Saturday, 24 May 2014

Marie-Antoinette's Wardrobe Book

This book, recently the subject of a video in the Le Point "Incredible treasures of history" series,  is Marie-Antoinette's "Gazette des atours" or "Wardrobe Book"  for 1782.  It was a scrapbook in which Marie Antoinette's Mistress of the Robes and confidante Geneviève de Gramont, comtesse d'Ousun, pasted fabric samples of the Queen's outfits.  It used to be assumed that the book was used by Marie-Antoinette to help her decide what to wear. Thus Antonia Fraser: "the Wardrobe Book of the Queen was presented to her daily by her Mistress of the Robes together with a pincushion;  Marie Antoinette would prick the book with a pin to indicate her choices. The porters attached to the Queen's Wardrobe (this was three large rooms filled with closets, drawers and tables) then carried in the huge baskets covered in cloths of green taffeta."  According to Antonia Fraser, the actual pinpricks that the Queen made can still be seen in the book, and in recent years some of the long pins she used have been recovered from the floor of her room in Versailles. (Marie-Antoinette, p.207-8 in the pbk)

All this seems very reasonable.  However, in the video Pierre Fournier, director at the Archives Nationales, puts forward a different theory: according to him, the Wardrobe Book was an accounts book used for checking garments received against those ordered. Handling the royal accounts was certainly one of the responsibilities of the Mistress of the Robes - the comtesse d'Ousun was known to have been concerned by the laxity of Rose Bertin's record keeping -  and the book does indeed contain the names of designers and suppliers. The rather casual way the samples are put together also perhaps suggests it was intended for the comtesse's own use rather than for presentation to the Queen.  Even so I'm not entirely convinced.  If this is an account book, wouldn't you expect items to be dated or marked up in some way? I don't know where Antonia Fraser got all the circumstantial detail about the pincushion, the baskets and the green taffeta, but surely the book either has pinpricks or it hasn't?   M. Fournier himself admits there was a "wardrobe book" - apparently just not this book.....

Here is a bit more from Antonia Fraser about the contents of the book: 

"Each outfit is categorised and accompanied by a tiny swatch of material. There are samples for the court dresses in various shades of pink, in shadowy grey-striped tissue and in the self-striped turquoise velvet intended for Easter.  

But what is notable is the preponderance of swatches for the more casual clothes, the loose Lévites (wrapped gowns with a sash) shown together on one page in an array of colours, from pale grey and pale blue through to the much darker shades of maroon and navy, sometimes with small sprigs embroidered between the stripes.  There are redingotes (from the English word riding-coat) in the same palette of blues, as well as a particular mauve marked Bertin-Normand, coupling together the names of the couturier and the silk-merchant.  Swatches for the so-called 'Turkish' robes are shown in self-striped pink and very dark mauve, for the  robes anglaises in turquoise and self-striped mauve as well as dark maroon striped in pale blue.  One swatch of material, supplied by the other celebrated silk-merchant, Jean-Nicholas Barbier, uses the Queen's favourite cornflower to good effect, set in a design of wavy cream-coloured stripes. (Marie-Antoinette, p.208)

The Wardrobe Book of Mme Elisabeth

Summer "gazette" of Mme Elisabeth, 1792
A second Wardrobe Book from the Archives Nationales, belonging to Madame Élisabeth, was on display last year in an exhibition held in the the Domaine de Montreuil, Madame Élisabeth's residence in Versailles. This book dates from 1792, the last year that Mme Elisabeth spent at the Tuileries palace before the royal family's final imprisonment in the Temple.  The samples shows relatively simple patterns in light silks and cotton fabrics, with an absence of brocaded silks. The book is tidier than Marie-Antoinette's and this time there are definitely no pinpricks.  


Video from "Le Point":

A facsimile copy of the Wardrobe book was published in 2006;  see Sylvie Dallet, « Gazette des atours de Marie-Antoinette », Annales historiques de la Révolution français; janvier-mars 2007 (online version)
See also:
(For the comments of the inestimable Cosmo)

The Gazette of Madame Élisabeth:

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