An 18th c. French lady could take literally hours dressing for an important ball. Just like modern celebrities preparing for the red carpet, a Parisian court beauty required a team of experts to dress and powder her hair, apply her make-up and patches, fasten jewels around her throat and wrists, lace her into her stays, and pin and her into her gown.
But even this carefully crafted magnificence might need a touch-up or two in the course of the evening, and a lady had to be prepared. This little gold box, left, contained a looking glass, a tiny brush, rouge, patches - those black velvet faux beauty marks so well-loved in the 17th-18th centuries. (For a humorous look at 18th c. make-up, check out this video.)
Just as fashionable artifice reached new heights in the 18th c., so, too, did the craftsmanship that produced this box. This is the work of a master goldsmith: precisely cut and meticulously soldered, with inset hinges and perfectly fitted panels as well as separate compartments for the rouge and patches. The surfaces of the box are beautifully decorated as well in contrasting yellow and white gold. All of this is done on a miniature scale: the box measures only 2-1/8" x 1-1/2" x 5/8".
It's easy to imagine a lady using such a piece for artful flirtation, gracefully opening the little box and fluffing the brush over her cheeks, and, perhaps, coyly using its gleaming reflection to check the interest of the gentleman sitting behind her....
Above left: Box for Rouge and Patches, French (Paris), 1783-84, Varicolored gold. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Kate Read Blacque. Photos copyright Susan Holloway Scott. Lower right: Les Adieux, engraving, Jean-Michel Moreau le Jeune, 1777.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.