The 18th-century bol-sein referred to was not in fact a champagne glass but a milk cup, part of a service in porcelain commissioned from the designer Jean-Jacques Langrenée at the Manufacture Royale de Sèvres in 1787 for Marie-Antoinette's "pleasure dairy" at Rambouillet. The service was "Etruscan" in style and the concept loosely based on Greek "mastos" cups. A deep, milky white porcelain bowl was set in a footed stand in the shape of goat's heads, finished at the bottom with a mound of clay in the unmistakable shape of a human nipple. The emphasis is on natural fecundity rather than sexual titillation - and the effect is to say the least disturbing.
The cultural significance of 18th-century French porcelain has lately become the subject of a splendid book, Christine A. Jones's Shapely bodies (2013). This is what she has to say about the piece:
Marie-Antoinette's milk mug became known, bluntly, as a bol-sein, or breast cup. Tinted glazes of flesh and rose, like the heat of Boucher's brush on Madame de Pompadour's cheeks, do the work of the imagination to give the breast a warm-blooded glow The drinking vessel reposes on the head of reverential goats molded into a tripod whose accents pick up the nipple's hue. Echoing in miniature the idealism of a royal pleasure dairy, the cup served fresh cow milk as though directly from an organic source. Both site and vessel exposed what court fashion removed from view: the laiterie d'agrément purported to unveil the labor behind the nourishment that aristocrats took for granted, whilst the breast cup revealed one of the body's biological functions in a material typically reserved for more dignified subject matter. (p.238-9)
The bowl no doubt expressed Marie-Antoinette's innocent delight in a sanitized nature and "mediated sensuality", but in hindsight its smacks of a tasteless and irresponsible intimacy. The rumour that she had actually modelled for the piece à la Moss, though baseless, was a longstanding one. As Christine Jones writes, "No one would have convinced the populace that Marie-Antoinette had stood naked for a marble cutter, silversmith, or even a reputable painter. But history voyeuristically adored the idea of the queen placing her bosom in the plastered hands of a porcelainier" (p.239) One thinks of all those pornographic libelles which so damaged the royal reputation.....
Kate Moss is only the latest in a line of would-be imitators, starting with the Empress Josephine. Lately the Sèvres bowl has spawned a whole series of (even more unpleasant) "design classics":
|Assemblage created in 2007 by the German designer Karl Langerfeld for the release of Dom Pérignon's 1992 vintage Oenothèque champagne. Modelled on the left breast of Claudia Schiffer.|
|Antoine Boudin,"Sen" service - ceramics designed for the Sèvres factory inspired by the bol-de-sein (2011)|
|And wandering into the realms of haute couture: Hubert Barrère La Vierge de Sèvres (2011)|
Vogue online, 23/08/2014
"Bosoms, Bubbles, and Bollinger: What Shape Is Your Champagne Glass?" Letting the wine speak
Christine A. Jones, Shapely bodies: the image of porcelain in eighteenth-century France (2013) [Extracts on Google Books]
Selma Schwarz, "The "Etruscan" style at Sèvres: a bowl from Marie-Antoinette's dairy at Rambouillet" Metropolitan Museum Journal, vol. 37 (2002)
Notice for a modern version, on the Sèvres "gallerie" site.