Monday, 23 March 2020

Worthy of a Queen: Marie Antoinette's Bridal Gifts

The wedding between the French Dauphin, Louis Auguste, and the Austrian arch-duchess, Marie Antoinette, was an immense event in the 1770's. On a political scale, it brought the hereditary enemies of France and the Austrian Empire together as allies. At Versailles, the court once more had an official leading lady which it had sorely lacked since the deaths of Marie Leszczynska and Marie Josèphe of Saxony. And for the two principal characters, it would impact the rest of their lives.

Naturally, such an event had to be augmented by suitable presents for the young dauphine. On their wedding day - 16 May 1770 - the ceremony took place in the morning. In the afternoon, the new Dauphine of France was taken to her official chambers where she was presented with the gifts from her new grandfather-in-law.

A gorgeously carved cabinet was presented which was filled to the brim with priceless jewellery and precious stones. The cabinet itself was a worthy present. It stands (for it still occupies a place in the queen's bedchamber) 1,83 cm tall and has a width of a 1,07 cm; the lining is of red velvet. The marvellous piece was the result of the combined effort of Bélanger, Bocciardi, Evalde and Gouthière. The Duc d'Aumont had found the architect Bélanger who built the piece of furniture but the Duc did not count on the expense. He had specifically stated that the piece was not to exceed 8.000 lives - however, the finished product amounted to 22.653 livres - or around 1.000.000 euros.

The cabinet would be sold off in 1790 by the National Assembly.

Billedresultat for marie antoinette corbeille mariage
The design for the original cabinet

The contents of the dauphine's new cabinet were not all meant for her. She was expected to distribute the abundance of snuff-boxes, watches, cases of gold and enamel (adorned with diamonds), jewellery, scissors, golden  flacons and perfume bottles. These were duly given by the bride to her attendants and were kept by them as a momentum of the day. Amongst the gifts given to the entourage of the dauphine were 32 watches; of these some were given to the Comtesse de Noailles, the Duc d'Aumont, the Marquise de Duras, the Duc de Villequier etc. Each recipient was carefully chosen by the Director of the Menus-Plaisirs and was meticulously noted down months prior to the wedding.

In total, the cost of these presents amounted to 160.076 livres - note, that his is not including the cost of the presents personally provided by the king for Marie Antoinette herself.

For the dauphine herself, Marie Antoinette received several beautifully adorned fans. One of them was encrusted with diamonds and emeralds which glistened marvellously in the candlelight. She also received a watch and chain studded with diamonds and in-laid with blue enamel, diamonds and pearls which had belonged to Marie Josèphe and a superb pearl necklace brought to France by Anne of Austria. As the First Lady of Versailles, the king also granted her several parures which had belonged to Marie Leszczynska.

Fig. 9 : Deux fermoirs de bracelets en email bleu, or, et diamants vers 1770. Les initiales « MA » ont été historiquement associées à la reine Marie-Antoinette. Londres, The Victoria and Albert Museum, M.51&A-1962.
These two pieces belongs to the Victoria and Albert
museum (which also produced this photo). These were
produced in 1770 and bears a monogram of MA -
historically, these have been associated with
Marie Antoinette

Another present to be found within the cabinet was a gold bow with Marie Antoinette's monogram written in precious stones. It was estimated to be worth 22.000 livres.

The king was not the only one who showered the newly-weds with presents. Both Louis and Marie were the recipients of countless gifts from the royal family and the aristocracy. The Princesse de Lamballe presented the young Austrian with a cloak which was embroidered with allegorical figures representing love, fertility and fecundity. 

Not only persons strove to pay tribute to the future queen. The porcelain factory Sèvres had crafted another jewellery case of a smaller size, but more delicate taste which also survives to this day. The sides are adorned with the signature porcelain plaques painted with pink flowers.

It should be said that Marie Antoinette did not arrive in France empty-handed. Her mother, Maria Theresia of Austria, had also done her bit to show the extravagance of the Austrian court. For instance, Marie Antoinette's wedding gown was studded with diamonds which the Empress had supplied her daughter with. Another present was a pair of paintings by the Dutch Jan van Huysum depicting flowers, insects and fruits. She would later give them to the Princesse de Lamballe. 

The cost of the dauphine's wedding presents were of a truly royal proportion. A total of 162.576 livres was spent by the jewellers, watchmakers and craftsmen - in today's money? 8.000.000 euro or 7,4 million pounds.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, the jewel cabinet in the photograph, and which is at Versailles now, is the - second - jewel cabinet. It was created in 1787 by Jean-Ferdinand-Joseph Schwerdfeger. As far as I know the first jewel cabinet is considered lost.