Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Jeweled Gold Carnet-de-Bal, c 1777

Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Isabella/Susan reporting:

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 box for 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 souvenir is 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.


Anonymous said...

It is surprising that we can find nno references to such dance cards in England. Of course, the English system of dances was different and didn't really call for dance cards but perhaps souveniers were given at some balls? It would be an astounding find to discover their use and practice in pre 1818 London.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

I agree, Anonymous. There doesn't even seem to be anything quite like this being made in England for any purpose. I'm no expert or collector, but they do appear to be uniquely French - though I imagine they must have made their way to England with visitors.

I found it intriguing that nearly all of the souvenirs/carnets-de-bal in the Met's collection came by way of J.P.Morgan!

Vintage Maison said...

Dance cards were most certainly used in England - I found one in my late mother-in-law's possessions, dating from around 1930-40s. It wasn't anywhere near the exquisite example shown in the article, but hers was a little lined paper notebook, set in a tiny hinged box of early plastic, possibly celluloid, with a waltzing couple on the front, and a tiny pencil attached by a cream cord. I think there was an advert on the back for a hair-perm company. Can't find it to hand right now or I'd take a photo, but, dance cards were definitely used!

nightsmusic said...

Exquisite! And in the second picture, look at how transparent the papers are. I've never seen anything like this. At first glance, my modern mindset thought, oh, what a pretty lighter. *sigh*

Unknown said...

Yes, these very ornate dance cards were most definitely used. I have one that looks very similar to this one that was passed down to me via my great grandmother who lived in Europe.

Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket