Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Little Luxuries: A Gold Box for Rouge & Patches, 1783

Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Susan reporting:

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.


Crazy Cat Lady said...

It's sooo... rococo. While I generally do not like rococo, i find historical items like that box fascinating.

Hels said...

I love the idea that anything that a person could normally want in-the-home... could be made in miniature for out-of-the-home - makeup box, vesta case, card case, hip flask for alcohol, cigar tubes etc etc.

And with perfect craftsmanship, even though the objects were private and largely not in the public eye.

Jane O said...

I inherited a 1930s evening bag similar to that box. It is a gold box that opens on one side to show a mirror, powder compact and lipstick case. On the other side is is a cigarette case.

Ah, those were the days!

Anonymous said...

Modern compacts are so utterly disposable, cheap plastic that cracks and hinges that come unpinned. Ever so tacky. But nothing says "lasting value" like solid gold! So wish I had one!

Isobel Carr said...

That’s beautiful! I love this kind of stuff. Love it. Love it. Love it.

I almost always skip the long dressing scenes when writing, but I love watching the opening credits to DANGEROUS LIAISONS when I want to get in the mood to write.

Sara Lindsey said...

I loved seeing this show at the Met, and I remember this being one of my favorite pieces. I'm pretty sure it's still up for anyone going to RWA & planning on sneaking to the Met for a few hours. I'm determined to see the Van Cleef & Arpel exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt! If anyone wants to see more of the boxes, I took pictures of almost everything:

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

I wish my purse was full of wonderful little trinkets like this, too! :)

Sara, you've spilled my beans - I was planning to dole out choice items from this exhibition over the next few months! But if anyone else can't wait, take a look at Sara's pix. Nicely done.

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