you prefer one to the other?
Can you tell which are Italian and which are French?

February 26, 2010

Art du Jour! Minerva

Minerva \Mi*ner"va:
Oh hurrah! Roman mythology! Introducing Minerva, goddess of wisdom. Goddess of war.  Goddess of arts, sciences and poetry, spinning, weaving &c.  Here we have her in 18th century glory, depicted in action, beauty and stone.  What image of Minerva suits you the most? Suits her?




Jacques-Louis David,  Battle between Minerva and Mars. 1771, oil on canvas. Musée du Louvre.


Jean-Marc Nattier, Mademoiselle de Lambesc as Minerva, Arming Her Brother, the Comte de Brionne, and Directing Him to the Arts of War. 1732, oil on canvas. Musée du Louvre.


Jean Honore Fragonard, The Goddess Minerva. 1772, oil on canvas. The Detroit Institute of Arts.

Anne Vallayer-Coster, Still-Life with Military Trophies and Bust of Minerva. 1777, oil on canvas. Private.

February 25, 2010

Greuze: History Painting

Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Severus and Caracalla. 1769, Oil on canvas. Musée du Louvre.


Jean Baptiste Greuze, desiring admission to the Académie Royale, submitted a work of art to be considered for acceptance.  On August 23, 1769 the Académie received him, but not on the conditions he hoped for.  He was accepted, but as a "genre painter." The piece he submitted was a history painting of Emperor Severus accusing his son, Caracalla, for wanting to assassinate him.  History painting was a classic route to take but it just did not work out for Greuze.  The rejection left him humiliated for quite some time.

Caracalla was born in an area which today is Lyon, France.  His father was the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus.  Caracalla and his brother Geta did not get along well, and their father tried to soothe family tensions by having everyone under one roof, under his watchful eye. Good idea?  

Severus raised Caracalla's rank above his brother's, so that he would be next in line for Emperor.  When the three went on a campaign in Britain the emperor fell ill.  Caracalla picked up the slack for his father.  It is said that he would just as well have seen his father dead so that he could be emperor. ..makes sense so far!  Rumor has it that Caracalla actually tried to murder his father while on campaign.  If he were so bold to attempt it, he did it unsuccessfully.

Severus decided to raise Geta's rank as well, with a plan that the two could co-rule.  After his death both brothers disregarded his advice, and their rivalry continued.  Back at the Palace, they split things up in half, one half for Caracalla and one for Geta, even with separate entryways!  One day Caracalla summoned his brother to call a truce.  Caught off his guard, the unsuspecting brother was murdered and Caracella became emperor.

Greuze chose to depict a moment when the ill emperor calls out his son. Wrapped in cloth and mimicing Michelangelo's God (sistene chapel), the man is able to gather strength to sit up and physically and verbally direct his claim against Caracalla. Clearly the boy has not kept his feelings private. It is an intense moment between father and son, and Caracalla, who should be stunned turns around with a look more of annoyance than anything.

February 24, 2010

Time himself, that perverse and obstinate Destroyer


Giovanni Battista Piranesi – where to start! He began his career in architecture with a typical apprenticeship under his uncle (family thing!), eventually landing him a position as a draftsman in Rome, with the papal court.  His position at court was satisfactory, as could be expected, already talented in drawing, he continued to improve his skills which would lead him to success as an artist in 18th century Rome.

Drawing scenes of the ruins and buildings of Rome was only useful if one could actually sell the work and make a profit. It did not take him long to realize members of the court were not looking for images of the ruins to adorn their studies.  They could look out the window for that!   However, just outside, riding in posh carriages were rich men, young and old, taking the Grand Tour. Who better to sell works of art to? And as a bonus: they were willing to spend.

Paintings and drawings were desired but prints were ideal.  They could easily be reproduced, and therefore you could make a larger profit on a single work or view.  They were also affordable to purchase. The demand was for vedute, or views.  Like a modern day postcard, those on the Grand Tour would purchase the artworks to take home.  They were a reminder of the amazing sights from the trip!

When he was 27 he opened a studio in Rome.  It was typical for artists to depict ruins as background elements, decorative and pictorial, adding a classic and beautiful tone to a scene.  Piranesi portrayed his ruins slightly different. By bringing the ruins to the foreground of an image and portraying the worn, crumbling surfaces he was able to depict time in the form of nature overtaking architecture.

Upon the ruins, vines and leaves would sprout, grass and moss would grow. Here is a great example. In some cases this vegetation would completely cover sections of a ruin. The effects of wind and precipitation were made apparent as well, and the man-made object would, in turn, return to nature.  Surfaces deteriorate and this was impressive detail he skillfully captured in his prints.

Piranesi’s artwork stood apart from his peers. He did not create compositions based on a central vanishing point as was traditional; the result was a much more dynamic composition with more depth. He also took advantage of contrast to further imply the illusion of depth, space and detail.

We may sink into melancholy when looking at ruins, some of us may just see them as a reminder of the past or even of our own mortality.  For others it may bring pleasure - as a place so far removed from our everyday lives.

February 22, 2010

A Worthwhile Cause: Recent Historical Discoveries

This week I am going to call it Rome week, and I mean this in a very general way.  Any posts that go up this week will relate to Rome and the 18th century; I hope you will enjoy them!  The inspiration for Rome Week here, lay in a little town called Colchester which you may or may not know!

In brief, the only known Roman circus in the UK has recently been discovered in the town of Colchester.  The town was originally named Camulodunum by the Romans, and they have it as the oldest recorded town in England.  Queen Boudicca (Bodicea)  had a rebellion there, destroying the (at the time) Roman capital in Britain!

So what is a Roman circus? A Roman circus was a large open-air venue used for public events in the ancient Roman Empire such as chariot racing.

The plan is to turn the circus "into a major feature of Britain's first Roman town." Love it!


The Colchester Archaeological Trust is in need of donations for the purchase of a building over the site to secure it.* The area is currently for sale and private buyers would develop the land.  The above image shows where the circus lays, and details of the starting gates.

The Trust intends to create "a free public facility with informative displays, a cafe, and a well laid-out and attractive garden featuring the remains of the eight starting gates of the circus."


This is an issue very near and dear to Heather and I.  If you would like to contribute a small donation towards the effort you can here! All donations to support the Roman circus go straight to The Colchester Archaeological Trust with no fees taken.  A dollar/pound would do, as every little bit helps.  I hope to visit Britian's Roman circus one day!



If anyone is interested and would like to learn more click here! 
*current status: £200,000 needed. £9,000 to go before 28 Februrary 2010.  (2/22/10)

February 21, 2010

For your château? Andiron

Pierre Gouthière.  Andiron, c. 1770/80.  Gilt bronze.  The Detroit Institute of Arts.

Here are a pair of andiron, made in France by Pierre Gouthière, when the new monarchs took the throne.  Gouthière worked in Paris and received many commissions from Marie Antoinette, he was simply one of the best! The term andiron originated in the thirteenth century and now we also refer to them as firedogs.  They are metal stands which are placed in a fireplace to hold logs. 

Elegant in style, this pair was designed with architecture in mind.  It would sit in the fireplace as we see it here. The logs lay across supports behind the gold banister, as if to represent keeping the fire within.  I particularly enjoy the exaggerated and billowy flames bursting from the two vessels on either end. But how about you? Would you use these in your fireplace?

February 19, 2010

Arrivée de l'archiduchesse: Preparations

An account of preparations for Marie Antoinette's arrive onto French soil, in a prepared pavilion made of wood, and richly decorated. You may recall Sofia Coppola's vision of the ceremony which occurred there, posted below.


"The Crown Upholsterer is here; he brought furniture and tapestry from the Garde-Meuble, and is being assisted by the most expert workmen in the town. Cardinal de Rohan lends his own carpets to decorate the two ante rooms, French and Austrian. The Lutheran University lends a daïs,* and a state-chair, in crimson and gold; the Grand-Chapter a velvet carpet in the same colour; the Prince de Lorraine a cover for the principal table; other wealthy residents send tabourets et banquettes. It is hoped that all will be ready towards the end of April. Meanwhile the pavilion de remise becomes the aim and object of sightseers."
Comtesse d'Armaillé, Marie Thérèse et Marie Antoinette.


The arrival scene by Sofia Coppola, Marie Antoinette, 2006.



*A daïs is a raised platform.

February 16, 2010

Family Tree: Meet Marie's Brother Joseph

On January 12, 1740, the Empress Maria Theresa gave birth to her third daughter, Maria Carolina, but sadly the child only survived a year and thirteen days.  Three months after the death of the little archduchess the empress delivered a baby boy, Joseph. As the oldest son he was destined to rule, an idea he grew up to love, not dissimilar to his mother.  Like his mother also, he seemed to inherit her gumption.

The education Maria Theresa provided for her children was based on learning by repetition.  While this method is tolorable for some children, for Joseph it was insufferable. He had a rather short attention span which did not help. His mother often tried to please him, praise him and develop his talents.  Personality wise, the boy grew up very confident in his own thoughts and ideas, and has been described as an egotist.  Maria Theresa found it very difficult to get along with her son who shared her own self-willed and stubbornness.

Pride and haughtiness were descriptions given to the little archduke at the tender age of six! By nine Maria Theresa had the soldier, Count Charles Batthyany, working with her son with the hopes of setting him straight.  He back-talked, would ignore those under him and liked to argue.

At nineteen he fell in love, and a marriage was quickly arranged.  Maria Theresa had wished for her son to marry a Bourbon to help tie France and Austria together (sound familiar?).  The Bourbon in question was Isabella of Parma. Her mother was Louise Elisabeth of France, the beloved daughter of Louis XV.  The plan started to deteriorate when Louise Elisabeth passed away at just 32.  It could have fallen through completely but Joseph already saw a portrait of the young lady in question and had to have her.

His mother spent plenty of money on the wedding festivities in Vienna, even if the means were not readily available.  He adored her and they celebrated the birth of a daughter.  While the young wife was pregnant with their second child she fell victim to the smallpox.  Sadly neither wife nor child survived.  Her father received a tender letter from the devastated Joseph, which read, "I have lost everything.  My adored wife, the object of all my tenderness, my only friend is gone...Agonised and beaten down, I hardly know if I am still alive."

He would marry Princess Maria Josepha of Bavaria six years only later to become a widower again in two.  His brief marriage to her was his last. In 1780 when his mother passed away he was left in charge as emperor.  He had always focused on making reforms which he believed were entirely correct and always 'new'. He was not always praised for his personality or his reforms, and many did not prove as monumental as he had hoped.  Anyway we could go on about Joseph but that will be for later!

February 12, 2010

Art du Jour! Vigée LeBrun, 1789

Vigée LeBrun, Elisabeth-Louise. Madame d'Aguesseau de Fresnes, 1789. Oil on wood. The National Gallery of Art.

From the collection of the National Gallery of Art, this portrait is of Madame d'Aguesseau de Fresnes adorned in a very exotic dress which recalls the styles of the Turkish and Greek.  I particularly enjoy her buckle and earrings.

February 09, 2010

For your château? Louis XV Commode

Cressent, Charles. Louis XV Commode, c. 1730. Veneered Kingwood and gilt bronze. Wallace Collection.

A lovely chest of drawers which stands low, on four ornamented feet.   It is elaborately decorated in the round and the drawers are almost masked by the gilt details.  The handles used to open the drawers are actually created from the dragons' bodies which seem (and do) lift right off the surface they fly around.  The top is smooth marble, and there is an emphasized detail of the late, great Sun King in the center.

What do you say? For your château?

February 05, 2010

The Scandalous Regent: Philippe Charles duc de Chartres

Philippe Charles, born duc de Chartres (1674), later duc d'Orleans, was born at St Cloud; his mother was Elizabeth Charlotte and father was Philippe de France.  Most importantly, the young duc de Chartres' uncle was Louis XIV.  With such family connections and such wealth at his fingertips, the little duc naturally acquired a taste for the finer things.  He was fascinated with art, architecture and even the sciences.  He could paint and draw, but he was most skilled at sculpture. 

Ladies, continue reading at your own will. Do not fall victim for the dashing* bloke described below:

As for women, he liked them easy, and would not waste time bothering with a 'conquest.'  He rarely kept a lady for long, moving quickly on to the next.  His way with women began at a tender age, when Philippe was just a child. A particular girl he found himself attracted to was the young Leonore.  She was the daughter of the Concierge of the storeroom of the Palais-Royale and their liaison had caused much gossip to spread.  The Sun King's little nephew had seduced her and the affair was no secret.  Leonore was just a child herself and Louis XIV was rightfully displeased with the incident.  He punished his nephew by refusing to see him until he was called upon by the king himself. Tsk!

He fell for women one after another; in one instance he chose a famous actress to pursue, La Grandval. Philippe's mother immediately felt the match was ill made, and complained that the actress was too old for her son's, "young heart."  He was swiftly moved to Italy at the request of the King, for some military experience.   He would not make it past Lyon without spotting a beautiful lady and subsequently seducing her.  He continued en route to Italy, and they wrote to each other until his return.  When he came back he found... * a child * ! (may the gossip begin again!)

As the story goes, upon finding the little child, he persuaded his lover, Madame de la Massonniere, to move to Paris where he was headed.  Agreeing, and bringing both the child and her mother, they left Lyon 8 days after Philippe.  What appeared to have taken place was plain as day: a kidnapping! The father, husband and grandfather, Monsieur de la Massionniere, were heartbroken. The grandfather was said to be so heartbroken at the theft and possibly so embarrassed at the loss of his family that he died in Lyon of a broken heart. 

Once the rest of the Massionniere's arrived in Paris (a mere 8 days later) they were left with dismay to find that our scandalous regent had already moved on to a tasty comedy actress, and a few days later he moved on again to a lovely dancer with the Opera.  That is just the beginning of it.

In 1701 his father died, leaving him with the title of duc d'Orléans.  Just a few years later his uncle, Louis XIV, passed away.  Louis XV was too young to reign and Philippe Charles became the regent to the throne.  His regency began in 1715 and would endure until 1723.  Surprisingly, or not surprisingly, his romantic sensibilities set the tone for the period of the regency.  Chivalry was not apparent, and women may have been far more apt to be loose....


*would you fall for the duc?

February 02, 2010

Mother Knows Best: Snubbing the Kings Favourite

"A word about her dress or some bagatelle should not cause you so much trouble...If one demanded of you any lowering familiarities, neither I nor any one else would advise you to grant them, but an indifferent word, a certain mark of regard, not for that person, but for your grandfather, your sovereign, and your benefactor."

Maria Theresa, 30 September 1771

Mothers Know Best Series

February 01, 2010

For your château? Potpourri Vessel

Potpourri "vessel", c.1760. Porcelain. Musée du Louvre.

This porcelain vessel is intended to hold fragrant potpourri.  It is decorated in the Chinoiserie style, in a soft pink with gold, cream and green accents.  Three men lounge and play a table game in the center of the vessel.  The top is detailed with a faux piece of silk (also porcelain) decorated with gold fleur de lis across it.  Madame de Pompadour had this piece on her mantel, would you have it in your château?