Friday, 27 February 2015

Cavagnole - a "cheating game"

Gambling was another of Emilie's passions.  Her quick mind enabled her to calculate chances effectively (though it did not save her from spectacularly losing over 80,000 livres at the royal table at Fontainebleau in 1747).  On her death Voltaire lamented loss a "great man" who translated Newton and Virgil, but was known among women only for her "diamonds and cavagnole" ( to Baculard d’Arnaud, letter of 14th  October 1749)
Gaspare Traversi," The Card Party"  (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

"Cavagnole" was indeed a surprisingly unintellectual pastime for an intelligent woman. Usually played for low stakes, it was easy to cheat at and boringly simple to play.  It was looked upon with contempt by courtiers like Voltaire, who were obliged to suffer stifling evenings at the gambling table:

On croirait que le jeu console ; 

Mais l'ennui vient , à pas comptes ,
A la table d'un carvagnole , 
S'asseoir entre des majestés

[They believe that the game amuses / but boredom arrives, step by step/ at the cavagnole table / to take a seat between their Majesties].

How did you play cavagnole?

There were a number of similar gambling games called variously "biribi", "biribissi" or "cavagnole".  Biribi was played in southern France and Italy usually using a board with either 36 or 70 numbered squares; each player put his stakes on the number he wished to back. The winnings would be 32 or 64 times the bet which (presumably) biased the game slightly in favour of the house. The winning numbers could be selected using a "hoca wheel", a forerunner of the roulette wheel, but more characteristically by drawing numbered balls from a bag ("cavagnolo"/"cavagnol" = a little bag)

Casanova describes a occasion when he played biribissi  - a "cheating game" - in Genoa and spectacularly broke the bank, carrying off not only all the takings, but the table cloth, biribissi board and four silver candlesticks!

Cavagnole differed from biribi in that it used sets of cards  distributed among the players rather than a single board. It also dispensed with the gamesters; players simply drew lots and took it in turn to act as banker.

 In the late 1730s the game became all the rage among the ladies of  Versailles, Queen Marie Leszczyńska being a particular enthusiast. (Voltaire complained that "lèse-cavagnole" had become"lèse-Majesté") The duchesse du Maine also played avidly at her gatherings in Sceaux. 

The duc de Luynes  in his Memoirs for June 1737  refers to cavayole (sic) as a game which had recently appeared, said to have come from Italy. He describes the rules very clearly.  It is, he says, a type of biribi in which the board (tableau) is divided into six, eight or even ten cards of twelve sections. There are as many balls as  there are numbers.  Each player bets a maximum of  22 tokens ("jetons").  If a player has all 22 tokens on the winning number, each of the other players pays out 22 tokens and one besides.  If the number of tokens is fewer, then that amount is paid out by each player, always with one extra.  One is also paid for a square with no tokens at all on it.  Each player draws six balls.

None of the surviving sets of cavagnole quite correspond to the duc de Luynes's game. The Cooper Hewitt museum has a example with twelve cards, each of twenty squares. Instead of the bag, this set dispenses game pieces from  a "cup" - a scoop-shaped gilded and decorated bowl with a long handle.

The example in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, manufactured by Aufrère, rue Planche Mibrai, in around 1780 is more typical and probably represents the later, standardised version of the game. It has 24 cards, each with five numbers - one in each corner and one in the middle.  Apparently bets could be placed on the whole card, covering two numbers "à cheval", or on a single number. The cards are extensively decorated with scenes of everyday life - trades, entertainments, musicians - no doubt to lend interest to the wager. Elaborate measures were provided to exclude foul play.  The numbers were printed on tiny parchment scrolls which  fitted into little wooden beads or "olives" which were then placed in the green silk drawstring bag. An ivory cap allowed only one bead to be drawn at a time. A virtually identical set, sold at auction in Paris in December 2012 still had the pointed ivory pin used to extract the scrolls from the beads.

Nowadays cavagnole cards are prized for their design:.


Musée des Arts Décoratifs: Jeu de cavagnole:
See also, the exhibition"Jeux de princes, jeux de vilains"

Auction held by Pierre Bergé, in Paris, on 19 December 2012: Jeu de cavagnole - similar set

Paris gamblers: gaming in 18th century France (Getty Iris): Cavagnole set. Private collection. With 160 numbers and green "olives"

Collection des jeux anciens [blog]: "Le jeu de cavagnole" - Example with fifty cards.

Cooper Hewitt Museum - Cavagnole board game, late 18th century

 Cotsen Children’s Library Princeton University: Jeu de cavagnole

Some readings: 

Madame du Châtelet defends a passion for gambling:

There is a passion, very unreasonable in the eyes of philosophers and of reason, the motive of which, however disguised it may be, is even humiliating, and should be enough to cure one of it and which, nevertheless can make one happy: it is the passion of gambling.  It is a good passion to have, if it can be moderated and kept for the time in our life when this resource will be necessary to us, and this time is old age.  There is no doubt that the love of gambling has its source in the love of money; there is no individual for whom playing for high stakes is not an interesting activity (and I call high stakes gambling that can make a difference to our fortune).

Our soul wants to be moved by the passions of hope or fear; it is made happy only by things that cause it to feel alive.  Now gambling places us perpetually in the grip of these two passions, and consequently holds our soul in an emotion that is one of the great principles of happiness to be found in us.  The pleasure that gambling has give me has often served to console me for not being rich.  I believe I have had a good enough mind to be happy with what would seem to others a mediocre fortune; and in that case - if I were rich - gambling would become dull for me.  At least I was afraid that it would, and this fear of boredom convinced me that I owe the pleasure of gambling to my limited fortune, and that consoled me for not being rich.

Selected Philosophical and Scientific Writings
Introduced by Judith P. Zinsser and translated by Isabelle Bour.  University of Chicago Press, 2009

Casanova "breaks the bank" at biribissi:  

The amusement provided until time for the supper was a biribissi, to which the women in particular were passionately addicted.  The game was forbidden in Genoa but people were free in their own houses, and the government could say nothing.  So the gamesters who owned and operated the game went to the private houses to which they were summoned, and word was sent to the players, who assembled there.  That evening, unfortunately for them, the gamesters were at Signora Isolabella's, and so she had a large party.  To do as the others were doing I began playing too.  In the room in which were were playing there was a portrait of the Signora dressed as a Harlequiness, and on the biribissi board there was a Harlequiness; to pay my court to the mistress of the house, beside whom I was seated, I staked a zecchino on the Harlequiness.The board contained thirty-six figures, the winner was paid thirty-two times his stake.  Each player in turn drew a ball from the bag three times in succession.  The biribissi gamesters numbered three: one tended the bag, another kept the money, the third attended to the board, gathering in the money staked on the various figures as soon as the ball had been drawn.  The bank amounted to some two thousand zecchini.  The table, a handsome cloth, and four silver candelabra belonged to the gamesters.  One could stake as much as one wanted on a number.  I staked a zecchino each time.

Signora Isolabella having been the first to draw, and the bag going round to her right, my turn did not come until last.  As fifteen or sixteen people were playing, when my turn arrived i was behind by almost fifty zecchini, for the Harlequiness had never come out.  Everyone condoled with me.

But at last my turn arrived, I drew the ball, and it turns out to be the Harlequiness.  I am paid thirty-two zecchini.  I put them all on the same Harlequiness, it comes out, and they have to pay me a thousand.  I leave fifty of them on the figure, and I make my third draw,  and the Harlequiness comes out.  They give me all the money they have, and, that not being enough, everything is mine - the table, the cloth, the biribissi board, and the four silver candelabra.  Everyone laughts, the company applaud me, they jeer the crestfallen, bankrupt gamesters, and turn them out.  But after the laughter I see that the ladies are inconsolable.  The game is over; they are at a loss for something to do.  I comfort them by saying that I will bank for the game, and I add that I will not have the odds in my favour;  I will pay thirty-six.  I was declared charming.  I kept them amused until suppertime without either winning or losing.......

History of My life, vol. 9 (1997) p.123.
trans. Willard R. Trask, 1970

Condorcet calculates the chances of winning:

One plays Biribi with 70 numbers, each punter puts a certain sum on the number that he chooses; the banker draws next a number, pays to those who have chosen the drawn number, 63 times their stake, and all those of the punters belong to him.

We suppose therefore that a punter has staked a piece on a given number; since there are 70 numbers, the probability that this number will arrive is 1 70 ; that it will not arrive is 69 70 . In the first case, the punter will receive 63 pieces, and having given one of them, will win 62: in the second, he will lose the piece which he has given. His expectation will be therefore (article V.) 1 70 × 62 − 69 70 × 1, or − 7 70 , this is − 1 10 . The expectation of the banker will be on the contrary 69 70 1 − 1 70 62 = 1 10 . If one supposes that the punters were in any number, they are able, at each trial, to put indifferently on such numbers as they have wished, any sum, but contained in some certain limits, the expectation of the banker will be equal to 1 10 of the mean value of that which the punters will have been able to risk, and consequently 1 620 of all the sum that the banker is able to lose.

 But it follows equally from the established principles in the preceding article, that the probability for the banker to have a gain which approaches the value of that mean expectation, is able to begin to be great only by supposing that he plays a rather great number of trials. It is necessary therefore, in order to calculate with exactitude the lot of the banker, when he is determined to play this game, to evaluate first the number of trials that he must naturally play, to see next what sum he must possess in order to have a very great probability that he will not be forced to quit the game, that he will not be bankrupted; to regard then that sum as a fund that he exposes in a commerce accompanied with risks, and to seek the probability that he will not lose at all a considerable part of this funds, that he will conserve it complete, that he will win a sum which has one such ratio with that total sum.

 If one is able to suppose that the banker has more considerable funds, and if he is proposed to make this business a nearly known number of times, during one year, it is necessary to know his advantage, to see (the funds that he must have made being given also) what probability he will have to not encroach upon his funds, and to draw from them on the contrary a certain rate of interest. One will see by this means what are the true advantages and the risks of this commerce, compared with those of the other kinds of commerce; and one will judge if this advantage of 1 10 at each trial is above or below the one which it was reasonable to accord to him.

To this first observation it is necessary to join another. In the games of this kind the conduct of the punters has on the advantages of the banker and on their proper risks, an influence which is necessary to evaluate.

We suppose, in fact, that each punter is able to put at will on a number from one piece to thirty-two, and that he chooses the resolution to increase his stake successively, in a manner that, as soon as a number exits to him, there is a profit for him, or at least that he experiences no loss. This combination changes much the state of the game.

 It is clear, in fact, 1 ◦ that it embraces 254 trials; 2 ◦ that the punter, instead of a greater probability of loss, will have on the contrary a probability to win greater than 937 38 ; 3 ◦ that the banker, instead of a great probability to win and a small risk to lose much, will have a very small probability to win much, and a great probability to lose little; 4 ◦ that the mean value of the gain of the banker or of the loss of the punter will be, not the tenth part of that which the punter has been able to risk, but a much more feeble sum, while on the contrary, instead of being the 1 620 part of that which the banker has risked, it will be much higher; but also the stake of the punter will be much greater, and the sum risked by the banker much smaller.

One sees here that it is necessary to fix a limit to the stakes. In fact, in the example that we choose here, and where it is from 1 to 32, the probability to win that the banker has, is only 1 38 , for each of these combinations of trials, that one is able to regard as one alone. If one had supposed a latitude greater in the stakes, it would have been much smaller. For example, for a latitude from 1 to 127, the banker would have more than a probability to win of around 1 133 ; it is true that he would not lose beyond 62, and that the punter, at the end of 340 trials, which contains this combination, would have been able to lose to 7989 times his stake. On another side the gain of the banker is able to arrive only after 340 trials.

But all the punters do not follow this method; on the contrary, the greater part play at random, nearly always after some superstitious ideas which they attach to certain numbers. Some diminish their game, when they lose, because they believe in bad luck; others increase it in order to recoup earlier.

It is necessary therefore, in calculating the advantage of the banker, to have regard to the conduct of the players, and to see if, even in supposing that they follow the particular combination that we just exposed, the banker will have sufficient advantage. Now, it is easy to sense that that is not able to happen, at least that the limits of the stakes are such only the banker has, in the space of some sessions, a rather great probability to win, even against those who follow this manner of playing.

This example, taken from the simplest game among the games of this kind, where the banker has an advantage, proves that it suffices not at all, in order to calculate it, to take the mean value of the expectation, such as an abstract consideration of the game would be able to give.

 We terminate this first example with the discussion of two questions.

 1 ◦ Does a punter find a real advantage to choose the combination which we have exposed and which procures to him a great probability to win?

I believe that one must respond negatively. In fact, he acquires this probability only for the gain of a small sum, and he risks to lose a very considerable sum in a game disadvantageous to himself. Also the punters must consider the game only as a diversion which they pay; and the manner to calculate their state would consist in examining if, without being exposed to make a ruinous loss, they have in the games of this kind, a sufficient probability to not pay too dear the pleasure that the game procures to them. The only prudent conduct for them is to fix, according to their fortune, a sum above which they themselves would determine to never lose in a session and to reserve themselves, when chance favors them, a part of the gain which they have made.

By this means, they will have a mean value of their expectation, always negative, I admit, but much below the tenth part of their total stake, and would be able to conserve, for a long space of time, a probability to win greater than that to lose, as they have in biribi, from the 48th trial to the 63rd .

 One is able to demand 2 ◦ if, in the case where one makes the combination which we have exposed, that which is called make the martingale, must one continue to put on the same number, until it exits, or to put at random at each trial, on any number whatsoever, even on the one which just exited? The calculus, contrary to the former in common opinion and even to natural sentiment, responds that nothing is more indifferent. Whatever be in fact the preceding events, the calculus will give always here 1 70 for the probability of each number. The common opinion appears based only on natural sentiment, and this sentiment has only a single cause, it is that one is more struck to see in biribi, for example, the number 3 to exit twice in sequence, than to see the numbers 2 and 10 to exit one after the other. One of these events strikes us as remarkable; the other is not perceived. Now, these events as one remarks, are less numerous than the others; one is therefore carried to regard them as extraordinary. One does not make a reflection that, if, in 70 · 70 or 4900 possible combinations of two trials of biribi, there are only 70 combinations which give the same number repeated twice and 4830 which give two different numbers, the combination 3 and 3 is unique among the 70 combinations of the first class, and the combination 3 and 10 among the 4830 of the second, so that, if the probabilities to have a combination of the second class, or one of the first, are 4830 /4900, 70 /4900 or 69 /70 and 1/ 70 ; that to have next a determined event of the second, being 1 4830 and a determined event of the first 1 70 , the real probability of a determined event will be therefore, for one of the classes, 4830 /4900 1 /4830 or 1/ 4900 and for the other, 1 70 · 1 70 = 1 4900 : these two probabilities are therefore equals.

 If this manner to play gives a probability to win at the end of a certain number of trials, it is not that after having lost 253 times, for example, one has a probability greater than 1/ 70 to win the 254; it remains always the same at each trial, and the probability 37 38 to not lose, has place only for the one who is determined to follow this combination at the beginning of the game, and after having knowledge of the events which precede this last trial; because from the moment where the events are known, for example, if he has lost 253 trials in sequence, he has for the 254th a probability 1 /70 to win 18 times the first stake, and a probability 69 /70 to lose 1998 times this same stake.

But it will be useless to give more expanse to this example. We have said enough on it for those who, without having the rage of the game, would be able to be tempted to be delivered on the faith of some false combination; and that which we would add would not cure those which are animated with this passion. The only way to play which is not able to be imprudent, consists in never exposing oneself to some considerable risks, and consequently one would be wrong to hope that they were able to adopt it

Elémens de calcul des probabilités
trans.  Richard J. Pulskamp,, Department of Mathematics & Computer Science, Xavier University,
Cincinnati, OH.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Émilie du Châtelet - Madame Pompon-Newton

Émilie du Châtelet was well known for her love of fashion, jewellery and pretty things. Voltaire nicknamed her "Madame Pompon-Newton" and indulged her penchant. The ascerbic Mme Du Deffand reproached her with living beyond her means to keep up appearances, making herself ridiculous with her profusions of "frisure, pompons, pierreries, verreries". Mme de Graffigny could hardly contain her surprise when she saw her jewellery, particularly the snuffboxes:

 She had known Mme du Châtelet when she had only one tortoise-shell snuff-box; now she possessed "fifteen or twenty of gold, of precious stones, of beautiful lacquer, of enamelled  gold, a new fashion which was very expensive, and incense-boxes of the same kind, one more magnificent than the other; jasper watches with diamonds, needle-cases, and other wonderful things ; rings containing precious stones, and charms and trinkets without end.(Hamel, p.175-6).  

The inventories

Few of Madame du Châtelet's personal possessions survive, but some clues can be gained from the inventories drawn up at the time of her death.  There are two surviving inventories, one for her Paris hôtel in rue Traversière, which she shared with Voltaire, and one for the apartment in the palace at Lunéville where she died.  The October 2012 sale at Christie's included copies of both (Lunéville (Lot 29); rue Traversière (Lot 31).  The Parisian inventory, has been  published by Theodore Bestermann in Voltaire's correspondence and is concerned mainly with  Émilie 's debts, together with a summary catalogue of books from the library.[Appendix D93, The complete works of Voltaire: Correspondence, vol. 95 ed. Theodore Besterman) (Geneva, Institut et Musée Voltaire, 1968].

The Lunéville inventory is more revealing for personal items.  A second partial copy is conserved in the Départmental archives for Meurthe-et-Moselle (cote 10 B 411) which has generously made available a facsimile copy on the internet. There is also an excellent (but anonymous) blog, that provides a transcription and commentary. The various possessions are enumerated in their different categories -  clothing, books, writing materials and jewellery.

(Arch. dép. Meurthe-et-Moselle, 10 B 411/1)
Eleven pages were devoted to clothes, the most valuable of the dresses estimated at 200 livres.  Exotic materials abound: "gauze", "taffeta", "striped taffeta"; "satin", "black satin", "apricot and silver satin", "green and silver watered silk ("Moire").  Other fabrics I don't know - ?possibly particular styles of silk or cotton: "Seville" -  patterned with little flowers ("drap de Séville à petits bouquets" ) "Persian"  - with gold flowers ("de Perse avec des fleurs d'or") ;"Tuscan" - in raspberry pink ("de Tocanne en cramoisie") Not bad for a woman in late pregnancy.  To say nothing of the shoes, hats, bodices and  sleeves.

According to Elisabeth Badinter  besides the impression of luxury given by her clothes, Émilie's status as a woman at the forefront of fashion is confirmed by the many suppliers to whom she owed money.  Among those cited are  jewellers (Girost, l’Empereur, Hébert, Fayolle, Spote, La Vigne, Le Brun, Le Roy),  silk and lace sellers (Gaucherelle,  Boivin);  "marchandes de mode" (Alexandre, Quiret, Duchapt) and perfumers (Dulac Vigier) [see Elisabeth Badinter, p.48-51]. 

A second section of the Lunéville inventory enumerates items of jewellery, which included a diamond necklace and further set of diamond earrings and pendants, each valued at 10,000 livres.  Most striking among the jewels are the snuffboxes remarked upon by Mme Graffigny - Émilie owned over thirty at the time of her death.  In her discourse "On happiness" she waxes lyrical over the joys of snuffbox collection, which is enhanced by the fact a "mediocre fortune" ensures each acquisition is valued to the full:

There is no doubt that physical needs are the sources of the pleasures of the senses, and I am convinced that there is more pleasure in a mediocre fortune than in great abundance.  A new snuffbox, a new piece of furniture or of china, is a true delight to me but if I owned thirty snuffboxes, I would be less appreciative of the thirty-first (In variant texts, 300 and 301). 

Selected Philosophical and Scientific Writings
Introduced by Judith P. Zinsser and translated by Isabelle Bour.  University of Chicago Press, 2009.p.359.


 Meurthe-et-Moselle Departmental Archive:
Inventory after  the decease of Émilie du Châtelet (12th September 1749 and 8th April 1750).

"Identités vestimentaires: costume et politiques" [Wordpress blog]

Christie's, Paris, Sale 3532, 29th October 2012:
Lot 29:  Inventory from Lunéville..  Price realised:  £2,250

Madame du Châtelet gave birth to a daughter on 3rd September at the palace of the duc of Lorraine at Lunéville and died a few days later on 10th September. On the following day, following standard legal procedures, official seals were placed on the apartment she had occupied.  The marquis du Châtelet and Voltaire had already departed for Cirey. The inventory was drawn up in the presence of representatives of her two adult children Marie Gabrielle and Florent Louis du Châtelet as well as of the pathetic new-born "demoiselle du Châtelet fille mineure agée de huit jours".  Also present were Sébastien Longchamps, Voltaire's secretary and Margaret Leblan the wife of the marquis du Châtelet's maître d'hôtel.

Christie's, Paris, Sale 3532, 29th October 2012:
Lot 31:  - Inventory for Madame du Châtelet's hôtel in the rue Traversière.
 Voltaire later took on the entire lease for this property and installed Mme Denis there, but there is not a lot to see now:

"Émilie Du Châtelet (1706-1749): une femme de sciences et de lettres à Créteil"
Catalogue of an exhibition held at the Bibliothèque Universitaire, Université Paris 12, 18th October -16th December 2006
(p.52 - for quotes from Mme Graffigny and Mme Du Deffaud)

Elisabeth Badinter, Madame Du Châtelet:  La femme des Lumières  Catalogue of an exhibition held at the Bibliothèque nationale, 7th  March  – 3rd June 2006, p.216
quoted in a Masters thesis by Sarah Lebasch , nt.268

Sunday, 22 February 2015

The Château de Breteuil - Madame du Châtelet in wax

I do like waxworks (apart from those guillotined heads). The Château de Breteuil has loads, supplied by the Musée Grévin, including various historical personages inside the house and no less than seven tableaux from Perrault's fairy tales in the outbuildings!  In 2014 the Marquis commissioned a wax model of his ancestress, Madame du Châtelet. Here she is: 


This is what  the Château de Breteuil Facebook page has to say:

1. The creation of a wax model requires considerable documentation. The reference point for the new waxwork was the portrait by Marianne Loir in the Musée des Beaux Arts in Bordeaux; the château itself has a fine eighteenth-century copy in its collections. The work of Elisabeth Badinter and Judith Zinsser on the correspondence and archive sources, revealed Madame du Châtelet to have been a strong personality who freed herself from social conventions and attracted many enemies.

2. Information was carefuly gathered on her physical appearance - colour of eyes and hair; shape of the face. The mannequin's hair was created by Any d’Avray a  Parisian firm which specialises in theatrical wigs. The wigmakers were struck by the natural style; the hair was tided up in a simple chignon, with some locks left curled and loose on the shoulders.  Elodie Pommelet, a theatrical make-up artist, did the make up;  this too was quite natural, though with the use of powder as was the fashion for both women and men of the eighteenth-century nobility.

3. The costume was made by  Pascale Breyne of the Troupe du Crâne (a theatrical company which specialises in period comedies).  The dress is dark blue velvet, with detachable lace cuffs and fur trimming. This style of loose gown, called a "robe battante", was popularised by Madame de Montespan and was fashionable in the first half of the eighteenth century.

4.  The tableau was designed by the Marquis de Breteuil himself and his adviser Christophe Leray to present Emilie informally at work on her scientific studies.  The wax statue was positioned in front of an eighteenth-century telescope as though observing the stars.  The screen,  a family heirloom, was created from her actual sedan chair, with its gold decoration and the coats-of-arms of the Châtelet and Breteuil families.

Château de Breteuil

Friday, 20 February 2015

Madame du Châtelet - portraits of a "femme savante"

What did Madame du Châtelet look like?  The article on French Wikipedia conveniently gathers together a set of comments on her appearance and personality, all of them equally catty.  

According to the marquise du Deffand she was "large and dry-looking" with a ?florid complexion ("le teint échauffé"), thin face, pointed nose and small sea-green eyes. She remarks on her discoloured and damaged teeth.  Emilie's figure also comes in for criticism: she is  "without hips, narrow in the chest, with fat arms and legs and enormous feet".  The Souvenirs attributed to  Madame de Créquy likewise mentions the big hands and feet.  

The surviving portraits are more flattering, but to some extent confirm the descriptions.  They clearly show the same woman, big boned, with a low forehead, long nose and small closed mouth (no doubt concealing those imperfect teeth)!

Here are the main portraits, in so far as I have been able to find them on the internet.

By Bernard-François Lépicié

1910 engraving after Lépicié 
To judge from the features this portrait is undoubtedly a young Madame du Châtelet, with dark unpowdered hair.  It is credited to either Bernard-François Lépicié (1698-1755) or his son Nicolas-Bernard (1735-84).  Both ascriptions are slightly problematic - the father is known almost exclusively for engravings; the son, though  a portrait painter, was surely too young to have painted this youthful looking Émilie.  In 1892 the picture belonged to the Baroness Nathaniel de Rothschild.  It is also reproduced in my old copy of Nancy Mitford's Voltaire in love from 1957 where the acknowledgement is "By courtesy of Mme. Thierry"; the engraving illustrated was for sale on ebay.

Here is a description of the painting from an 1892 exhibition catalogue: 

Cent chefs-d'oeuvre des écoles françaises et étrangères ...(Paris; G. Petit, 1892)

Marquise du Châtelet by Lepicie, no.24

Seated in a white silk dress with paniers;  low-cut bodice decorated with ribbons knotted in the shape of sunflowers; loose brown fur boa behind the neck and extending the length of the bodice.  Hands covered by two long mittens which extend to the sleeves; the left hand holds a closed book, the right a piece of paper showing figures of geometry.  The head, slightly to one side, faces forward; the mouth is serios, but with laughing and spirited eyes (les yeux railleurs et spirituels)

Collection of the Baroness N. de Rothschild

By Nattier

Nattier portrait from 1743 is again "location unknown". This reproduction is from Elise Goodman's The portraits of Madame de Pompadour: celebrating the femme savante (2000) [Extracts on Google Books]

  As Elise Goodman points out the picture falls within  a clear tradition of depictions of the "femme savante" who is both beautiful and learned.  The book on display is Madame du Châtelet's own Institutions de physique, first published anonymously in 1740, then in revised form in 1742.  It has to be said that Émilie tranforms a little awkwardly into a typical white glossy Nattier subject.

By Marianne Loir ("after Nattier")

Marianne Loir, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux  Oil, 118 cm x 96 cm

This beautiful portrait by Marianne Loir was formerly in the royal collections and was acquired by the Municipality of  Bordeaux in 1803  (Several copies exist, including Lot 3 of the 2012 sale)  It is clearly the likeness of a real woman, though the pose is still that of the conventional "femme savante". Émilie is surrounded by the paraphernalia of scientific scholarshipwhilst the beautiful low cut gown in vibrant new Prussian blue and her white bosom emphasise her feminity. In her left hand she holds a set of compasses and in the right a carnation, symbol of love; perhaps the prominence of the flower was intended deliberately to affirm the dominance of the heart over the intellect. 

Entry on Joconde:

On the website of the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux

It is unclear to what extent Marianne Loir's picture is "after Nattier". Elise Goodman (p.103) reproduces two engravings after a "lost" Nattier which are very similar indeed to the Loir picture.  The Institut Voltaire also owns a copy (left) which they feel is "very probably" a late Nattier:
See comments in La Gazette des Délices, Autumn 2005

I am sure the Institut Voltaire knows what it is talking about. Nonetheless, this face does not resemble the known Nattier portrait, which seems altogether more characteristic of his work.

By Quentin La Tour
This La Tour pastel is my favour picture of Émilie. There are several different versions; this one is from the Musée Antoine Lecuyer, Saint-Quentin. It is sometimes described as an "unknown woman" but Neil Jeffares in the Dictionary of pastellists identifies it as Madame du Châtelet, and he is obviously right!

It compares with La Tour's studies of Voltaire which were done in 1735.

It would be nice to think this is a close likeness of Émilie.  Certainly it is unencumbered by any symbolic intent, though it is possible that the intelligent eyes and confident amused expression owe more to La Tour's interpretation than to Émilie herself.

By an unknown artist 

Portrait in oils, 120 cm x 100 cm
Château de Breteuil

This much reproduced portrait is usually listed as an unidentified painting though for some unaccountable reason it now appears on Wikipedia as the work of Quentin La Tour. It is a private possession of Henri François, Marquis de Breteuil and is on display in the beautiful Château de Breteuil. A little model based on the painting, created by Brigitte Duboc, adorns one of two rooms devoted to Émilie (In fact, as the daughter of a younger son of the Breteuil family, she never actually resided at the château) 

 By Nicolas Largillière?

Marquise du Châtelet (?)by Nicolas  Largillière
Oil, 130.8cm  x 102.3 cm

In January 2010 Christie's in New York sold this portrait of  Madame du Châtelet by Nicolas Largillière for  $134,500 on behalf of the Columbus Museum of Art, its owner since 1953 (Sale 2282, Lot 175) . The identity of the sitter, which has long been accepted, rests on an inscription at the bottom of a smaller version of the picture sold in 1920. It was also noted, rather weakly, that the Marquise's fingers pointed on the globe to Scorpio, Voltaire's zodiacal sign.... 
Since then the Largillière expert Dominique Brème has challenged the identification, concluding that the picture dates from about 1725 and represents a generic "docte Uranie". Madame du Châtelet's biographer Elisabeth Badinter agrees, as does the English expert Andrew Brown who took the picture down from the Madame du Châtelet French Wikipedia page!

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Cirey interiors

Madame de Graffigny was a pretty ungrateful house-guest, but her correspondence provides a valuable description of the interior of Cirey which, alas, was totally destroyed in the Revolution.  In 1738, when she visited, renovations were still very much in progress, Voltaire and Émilie's intimate and finely appointed apartments contrasted markedly with the bare and cold quarters to which guests found themselves banished.  Even the catty Madame de Graffigny could not withhold her admiration for the comfortable luxury of the newly refurbished rooms.

Her account gives an interesting insight into eighteenth-century taste. Today's commentators would concentrate much more on overall design; Madame de Graffigny tends to catalogue fine objects - furnishing, sculptures, even boxes of rings and jewellery. It is a world where the paraphernalia of everyday upper-class life are difficult to make and expensive to acquire.  Interesting too, that Voltaire despite the intimate setting, could not resist the opportunity for self-advertisement; adorning statues with "famous epithets" of his own composition.

The present owners of the chateau have beautifully recreated Madame du Châtelet's bedroom and renovated the library, so it is possibly to gain an idea of its former glory.

I was distressed, incidently, to find that the brilliant Émilie was yet another dog-lover!  This time the spoilt pooch was provided with a co-ordinated basket next to its mistress's bed.....

I was too lazy to find all the references and translate them, so here is an version of Madame Graffigny's letters, quoted or paraphrased in English from a nice old book I found on the internet,  Frank Hamel's  An eighteenth-century Marquise: a study of Emilie du Chatelet, which dates from 1911 (p.173-9)

Voltaire's apartment  

 [Madame Graffigny] began with the suite belonging to Voltaire:

" His little wing is so close to the main part of the house that the door is at the bottom of the chief stair- case. He has a little ante-chamber as large as your hand; then comes his own room, which is small, low, and upholstered in crimson velvet, a cosy corner done the same with golden fringe. It is winter furniture."
The window of this room looked out upon a meadow crossed by the river Blaise. On opening a door he could hear Mass said -  a concession to the conventions. The walls of his rooms were wainscoted, and in the panels pictures were framed; mirrors, beautiful lacquered corner-cupboards, porcelain marabouts, a clock supported by marabouts of a peculiar shape, an infinite number of ornaments, expensive, tasty, and everything so clean that you could kiss the parquet ; an open casket containing a silver vase ; in short, everything which was luxurious, and therefore necessary, to Voltaire.  What money! What work! He had a case for rings, which held two dozen with engraved stones, as well as two set with diamonds. 

From this room one passed into the little gallery, which was as much as thirty or forty feet long. Between the windows were two very fine statues, on pedestals of Indian varnish. The one was Venus Farnese, the other Hercules. The other side of the windows was divided into two cupboards, one for books, the other for scientific instruments.  Between the two there was a stove in the wall, which made "the air like spring."  In front was a high pedestal, on which stood a large Cupid, about to shoot an arrow. At its base this Cupid bore the well-known inscription by Voltaire : 
Qui que tu sois, vois ton maître tu sois   
II est, le fut, ou le doit être*

This was not finished ; there was to be a sculptured niche for the Cupid which would hide the front of the stove. The gallery walls were panelled and painted yellow.  Clocks, tables and desks were in profusion. Nothing was wanting.  Beyond was the dark room for experiments in physics.  Nor was this finished.  There was also to be one for instruments, which at that time were kept in the gallery.  Everything but physical comfort was catered for, for there was only one sofa, and no padded arm-chairs. Voltaire was no lounger. 
The panels of the wainscoting were hung with beautiful India paper, and there were screens of the same.  A door led directly into the garden, and there was a pretty grotto outside.  

*For the inscription, see:

Voltaire and Madame du Châtelet, engraving
from Francesco Algarotti,   Il Newtonianismo per le dame (1737)
Émilie's bedroom  

Could any Idol have found a more perfect temple ?  Yes; but only one. The Idol's idol.  Her rooms were still more beautiful, even more recherché.  Mme de .Graffigny visited them in the company of their mistress. 

The bedroom was panelled in wood and varnished in light yellow relieved with edges of pale blue. That was the colour scheme, and everything harmonised even the dog's basket. The bed was of blue watered silk; the wood of the arm-chairs, the chest of drawers, the corner-cupboards, the writing-desk, all yellow. The mirrors, set in silver frames, were all polished and wonderfully brilliant.  A large door made of looking-glass led to the library, which was not yet furnished. Then there was Madame's boudoir, a really eighteenth- century boudoir, which made one feel ready to go down on one's knees and worship at the shrine of beauty. The wainscoting was blue, and the ceiling was painted and varnished by a pupil of the famous Robert Martin. In the smaller panels were pictures which Mme de Graffigny thought were painted by Watteau, but which were really by Pater and Lancret. The chimney-piece and corner-cabinets were loaded with treasures, amongst others the wonderful amber writing-desk which was a present from Prince Frederick. There was an arm-chair upholstered in white taffetas, and two stools of the same. This divine boudoir had an outlet through its only window on to a terrace, from which the view was charming. 
On one side of the boudoir was a clothes closet, paved with marble slabs, hung with grey linen, and adorned with prints. Even the muslin window-curtains were embroidered. Nothing in the world could be so lovely ! .....

The bathroom

There was one other apartment which received attention from everybody concerned. It was the bathroom. In those days a bathroom was apparently not in constant use for its legitimate purpose. We hear of the fair Emilie taking a bath when she was expecting Desmarets to arrive at Cirey no doubt as a kind of welcoming ceremonial.  Certainly this room was occasionally used as a drawing-room. It was so like the study that perhaps confusion arose on that account. Emilie dated one of her letters to Algarotti from "la chambre des bains' and Voltaire held a reading there, behind closed doors, as though his poetry took on an added flavour from the mystery of the surroundings. If we are to believe. Mme de Graffigny, the apartment was a work of art in itself. She goes into ecstasies over it. 

" Ah, what an enchanting place ! The antechamber is the size of your bed ; the bathroom is tiled all over, except the floor, which is of marble. There is a dressing- room of the same size, of which the walls are varnished in sea-green, clear, bright, lovely, admirably gilt and sculptured ; furniture proportionate : a little sofa ; small and charming arm-chairs, of which the wood is in the same style, carved and gilt ; corner-cupboards, porcelains, prints, pictures, and a dressing-table. The ceiling is painted ; the room looks rich, and very much like the study ; there are mirrors and amusing books on lacquer tables. All this seems as though it were made for the people of Lilliput. No, there is nothing prettier; for this retreat is delicious and enchanting. If I had an apartment like that, I would be wakened at night for the pleasure of looking at it  I have wished for you to have one like it a hundred times, because you have so much good taste in little nooks of this kind. It is certainly a pretty bonbonnière I tell you, because the things are so perfect. The mantelpiece is no larger than an ordinary arm-chair, but it is jewel enough to be put in one's pocket."

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