Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Bright Colours for a Troubled Mind

This costume is worn in the third part of BBC's series on Versailles "Countdown to Revolution" by Louis XVI. The coat and the waistcoat is made of the same very bright beige with embroideries of a darker shade. The trousers however are completely white (and of silk) - it is quite uncommon to see a monarch from the 18th century wearing white trousers, even at their weddings they are mostly depicted in gold, silver or beige. The pale blue royal sash is fastened by a large diamond star brooch. The King wears a diamond-embedded order on his coat. The white neck-ruff is very discreet - this is historically accurate since this particular piece of clothing was going out of favour during Louis XVI's reign. Remarkably large pieces of lace has been attached to the opening of the sleeves. The buttons are of the same beige colour and has also been used to hold the sleeves pinned up which reveals the same kind of embroidery used at the edge of the waistcoat and coat.

Green Velvet

Hilary Swank plays the leading role of Jeanne St. Remy de Valois in "the Affair of the Necklace" from 2001. The gown is a zone front gown; the sleeves and the bodice are both made of green velvet. The flap that is folded back on the bodice reveals a brighter colour for the lining of the sleeves which has also been embroidered with dark green thread. The skirt is of a black fabric that is considerably rougher than the precious velvet - it might even be wool. The white lace at the sleeves and the neckline stands in a stark contrast to the rather dark colours of the remaining costumes.The shining buttons on the sleeves and the bodice has quite possibly been decorated with a silver-finish. The remarkable hat matches the brighter green tones and is made of several bows sewn unto each other. And then there are the mandatory feathers - also in a green shade of course.

Madame Etiquette's Red/Blue Gown

Judy Davis portrays Anne d'Arpajon who was known as Comtesse de Noailles at court but was given the nick-name "Madame Etiquette" by Marie Antoinette in the 2006-edition of Marie Antoinette. The upper parts of the dress (bodice and sleeves) including the two "wings" on the dress are made of a deep scarlet velvet trimmed with a pale blue ribbon. The petticoat of the dress is made of a matching baby blue colour but is remarkably enough not decorated - perhaps the expensive velvet was enough luxury?
The black gloves matches the satin ribbon that is used to tie the pearl necklace with at the back of her neck. The white lace of the sleeves is somewhat special because (as can be seen on the second picture) they are made in a similar style to an Elizabethan ruff. The same kind of lace is used at the shoulders and just peaks up from beneath the bodice.
Pearls has been used several times for this costume and not just for the pearl necklace. The bodice is decorated with pearls though it is probably not used to fasten the bodice. Notice the two diamond rings that has been attached to the back of her dress.

Vestibule to the Royal Chapel

The vestibule gives an impression of being almost colourless at first sight due to the neutral beige of the stone walls - but at a closer look there are signs of the amazing décor that signifies Versailles. The walls are exquisitely decorated with engravings often depicting angels dressed in clothes from the Antiquity (the Antiquity was a major source of inspiration at this time). You cannot not notice the massive white doors with beautiful golden carvings that leads into the chapel itself. The floor is made of three different colours of marble: white, black and red. Opposite the grandiose doors three large windows lets in sunlight; a large lantern (similar to those that can be found at the Petit Trianon) lights up the place at night.
Two separate rows of twelve columns divides the room without closing it off. A main attraction in this room is a large statue made from the same material as the walls. The impressive statue is called "Magnanimité" and was created by Jacques Bosseau


Captain of the Guard's Chamber

This is the largest room in the apartment of the Captain of the Guards. The walls are covered in a deep scarlet colour except for the lower part of the walls which has been covered with white wood-work. Several portraits of members of different royal families are portrayed on the walls in large golden frames. A fireplace has been installed beneath a large painting of Maria Theresia and Francis I (parents of Marie Antoinette) surrounded by their children at their own palace of Schönbrunn. Two wooden cabinets decorated with golden engravings and the crystal chandelier are the only other pieces of furniture in the room.

These are some of the portraits in the room:

This is the most famous portrait of Yolande de Polignac
Madame Élisabeth - sister of Louis XVI
Portrait of Marie Antoinette from 1775

Captain of the Guard's Antechamber

Like the other rooms of the Captain of the Guard it is modestly decorated with white floor tiles divided by small squares of contrasting black tiles. This room has never received much attention but it was used for an exhibition of gowns from different eras. During this exhibition two portraits dominated the walls: one of Louis XVI in his coronation robes from 1777 (just two years after his coronation) and one that depicts Louis XVI and the Knights of the Order of the Holy Spirit which dates back to June 13, 1775.

Photo of the exhibition
Close-up of the portrait of Louis XVI

Petit Trianon: Small Salon

This room was only available to those who were closest to the King or Queen; Louis XV used it either for informal dinners or as a gaming room. It is located right between the Grand Salon and the Dining Room which would make it easy for the guests to withdraw to more intimate surroundings. Compared to most other rooms at the Petit Trianon this room was lighted by a chandelier hung from the middle of the ceiling and not the common lanterns used throughout the palace. A fireplace of very red marble inspired the red colour used for the long curtains at the windows. As it was commonplace at the Queen's retreat the décor was to be simple and consequently there is no painting on the ceiling - instead the mouldings has been carved to depict leaves in a very pale green.
From 1784 Marie Antoinette had the room transformed into a billiard room instead of a dining room but the chandelier remained in its place.

The marvellous red marble fireplace
Close-up of the clock on the mantle-piece
This pretty little console table and
portrait are placed right next to the
View of the middle of the room - opposite to the door. Notice the bright
red curtains

Sky Blue Royalty

This set worn by Xavier Beauvois as Louis XVI in "Farewell, my Queen" is actually reused in the movie with a different waistcoat. The coat and the trousers are made of sky blue silk adorned with golden embroideries of golden sheaves. The King is wearing the royal sash across his chest right beneath the white lace ruffles at the neck. The coat is lined with a golden fabric on the inside which can just be spotted thanks to the wind. On both occasions he carries a black walking stick with him with a golden knob for a handle. Besides, a sword hangs from his left side.
The waistcoat on the first two pictures are made of golden silk in the same tone as the embroideries. However, the colour is changed in the last picture to a matching sky blue that has also been embroidered. Due to the sunlight and the pale tone of the fabric the star-shaped brooch adorned with diamonds can hardly be seen.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

du Barry's Teal Gown

Asia Argento portrays Madame du Barry in Marie Antoinette (2006). She wears this dress when Madame du Barry attends the wedding of Marie Antoinette and Louis Auguste. Sadly, the gown is only seen briefly and it is only the top of the dress that is shown. The exotic teal colour would definitely stand out among the pastel gowns of the other ladies. The bodice is decorated with dark (black?) lace that just peak up over the neckline. A brooch of diamonds tops off the bodice.
An interesting feature with this dress is the little decoration at her middle of her upper arm - the same lace used for the bodice is pinned to the dress with a diamond brooch. The sleeves end in a wide white lace. It may seem as if she is wearing a watch but it is in fact a bracelet which she is also wearing on her other arm. Madame du Barry was infamous for her love of jewels and this dress is accompanied by a huge teal-coloured gemstone embedded on a silver and diamond base. It's definitely worth of a royal mistress.

Monday, 27 May 2013

The Queen's Marble Staircase

The Queen's Marble Staircase is also known simply as the Marble Staircase. When you reach the top of the Marble Staircase you will enter the Queen's Guards' Room and thus enter her apartments. The staircase derives its name from the incredible amounts of marble that went into the building of the staircase. Beautifully gilded reliefs of bronze has been added above the doors - one of them is adorned with two sphinxes and dates back to 1681. Golden engravings continue all the way near the ceiling and includes the arms of France flanked by palm leaves and the iconic fleur-de-lis of the French monarchy. Red, white and black marble has been used to make out the foundation of the staircase. Occasionally pilasters are crowned with golden tops.

A large painting by Jean Belin, Blain de Fourtenay, Meusnier Philippe and Poerson Charles-François. Remarkably enough two false doors has been added to create the much sought after symmetry - both doors are made of glass. One of the main "attractions" of the room is the golden sculpture on the landing of the first floor. Two large intertwined L's adorns a shield topped with a crown and flanked by olive branches; the shield is carried by two cherubs. On the first floor three large windows illuminates the staircase.

When Versailles was stormed in 1789 the infuriated peasants ran up the Queen's Marble Staircase and gained access to the Queen's Guards' Room.

Rights for a Ritual

Being a Catholic monarchy the royal family attended Mass with the normal entourage of several courtiers - and of course etiquette followed. 
Thanks to a quote by Madame from 1710 we are presented with an accurate account of how each part of the already time-consuming Mass was made even longer by the endless rules of etiquette. Instead of writing the entire passage, this is what can be concluded from her testimony. Ready for worshipping with royalty?

  • The granddaughters of France (the King's granddaughters) were entitled to a servant - known as a Chapel Clerk. It was his responsibility to hold a candle from the Sanctus of the Preface and right until Domine, non sum dignus - he was also trusted with the task of giving responses to the Mass. Bear in mind that it was only the granddaughters of France who had this right!
  • The princesses of the blood was not entitled to a Chapel Clerk but had to make due with a page.
  • At the end of the Mass the priest would carry the chalice to the royal family for them to kiss it. But it was not for everyone in the royal family - the princes and princesses of the blood was not given this honour. 

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Terrible Insults!

With all these rules of etiquette mistakes where inevitable but it was still awful to a courtier to be target of such a mistake. Etiquette dictated your standing and your influence - to be denied your right was a terrible insult and a public humiliation. Here are three of the notable breaches on etiquette that caused a courtiers' outrage.

In 1707 Madame (it was a privilege in itself to be known only as "Madame") wrote to one of her relatives who had made the insulting mistake of forgetting Madame's son's true rank: "I see that you take my son for a blood prince. But he is not one. His rank is one of grandson of France." The difference was vital in the eyes of a courtier. A grandson of France held considerable privileges that were denied to a blood prince. A grandson of France could sit in the presence of foreign Queens and even get into the same carriage - this was unthinkable for a blood prince. Furthermore, a grandson of France was entitled to a bodyguard, a butler and a horseman - a blood prince was not. The icy tone of the letter surely testifies to Madame's mood - she was far from happy!

The Duchess of Mantua paid a visit to Versailles during the reign of Louis XIV. As she entered the glittering court she expected to be honoured with the rights of a duchess - but she was deeply disappointed. When she paid a visit to the widow of the Maréchal de Bellefonds the Duchess looked for an armless chair with a back (her right as a duchess) but was instead offered a mere tabouret or stool. Deeply insulted she refused to sit on the chair and promptly left. However, the King was far to occupied with other business to care about the disregard to etiquette and the Duchess found herself unwelcome at court any more.

Madame Adélaïde - you can
just imagining her throwing
a royal fit

Madame Adélaïde was the favourite daughter of her father, Louis XV. The princess of France was outraged when a courtier (whose name is lost to history) greeted her with the title of "Royal Highness" - a title given to all children of France but Madame Adélaïde was commonly known as "Madame" like her sisters.

Taking a Seat

One did not simply take a seat when the King or Queen was present - even this was dictated by etiquette. This particular system was just as complicated as the rest of the restraining etiquette but this could be changed according to the situation!
It was only the King and Queen who could sit on an armchair or fauteuil; the only occasion this was broken on was when another monarch visited the French court in which case he or she would be offered an armchair as well.
Chairs without arms but with a back was only for those who were closest in rank to the monarchs - this could be the King's brothers, sisters and children. During Louis XIV it was common for his sons to stand while his daughters were granted a seat. A tabouret or stool - which was a chair with neither back nor arms - was only for the duchesses of the court. Everyone else was required to stand, no matter their age or fortune.

However, the rules were different when it was the Queen alone who was present. In this case a Cardinal was allowed to take a seat (a simple one of course). In the presence of the King the Cardinal was expected to stand.
And of course when neither of the monarchs were present the rules changed - yet again. Whenever the Dauphin was in the room, the right to a stool (or tabouret) belonged to grandchildren of France, princesses of the blood, cardinals and duchesses. But the children of France - who were the brothers and sisters of the Dauphin - had the privilege of an armchair.

But it's not over yet. Different rules applied when courtiers were in the presence of a grandchild of France (that would be the King's grandchild). In this case everyone who was their equal in rank could have an armchair whereas duchesses, cardinals and princes/princesses of the blood were elevated to the privilege of having a chair with a back. Even dukes were allowed to sit on tabouret. Princes and princesses of the blood required even more chairs to fulfil the rights of those present. Dukes, duchesses and cardinals all had the right to an armchair.

It was common for courtiers to have folding chairs that they could be seated on - but only if the royal family was not present!

This very etiquette came into dispute when Louis XIV was asked by his brother, the Duc d'Orléans for an armchair as well. The majesty said no. Louis XIV explained to his brother that the etiquette was an important part of keeping the status of the monarch intact. If everyone was granted the same chair then how could you tell the difference in power from a baron to a King?

This is a tabouret

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Dining Room aka. "After the Hunt"

Until 1750 this used to be a bathroom but Louis XV had it remade into a dining room - the bare ceiling might be a remainder of the bathroom. Once or twice a week the King would dine with the nobles whom he had been out hunting with; Louis XV was a passionate hunter and often used this activity to escape the court etiquette he dreaded so much. An invitation to such a dinner party was a great privilege and courtiers would consider themselves more than lucky if they received one. The special thing about the dinners in this room was that the food itself came out of the King's private kitchens on the third floor and were then placed in the adjoining Buffet Room. 
The walls are dominated by golden engravings and the windows are hung with scarlet velvet curtains trimmed with gold. The same scarlet colour has been used to line the chairs. The fireplace is made of marble. Opposite of the windows are one of the most - if not the most - remarkable pieces in the room: the barometer  The large piece of marble on which it is placed has been marked with two intertwined L's. The barometer itself was made by Lemaire in 1772 and is adorned with the King's royal orb with three fleurs-de-lis flanked by two cherubs.

A closer look at the barometer

Saturday, 11 May 2013

"The Green Room"

The room derives its name from the soft green tapestry on the walls. Despite the rather anonymous status of this room it holds several very well-known pieces all relating to Marie Antoinette's close family. One of these is a large portrait of Marie Antoinette herself wearing a dark blue dress and another is a circular portrait of Louis XVI. A chest created for the birth of their first son is placed in a glass cage (for more information about this piece go to "Artefacts"). Between the paintings of the King and Queen are their two children Marie Thérèse (Madame Royale) and Louis Joseph François Xavier. The dark red fireplace is adorned with golden ornaments; it is the only original piece in the room. A very small writing desk stands right in front of one of the tall windows accompanied by a chair in green fabric. Three other chairs of a similar colour are placed beneath the portrait of the doomed Queen - they are all the product of George Jacob.
A replica of a dresser that was ordered by Marie Antoinette and created by Jean Henri Riesener in 1788 carries a bust of Louis XVII - the son who would die as a prisoner during the French Revolution.

These are some of the famous pieces of art in the "Green Room":

                  Marie Antoinette by Madame Vigée Le Brun
Louis XVI by Joseph Siffrein Duplessis

Madame Royale and Louis Joseph François
Xavier by Madame Vigée Le Brun

Grand Cabinet of the Captain of the Guards

The Captain of the Guards occupied rooms that seems almost hidden away. The Grand Cabinet has no windows and so relied on candlelight to bring some light to the room. One lantern in the same style as those in the Petit Trianon makes up the lighting. The cabinet is dominated by a deep scarlet colour on the upper part of the walls and simple white wood underneath. Several paintings have been placed in this room including one of Marie Thérèse of Savoy (1775), the Comte d'Artois, Marie Josephine of Savoy (1777) and Louis Stanislas Xavier of France (1773). A marble fireplace has been installed also with a reddish tone. Two large wooden chests are placed on the opposite wall of the fireplace.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Madame Victoire's Interior Cabinet

The interior cabinet of Madame Victoire (the room is also referred to as "Petit Cabinet Bleu") was originally a part of the Doric Hall which was a part of the bath apartments. The large hall (also consisting of the two rooms next to this) was converted in 1724 to two antechambers for the Comte and Comtesse de Toulouse. The Comtesse de Toulouse's antechamber was further divided in 1767 into two small chambers. From then on the two small cabinets would function as a living room and a library. Madame Victoire commissioned a chest of drawers in 1768 which is still placed in the cabinet; today her alabaster dish is placed upon it. Antoine Rousseau was responsible for the pretty white and pale-blue wood-work done to the walks and the fireplace was created by Serancolin - both were restored to partially their original state. The dominant writing desk was made for the Mesdames Tantes for their favourite place of Bellevue.

A portrait of Madame Victoire herself hangs in the chamber. A couple of chairs in the room was originally located in the salons of Madame d'Harcourt but they were moved to the eldest of the Mesdames Tantes' rooms in 1787. Another portrait hangs in the room and portrays Madame Adélaïde-

Madame Victoire

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Princess Henrietta of England

Henrietta was born on June 16 1644 as a Princess of England being the daughter of Charles I and Henrietta Maria of France. Civil war was raging through England which meant that Henrietta had to leave England for France with her household in 1646 where she would be reunited with her mother. As an English princess who also happened to be the first cousin of Louis XIV she took her place at court where she was originally known as Henrietta d'Angleterre. The French court received the exiled Queen and Princess exceedingly well; they were not just given much sought-after apartments at the Louvre and the castle of Saint-Germain-en-Laye but also a monthly pension of no less than 30.000 francs. But money was tight because Queen Henrietta sent most of her income to her troubled husband in England.
But their lives changed when news of Charles I's execution reached Louvre. Aware that she had to secure a good future for her daughter, Queen Henrietta moved to the Palais Royale and changed Princess Henrietta's upbringing to Roman Catholic.

Henrietta as a child
It had been the original idea of Queen Henrietta that her daughter could marry the young Louis XIV but Queen Anne (mother of the future Sun King) was not equally fond of the idea. Princess Henrietta became a far more attractive bride when the monarchy was restored in England with her brother as Charles II. Soon afterwards Princess Henrietta was engaged to Philippe, Duke d'Orléans. But the marriage was postponed when the Queen Mother and Princess returned to England for various reasons. This caused the French court to officially propose to Henrietta on behalf of Philippe; they feared that she would marry someone else otherwise. Henrietta returned to France and married Philippe on March 31 1661 thus becoming the Duchesse d'Orléans but was known simply as Madame at court.

The marriage was good in the first years and Henrietta gave birth to a daughter after just a year. But this birth sparked several doubts (and showed signs of troubles in their union) regarding the paternity of the girl, for was Philippe really the father? It was considered that the biological father was Louis XIV and the rumour was strengthened by the well-known fact that Philippe was homosexual. Another candidate for the paternity was the Comte de Guiche who had a special connection to the couple: he had previously been the lover of Philippe but had started an affair with Henrietta shortly after her marriage to Philippe!

Henrietta of England, Minette, duchesse d'Orleans (1644–1670), holding a portrait of her husband, Philippe de France, Monsieur, duc d'Orleans (1640-1701), 1660's by Henri Beaubrun le jeune and Charles Beaubrun

Philippe was furious about the affair and quickly went to his powerful mother, Queen Anne, who reprimanded both Henrietta and Louis. Two more daughters would be born from the marriage - a stillborn in 1665 and Anne Marie in 1669. Philippe himself had extramarital affairs; a prominent lover was the Chevalier de Lorraine.

Despite the scandals surrounding her marriage, Henrietta was considered a very cultivated princess. She was in direct contact with Racine and Moliere among others. She loved gardening as well and she was the one who created the famous water-garden at the Palais Royale. In 1669 Henrietta received devastating news: her mother had died. Henrietta had always had a close relationship with her mother and was devastated when she heard the news. Her feelings were certainly not helped by the fact that Philippe claimed the late Queen's possession through his wife.

Henrietta of England, Duchesse d'Orlèans by Pierre Mignard

Henrietta used her position as an English-born princess and a French duchesse to try to bring her two countries together. Her brother, Charles II, had long wanted to sign a treaty with France. Henrietta was convinced that she could help the treaty along and wanted to revisit her homeland which Louis XIV gladly assented to. But Philippe was still bitter about Henrietta's intimate relations with his former lovers and tried to prevent her from leaving France - however he was unsuccessful. Henrietta was back in England on May 26, 1670 and she would stay with her beloved brother until the treaty was finally signed on the first of June; Henrietta was back at the French court by July 18.

Three years prior to this Henrietta had complained about intense pangs of pain in her side. Then on May 10 1670 (just before she left for England) she began having problems with her digestion that would result in her being able to drink nothing but milk. Despite these health issues she could not have expected what happened.  On June 29 Henrietta would drink a glass of iced chicory water but immediately after drinking it cried out in pain - new and intense pangs of pain occurred in her side. Through her agony she cried out that she must have been poisoned. Consequently she was given an antidote (this consisted of the cure against colic and several anti-poisons) and the water was thoroughly examined. But it was not enough. On June 30, 1670, at two o'clock in the morning Henrietta died at just 26 years old.
Her death was sincerely mourned by the French court. Since poisoning was highly likely in this case her body was put through an autopsy that raised questions to the official conclusion that she had died of gastroenteritis. It is still widely believed that she was poisoned.

The King's Birdcage

Many activities at court were wildly exaggerated in the countless rumours that circulated Paris. One of the rumours that damaged the reputation of Louis XV was that the King had a harem at a house in the Parc aux Cerfs! But - as always - the truth was far more down-to-earth although there was something about the rumour.

Depiction of the entrance used by the
young mistresses (notice the sculptures
of stags - Parc aux Cerfs translates into
Park of the Stags)
Madame de Pompadour had been the maîtresse-en-titre of Louis XV for a some years when the name "Parc aux Cerfs" began spreading through court. It was also referred to as the King's "Birdcage". At this time Madame de Pompadour was no longer sharing the royal bed but was still the King's favourite - just as a irreplaceable friend. However, Madame de Pompadour knew that the King could not be expected to give up on his activities in the bedroom and after the King had begun his brief affair with Marie Louise O'Murphy (an embarrassment to the maîtresse-en-titre) she decided that no young woman was to take over her place through the King's bed.
So, with this common understanding, the King and his maîtresse-en-titre organized a rather strange "institution". Pretty young women were installed in a minor house at the town of Versailles just near the palace - of course the women had to be virgins so the King was not exposed to sexually transmitted diseases.

Madame de Pompadour herself supervised the house and - above all - made sure that none of the pretty little bourgeois girls would rise to be a rival to herself. It occurred that some of the young girls became pregnant after their encounter with the King but that was taken care of too. The girls would be married off to some remote member of the royal family and their groom would accept the paternity of the child - it might seem like a harsh way to deal with the girls but many of them would otherwise have married someone with far less money which would eventually have meant a poorer life (with regards to providing food, a house and a respectable living). The King himself would actually never visit the house himself; instead the girls were brought very discreetly to the palace and would carefully be escorted back.
These girls would never pose a threat to Madame de Pompadour's position - as planned - and the marquise was happy with the settlement. In this way she would not have to endure another embarrassing period like the one when Louis XV was sleeping with Mademoiselle O'Murphy and still remain his faithful friend, attentively attending all his needs without complaint.

The public knew that the place existed but had no idea of what was actually going on there. Soon it was said that the Parc aux Cerfs was nothing less than a brothel where the King could enjoy himself undisturbed. But the conditions of the actual Parc aux Cerfs was probably far better; the King actually cared about the well-being of the girls and everything would be provided for them. Considering that the girls were chosen by their looks they did not necessarily come from wealthy households - to some it was an improvement by far.

When Madame de Pompadour had died the King continued his visits to the Parc aux Cerfs where he would find his next - and last - maîtresse-en-titre: Madame du Barry.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Haughty in Green

Virginie Ledoyen portrays a haughty Yolande de Polignac - better known as the Duchesse de Polignac - in "Farewell, my Queen". This eye-catching green gown certainly would have caught everyone's attention among the soft pastels of the other ladies. The gown is decorated with exotic yellow flowers - the same yellow is used for the centre of the buttons.

Close-up of the flower ornament
The dress is a robe a l'anglaise with its closed bodice that reveal a matching bodice. It can be difficult to see from a distance but a flower ornament adorns the right shoulder of the Duchesse; of course the colours match. Surprisingly enough the sleeves are not decorated with any ruffles, extra satin or the like; the brightly coloured fabric with the yellow flowers has been brimmed up at the edge of the sleeve instead.