April 29, 2012

Royal Weddings: 18th century style

One year ago I woke up way too early to sip champagne and watch Kate and William's Royal Wedding. As inspiring as it was, and yes I may have gone into princess mode for a week or a few.... let's take a look at all the fun happenings for Royal Weddings in the 18th century!

Marie Antoinette attends the wedding of comte d'Artois, and makes a social (yet lucky) faux pas! #gambling

Did you know Madame du Barry was swept off her feet at the royal wedding of the comte d'Artois? #itcouldhappentoanyone

Thousands of people travelled to London to see Kate and William get married, same thing happened for Louis and Marie Antoinette's royal wedding! #outsideversailles

Love this tale of how the Duchess of Lauzun and her husband met before their wedding... #deception

Always impressed with the gown Edwige Elizabeth Charlotte Holstein-Gottorp wore to her 1774 wedding. #fashion

Love and life of the Duc de Chartres and Louise Henriette de Bourbon Conti, who had a royal winter wedding. #marriage 

Before she was the Princess de Lamballe her future prince tricked her... #Princess

Marie-Louise de Parma shows off her royal wedding gown fit for the spring! #fashion

Read a little about Marie Antoinette's brother and his lady wife, Isabella of Parma. #royalfamily

My collection of images pulled from the amazing recreation of Marie Antoinette and Louis' wedding ceremony for the 2006 film, Marie Antoinette. #marieantoinette #wedding

Love this description of the Royal Wedding day at Versailles, for Marie Antoinette and Louis. From Imbert de Saint-Amand, and Elizabeth Gilbert Martin. 1893. Last years of Louis XV.  #quotes

Here is a bit about Marie Antoinette's wedding from a contemporary's point of view. #quotes

Film comparison, how Georgiana's wedding was portrayed in The Duchess and how Marie Antoinette's wedding was portrayed in Marie Antoinette. See any similarities? They were quite different affairs!

Did the Duc de Bourgogne and the Princess Adelaide of Savoy have the most lavish wedding held at Versailles?

They always say things do not always work out perfectly at a wedding, and not to get upset if things go wrong, even if it is the wedding of a dauphine and dauphin. 

April 18, 2012

The Pilgrimage to Cythera captured the 18th century

When he was just 28 years old Antoine Watteau was offered a chance to become a member of the French Royal Academy of Painting, but first he had to prove his talents. He was asked to choose a subject for a painting then submit the painting for review. Two members of the Academy were assigned as proctors to watch him paint, ensuring he did not cheat or have anyone help him.

After five years the painting was still unfinished and he was given a six month deadline. He presented the painting in August 1717 and was awarded a spot in the academy. The painting is called Pilgrimage to Cythera, and it currently hangs in the Louvre Museum in France, the same building in which Watteau painted it under the watchful eye of proctors!

The Fête Galante
The first description of Pilgrimage to Cythera was made by the secretary of the Royal Academy, who jotted down that the painting was “une feste galante.” Simply, a fête galante became a genre of painting that portrays upper class society celebrating or enjoying outdoor gatherings and amusements. Now a trendsetter, artists followed Watteau’s fine example of a fête galante painting and buyers could not get enough of the cheerful party scenes.

Pilgrimage to Cythera remains one of the most well known fête galante paintings today. Cythera was thought to be the island where Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was born. Watteau placed several couples adventuring to the mythical island as his subject matter.

The striking color and brush strokes really stand out. At first you may wonder if the quick brush strokes were a result of his six month deadline! But Watteau painted to emulate his great inspiration, the 17th century artist, Peter Paul Rubens, known for his liberal use of both color and brushwork. I am always taken in by the sweeping strokes of color that fill the sky, and how Watteau used the trick of warm and cool areas in the earth to pull his stage closer to us. The mossy terrain in the lower right of the composition is sun-warmed, painted with burnt oranges and reds while golden and yellow sunlight filters through the branches of the shady tree. The remainder of the island and mountains in the background are cool blues and lavender. His use of color plays with our eyes adding a sense of depth to the scene.

The theatre was an early inspiration for Watteau as can be seen in the Pilgrimage to Cythera. He painted the composition as if it were a stage set with actors gliding along the foreground. The figures almost dance, turn and rise, moving down the grassy hill towards an elaborate gondola. The costumes each figure wears remind us of the theatre, elaborate garments of shiny silks and bold colors, laces, stockings and bows. His technique is very personal, the subjects intimate and the tone is true to the spirit of the age. At the time, France was under the rule of a new regency, and there were many changes and much excitement among aristocratic society. Watteau captures the excitement and carefree feelings of the time in his fête galante.

What exactly are the travelers doing here? Are they coming or going? The scene is ambiguous and it is impossible to decide if the couples are traveling to or from Cythera. You can walk right up to this painting in the Louvre and examine the figures, each one with a different emotion on their face. If we assume they are leaving we can begin to read the painting by looking at the couple on the far right.

The couple sit together near a statue of the goddess Aphrodite, distracted by no one but each other. The statue is wrapped in roses and Cupid's quivers are tied to her feet with a pink bow. The lady sits against a tree playing with her fan and the young man has set aside his walking stick, whispering into her ear. Cupid sits at their feet with his bow and arrows tucked under him. To their left a second couple begin to rise from the ground as a third couple next to them slowly makes their way down to the boat. This third lady looks longingly back at the statue as her lover reaches to guide her forward.

Several other couples are gathered at the foot of the hill as they board the boat which is decorated with golden statues, and garlands of roses and pink silk. Little putti (winged child-like figures appearing that appear as a motif in many Renaissance and Baroque paintings) fly around the travelers celebrating and playing in the air raising a torch to the sky.

There are several ways to interpret this work. One interpretation is that the travelers are about to embark on a romantic trip to the island of Cythera, and are seen just before boarding their boat.. Perhaps you see the couples arriving in delight and setting foot on the island, full of love and excitement. Others may feel a sense of melancholy; the couples have spent their day on an idyllic island and as the sun begins to move through the afternoon sky it is time to go home.

A Rococo Trend
One thing that most can agree on is that a fête galante is a pleasing theme. It would reappear in various forms during the 18th century as artists aimed to portray upper class society enjoying sentimental or romantic leisure. This theme’s popularity persisted throughout the remainder of the rococo period. Watteau would continue to present fête galantes with a bit of fantasy in them, as in Pilgrimage to Cythera (Cythera being a mythical island). Other artists such as Nicolas Lancret and Jean-Baptiste Pater would create more realistic scenes mimicking the same carefree mood with private groups pursuing love and good conversation at home or in gardens. These works of art are typically smaller in scale, creating intimate windows into the pursuits of the merry parties.

April 11, 2012

Madame de Saint-Maurice is thinking spring: Fashion

Joseph Siffred Duplessis, Madame de Saint-Maurice. 1776, oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Madame de Saint Maurice is ready for spring, possibly preparing to receive guests at her home.  She sits at her dressing table in a beautiful under-dress that is trimmed with pink satin ribbon.  Her skirt is sheer white over soft pink, and embroidered with floral details.  Her dressing robe is also decorated with a floral motif, budding leaves and blooms.  Sheer and soft with ruffled trim, Duplessis has excelled at creating the illusion of light weight drapery.

April 09, 2012

The Grand Duchess of Tuscany is thinking Spring: Fashion

Portrait of Maria Louisa, Grand Duchess of Tuscany. Second half 18th century.  Galleria d'arte moderna (Florence, Italy).