Tag Archives: Versailles

Mary Wollstonecraft’s Visit to Deserted Palace of Versailles in 1792

9 Jun

At the moment I am reading Charlotte Gordon’s book “Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstoncraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley”. It’s a wonderful, informative and beautifully written dual biography about Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley; a mother and daughter who never quite got to know one another as Mary Wollstonecraft died in 1797, just one month after her daughter Mary was born. Mary Godwin Shelley grew up without her mother, without even a memory of her, but the idea of her mother haunted her throughout her entire life. Both Marys were passionate and intelligent rule-breakers and so the title “Romantic Outlaws” is more than fitting. I am slowly savouring the book, chapter by chapter, and I love the rhythm of the book; one chapter is about Mary Wollstonecraft and the next about Mary Shelley and that makes the story even more exciting.

Claude-Louis Châtelet (1753-1795), The Temple of Love at Versailles, 18th century

In the chapter eighteen it’s the spring of 1792 and we find the thirty-three year old Mary Wollstonecraft living in the middle of a revolutionary Paris, witnessing the cruelty of the revolution that is taking a darker turn than anyone had anticipated, and yet, in the middle of all the riots, dangers, violence and uncertainty, she falls in love for the first time: with Gilbert Imlay. Mary decides to move to a little cottage in Neuilly, just outside Paris and, in a restless, dreamy and romantic mood Mary starts going on long walks hoping that exercise and walking will distract her mind from constant yearning and pining for her beloved. On one such walk Mary visits the lonely and abandoned palace of Versailles and this passage from the book was very atmospheric and melancholy to me:

Undeterred, Mary roamed through the nearby fields, even trekking eleven miles to Versailles. She would be one of the last to see the deserted palace before the royal furniture was auctioned off later that summer. It was still very much as it had been when the king and queen lived there, though the halls echoed with emptiness. The “air is chill,” she wrote, “seeming to clog the breath; and the wasting dampness of destruction appears to be stealing into the vast pile on every side.” It was an eerie experience, walking alone through the Hall of Mirrors, the War Salon, the Hercules Room, the queen’s chambers. She felt surrounded by ghosts: the “gigantic” portraits of kings “seem to be sinking into the embraces of death.” Outside, all of the famous grottoes and statues were still there, including Marie Antoinette’s “Temple of Love” and her infamous “farm,” the petit hameau, where she and her ladies had dressed as shepherdesses and milked the prettiest, most gentle cows the servants could find. But now the grass was overgrown and the flowerbeds unweeded. Mary was both shocked and saddened by what she saw, writing, “I weep, O France, over the vestiges of thy former oppression.” Yet while she disapproved of the opulence of Versailles, its glorification of kings and their armies, she was also appalled at the reports she heard about the Jacobins’ abuse of power, killing people “whose only crime is their name.” Hope lay in freedom, she believed, not in tyranny, whether the tyrants were republican leaders or monarchs.

I wish I could travel back in time and take a walk through a deserted palace and gardens of Versailles, oh I’d love to linger around for a while, pine for the lost times, like a true nostalgic, admire the loveliness of it all, seek for the ghosts in the deepest, darkest corners of the once great salons and halls…. This little passage truly makes it seems like Mary had witnessed an end of an era; the Rococo, with its emphasis on joys, pleasures, fun, flirtations and games, was gone. It seems that no century had such love for the sweetness and pleasures of life as much as the eighteenth century. The Revoution seems like an end of a sweet rosy dream.

Claude-Louis Châtelet, Plan du jardin et château de la Reine, before 1790

In the ninth chapter of the book Mary eloped with Percy Bysshe Shelley and they went to Paris:

But when they arrived in the capital on August 2, 1814, dusty and tired, fraternité and liberté were nowhere to be found. They checked into the unprepossessing Hôtel de Vienne on the edge of the Marais and roamed through the city streets, disappointed to find most Parisians war-weary and cynical. Napoleon’s defeat earlier that year, a relief to many as it meant the end of the war, was also a blow to French honor. No one was preaching revolution anymore. Many of the people they met were royalists, eager to restore French gloire. Justice and freedom were passé. The martyred revolutionaries Madame Roland and Charlotte Corday, so inspirational to Mary when her friend Isabella had talked about them in Scotland, were long dead. And so, for that matter, was Mary Wollstonecraft.

It’s funny how in 1792 the revolutionaries were mad for blood and revenge, and in 1814 no one cared anymore about the justice and liberty. How quickly the fires of the revolution die out…

Visit to Marie Antoinette…

19 Apr

I got inspired by Madame Guillotine (http://madameguillotine.org.uk/2014/04/04/packing-georgian-sleepover/) and decided to choose my own outfits for a visit to Marie Antoinette. Ladies at Versailles are very competitive and vain, and I had no other choice but to buy luxurious dresses along with finest shoes, fans and accessorize. Mon Dieu, imagine being unfashionably dressed at Versailles!

1775. striped textil indicates upcoming neoclassical style

1785. fan

18th-century

1. Outfit

First outfit is rather casual and consists of an afternoon dress with striped textil which indicates upcoming neoclassical style. Always ahead of the fashion, hey I may even set a trend among court ladies! I’d wear this beautiful silk gown decorated with flowing lace and little roses to an afternoon walk to Orangerie and Queen’s groove. Perhaps I’ll carry a parasol, one must protect oneself not only from the sun but from the sprinkling water of the fountains.

1780.-1785. Robe à la française

18th century fan

1770s ruby, diamond and pearl openwork cluster panels on a graduated pearl necklace

Digital Capture

2. Outfit

The Queen is having a ball, everybody of good breeding and fortune will be there. Luckily I brought my luxurious silk evening dress with elegantly wide panniers, bows, golden details and abundance of lace. Silk itself has a sweet print to it. I just need my finest ivory fan, ruby and pearl necklace and tiny silk shoes with lilac ribbons. I may have the pleasure to dance with Count D’Artois, so it’s not a bad idea to ask Sidonie, my faithful valet, to add a little perfume to my neck.

1776. Robe à la française ansemble

18. centuty gloves

1775. Bergère

1790s Silk Stockings, late 18th century, European

 

lillian-williams-18th-century-french-shoe-collection-2

3. Outfit

I’m so beat after the last night’s party that lasted until dawn. An afternoon walk around gardens might be refreshing. My floral patterned silk gown, blue mitts with lace ending, striped socks, bergere hat (which my good friend Georgiana Cavendish has advised me to wear) and olive green shoes will be just fine.

1785. Ballgown by rose bertin

1770. Fan Louis XVI mariage

1780.Diamond & Emerald Earrings, france

18th-century

4. Outfit

Dinner among the Queen’s closest friend requires something more simple than for a grand soiree but still elegant. This simple creamy silk gown with floral embroidery is designed by Rose Bertin – Queen’s pet. Just look at those opulent lace ruffles and intricate detailing. Fan with golden details and a scene from Mythology, diamond and emerald earrings as an only accessorize.

1785. Robe à l’anglaise 1

1790. Shoes and bag

 5. Outfit

For another afternoon walk, simple sapphire blue dress – to suit the colour of my eyes. Everybody praised my robe d’Anglais, particularly its wonderful shade of blue. Three quarter length sleeves, lace fichu and a belt are highly desirable these days. Silk shoes in matching colour and a reticule.

1783. dress

1780s necklace

1780s earring drops

1776. Shoes, European, Made of silk and leather

 6. Outfit

Last evening of my visit must be spent in a very fashionable silk dress with gorgeous embroidery. Silk fabric itself has a print of flower bouquets, how perfectly suitable for spring? Diamond necklace and earrings, again with a motive of flowers. Could I have chosen a better pair of shoes than these splendid light blue silk ones? Ah, my visit was short but in style.

Marie Antoinette’s childhood

12 Nov

Marie Antoinette was born as Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna on 2. November 1755.

1767. Marie Antoinette

Her life as the Queen of France is something that everybody know about, but her childhood, family and the environment she grew up in are usually less interesting and less explored part of her life.

Marie Antoinette was one of sixteen children and eleventh daughter of Empress Maria Theresa and Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor. At the time of her birth only twelve children were alive (including her younger brother Maximilian who was born the following year.)

She grew up in relaxed ambience of the court of Schonbrunn, where it was possible to derive from protocol. She later tried to recreate this atmosphere at Petit Trianon. Protocol on Schonbrunn was also rigid but not nearly as much as on Versailles. She had many brothers and sisters but she loved her sister Maria Carolina, later Queen of Naples, the most. The two sisters who were born only three years apart shared the same governesses and the same rooms.

1760. marie Antoinette

Marie Antonia’s education was extremely poor. At the age of twelve she could barely write her native German, so you can only imagine her knowledge of French and Italian. Although the imperial family and the Viennese society were multilingual, she was the fifteenth child and her education was neglected. Except languages, she studied Austrian and French history and she also showed talent in singing and playing harp and clavichord.  Her music teacher was Gluck himself.

She was extremely good at dancing, showing the talent from the early age. Horace Walpole once said “vera incessu patuit dea” (she was in truth revealed to be a goddess her step). He was actually quoting Virgil.

Marie Antonia loved dolls very much and she was very exited when the fashion dolls called Pandoras were sent to Schonbrunn from Versailles to show the newest fashion. The painting bellow, actually painted by her sister Maria Christina,  shows five year old Maria Antonia holding a doll on the Saint Nicholas day.

1760. marie antoinette holding a doll

Maria Antonia had simple, yet short childhood. When you think about it; she married at the age of fourteen, but Maria Theresa started preparing her for the marriage years earlier. She didn’t have many years to be carefree and be a typical child spending her days playing with brothers and sisters.

Now that you know her background, you can fully understand why she wasn’t prepared for the pompous and rigid life at Versailles. She just had to find her escape in the word of fashion and little Hameau de la Reine that was created just for her pleasure.

1762. Marie Antoinette

What a poor little girl, sent to such a distant and snobby court and never saw her mother and most of her siblings (except Maria Christina, Joseph II. and Maximilian) again. What a cruel destiny, when you think about it, but unfortunately that was the destiny of many other Princesses.

I’m her age and I couldn’t imagine leaving my family and my land; everything I have, for marrying someone I don’t even know. She was quite brave, indeed.