Tag Archives: France

Rosalie Duthé, Original Dumb Blonde

Rosalie Duthe by Drouais 1768Rosalie Duthé by Francois-Hubert Drouais, (1768)

When I was a towheaded girl, having to humor more than my fair share of dumb blonde jokes, I would have liked to know the name of Rosalie Duthé.  The scandalous lady who inspired gibes that would endure well past her 250th anniversary, marking their favor in bottle blondes like Marilyn Monroe and Pamela Anderson, has been an unknown pain in my ass since I can remember.  As an experiment in my teenage years, I dyed my hair auburn and guess what happened?  Science.  Men generally acted politer and the endless spate of jokes withered in people’s heads.  Ultimately, maintaining a brownish hue when nature has bestowed you with fair hair is a futile and expensive endeavor.  I gave it up within six months and have since rejoined the ranks of women, dyed or otherwise, who (allegedly) have more fun.  In the eye of the beholder, the stereotype rings true.  For better or worse, in person or on dating sites, blondes get more attention.  In studies, they have been shown to be more aggressive and confident because they’re accustomed to special treatment.  They also make men less clever, and are thought of as more approachable.  Men, however, prefer marrying brunettes because they “take more care of their appearance, are great cooks and are better at house work.”  And apparently blondes are high maintenance seductresses: brunettes are also considered more experimental in bed.

Rosalie Duthé by Lie Louis Périn-Salbreux

Rosalie Duthé by Lié Louis Périn-Salbreux

Doubtless, Marilyn Monroe, the not so original breathy-voiced blonde, discovered the power of sunlit locks before all several studies diminished an iota of the blonde’s prowess.  But Rosalie Duthé is truly the original master of the birdbrained coquette.  Born in 1748, she became the mistress of an English financier after leaving convent school.  Her alleged chum while hanging out with nuns?  None other than the racy blonde, Madame Du Barry.  After her first conquest as mistress, Duthé danced at the Paris Opera Ballet, but it didn’t take her long to ensnare numerous protectors.  She was a favorite of well-heeled gentlemen, including Charles X of France, and played the muse of many a painter.  But not everything was rosy in Duthé charmed sphere.  She was satirized in the 1775 one-act play Les Curiosités de la Foire as a dimwit.  In On Blondes by Joanna Pitman, Duthe is likewise recalled as a robot, then described in a fair program:

“Machine: a very beautiful and extremely curious contrivance representing a handsome woman.  It performs all the actions of a living creature, eating, drinking, dancing, and singing as if it were endowed with a mind.  This mechanical woman can actually trip a foreigner to his shirt in a matter of seconds.  Its only difficulty is with speech.  Experts have already given up hope of curing this defect and admirers prefer to study the machine’s movements.”

Pitman goes on to say that Duthé was “arrogant, dyed blonde, and vain.”  Similar to the stereotype we enjoy today.  Whether Duthé deserved the harsh criticism or reaped jealous sneers on account of her reputation for sexual conquests, 18th century or 21st, some things never change.  It probably didn’t help Duthé that her image was widely reproduced, or that she relished posing for full nudes.  Regardless of her social accomplishments, a courtesan by trade rarely ascended beyond the designation of lowly whore when an insult was fitting, and there must have been countless opportunities to tear down the favorite of royalty and nobility.  What made her popular also made her an easy target–so easy she galvanized dumb blonde jokes in generations to come. Not without help, of course.  According to Revlon, blonde hair dye outsells other colors five to one, and there’s always another Rosalie Duthé willing to flip about her flaxen hair in order to gain male attention.   But Madame Duthé is distinguished by being the first trollop infamous for being a dumb blonde.

Rosalie Duthe by Henri Pierre Danloux 1792

Rosalie Duthé by Henri Pierre Danloux (1792)

Rosalie Duthe by Lie Louis Perin-Salbreux

 By Lie Louis Perin-Salbreux.  I’m guessing the eyebrows are drawn with charcoal and the hair is powdered, making her look barely blonde.

Rosalie Duthe by Jean Honore Fragonard

(A very young) Rosalie by Jean Honore Fragonard

Rosalie Duthe by Claude Jean Baptiste Houin

By Claude Jean Baptiste Houin

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‘La Rose Mal Défendue’: Debucourt’s Reply to Garnier

I owe this post in its entirety to the kindly gentleman @Dezilvereneeuw who sent Philibert-Louis Debucourt’s reproduction work of  ‘The Poorly Defended Rose’ my way.  This version, ‘La Rose Mal Défendue’, dates from 1791, the year Michel Garnier painted ‘The Letter’, his follow-up work to ‘The Poorly Defended Rose’.

Philibert-Louis Debucourt | La Rose Mal Defendue | 1791
Reproduction work of Garnier’s ‘The Poorly Defended Rose’

The fantastic thing about Debucourt’s ‘Rose’ is the spin he’s put on the vignette.  What’s different?  First off, the lovers have been transported to the bedroom.  The seduction appears to have been a fevered pursuit–our (anti) gentleman is practically yanking off the lady’s shawl.  But–and this is so lovely–the lady is in possession of the rose.  Is she going to give it away freely?  Or will the gentleman overcome her?  I do wonder; she has a coy expression.  Methinks this lady doth not protest enough!

Debucourt’s foreground also mirrors Garnier’s.  Almost every prop is in disarray, from the tipped chair and hat to the rumpled bedding and ribbon/sash spilling from a drawer.  Interestingly, the book in Debucourt’s version is closed.  @Dezilvereneeuw has pointed out that Garnier’s book is believed to be a songbook, which makes sense given the caged bird (does it sing?) and the lovers who will soon sing a song together.   All and all I think I prefer the theme of Debucourt’s over Garnier’s.  The 18th century was rife with depictions of women being taken advantage of, and it’s refreshing to see a lady with a bit more agency than a Pamela or a Clarissa.

What do my readers think?  I’d love to hear it.

If you missed the post on Michel Garnier’s ‘The Poorly Defended Rose’ and ‘The Letter’, find it here.

For more information:

A Dealer in Wives: An Unlucky French Commoner or a Henry VIII?

Bluebeard – Gustav Dore (1862)

An account of a Frenchman who made a sport of marrying and dispatching–or was tragically unlucky.  He took seven wives in 36 years.  Busy man!  They had the misfortune of being widows and, after marrying him, lived 5, 13 , 5 , 2, 4,  2, and (at least) 8 years respectively.  

Source:  My Grandfather’s Pocketbook, From A.D. 1701-1796.

“There never existed in the world such an admirer of widows as a poor French labouring man who, after having buried so many women who had buried their husbands, is to the astonishment of the world, in the full enjoyment of his life and health at this moment in the 66th year of his age.

The name of this singular man is Leonard Coudert; he is a native and an inhabitant of the parish of St Martin de Vicq, in the province of Limousin in France. On the 19th of January 1745 he married Leonarda Dumont, widow of John Mouret; she died on the 3rd of February 1750. He took to his second wife on the 3rd of April of the same year, Mary Bayle, widow of Blaize Pauliat. She died on the second of February 1763. On the 14th of June following, he married his third wife, Jane Noaillet, widow of Malesond, and she died the 12th of May 1768. On the 6th of February 1769, he took for his fourth wife Catharine Valade, widow of Pradeau; she lived with him till the 25th of October 1771 when she died. He entered for the fifth time into the holy state of wedlock on the 1st of July 1773 with Anne Barget, widow of Lajoie. She died on the 11th of January 1777; and on the 27th of May following he married his sixth wife Frances Belarbre, widow of Albin, and buried her on the 16th of July 1779. But he did not remain long a widower, for on the 3rd of July 1781, being then 58 years of age, he took to his seventh wife Frances Lapeyre, widow of Leonard Faure.

Whether he has buried her or not we cannot tell as we have not had any tidings of her since her marriage, but we know that she has not buried him, as by a letter which was lately received from Limorges, we understand that he is alive and in good health.”

On the Road to Rouen: Photos

Admittedly, this post has nothing to do with the 18th century.  It does, however, have travel photos of Rouen that include pastoral scenes, pockmarked buildings, fruit stalls, one pissing boy foundation, and Gothic churches aplenty.  Plus, the Tour de France ends in Rouen today.  Need any more convincing?  (I hope not cause I’m not giving any!)

En route from Paris

In town

Rouen Cathedral

Joan of Arc memorial

Église St. Maclou

I’m in the process of researching the Mad Monks of Medmenham and the Dilettanti Society. This means that those of you hungering for lascivious 18th century tales of ritualistic sex, scandal, and art will soon get your fix.  You have been warned.

The Female Elements: Mesdames de France

When Louis XV commissioned Jean-Marc Nattier to produce portraits of four of his daughters representing earth, fire, water, and air, he furthered a notion of natural right that had cemented France as a superpower in continental Europe.  This ancient concept of earthly bodies ruling by order of celestial spheres is at once subtle and obvious in his daughter’s portraits.  For what, one could ask, is more elemental than a woman?  What is stronger than the elements but the will of mankind?

In strikingly similar styles, Nattier had painted Louis’ daughters before with Henriette as Flora and Adelaide as Diane.   The Frenchman was known for his allegorical depictions, a style that would go out of fashion by the end of the 18th century.  For this mid-century work, though, he was perfect.  Re-imagining the Filles de France as goddesses or mythological figures was something he could capture with with romantic efficiency, portraying Louis’ daughters as both naive, gentle creatures and powerful earthly beings.

Madame Henriette as Flora (1742)  Check out the sandaled feet!

Commissioned by Marie Leczynska as a pendant portrait to Madame Henriette as Flora; Adelaide, 13 years old (1745)

Unlike his predecessors, Louis XV’s grandfather, Louis XIV, presupposed that his tempestuous courtiers would best respond to his absolute rule if they were surrounded by natural symbols of his God-given power.  The Louis’s were masterminds at propagandizing and with the exception of Marie Antoinette’s Louis, their images carried splendidly in art as well as in person.  Since Louis XV’s daughters were his pride and joy until Madame du Barry sullied the scene, he understandably adored these portraits.

His eldest daughter and the premiere princess Louise-Elisabeth personifies earth in this series that once hung in the south wing of Versailles.  She had married by proxy the Infante Phillip of Spain in 1739 at the tender age of 12.  This was a distinction among Louis’ daughters.  One flew to the convent and the others never married.  The three single ladies following Louise-Elisabeth in age–Henriette, Adelaide, and Victoire–assumed the roles of fire, air, and water.

The Earth

Madame Louise-Elisabeth

As a mother, Louise-Elisabeth is the most voluptuous and fertile of the sisters.  Sitting on golden brown cloth and surrounded by a landscape, all but her stark white body and gown is earthen colored.  Her elbow rests upon a globe showing France and Spain (her husband’s home) along with the upper African continent.  Her posture is open and confident.  She drapes her left arm over grapes and other various fruits and flowers.  To the south of a plump peach, coins spill along the greyish-ivory glide of her dress. The steer handler in the background appears to be waving, perhaps declaring the riches birthed by the earth in the form of his bovine?  The only detail that seems curious to me is the pearl beading around her waist and arms and even in her hair.  Makes me wonder if the water element, in addition to earth, is a nod to her fecundity.

The Fire

Madame Anne-Henriette 

Louis’ favorite daughter Henriette represents a Vestal virgin upholding the virtues of domesticity and home.  Her rippling dress, the color of silver smoke, echoes the swirls of smoke to her left where the fire burns on a marble altar decorated with swags and florals.  Her fingers rest thoughtfully on her chin while propped just to the center of her lap is a tome entitled Histoire des Vestales.  The statue in the background is Vesta, the goddess of the hearth whose virgins once spread the sacred fires to the homes of every Roman.  The goddess is commonly shown with her tools of a bowl of fire and a torch.

The Water

Madame Victoire 

I’m quite taken with Victoire’s eyes.  They large and watery with copious amounts of highlighter lining the bottom.  Her sisters must have been so jealous!  As a water nymph, Victoire is luminous from the tip of her nose to her pale bosom.  The scene is tranquil and, with the exception of the urn, almost slumberous.  A pair of swans swim in the backdrop, the reeds beside her sway on a gentle breeze.  The sole detail interrupting the gentle portrait is the urn gushing water.  I have read that the direction of the water, parallel to her hips, represents fertility.  As a single lady, Victoire spent her life childless, but maybe since she was the seventh child of Louis and Marie we can conclude abundance was the pride of this royal family? (though clearly not male Y chromosome abundance).  I do note that the earth and water sisters are wearing similar pearl headbands, which probably answers my earlier question about Louise-Elisabeth.

The Air

Madame Adelaide 

Adelaide’s portrait as Juno has the most movement of the four.  She looks like she’s sitting on clouds with her companion, the peacock.  The regal, if fierce, looking peacock is perched on the same brownish substance, a pink bow tied prettily around his neck.  The rainbow arching over Adelaide dances in the background, seeming to come closer to us the closer we look.

Along with the peacock and the upward trajectory of Adelaide’s posture, the focus adds a whimsical nature to the painting.  Any moment she might lose hold of the blue cloth and float away with it.  Why, though, is her gown tied in the back?  Juno was often depicted as wearing a goatskin cloak knotted around her neck.  So, either we are to assume Adelaide is donning the goat or it must be an extremely windy day and she can’t otherwise keep her naughty bits covered?  Doesn’t matter, I suppose.  She and the rest of her sisters are fetching as the elements and I can see why Louis adored these portraits.  I certainly do.

A Night at Chambord & Chenonceau

While visiting these châteaux you just have to wonder–what’s it like at night when you are NOT ALLOWED to visit?  What does it feel like to, say, slink around in the shadows, watching the royals sleep?

Okay, that’s creepy.  But you kind of want to know, don’t you?  When nobody else is around but ghosts, when all is dark and silent, what mood stirs beneath the moonlight?  An imaginary nocturnal visit to Chambord and Chenonceau, if you will . . .

Chambord

Louis XIV Ceremonial Bedroom

(I didn’t scale down the resolution – click away for the full experience)

The dude who (occasionally) slept here

Louis XIV – Charles le Brun (1661)

The Queen’s Bedroom

Marie Thérèse of Austria, wife of Louis XIV – attributed to Charles Beaubrun (1666)

Chenonceau

Louise of Lorraine’s bedroom

The Lady in White (aka Louise de Lorraine-Vaudémont, one time Queen of France) designed this room for her retirement from Court.  In grief after the assassination of her husband Henri III, she bedded down here for the remainder of her years.  The matte black walls and white motifs are symbols of mourning.  Take a closer look at the chandelier-esque stencil on the lower lefthand wall.  It’s actually a cornucopia of eternal tears.  Images of death abound: crosses surrounded by spades and picks, widow’s cordons, crowns of thorns, and the Greek letter lambda to represent Louise’s and Henri’s initials intertwined.

I’m not sure what it says about me that I thought this room was amazing when I visited Chenonceau. I’m sure the pious Louise wouldn’t approve, but it looks positively witchy to me.

Regarding photography in this post:

Creative Commons License

Interstices (or What Other Folks Call Doors)

They open up magic or shut out the scary night.  Solicitors scratch their knuckles on them and lucky mail persons get to jam paper in boxes before them everyday.  In Narnia, they’re closets, which are just doors going someplace else.  However you wish to view them, here’s a small collection to enjoy.

On a sunny day in Key West, found on the way to Pepe’s on Caroline (which, by the way, is the definition of charming local cafe.)  Hemingway ate there, too.  This fact seems to go a long way in Key West.

Ringling Museum, Sarasota, Florida

Looks like maybe a thousand other cathedral doors, but this one’s special.  Notre Dame, Paris

On the way up to Mont St. Michel.  If you saw the Samantha Brown episode, this secret passage does indeed save you time.  Or at least it did at one time.  On the way down, think about getting an enormous omelette at Mere Poulard for $40, then resist.  You can watch them being made for free from your view on the street and recall the best omelettes taste like omelettes.  Mont St. Michel, France.

Okay, not a door.  These are pré salé sheep.  They’re a delicacy on the salt flats around Mont St. Michel.  They don’t get much glory except on the plate.  As such, they requested their 2 seconds of fame.  Getting shorter and shorter every day when you add sheep to the mix . . .

Residential home in Port Townsend, Washington (no, I did not trespass.  Zoom, baby, zoom).  Port Townsend is the twin of Duluth, Minnesota with warmer, wetter weather and slightly hipper people.  Sweet Laurette’s Cafe has Frenchified food and decadent caramelly coffee.

Fortunately, they no longer prod the elephants who transport visitors to Jaipur Palace with bull sticks.  This makes one feel slightly more secure when riding on top of the kindly giants up a long, winding hill.  I can’t account for the broken door.  Jaipur, Rajasthan, India.

Everything in India is too beguiling for words (except the shit in the streets).  This door is one of several in a courtyard in the City Palace.  Udaipur, Rajasthan, India.

City Palace, Udaipur, India

City Palace, Udaipur, India

While we’re in India, you must see the Taj Mahal in Agra.  Go inside and you’re in the burial chamber of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal (they are actually underneath the ground level on which you stand).  The lotus flower design above the door is made of semi-precious and precious stones.  When a flash light is shone against them, they glow.  The guy who is eager to demonstrate this is not just being friendly; he wants your money.  But it’s not so big of a deal.

The kid selling miniature Taj Mahal snow globe key chains on the walk outside is the cutest kid ever.  You might hear the word “cello” (roughly: get outta here!) thrown at him by a fellow Indian when, through sheer persistence, he offers you 17 snowglobes for the price of one.  “You cello!” might be his indignant reply.

Divorce and The French Revolution

Le Divorce by Le Sueur

 On September 20, 1792, the Legislative Assembly of the French Republic legalized divorce.  This was a first in the country’s history.  Under the Ancien Regime, the unshackling of partners was unthinkable–a move that would potentially crumble the foundation on which the First and Second Estates derived their power.

 In his Traité du contract de mariage of 1771, the French jurist Robert-Joseph Pothier wrote :

Gross adultery on the wife’s behalf and instances of extreme spousal abuse counted as rare exceptions for separation when annulment no longer remained a possibility.  In essence, marriages were immediately consummated for a reason and unless the petitioner produced testimony that might invalidate the original grounds for marriage, the couple was married until death do they part.

In cases where the law permited separation of any sort, two basic resolutions were recognized: séparation de corps et d’habitation, essentially of person/body and domicile, and less seldom, séparation de biens, or of financial accounts.  Consequently, an attitude of keeping families in their conjoined states prevailed.  As an additional argument against divorce, all children birthed during the marriage were rendered illegitimate upon the conclusion of formal legal proceedings.  Given the need for heirs, one can easily see how this could prove problematic.

Although the Enlightenment initially sparked the divorce debate, it was the French Revolution that succeeeded in secularizing family life.  Public institutions sought to invade the very private sentiments of individuals and turn them outward in service of the state.  In the first gasping breaths of the nineteenth century, a backlash developed against this transparency of state and individual, but for 24 years, marriage was viewed as a covenant which could be broken as all secular affairs could be torn down and if desired, rebuilt.  This resulted in 30,000 divorces between 1792 and 1803, the years when the divorce laws remained the most liberal.

The Morning after Marriage by James Gillray

In the centuries following the years wherein the divorce law of 1792 was active, married women and men were refused comparable rights to divorce until as late as 1975.  1884 saw the return of divorce in France, however limited.

Given its time, the law of 1792 was shockingly encompassing.  It allowed seven instances where legal proceedings were warranted:

  • “Insanity;
  • Conviction for crimes entailing corporal punishment or loss of civils rights;
  • Crimes, brutality, or grave injury inflicted by one partner on the other;
  • Notorious dissoluteness of morals;
  • Abandonment for at least two years;
  • Absence without news for at least five years; and,
  • Emigration (when taken as a sign of counterrevolutionary intentions.” 1

Note the oldest reason for marital dissolution–adultery–is nowhere to be found.

Increasingly, as the idealism of the French Revolution waned, restrictions were placed on the grounds warranting a divorce.  The Napoleonic Civil Code modified accessibilty to divorce, making it more difficult for a wife to leave her husband, as during the 1792 law, men and women enjoyed equal freedom to seek their happiness outside of marriage.  Instead of relying on grievances, Napoleon’s code initially proposed mutual incompatibility (later discarded) and/or mutual consent.  Smacks of his experience with Josephine, doesn’t it?  The formal reasons for divorce  written in the final code were: “adultery, infamous punishment of spouse, outrageous conduct, ill-usage, or grievous injury.”

If the history of divorce law during the French Revolution and/or the social circumstances warranting divorce interest you, there is a good wealth of literature out there, particularly in regard to a wife’s grievances.  Do see:

Works Cited for the Seven Grounds for Divorce

1  Aries, Philippe, and Georges Duby. “The Unstable Boundaries of the French Revolution.” A History of Private Life. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard UP, 1990. Print.

Napoleon’s Achy Breaky Heart: Milan, 27 November, 1796

Earlier this week I left you with Napoleon in Verona, depressed and a trifle desperate.  Today, he’s looking a little like this:

The Emperor Napoleon I by Vernet (*see note below if the fancy strikes you)

Josephine’s cavorting with Hippolyte Charles who incidentally does not have the makings of a weak chin.  I’m told this helps in the romance department.

To say the least, Monsieur Bonaparte is suspicious of his lady wife.  He’s gone from realizing his general awesomeness to seeing cracks reflected in his veneer.  And you see, it’s all Josephine’s fault.

The General Napoleon by Andrea Appiani

Our little bit of muslin is just too wonderful in her own right to pay attention to her new husband who, in addition to being short, is apparently “impecunious” and “irrepressible”.  Touché, darling.

Josephine Bonaparte de Beauharnais by Andrea Appiani, 1796

Years later on 19 December, 1805, Napoleon writes to her, “. . . I am still in Brüun.  The Russians have gone.  I have made a truce.  In a few days I shall see what I am going to be.   Deign, from the height of your grandeur, to trouble yourself a little about your slaves.”

On this day, however, this is what he has to say:

 (click to enlarge)

P.S.

*As a complete side note, the upside of the sad-faced painting by Vernet is that it comes in a melamine plate offered by the National Portrait Gallery.  It was also mentioned in December’s Oprah magainze, if that’s your thing.  The downside: it’s £12, double the price of the other melamine face plates.  But I suppose he was an Emperor and as such large and in charge so he has to have the biggest sized plate of the bunch.

Also

You’re going to have to forgive me about the ongoing post name in this series.  For some reason I had Billy Ray Cyrus’s Achy Breaky Heart in my head which is odd because a) not a fan of Billy Ray; and b) I hardly like country.  Hauntings of country songs past, I guess, but attributing Napoleon’s letters to Josephine a result of his achy, breaky heart has cured me of my problem.  Hopefully, I have not passed it on to all of you.

Napoleon’s Achy Breaky Heart: Verona, 13 November, 1796

Eight months prior to Napoleon’s beseeching and, by turns,  chastising letter from Verona, Marie Rose Josephine Tascher de la Pagerie, a thirty three year-old widow from Martinique, marries the then twenty seven year-old officer of the French Army.

The marriage is not a love match per se, but one marked by passion and enmity in equal measure.  Later they will share the affection of old friends, but on this November day Napoleon suffers beneath the rumors of Josephine’s affair with Hippolyte Charles, a handsome lieutenant in the Hussar regiment.

(click image to enlarge)

Problem is, the pre-Emperor Napoleon is intensely smitten with his sophisticated and vivacious wife.  “As for me,” he says, “to love you alone, to make you happy, to do nothing which would contradict your wishes, this is my destiny and the meaning of my life.”  His burning fire for all things Josephine, however, earns him much despair during the early years of their marriage.  He writes her letters of which she rarely answers.  He agonizes and pleads for the proof of her ardor and turns furious when he doesn’t receive it.  In many ways he is as fickle a lover as she.

Paranoid and oppressive, his romantic intensity later results in his own affairs, but throughout his life, he does exhibit a rare devotion to her that can never be felled by the chaos surrounding them.  Even after their divorce and his subsequent remarriage to the Grand Duchess Marie Louise of Austria, he writes her letters and shows concern for her well-being.  He even goes to his death with her name on his lips:  “France! . . . Armée! . . . Tête d’armée ! . . . Josephine!”