I've already written about how much I love the luxurious personal trinkets that filled the pockets of a wealthy 18th c. lady – a gold boxfor rouge, or the perfectly named necessaire. Here's one more little goodie, left, to gather up from the dressing table as the carriage waits below: a carnet-de-bal from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A carnet-de-bal's purpose explains itself in the English translation. It's a dance card, and it's also called a souvenir, French for "to remember", a memento. This, however, is no ordinary Statue-of-Liberty-in-a-snow-globe souvenir, but the beautiful work of several master Parisian craftsmen. Small in size (only 3-3/8" x 2 1/16", or about the same as a modern card-case), this souveniris made of gold, with brilliant enameling and an enameled portrait of a now-unknown lady. The word "souvenir" is spelled out in diamonds, and tiny pearls fill in the borders. (Click here for the link to the Museum's page to be able to zoom in on all the astonishing details.)
The photograph of the souvenir, below right, shows the hinged lid open. Beside it are the matching gold-handled stylus, and the fan of ivory sheets, held together with a gold pin, that fit perfectly inside. The stylus could be used like a pencil on the ivory sheets to jot down random notes: what His Grace wishes for dinner, or the address of that cunning new milliner. But in the role of a carnet-de-bal, the ivory sheets would be filled with the evening's dances and the names of the partners promised to each one. The fashion for carnets-de-bal was just beginning in the courts of Europe in the mid-18th c., and later would evolve into the little printed pasteboard booklets of the 19th c., dangling on silken cords from a lady's wrist.
Souvenirs were popular, if costly, gifts to be exchanged among friends and lovers - an elegantly sentimental way to say "remember me when this you see." The other side of this particular souvenir has the word L'amitie, or friendship, spelled out in diamonds, with a diamond urn of flowers and pair of doves. Most likely the portrait on the front is of either the giver or the recipient, or perhaps another deceased friend (the urn and doves may indicate this as a memorial piece.) Whoever she may have been, it's a lovely little tribute to a long-ago friendship.
Above: Souvenir, French (Paris), 1776-77. Gold, diamonds, pearls, enamel. Metropolitan Museum of Art; photographs copyright Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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.