Tag Archives: Marie Antoinette

A Beautiful Anatomy: Gautier d’Agoty’s Mezzotints

Jacques Fabian Gautier d’Agoty was an 18th century French anatomist and engraver, a Marseille native, and a painter of Court ladies including Marie Antoinette.  For his anatomical and naturalist art he worked with colored mezzotints, using red, yellow and blue impressions on copper plates, a method he’d learned during his brief six-week employment under Jacob Christoph Le Blon.

After leaving his post over a low wage dispute, he shed the role of assistant and, immediately upon Le Blon’s death in 1741, assumed that of principal inventor, but his assertions were part fiction.  He’d added black or brown to make a four-plate mezzotint, “perfecting” Le Blon’s method, but this was not considered revolutionary by his peers.   He was nevertheless awarded a patent by Louis XV to continue making his art–a patent that remained in his family throughout the 18th century.

‘Anatomical Angel’ is his most well-known anatomical print.  The female depicted is eroticized, young and refined despite her presumed death.  She’s morbidly beautiful, the skin on her back splayed into red angel wings, her coiffure curled and pinned, her hips and upper buttocks exposed.

Jacques-Fabien Gautier-d'agoty (Back of Female) 1746
Jacques-Fabien Gautier-d’agoty (Back of Female) 1746

Aside from the fact his models are stripped to their flesh, his mezzotints are similar to 18th century portraiture in posture and graceful expression.  It’s disarming, to say the least.

Pregnant Woman | 1773
Pregnant Woman | 1773


And lastly, the Queen whose tragic anatomy was exposed by the guillotine:

Marie Antoinette | 1775
Marie Antoinette | 1775

Historical Geekery Gift Guide 2012

A selection for bookish, historically-minded folks (and yes, gentlemen, there’s something for you, too!)

Anne Boleyn blank journal from Immortal Longings, perfect for those especially moody days.  You may also choose from the Katherine of Aragon and the Henry VIII versions.  I’d personally like to have Anne’s and Henry’s side by side for a bit of dark romance.  (They also have beautiful Shakespeare journals.)

Sweet Marie before she became headless . . . These earrings have everything she would approve of: bows, French blue swarovski crystal, and her youthful portrait set in a cabachon.  Secret Jewellz also has a pair of sparkling pink bow earrings that are very pretty.

Inspiration from the grave.  Unisex perfume/cologne from Sweet Tea Apothecary which (unlike what the macabre name evokes) will come up smelling of heliotrope, vetiver, black tea, clove, tobacco, musk, and vanilla.  “This blend evokes the feeling of sitting in an old library chair paging through yellowed copies of Hemingway, Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, Poe, and more.  The Dead Writers blend makes you want to put on a kettle of black tea and curl up with your favorite book.”


Damn French Desserts has the loveliest skeleton cards.  They’d look great as a framed collection, especially for those unwilling to part with all of them via post.  Choose from the ‘Victorian Goth Queen To the Bones’ and ‘Skeleton Horse Lady Godiva’ (and more)

What you can’t wash off, wash on.  Straight from the Bearded Proprietor’s shop, ‘Ill Repute’ shaving soap for the ladies and the gents.  The whole store is packed with delights to improve your morning ablutions: Madame Scodioli’s Hand-Made Soaps, Perfumes, Whisker Wax & Lovely Curiosities for One And All

Made of etched semi-gloss stainless steel, these hardcover optical illusion earrings are fantastic for any bookish lady on your list.

For those who like to play with the digital side of art, a collage sheet of hairstyles from the 15th to 20th centuries with Marie Antoinette’s belle poule at center.  FrenchFrouFrou Antiques also offers a collage sheet of French costumes and others for your enjoyment.

Because one hand-painted teacup and saucer is never enough . . .  Burke Hare Co, Victorian teacups, candles, and curiosities for peculiar people.

The Mindful Mushroom Artisan body oils are 100% vegan, cruelty free, and use a house base of hemp seed, grapeseed, sunflower, and rice bran oil.  She goes wild with her perfuming and the options are nearly endless from sweetly inspired like Faery Queen to darkling scents like Unseelie Court.  From one perfume lover to another, I am in love. Choose from a sample vials/packs, 5 ml or 10 ml roll-on.

An 8×10 inch print that’s a cute take on the song.  I would buy this for myself in a hot minute, but my darling, devilish husband would surely amend the -OOKS part. Either way, smiles all around!

Hope you guys enjoyed the gift guide.  All products are on Etsy and support independent artists.

Pretties in Pink

“Pinks” was originally the common name for the dianthus flower.  Regardless of hue’s popularity in fashion, the singular “Pink” didn’t gain its definition as rose colored until around 1733.  Even as late as 1769, when Jacob Christian Schäffer created his lovely baroque color table, what we now call pink was often considered a pale shade of red.


Jacob Christian Schäffer’s Color Table – Roth (or red in German)

The ladies loved their pink no matter what the color was called.  In Queen of Fashion, Caroline Weber recounts an amusing exchange between Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI regarding a color that remained à la mode into the 19th century:  “When the Queen asked her husand how he like the confection, which was made from tafetta of an odd pinkish-tan hue, he replied laconically: ‘It is the color of a flea [puce].’ ”  

The exact color of puce is damnably hard to pin down.  Sources tend to disagree whether puce is pinkish-tan or reddish-brown/reddish-purple and as I’m not inclined to examine fleas by age or anatomical part (both of which define puce, apparently), we are going to rely on source material.

As Baronne D’Oberkirch–also noted in Queen of Fashion–wrote in her Memoires“ . . . every lady at court wore a puce-colored gown, old puce, young puce, ventre de puce [flea’s belly], dos de puce [flea’s back], etc.  [And] as the new color did not soil easily, and was therefore less expensive than lighter tints, the fashion of puce gowns was adopted by the [Parisian] bourgeoisie.”


The Royal English Dictionary of 1775 defines pink as: “A small fragrant flower, of the gilliflower kind; anything supremely excellent; a reddish color, resembling that of a pink.”   I rather like the middle definition.  The ladies below are supremely excellent.

 Self-portrait with Farinelli and friends – Jacopo Amigoni (1750-52) Full Portrait

The Archduchess Marie-Antoinette, future Queen of France at 7 years of age –  Jean-Étienne Liotard (1762)

Portrait of Elizabeth Hervey, 4th Marchioness of Bristol – Anton von Maron

Duchess of Medinaceli – Anton Raphael Mengs

 Mrs-George-Watson-(Elizabeth-Oliver) – John Singleton Copley

More about color:

Follies: An 18th Century Fascination

My interest with follies began in the early summer of 2001.  I had hiked up a long, sloping hill in Barcelona to visit Gaudi’s Guell park, seeking to bask in the artist’s vision beneath a sweltering midday sun.

I knew what to expect.  I had seen the apartment he’d designed along the busy street far from El Carmel Hill, strolled through the perpetually-in-progress La Sagrada Familia.  In the light of his creations, I understood one thing: magic pervades his work.  The symmetry feels utterly foreign, as though you’ve stepped in Dali painting and are unsure whether you wish to find your way out.  His world is at times sinister, at other times stricken with childish delights, but despite its fantastical elements, Gaudi’s buildings would not be considered follies.


The demarcation between fantasy and folly lies in the buildings intended use.  Upon approaching the nineteenth century, however, follies were increasingly allocated to activities beyond titillating one’s family and friends.

A confusing and ambiguous definition, when you get down to it.

Essentially, the strict definition of a folly distills down to two components.  One: does the buildings express purpose lie in ornamentation?  Two: is the nature of the structure symbolically relevant in terms of ideals and/or values?  Answer yes to both and you have genuine folly on your hands.

Sir Thomas Tresham’s Rushton Triangular Lodge, built 1593-1597.  This is what gets built when you imprison a Roman Catholic for not converting to Protestantism.   Throughout the design, you’ll see symbols of the Holy Trinity with its enthusiam for threes.

In addition to being expensive and impractical, follies were imitative in desgin.  Art wanted to reproduce a life already lived.  Like most trends, the initial concept of follies started with the privileged and trickled down to all who could afford historical aspirations, including the actor David Garrick

Garrick’s Temple by Johan Zoffany, 1762.  As a Shakespearean actor, Garrick desired to commemorate the playwright with a temple in his honor. Located on the north bank of the Thames in Hampton, London on what was once land adjoining Garrick’s villa, it’s the only known tribute devoted entirely to Shakespeare.   

Aristocrats whose estates boasted authentic ruins were envied by peers who viewed their lands as aesthetically barren.  To honor the upper class dictate of do thy neighbor one better, the 18th century—the last great hurrah of the landed aristocracy—saw a renewal in folly construction, although the trend was born some two centuries before.

Conceit was the lifeblood of these fantasy constructions.  Roman and Doric temples illustrated a desire to emulate classical virtues.  Nods to faraway cultures gave way to Egyptian pyramids, Chinese temples, and Tatar tents.  Travelling abroad, one might say, without ever leaving home.

Désert de Retz near Chambourcy, France

Simple peasant virtues, like those expressed in Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet at Versailles, were somewhat rarer but appeared in the form of mills, cottages, and rustic villages.  As the eighteenth century progressed, exoticism surfaced much the same way Chinoiserie did in textiles and home décor in the early 1700s.  Chinese pagodas and Japanese bridges were favored in lieu of castles and ruins, furthering euphoria over displaying one’s wealth through useless landscape ornaments.

 Brizlee Tower, from A Description and Historical View of Alnwick, 1822

Many notable follies were built to commemorate a loved one, particularly a woman.  Brizlee Tower, located on Hulne park near Alnwick Castle, was commissioned by Hugh Percy, 1st Duke of Northumberland, after Lady Elizabeth Seymour’s death in 1776.  In high gothic style, the tower sits atop a hill and rises 26 meters for a clear birdseye view from the north, east, and west.  As with a number of the tower follies, a beacon is surmounted at its heights.  When lit the fire can be seen for miles around.

Broadway Tower via Wiki Commons 

This is likewise the case with Broadway Tower.  Built in 1799 for Lady Coventry, the tower functioned as a sort of test to ascertain whether or not she could see its beacon from her house in Worcestershire, 22 miles away.  She could.

Stancombe Lake and Temple from The Temple

Among the most romantic examples of a folly is the temple at Stancombe Park in Gloucestershire.  Although its creator, the reverend David Purnell-Edwards, was newly married and more pointedly a reverend at the time, the temple was supposedly an ode to his secret lover. The legend surrounding its construction is something of an amusing tale.  Apparently, when Purnell-Edwards married, the dowry he received was as equally generous as the physical proportions of his bride.  We are left to imagine they didn’t take well together.  Mismatched personality, sizist attitude, no love lost–well, irrespective of the facts, Purnell-Edwards had a beautiful gyspy on the side and no suitable place to engage in trysts with her.

His solution?  Construct a romantic walk around a two acre lake, conceive a series of tunnels too narrow for the wifey to fit through (they measured just over three feet in width), and at the walk’s end, erect a temple outfitted with snuggling quarters and a boudoir.  The good news is that for £300  a night, the lover’s tryst is all yours to re-enact.  The bad news, however, is that considering it was once voted the most romantic place in Britain, that re-enactment has been set on repeat for quite some time now.

Happy 2012, readers, and thanks for being among the first visitors of the new year!  Your comments and faithful readership are very much appreciated!

Ringling Museum: Ladies’ Fans, Part 1

Other than being a delightful ode to all things circus, the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida is a surpising resource for the 18th century.  Not only does it have an original 1788 Vigee-Lebrun of Marie Antoinette, their collection of fans is spectacular.  Take, for instance, this trio from the 1750s.

The left (1) is French and features figures on a landscape.  It’s a pretty example of watercolored leaf paper over ivory sticks.  The predominant design is lace on a black backdrop, black being an unsual color for the time except when used in mourning.  I don’t, however, believe it’s a mourning fan as it was not specified as such at the museum.  If my recollection is correct, full mourning fans would have been made of black crepe during this period with half-mourning allowing white and/or dull colors to grace the garments and accessories.

The middle fan (2) is also French and shows a fête au jardin or garden party.  I have a close-up photo below because it’s very busy.  The sticks in particular are incredible.  Like the previous fan, the medium is watercolor on paper leaf, but it’s made with mother-of-pearl sticks in addition to ivory.

Unlike the first two, the bright red fan on the right is Dutch.  The technique is gouache on paper leaf.  This technique is similar to watercolor except with a higher pigment to water ratio and a chalk-like substance added to the mix.  This creates opacity and a high degree of reflection, making the colors stunning.  The ivory sticks aren’t quite as decorative as fan 2, but the village scene therein is precious.

The additional fans are closed and therefore not very interesting.  So then, the Marie Antoinette Vigee-Lebrun. As a side note, did MA actually read? I’m not so sure!

Antoinette Tulips

I have a thing with gardening, an obsession really.  I would not quite call it Tulip Mania, but it’s bad, and now I have one more obsession to boot.  The Antoinette tulip is multiflowering, which essentially means its hues change over the bloom period, and it is gorgeous.  Antoinette would have been a fan simply for the tulip’s whimsical nature.  It’s Easter yellow and green . . . no, wait, raspberry pink.  No, salmony orange.  Oh, dear.

As a bouquet tulip, Antoinette is also abundant, producing 4-6 flowers per bulb.  The name really is perfect and although spring seems an awfully long way off, any Antoinette fan would be remiss to not have some of these in her garden.

The Secret Diary of a Princess: A Review

All week I have sneaked in moments to read Melanie Clegg’s The Secret Diary of a Princess and I must say it was worth every minute of lost sleep.  I adored Clegg’s interpretation of Marie Antoinette, and considering that this is a review and not a gush fest, I’m going to try my best to forgo repeating just how much I think every Antoinette fan should read it.

What I loved:

Clegg really made Antoinette’s early life come alive for me.  The voice was so authentic to Antoinette’s spirit I fancied I had in my possession her long-lost diary and was gaining private insight into the misunderstood queen.  For me, this emotional engagement was huge.  Although life at Versailles and Antoinette’s reign, in particular, has always fascinated me, I usually experience dissonance between my disliking the queen and my appreciation for her as an historical character.  Her personality is full of contradictions, which generally keep my attention, but unlike her mother, history has seldom regarded her as intelligent or a master of strategy.  She was instead a leader of fashion, a spendthrift without regard for consequence, and all around girly girl.

Clegg’s novel offers a closer look at the makings of France’s infamous queen.   If you’ve wondered how Maria Antonia, an awkward, uneducated girl who was never supposed to be a queen of France, became the belle of the fashionable world, this secret diary is a marvelous imagining of Antoinette’s inner thoughts while remaining firmly rooted in research.

1769, Joseph Ducreux

As any fan of the genre knows, historical fiction first and foremost needs to be more than a recitation of facts and events.  Clegg happily succeeds in this.  Her simple yet descriptive style transported me from the palaces of Schönbrunn and Hofburg, where Antoinette spent her childhood and adolescence, to her first steps into the glittering court of Versailles.

Today Antoinette seems quintessentially French, but in her time she was thought never fully Austrian or French.  This lacking is what defines her. Austria was home, but also a place of harsh instruction and intense pressure.  On the one hand we have Antoinette’s life of silk gowns, mischief, and loving sisters and on the other, a plague of early deaths coupled with the emotional austerity of her mother, Maria Theresa.  Despite the juxtaposition of the royals’ distinct personalities, a real sense of family resonated throughout novel.  I adored Antoinette’s sisters Amalia and Christina and sympathized with Antoinette’s feeling that she lacked consequence in such a large family.  As she says early on,

“I am not witty like my sister Christina or funny like Elizabeth or interesting like Amalia or clever like our eldest sister Marianna or sweet like Josepha.  I am just me, the youngest and some might say, most insignificant daughter of the Empress Maria Theresa, the most powerful female monarch in the world.”

The Austrian Royal Family

As the ultimate goal of Maria Theresa was to marry off her daughters and concrete Austrian alliances, the novel showed a procession of arranged matches with the sisters wondering who was next and when.  Given the doubt surrounding her future, Antoinette understandably longs for direction.  She wants to please her mother by doing her duty, but suffers under constant demands, which at times seem impossible for her to meet.  She is painfully naive and undisciplined, but also modest, funny, and sweet.

The first picture of Antoinette seen by the Dauphin

Numerous improvements were required to make Antoinette suitable for Versailles.  Sharing in her resistance to (and eventual delight in) those changes was an absolute joy to read.  Clegg deftly tackles the transformation as Antoinette catches a glimpse of herself après a French hairdressing:

“I had always seen myself as the youngest, least pretty and most insignificant of Mama’s girls but now suddenly I believed that I too could be beautiful and important.  I hope I never forget how I felt at that moment: powerful.”

This steady eye on the Antoinette we all know so well makes the novel a page turner.  We know what happens at Versailles and we know the dismal end swept in by the revolution.  What Clegg does is humanize Antoinette, making her the little sister, full of hope and giddy laughter and minor rebellions, with the internal reflection long due France’s most enigmatic queen.

A much recommended read for Marie Antoinette fans but also for anyone interested in what life was really like for princesses in 18th century Europe.

You can find out more about the author Melanie Clegg by visiting her popular art, history and writing blog at http://madameguillotine.org.uk/.

Novel Recommendation: The Secret Diary of a Princess

If you are a Marie Antoinette fan and find yourself wondering what her early years before Versailles would have been like, consider reading Melanie Clegg’s The Secret Diary of a Princess.  For one, it’s on sale for kindle through Monday for 99c or 86p in celebration of Bastille Day.  Yay!  Two, it’s written by the fabulous blogger Madame Guillotine

I started reading last night and the voice of young Maria Antonia really shines through–Melanie got it just right.   I’ve read a lot of novels about MA and thought the market was saturated, but Melanie proves there’s still more to offer.  MA’s childhood and adolescence is a fascinating and formative period of the queen’s tragic life and should not be missed.

I’ll post the review late next week!

P.S. If you miss the sale, Melanie’s novel is usually priced at $3–still a steal!

Fashion at Versailles: Vivienne Westwood’s Courtesans

The delightfully subversive Vivienne Westwood will be among the designers showcasing their work at Marie Antoinette’s old stomping ground, the Grand Trianon, for an exhibition put on by Musee Galliera.  “Le XVIII au goût du jour” or “A Taste of the 18th Century” runs through October 9th if you’re lucky enough to be near Versailles.  Other than Westwood’s courtesans, you’ll see Watteau-style robes à la française by Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel,  embroidered  motifs typical of the 18th century by Christian Dior and Pierre Balmain,  and Olivier Theyskens’s for Rochas invocation of the ghost of Marie Antoinette in a Hollywood film. 

Dare I entice you more?

Look familiar?  I do believe Mme Pompadour would approve.

Long influenced by 17th and 18th centuries, Westwood is known to reinterpret designs of the period.  She uses her trademark tailoring, inspired by authentic cutting principles, to produce a collision of the historical and modern.  The Boucher corset, featuring a print of the 1743-5 painting, Daphnis and Chloë, is apparently eminently comfortable due to the use of flexible fabric.  My dear Marie Antoinette: who knew?

Westwood is also well known for the Watteau gown from her 1996 Spring & Summer Colllection.

Westwood on her collection Portrait & the Wallace Collection paintings:

Marie Antoinette in Anime

I am not a fan of anime, or rather I should say, I have not been exposed to anime enough to consider myself a fan, but count me in!  Just when I thought I had exhausted stories regarding Marie Antoinette, here I find she’s been romping around as a cartoon character since 1973.  It’s too lovely to describe.

The plot of The Rose of Versailles follows the sword-wielding Lady Oscar who happens to be the daughter of General Jarjayes (an actual historical figure).  Disappointed with his lack of sons, Jarjayes trains Oscar in the martial arts.  She eventually becomes Commander of the Palace Guard.  Tasked with protecting the royal family, she has an insider’s view into court scandals, including the queen’s supposed affair with Count Axel Fersen, the Affair of the Necklace, and Antoinette’s friendship with Madame de Polignac.

Fortunately for us Antoinette fanatics, The Rose of Versailles has been so wildly successful as manga that it’s been adapted into the French movie “Lady Oscar,” musicals, and a television series. Plenty of options to explore!

Watch the English subtitled television episodes here.

If you want to watch the movie, it’s hard to find.  The quality is not great, but youtube does have it.