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Archive for the ‘18th Century France’ Category

In the past, this blog published several articles on hairstyles for men and women in the Regency era. This post discusses hairstyles in Georgian times. During a recent visit to the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, I had the pleasure of examining a small, but excellent collection of Greco Roman statues and ancient artifacts. Strolling through several galleries, I took photographs of the hairstyles of the female figures.  The Walters Art Museum’s antiquities collection ranks among the top tier in North America (JSTOR). The images below are confined to the photographs I shot at the museum and the public domain portraits I found to compare them to.

A Change Towards the Neoclassical Ideal

From the late 16th century to the mid-19th century (until train travel changed the nature of long-distance travel), young male British aristocrats embarked on a Grand Tour to the Continent for several months or years to round out their education. Accompanied by a teacher or guardian, they completed their knowledge of the classics, studied art, and enjoyed a life of leisure, luxury, and exotic (at times erotic) adventures.

The itinerary included stays in France (Paris being a much sought after destination), The Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, and, of course, Italy.  Rome remained the premier stop, but trips to Venice, Florence, Pompeii, and Greece were also prized. Travelers returned home with souvenirs, works of art to decorate their houses and gardens, and a thorough appreciation of the Neoclassical ideals of ancient Rome, Greece, and the near East, as well as the Renaissance principles of art and architecture.

Influence of Neoclassicism on Women’s Hairstyles and Fashion

Transformation in women’s clothing and hair styles developed slowly during this period, but changed quickly between 1778 and 1793, influenced not only by the Grand Tours, but also in reaction to the French Revolution (1789-1799).  Even before the war, Marie Antoinette sought refuge from the extravagant dress at Versailles in her Hameau de la Reine, which was built for her on estate grounds.  Here she could enjoy a more natural environment than court life offered and dress “down” from elaborate corseted dresses and the over-the-top hair styles that were caricatured.

Marie Antoinette in a chemise gown. 1783. Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. Wikimedia Commons

Marie Antoinette, by Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1783. She is wearing a relatively loose and simple gaulle gown or chemise a la reine, made of muslin. Wikimedia image.

Marie Antoinette, along with the ladies of her court, walked and relaxed in light-loosed dressed in the gardens, grounds, and working farm that surrounded the hamlet. To complement a more “natural” look and in keeping with the casual atmosphere, she and her female entourage wore straw bonnets and loosely curled hairstyles, which, for its time, were “simple.”

The print below shows the old school reaction to the new styles. The Merveilleuses were instrumental in transforming fashion to the Neoclassical style during the the French Directorate (1795-1799) in the last four tumultuous years of the French Revolution.

From Vernet's

From Vernet’s “Incroyables et Merveilleuses” series, 1793. Public Domain image.

Comparisons of images of Greco Roman statues to contemporary Georgian paintings

As previously stated, this post contains the original images I took in the Walters Art Museum. The quoted text about the ancient statues is rewritten from the museum informational labels for each sculpture or relief.

Right: Relief of Apollo and Artemis, ca 50 B.C. Walters Art Museum. Image by V. Sanborn. Left: Portrait of Louise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Queen of Prussia, 1802. Josef Grassi. Wikimedia Commons. Comment: The Queen of Prussia wears a diadem much like Artemis in the 50 B.C. relief panel. Differences in hairstyles are due to adaptations made by the Europeans, who were influenced by the ancients, but who did not slavishly copy the hairstyles and hair jewelry. Their adaptations were unique to their era.

Left: Detail, Maidens Playing “Knucklebones”. Greek, late 4th or early 3rd century B.C., Terracotta. Walters Art Museum. Image by V. Sanborn. Right: Harriet Melon by John Russel, 1804. Image from The Peerage. Comment: One can see almost a direct correlation between these two hairstyles, centuries apart. The primary difference is in the soft curls framing the face and forehead in Harriet’s undo  In 1804, soft white muslin dresses, draped gently from a high waist, were all the style. Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet wore hairstyles in 1995’s Sense and Sensibility that were remarkably similar to the terracotta maiden’s, with touches of the ringlets popular in the early 19th century.

Left: BonnetAbout 1810, 19th centuryGift of Mrs. C. Walsh © McCord Museum View the leghorn bonnet at this link. Right: Portrait of a Woman. Roman, Trajanic period, ca A.D. 10. Walters Art Museum. Image by V. Sanborn. Comment: I found no online examples that emulated this elaborate Roman hairstyle, but I loved how the leghorn bonnet echoes it. By 10 A,D., Roman women wore complicated hairstyles requiring daily maintenance by attendants. Wigs, hairpieces made from the hair of slaves, and padding kept in place with hair nets, pins, or combs, were used to create a sculptural “do.” (Hairstyles through the ages.)

Left: “This portrait of Livia was created not long after her marriage to Emperor Augustus…She…set a new fashion with her innovative nodus hairstyle, in which a section of hair is arranged in a roll over the forehead, while the rest of the hair is swept back in loose waves and secured in a bun at the nape of the neck.” (Text from the Walters Art Museum). Livia, Late Republican period, mid-late 30s B.C. Image by V. Sanborn. Right:  Louise, Queen of Prussia by Elizabeth Vigee Lebrun, 1801, Schloss Charlottenburg. Public domain image Comment: Louise wears an adaptation of the nodus hairstyle. Hers is looser with curls framing her forehead and face. Her low bun is larger, looser, and curlier. 

Top left and right: Portrait of a Young Woman. Roman (Egypt?), late Republican period, ca. 50 B.C. Walters Art Museum. Image by V. Sanborn. “The realism of the young woman’s fleshy features and the detailed treatment of her elaborate hairstyle are typical of the late Republican period.” (Text from Walters Art Museum.) Bottom left: Detail of An Embarrassing Proposal, 1715-1716, Jean Antoine Watteu, Hermitage MuseumBottom right: English School, A Lady, profile facing to the left, wearing pale lilac dress with white sleeves and coral necklace (early 19th Century), watercolour on card, , set in a red leather travelling case. Oval, 78mm (3in) high.Bonham’s. Comment: The lovely bust of the young Roman woman demonstrates a hairstyle that spans a hundred years between the early 18th and early 19th centuries. The Roman hairstyle reminded me of several Watteau paintings from the early 18th century. The lady at bottom right also wears a version similar to the Roman example, but is more complicated. In the Watteau painting, the ladies demonstrate three versions of a similar underlying style. In this instance, Greco Roman influence definitely made its appearance at the start of the Georgian era in England (1714-1830). French influence on English fashion is well known.

Top right: Standing Maiden. Greek (Tarentum, Italy) 3rd century B.C.. Terracotta with traces of paint and gilding. “…the draping of the fabric on top of the maiden’s high, ‘melon” hairstyle are typically South Italian.” (Quoted text from the Walters Art Museum.) Image by V. Sanborn. Top left: Fashion plate, Costume Parisiens, 1815. Bottom: Detail of an 1812 print. Comment: From the original model of a high melon hairstyle, one can see the inspiration for the hairstyles featured in the two prints. These early 19th century hairstyle adaptations don’t strictly follow the original example, but pay homage to it. In the fashion plate, one can observe the French empire custom of inserting flowers, ribbons, and hair jewelry. The two ladies busying themselves with needle work affect simpler hairstyles that echo the high “melon” look but that leave the bun loose and curling down the back of the head. 

Right: Head of a Maiden With Lampadion Hairstyle. Greek, 3rd-2nd century B.C. “Dicaearchus (active about 320 -300 B.C.) a pupil of Aristotle’s, remarked that women described this hairstyle with topknot as the lampadion, or “little torch.” (Quoted text from the Walters Art Museum.) Image taken by V. Sanborn. Left: Portrait of a young girl, Louis-Léopold Boilly. Date unknown. Middle: Portrait of young woman, bust, wearing a gray-brown dress Laplatte Adèle (late 18th century-early 19th century) Paris, Louvre Museum, DAG. Comment: The Lampadian hairstyles as worn by the ladies in the two paintings, closely resemble the Greek example. Women still wear  this today, including me when I’m dressed casually.

Top right and middle: Terracotta Head of a Woman with Long Curls. Greek (South Italy), 3rd century B.C. Walters Art Museum. Image taken by V. Sanborn  Top left: Portrait of Mrs Moffet, 1826, Sir Martin Archer Shee, Walters Art Museum. Image by V. Sanborn. Lower left: Princess Louise of Prussia (Princess Antoni Henryk Radziwill), 1802. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Public domain image. Lower middle:  Miniature of Mrs Russell by John Smart. 1781. Christie’s. Lower right: Detail of Mrs John Gibson. Portrait by Jacob Eichholz, ca 1820. Sotheby’s. Comment: This hairstyle is personally one of my favorites. I used to wear a version of it when I had long straight hair. I’d pull a ponytail to the side and let my hair fall over my shoulder. Mrs. Moffet has the closest proximation to the terracotta head, but the other variations are equally lovely and span decades if not centuries.

Top left: Head of a Satyr, 2nd century A.D. Roman copy after a Hellenistic Greek original. Walters Art Museum. Image taken by V. Sanborn. Top right: Mrs. Fox,ca. 1805. Benjamin Trott, American. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Public Domain image. Below:  Portrait of Lady Caroline Lamb, ca. 1805, Sir Thomas Lawrence. Wikimedia Commons. Comment: Lady Caroline Lamb, Lord Byron’s mistress, was known for her eccentric often manic ways and short curly hair. Mrs. Fox sports a “do” similar to the Satyr’s. Children, both boys and girls, sported this attractive style during the latter part of the 18th C. and early years of the 19th century.

Silhouettes of Jane Austen (left) and her sister, Cassandra (right), as young women. Wikipedia. Below sits my Pinterest board entitled Regency hairstyles. You might have fun finding images that resemble the hairstyles by the Greco Roman statues or by the two Austen women!

Sources:

Sorabella, Jean. “The Grand Tour.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000-, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/grtr/hd_grtr.htm (October 2003)

Cadeau, Carmen. “Women’s Fashion During and After the French Revolution (1790 to 1810),” All About Canadian History…Except not really. More like bits an pieces. Retrieved  8/14/2019: https://cdnhistorybits.wordpress.com/2016/01/19/womens-fashion-during-and-after-the-french-revolution-1790-to-1810/ (January 2016)

Victoria and Albert Museum. “Style Guide: Regency Classicism.” Retrieved 8/22/2019: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/s/style-guide-regency-classicism/

Batman, E. (2004). The New Galleries of Ancient Art at the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. American Journal of Archaeology, 108(1), 79-86. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40024677

The Scandal of Marie Antoinette’s Gown,  Meghan Masterson, Meghan Masterson blog. Retrieved 8/22/2019 from https://meghanmastersonauthor.com/the-scandal-of-marie-antoinettes-gowns/

Hairstyles Through the Ages, Crystalinks, History. Retrieved 8/22/2019 from https://www.crystalinks.com/hair.history.html

Warnock, R. (1942). Boswell on the Grand Tour. Studies in Philology, 39(4), 650-661. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4172592

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Inquiring readers, Every once in a while a writer from another website contributes an article that is custom made for this blog.  Jennifer Vishnevsky, a writer for TopDentists.com, writes about false teeth and dentistry in an era when anesthetics were not yet available.

Pierre Fauchard. Image @Wikimedia

Pierre Fauchard. Image @Wikimedia

The 18th Century was a major time for advances in dentistry. It is believed that the French physician Pierre Fauchard started dentistry science as we know it today. In 1723, Fauchard published “The Surgeon Dentist, a Treatise on Teeth.” His book was the first to describe a comprehensive system for caring and treating the teeth. Thus, he is considered the father of modern dentistry. Fauchard was responsible for many developments, including the introduction of dental fillings and the use of dental prosthesis.

In 1760, John Baker, the earliest medically-trained dentist to practice in America, emigrated from England and set up practice. In the same decade, Paul Revere placed advertisements in a Boston newspaper offering his services as a dentist.

This print is by Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) and is dated 1787. It is a satirical comment upon the real practice of rich gentlemen and ladies of the 18th century paying for teeth to be pulled from poor children and transplanted in their gums. Image @Children and Youth in History

This print is by Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) and is dated 1787. It is a satirical comment upon the real practice of rich gentlemen and ladies of the 18th century paying for teeth to be pulled from poor children and transplanted in their gums. Image @Children and Youth in History

In 1790, the first dental foot engine was built by John Greenwood, son of Isaac Greenwood and one of George Washington’s dentists. It was made from an adapted foot-powered spinning wheel. This was also the year that the first specialized dental chair was invented by Josiah Flagg, who made a wooden Windsor chair with a headrest attached.

Even those treated by the best dentists were in for an agonizing time. “A Treatise on the Deformities and Disorders of the Teeth and Gums” was written in 1770 by Thomas Berdmore, who was considered to be an outstanding dentist in England. “Pass gold wire from the neighbouring teeth on either side, in such a manner as to press upon what stands out of the line.” The alternative, Berdmore suggested, was to ‘break the teeth into order by means of a strong pair of crooked pliers.”

Fauchard, procedure for teeth restoration. Image @Wikimedia

Fauchard, procedure for teeth restoration. Image @Wikimedia

For those who could afford it, the European diet grew sweeter during the 18th Century as the use of sugar became more widespread. This exposure to sugar meant more instances of tooth decay. These dietary changes were a major factor in the development of dentures. Dentists began to experiment with ivory in order to create a better foundation for dentures. Due to advances in technology, dentists could also add gold springs and plates to the new dentures. False teeth were a novelty that was mostly unheard of in earlier centuries. Previously, problematic teeth were pulled but almost never replaced. Ivory dentures were popular in the 1700s, made from natural materials including walrus, elephant, or hippopotamus. For the wealthy, human teeth were high in demand as the preferred material for the creation of dentures. However, the teeth used in 18th Century dentures eventually rotted. There was a high demand for teeth that were deemed healthy, such as from criminals.

George Washington's dentures. Image @Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry, Baltimore

George Washington’s dentures. Image @Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry, Baltimore

One of the most famous early denture wearers was the first U.S. President George Washington. Washington began losing his teeth in his 20s, probably due to a combination of frequent illness and treatment with a medication called calomel that damaged the enamel of the teeth. Contrary to popular belief, however, Washington’s dentures were not made of wood. Washington sported some of the highest quality false teeth of the time, consisting of a denture plate made of carved hippopotamus ivory into which human teeth (along with parts of both horse and donkey teeth) were fitted. He had several other pairs of dentures during his presidency, none of which included wood in their construction.

A French Dentist Showing a Specimen of His Artificial Teeth and His False Palates, Thomas Rowlandson, 1811. Image @The Independent

A French Dentist Showing a Specimen of His Artificial Teeth and His False Palates, Thomas Rowlandson, 1811. Image @The Independent

18th century porcelain dentures Image @CBBC

18th century porcelain dentures Image @CBBC

Full or even partial dentures were properly developed only during the course of the 18th Century. Dentists became better at making them fit, coming up with stronger adhesives to keep the teeth attached to them and designing them so as to prevent them from flying out of their patients’ mouths. By the late 18th century, there were yet more developments. Around 1774, Alexis Duchâteau crafted the first porcelain dentures. But these were prone to chip and also tended to appear too white to be convincing. Porcelain shaped teeth were placed onto gold plates. These were the first dentures that look similar to modern dentures. They were very white in color, but could be made in different shades.

Guest contributor Jennifer Vishnevsky is a writer for TopDentists.com, an Everyday Health website on dental health, as well as a freelancer for other lifestyle media sites.

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This beautiful marquetry table transforms into a desk with a turn of a key. This short animated film shows you how it operates and how an elegant French lady in the 18th century would have used it. Enjoy.

Exquisite marquetry of this French mechanical table.

Read about metamorphic furniture (which is different from mechanical furniture) at this link.

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As a blogger who is curious about all things in Jane Austen’s world and customs in her past that might have influenced her, I am still amazed at how one tiny clue points to another until I land on a series of sites that open up a whole new topic. While history foodies probably know about the elaborate lengths that pastry chefs took to please their patrons, the visual results of a full banquet are simply astounding. I can only assume that Georgian taste buds were equally pleased.

Modern chef and historian, Ivan Day, recreated a feast from the past using sugar structures and porcelain figures to arrange a fanciful garden centerpieces for the table.

I already knew about The Prince Regent’s elaborate 1811 dinner at Carlton House, which was described as thus:

“Along the centre of the table about six inches above the surface, a canal of pure water continued flowing from a silver fountain beautifully constructed at the head of the table. Its banks were covered with green moss aquatic flowers; gold and silver fish swam and sported through the bubbling current, which produced a pleasing murmur where it fell, and formed a cascade at the outlet.” – The Gentleman’s Magazine, describing the Prince Regent’s fete at Carlton House, June 19, 1811 in honor of the exiled French royal family.

The great kitchen at the Prince Regent’s Pavilion at Brighton could accommodate creating dishes for huge and fanciful banquets.

So great was the interest that the doors of Carlton House were opened for three days in a row. But instead of satisfying the curiosity of the masses, the result was ever-increasing crowds. Chaos ensued.

‘The condescension of the Prince in extending the permission to view the arrangements for the late fete at Carlton House has nearly been attended with fatal consequences,’ reported one newspaper. Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1039063/As-Queen-opens-Palace-Ballroom-public-story-decadent-royal-banquet-ever.html#ixzz1s7ijkAEv

Detail of the design for an elaborate garden centerpiece. These engravings were showcased in Le Cannameliste Français by famed confectionary chef, Joseph Gilliers, in the mid-18th century. View the entire centerpiece here: Click on this link.

The banquet featured a recreation of a landscape at its center. Such a method of decorating a table was not new, especially when it came to desserts. Elaborate set pieces with architectural French influence were created for tables using spun sugar and Sevres bisque figures to create fantasy landscapes. Before the Napoleonic Wars, travel over the English Channel between British and French courtiers and diplomats was common, and thus the French chef’s custom of creating these elaborate centerpieces became well-known in England. Upper class households vied for highly paid (and desired) French chefs, and by the 1820s these gentlemen had by and large invaded British upper class kitchens. Their ability to create dishes that feasted both the eyes and the stomach was unrivaled.

 SEVRES BISCUIT FIGURES CIRCA 1755, Modeled after François Boucher. Image @Christies.

This was an era when confectionary was considered as much a branch of the decorative arts as of cuisine, and porcelain for the table represented prestige as well as a demonstration of power. The combination of French chef, porcelain, and fanciful confectionary desserts served as symbols of prestige and wealth, for no ordinary household could offer such an extravagant display of food and panoply. (View this porcelain table centerpiece set.)

Detail of Gilliers’ templates for cut outs.

Most of the images of the banquets and figurines are copyrighted. I encourage you to click on the links to view the spectacular results of sugar and porcelain table centerpieces that mimic gardens, sculptures, and figures based on famous paintings. The fanciful recreation included redesigning tables as well.

Modern version of Gilliers table. Image @Simon Beer.

Gilliers’ 1751 sketch of the table, plus seating.

Amy Hauft, VCU sculpture department. Confectioner Joseph Gilliers conceived his 100-seat rococo fantasy for the serving of a single course — dessert — in a garden setting. The centerpiece atop the tailored white tablecloth was to be a sculpture made of sugar paste fortified with dried sturgeon bladder. There is no record that this table was ever built by Gilliers. Image@Richmond Times Dispatch

More on this fascinating topic:

Ivan Day’s  pavilion made from a “pastillage sugar paste for an exhibition at the Met in NYC two years ago. They were exact replicas of ones made for Maria Theresa, the Empress of Austria in 1740. “

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Oak cask for making vinegar. Image @Taste of Croatia

Vinegar has had a long and noble history of uses for mankind. Since ancient times it has been used as a preservative. Delicate fruits and berries were ripe for such a short season that vinegar, with its acetic acid content, was used to to preserve them. (Blackberry vinegar recipe)

Add sugar and water, to the mixture and one had created a tart and pleasing beverage. Mix it with alcohol, and this sweet concoction became a tasty mixer! Vinegar Cocktails Are Making the Rounds 

As vinegar is so necessary an article in a family, and one on which so great a profit is made, a barrel or two might always be kept preparing, according to what suited.” – A new system of domestic cookery: formed upon principles of economy, and adapted to the use of private families (Google eBook), Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell, Printed by Norris & Sawyer, 1808.

18th century French faience oil and vinegar set

Vinegar is made from many sources: grapes, apples, sugar cane, or malted barley or oats.

In foods it is used for its antibacterial properties, as an acidity stabiliser, diluting colourings, as a flavouring agent and for inhibiting mould growth in bread. In brewing it is used to reduce excess losses of carbohydrate from the germinated barley and to compensate for production variations, so producing a consistent quality beer.

It can be found in beer, bread, cheese, chutney, horseradish cream, pickles, salad cream, brown sauce, fruit sauce, mint sauce and jelly and tinned baby food, sardines and tomatoes.” – La Leva di Archimede

George III condiment set, silver 1782 Sheffield

Herbs, fruits and spices have long been added to vinegar for flavor, and recipes for infused vinegars were handed down for generations. ‘Sugars of lead,’ a sweet tasting substance, was made by pouring vinegar over lead. This liquid would be used to sweeten harsh cider, but as every self-respecting 21st century reader knows, this substance was quite poisonous. One can only conclude that sugars of lead must have been quite deadly to Europeans addicted to drinking cider. – Enzyme facts, vinegar history 

Recipes for vinegar are found as early as the 17th century. In the Delightes for Ladies (1602), Sir Hugh Plats offers this recipe for distilling and purifying vinegar. Notice his caution of the use of lead.

How to distill wine vinegar or good Aligar that it may be both cleare and sharpe

I Know it is an usuall manner among the Novices of our time to put a quart or two of good vinegar into an ordinay leaden stil, and so to distill it as they doe all other waters. But this way I do utterly dislike, both for that heere is no separation made at all, and also because I feare that the Vinegar doth carry an ill touch with it, either fro the leaden botto or the pewter head or both. And therefore I could wish rather that the same were distilledin a large bodie of glasse with a head or receiver, the same beeing placed in sand or ashes. Note that the best part of the vinegar is the middle part that ariseth, for the first is fainte and phlegmatick, and the last will taste of adustion, because it groweth heavie toward the latter end, and must be urged up with a great fire, and therefore you must now and then taste of that which commeth both in the beginning & towardes the latter end, that you may receive the best by it selfe.

18th C. French vinaigrette bottle

Aromatic vinegar in the minds of 17th-19th century users had many medicinal purposes for preventing infections and megrims (headaches), reviving a fainting person, and covering bad odors. It was used to treat dropsy, croup, stomach aches, as well as sore throats. Vinegar teas were consumed by diabetics, and the liquid was used to heal wounds and fight infections. (Bragg, Health Information.) Vinegar was also a well-known cleaning agent and furniture polish, although it was not recommended for polishing marble, since the acid would eat into the smooth surface, leaving it pockmarked over time.

Vinegar was considered an indispensable item in the 18th century for arousing a fainting person or masking foul odors. When the sponge was soaked only in vinegar, its original use, it could help prevent the wearer from fainting. A person stepping outside a crowded London street might carry aromatic soaked sponges to hold close to the nose to mask the odor of raw sewage and rotting garbage.

19th c. Victorian silver vinaigrette

In the early 19th century, there wasn’t garbage men that carted away the trash. People threw the stuff out the window. Slop pails went out the window in the 18th century. And when you left your house, you would encounter odors that made you just choke. So they invented a device called the vinaigrette. And it was a box or a little trinket carried to revive oneself if one felt faint.

So now they can’t breathe, they go outside, they smell the rotten garbage and the sewage, and they think they’re going to faint. They opened up their vinaigrette, which they held in their hand, and inside is a gold-pierced grill with beautiful decoration. But underneath the grill is a sponge. They would soak that sponge in an aromatic solution, sort of a mixture of perfume and ammonia, like smelling salts.” – Barry Weber, Antiques Road Show 

Vinaigrette and train holder. Image @Antiques Road Show

That was the concept of the vinaigrette. But the other end of this, you seldom see these all together. This is called a train holder. And this is shaped like a shell. When you squeeze it, it opens. The train was the long part of the ball gown. And they didn’t want it to drag in the dirt and be soiled. So they would hook the train holder onto the edge of the train, and then they would hold the vinaigrette in their hand, and this kept the train from dragging behind them.” Barry Weber, Antiques Road Show 

Vinaigrettes were small decorative containers that held the vinegar-soaked sponges. The inside of the vinaigrette would be gilded to protect the silver from staining.

Used by both men and women, vinaigrettes were suspended from chatelaines, placed in pockets, hung from long chains, bracelets or finger rings. Often designed in the shape of a rectangular box, the more spectacular vinaigrettes took on the look of a vase of flowers, a purse, an urn, almost any contemporary theme. Made from multicolored gold or silver and sometimes silver-gilt, many were decorated with Italian mosaics, mother-of-pearl or other gem materials. – Antique Jewelry University

18th century French ladies carrying canes

The soaked sponges were also carried in a compartment in the head of walking canes.

…many ladies of the 18th and 19th centuries carried a “vinaigrette” cane to protect them from a variety of ailments. Throughout history, vinegar has been heralded for its medicinal qualities. A sponge soaked in the healing liquid was placed in a small container with holes in it on the handle of the cane. Should a lady’s tight corset cause her to faint or should she encounter someone with a dreaded illness, her vinaigrette tucked into her cane was close at hand to protect her.” – Collecting Antique Walking Sticks or Canes 

Vinaigrette, Nathaniel Mills. Image @Leopard Antiques

Often spices such as cinnamon, lavender, roses, or orange were added to sweeten the smell.

The vinaigrette was a most necessary adjunct to the toilette in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when it was considered the correct thing for a lady to show symptoms of fainting on occasion. The little boxes with a grating inside—through which the essence contained in a saturated sponge could be inhaled— are of all sorts and conditions. Some are quite plain, others have delicately chased or monogrammed tops, or views engraved on the lids; others, again, are of fantastic shapes. The vinaigrette was the descendant of the old pomander, and the forerunner of the midVictorian smelling bottle; but whereas the vinaigrette is accessible to the most modest purse for a very small sum, the real old genuine pomander is very scarce indeed, and it means a lot of money to come by one at all. The pomander was round, and often of china, and contained a wonderfully strong-smelling ball, compounded of spices and pungent scents which could hardly fail to bring round the most upset of ladies. – Byways of Collecting, 1908, Ethel Deane, Pp 170-172.

The small containers known as vinaigrettes were actually an English invention. The French called them “boite de perfum”. They came in many shapes and sizes, and eventually became decorative items that lovers exchanged as tokens of affection. (Limoges Boxes: A Complete Guide)

The vapours from a vinaigrette caused the person to inhale sharply and then breathe more rapidly. Restoratives carried different names and were made from various recipes, not just with vinegar: In addition to vinaigrettes, there are smelling-salts, hartshorn, and Hungary water or lavender water. Ladies prone to fainting would also keep a bottle of laudanum nearby. Laudanum, a painkiller, was an alcoholic herbal preparation that containing approximately 10% powdered opium. Smelling-salts were an infusion made with ammonium carbonate and alcohol and scented with lemon or lavender oil. Hartshorn (aqueous ammonia)was made from carbonate of ammonia distilled from the shaved or powdered horns of a male deer. Hartshorn and smelling salts or sal volatile could be mixed with water and drunk as a restorative. Hungary water was a perfumed restorative made with distilled water and sweet-smelling herbs and flowers. This was dabbed on the skin of a person suffering from “nerves.”- Jennifer Kloester, Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, 157-58

Pauline Bonaparte transformed into a goddes of antiquity on her day couch. Neoclassical statue by Canova, 1805-1808, @ Borghese Gallery

And so we finally come to the fainting couch or a chaise longue, or a reclining chair with a long seat that supported the legs of the fainting person. These couches were placed in drawing rooms and dressing rooms, and were used for relaxation as well.

Early 19th century Recamier day bed. Image @Victoria & Albert Museum

This post will not go into the myriad reasons why women of this era fainted with such regularity. Tightly laced corsets certainly had something to do with the condition, but with so few rights and options open to them in their life’s choices, one cannot blame women of that time for reacting to the child-like treatment their husbands and fathers accorded them with fits, vapours, nerves, and fainting spells.

The Bennet family is well acquainted with Mrs. Bennet's nerves. Pride and Prejudice 1995

A character like Mrs. Bennet, who had her origins in Jane Austen’s real life observations, did not have many opportunities for maturing or turning into a well-educated and sensible woman. Mr. Bennet had given up on her and her childish behavior was enabled by her caring daughters and siblings.

Scene from 1995 Pride and Prejudice. Mrs. Bennet is overcome from the thought of Lydia's elopement. Note that she is not using the day bed but has a chair propped under her feet.

Vinegar had many other uses:

A recipe for black dye

Let one pound of chopped logwood remain all night in one gallon of vinegar. Then boil them, and put in a piece of copperas, as large as a hen’s egg. Wet the articles in warm water, and put them in the dye, boiling and stirring them for fifteen minutes. Dry them, then wet them in warm water, and dip them again. Repeat the process, till the articles are black enough. Wash them in suds, and rinse them till the water comes off clear. Iron nails, boiled in vinegar, make a black dye, which is good for restoring rusty black silks. – A Treatise on domestic economy for the use of young ladies at home and at school, by Catharine Esther Beecher, 1849, p. 299-303

For whitening scorched articles of  clothing

Scorched articles can often be whitened again by laying them in the sun wet with suds. Where this does not answer, put a pound of white soap in a gallon of milk and boil the article in it. Another method is to chop and extract the juice from two onions and boil this with half a pint of vinegar, an ounce of white soap, and two ounces of fuller’s earth. Spread this when cool on the scorched part, and when dry, wash it off in fair water. Mildew may be removed by dipping the article in sour buttermilk, laying it in the sun, and after it is white, rinsing it in fair water. Soap and chalk are also good, also soap and starch, adding half as much salt as there is starch, together with the juice of a lemon. Stains in linen can often be removed by rubbing on soft soap, then putting on a starch paste, and drying in the sun, renewing it several times. Wash off all the soap and starch in cold fair water. – A Treatise on domestic economy for the use of young ladies at home and at school, by Catharine Esther Beecher, 1849  p 296.

Reviving a person overcome with fumes:

In case of stupefaction from the fumes of charcoal or from entering a well, limekiln, or coal mine, expose the person to cold air; lying on his back, dash cold water on the head and breast, and rub the body with spirits of camphor vinegar or Cologne water. Apply mustard paste to the pit of the stomach, and use friction on the hands feet and whole length of the back bone. Give some acid drink, and when the person revives, place him in a warm bed in fresh air. Be prompt and persevering. – A Treatise on domestic economy for the use of young ladies at home and at school, by Catharine Esther Beecher, 1849 p. 243.

This late 19th century poem by Edith Willis Linn talks nostalgically about vinaigrettes as a thing of the past. At this time, lovers gave each other these small decorative items as tokens of affection:

AN OLD VINAIGRETTE – Poem by  Edith Willis Linn, C. W. Moulton, 1892.

LITTLE gleaming box of silver

Wrought in flowery design;

Drifted down the silent ages

To this humble hand of mine;

From the days of kingly France,

From the days of minuet dance,

From the days of stately graces,

Powdered hair and painted faces;

Bring a shining thread of story

To this all-prosaic hour;

From those castles proud and olden,

Those salons of wit and power.

You have known the love and woe

Of fair dames of long ago;

Round you like a love-tale wreathing

Is the perfume of their breathing.

Silent! Not a word to give me!

See, I raise your flowery lid;

Whisper in your heart my secret

Knowing you will keep it hid.

An Old Vinaigrette.

One more life now leaves its trace;

One more love has lent its grace;

Keep it sacred down the ages

On your shining silver pages.

Now my imprint I have given

Though you never bear my name:

Graven with your silver roses

Are all lives of praise or blame.

All things that we touch or wear

Must the spirit’s impress bear.

Every hand that ever won you

Left a fadeless mark upon you.

Love and hate and jealous passion,—

All I feel have been your own;

Shall my life not breathe about you

Purer love than you have known?

Nobler grows this life with years,

Grander grow earth’s hopes and fears;

May the traces of my living

Make this heirloom worthier giving.

Whence and Whither.

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The lush fashion exhibition, Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion, closed in Milan in September. On the website, readers are still allowed to choose where they would like it to travel next!

The beautiful cameo necklace and earrings complete this evening ensemble.

The catalogue, written by Cristina Barreto and Martin Lancaster, is sumptuous and filled with color photographs. The clothes are compared to fashion illustrations of the day. One cannot get a better education of French fashion during this period than this book. This video and the link to the slide show below it show what we have missed by not traveling to Milan last spring and summer.

Napoleon’s desire to protect the garment industry in France after the French Revolution resulted in an explosion of designs that propelled the French fashion industry to the forefront, making it hugely influential. By encouraging women to purchase many gowns (so that they would not be seen in the same dress too often), France became synonymous with fashion. See the slide show of images from the exhibition by clicking on this link.

The many French fashions shown from the 1795-1810 years

Vote where you would like the exhibit to travel next. If the exhibit comes to New York, I hope to see the same mannequins. Aren’t they simply superb?

Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion in Milan

Order the catalog at Amazon: It ships within 1-3 months.

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French paintings of ladies dressing and at their toilettes provide us with an insight of  how dressing rooms were once constructed and used. While we think of dressing as a private affair, William Hogarth demonstrates in his painting, Marriage à-la-mode: The Countess’s Morning Levee, how a woman of means with a large elaborate dressing room would entertain visitors while she was completing her toilette.

Image @Wikipedia

In reality, the toilette became a ritual in 18th century France for the very rich, one that had both intimate and public elements. A maid would groom and sponge bathe her lady in private, but then her mistress would devote hours to having her hair dressed, eating her breakfast from a tray, writing letters, entertaining friends, and picking the clothes she would wear for the day. The wealthier the woman, the more elaborate her morning ritual. As Hogarth showed, the custom of entertaining guests in one’s dressing room was also popular in England. In the image below, a shameless young lady is entertaining her spiritual adviser in her boudoir. His expression is priceless.

The Four Times of Day: Morning, Nicholas Lancret, 1739. Image@National Gallery, London

Wikipedia provides a history of the word “toilet”. The word did not have the same meaning back then as it does today.:

It originally referred to the toile, French for “cloth”, draped over a lady or gentleman’s shoulders while their hair was being dressed, and then (in both French and English) by extension to the various elements, and also the whole complex of operations of hairdressing and body care that centered at a dressing table, also covered by a cloth, on which stood a mirror and various brushes and containers for powder and make-up: this ensemble was also a toilette, as also was the period spent at the table, during which close friends or tradesmen were often received. The English poet Alexander Pope in The Rape of the Lock (1717) described the intricacies of a lady’s preparation:

“And now, unveil’d, the toilet stands display’d
Each silver vase in mystic order laid.”

These various senses are first recorded by the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) in rapid sequence in the later 17th century: the set of “articles required or used in dressing” 1662, the “action or process of dressing” 1681, the cloth on the table 1682, the cloth round the shoulders 1684, the table itself 1695, and the “reception of visitors by a lady during the concluding stages of her toilet” 1703 (also known as a “toilet-call”), but in the sense of a special room the earliest use is 1819, and this does not seem to include a lavatory.

La Toilette, Boucher, 1742. Image@francoisboucher.org

Woman’s Fashions of the 18th Century fully describes the above painting by Boucher, in which the seated woman, probably a courtesan, is tying a garter over her stocking while wearing a short jacket to protect her outfit from particles of applied makeup and the powder on her wig. No visitors invade this intimate scene, which clearly shows a tray with refreshments and a decorative dressing screen behind the chair.

James Gillray portrays the progress of the toilet. Note the wash basin and water urn on the floor.

Women did use their dressing rooms at more intimate and private moments, when one presumed they would be alone. The washing of one’s face, feet and hands was a daily ritual, while bathing one’s entire body was not.  Such ablutions were done privately.  People would wash in basins. A portable hip bath would be placed in the dressing room if they decided to bathe completely.

Boilly, La Toilette Intime ou la Rose Effeuille. Image @Wikimedia Commons

While outhouses were common, the wealthy tended to use elaborate potty chairs (see image below). The French used bidets inside their dressing rooms, as shown in Boilly’s painting above. Invented by the French, their earliest recorded use was in 1710. If one wonders how women in elaborate costumes managed to go to the bathroom, this image by Boucher provides a glimpse. The handling of the bowl and upright posture was possible, for women during that era wore no underdrawers.

18th century Sheraton potty chair

Dressing rooms remained popular for a long time. In Can You Forgive Her?, Lady Glencora invites Alice Vavasor to have tea in her dressing-room, saying “You must be famished, I know. Then you can come down, or if you want to avoid two dressings you can sit over the fire up-stairs till dinner-time.” Alice follows Lady Glencora into the dressing-room, “and there found herself surrounded by an infinitude of feminine luxuries. The prettiest of tables were there;–the easiest of chairs;–the most costly of cabinets;–the quaintest of old china ornaments. It was bright with the gayest colours,–made pleasant to the eye with the binding of many books, having nymphs painted on the ceiling and little Cupids on the doors.” Lady Glencora goes on to explain, “I call it my dressing-room because in that way I can keep people out of it, but I have my brushes and soap in a little closet there, and my clothes,–my clothes are everywhere I suppose, only there are none of them here.”

Dressing room with chamber pot chair, 1765. Image@Morris Jumel House, Manhattan.

Anthony Trollope made an interesting point. During the 1860’s, when his novel was written, wealthy women changed their wardrobes more often for different functions during the day than Regency women. She invites Alice to linger in her dressing room, presumably to rest, read, and drink tea, rather than change into yet another set of clothes to join the company downstairs. Lady Glencora also indicates that the dressing room could also be a refuge away from visitors and prying eyes.

Jane Austen's bedroom. The closet with wash basin and potty sits to the left of the fireplace.

A wealthy couple might have two bedrooms (his and hers) with an adjoining sitting room. Each person would have their own dressing room. Simpler households did not have the luxury of such space. In Chawton Cottage, Jane Austen and her sister, Cassandra, shared one bedroom. Their potty and wash basin where stored in a closet.

Today’s walk in closets with adjoining bathroom most closely approximate the dressing room of yore, although people today do not tend to entertain their visitors in their closets.

Other posts on the topic:

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