Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Home of the Scents: The Perfume Bottle

Throughout most of Louis XIV's reign perfume bottles were made of porcelain. Perfume went from being solid (which would be rubbed on) to liquids which meant that the perfume bottles could take on a new design. Ever since the evolution of perfume in the 18th century, new thought was given into the presentation or rather the package. After all, perfume was quite expensive and since the customers were already paying large sums for the perfumes then it would only be suitable if the bottles matched that quality.

English Bulbous Cage Work Scent Flask, Circa 1760 Gold cage work scent flask with chained shell stopper and French inscription around neck 2 inches high.
English glass perfume bottle, 1760's

Now, perfume bottles could also be made from cut glass or crystal, which in turn could be lavishly adorned with swirls of gold or colourful enamel. For those with an exotic taste jade bottles were available too. In France carved glass was a particular favourite ever since the opening of Baccarat in 1765. In England, Austria and Germany porcelain remained the preferred perfume bottle material.

Bottle, Scent  Date: 18th century (?) Culture: French Medium: Gold, diamonds
Silver covered perfume bottles, France
The bottles' stoppers would receive no less attention. Some were intricately carved into the shape of a woman's head or perhaps a flower or even a mythical creature! Not only were the bottles with their precious drops expensive, they were often unique. Since perfumery was perfected into an art-form more and more merchants realised that there were a good deal of money in making sure that each lady had her very own distinctive symbol.

A circular perfume box with its key, c.1780, in the taste of André Charles Boulle richly décorated with flowery rinceau, palmettes and foliages in gilded and silvered brass on dark wood background. A star-shaped pattern adorn the top of the lid. Inside, a crystal flask with its cork hightened with foliated interlace. The heel and the collar of the flask are underlined with gilded nets.
Perfume bottle with matching case, 1780

Though there would definitely have been a perfume bottle on a lady's toilet-table, she was by no means restricted to returning to her room for every new drop. Most courtiers carried smaller vials around with them. Before long ladies discovered that such a vial could easily be concealed in a muff or within a glove.

(L) Bottle, early 18th century, Labradorite, gold, carved stone cameos.   (Center) Perfume bottle, ca. 1750, Agate, gold. United Kingdom.  (R) Bonbonniere, ca. 1750  curving rococo gold cage work over gray agate. Hinged lid with white enamelled band showing the phrase, “Eloignez de vous rien n’est agreable” (Separated from you nothing is pleasant) (c)
Agate perfume bottles, early 18th century (possible from England). Inscription reads:
"Eloignez de vous rien n'est agreable" or "Separated from you. nothing is pleasant"

Baccarat had its' carved glass but the other glass manufacturers in 18th century France had their own signatures. Madame de Pompadour's beloved Sèvres was renowned for their pear-shaped bottles - a shape which had been in mode since Louis XIV reigned. The bottles from the factories of Saint-Cloud were recognizable from their golden gilding.
Even the very design of the bottles showed the trends of the new age. The heavy baroque style was quickly discarded in favour of a styling more in sync with nature; birds, flowers, butterflies were all popular motifs.

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