I first discovered this pair of lady's mules from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston via Pinterest. With their exquisite beadwork and curving heels, left, these elegant mules instantly earned a place on our pin-board of Vastly Pretty 18th c Shoes. But a closer look shows the shoes are more than stylishly pretty: they're making a political statement.
The patterned design across the vamps of the mules is worked in hundreds of tiny glass beads, and includes a balloon, trees, and riders on horses. But while these elements might simply be drawn from the needleworker's imagination, they're in fact taken from a popular print of the time, lowerright. L'Entreprenant at the Battle of Fleurus commemorates an important battle in the French Revolutionary Wars that took place on June 26, 1794. The army of the First French Republic defeated the Coalition Army of Great Britain, Hanover, the Dutch Republic, and the Habsburg Monarchy, a decisive victory for the French.
Today, however, the battle is remembered for another reason. Hovering over the battle in the print is the reconnaissance balloon l'Entreprenant ("The Enterprising One"), operated by the pioneering French Aerostatic Corps. L'Entreprenant's role at Fleurusis considered to be the first military use of an aircraft to influence the outcome of a battle. The French were justly proud of both the victory and their balloon, which was considered a high-tech military advantage at the time.
So why would a French lady have had L'Entreprenant embroidered on her shoes? She might have had them made in a rush of patriotism, or perhaps she wore them to a ball celebrating the battle. Or, more intriguingly, she might have been connected to one of the victorious generals of the battle, or even a member of Aerostatic Corps. Today the lady's name is long forgotten, as are her reasons, but the shoes themselves are a fashionable reminder of an important military achievement.
Top: Pair of Women's Beaded Mules, French, 1794. Glass beads, leather sole and heel, silk lining, and gilt metal trim. The Elizabeth Day McCormick Collection, Museum of Fine Arts. Photograph courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts. Below: L'Entreprenant at the Battle of Fleurus, June 26, 1794. National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.
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.