Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Nécessaire in Your Pocket, c 1770

Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Isabella/Susan reporting:

One of my favorite galleries in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, is also one of the smallest: the tiny, glittering gallery filled with the equally glittering objects that were indispensable to 18th c ladies and gentlemen. Boxes for patches and snuff and powder, combs and mirrors and fans, all made from the most precious of metals and covered with bright enamels, jewels, and pastes. Everything is small enough to fit into a pocket, yet big enough to create maximum impact when casually pulled out in a ballroom or playhouse.

A necessaire - French for necessary - like the one, left, was the rococo equivalent to a Swiss Army knife. Packed into a tiny case that's less than 3" tall are all the things necessary for a lady away from home.  (A larger form of necessaire like the one Loretta showed us here was meant for longer journeys.) The enameled copper case with the fanciful scene is from Staffordshire, with gilded fittings and utensils that include scissors, a folding knife, and grooming implements. The narrow white item is an ingenious writing tablet. Thin strips of ivory are fastened together at one end to make them able to fan apart. The owner could write on the ivory pages with the matching pencil (only the top of the holder for lead remains), then wipe the pages clean for reuse.

Another example, right, may be less colorful, but it makes equally efficient use of the small space (only 2"x3") to pack two crystal scent bottles, a patch box and mirror, tweezers, and an ear spoon. The green covering is shagreen, a hard-wearing luxury material in the 18th c that was either actual sharkskin or untanned leather treated to resemble sharkskin. The fittings are gold and gold-plate, with porcelain stoppers on the bottles. I particularly like the tiny swan on one of the stoppers - how marvelous that such a delicate trinket has managed to survive through the centuries!

Left: Necessaire, English (Staffordshire, c. 1760-1800, Enameled copper. Metropolitan Museum of Art
Right: Necessaire, French, third quarter of the 18th c. Shagreen on wood; fittings of gold, porcelain, glass,  & steel. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
All photographs by Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Sandra Brake said...

Oh my, I do like that pink one. I love these gorgeous little beauties!

Hels said...

In my experience, lots of beautiful objects have no function whatsoever and lots of functional objects look fairly undecorated. Just occasionally you will find a necessary (pun intended) and functional object that looks like a true art object.

jacqueline | the hourglass files said...

I'm glad you pointed out the swan stopper on the little bottle. So delightful.

Anonymous said...

They're lovely things! Ear spoons, though: am I alone in marvelling a little at the idea of carrying one everywhere you go? That's a surprising level of commitment to ear hygiene.

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