Wednesday, June 13, 2018

A Formal Ball Gown from the French Court, c1780

Wednesday, June 13, 2018
Susan reporting,

For fashion historians, there are some garments from the past that become celebrities in their own right, featured over and over in books, exhibitions, and on Pinterest. These garments have earned this status for a number of reasons: because of the fame of the original owner or maker, exceptional craftsmanship, rare textiles or embellishments, or simply because of their beauty.

(As always, please click on the images to enlarge them. I know these photos are a bit dark, but the galleries were low-lit to preserve the textiles - a fair trade-off.)

The dress shown here qualifies on every count. It's currently on display through July 29, 2018 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as part of the Visitors to Versailles: 1682-1789 exhibition (see here, here, and here for my posts featuring other objects from the exhibition.) This exquisite ball gown, or robe parée, would have been worn at only the most formal occasions at the French court at Versailles in the late 18thc.. Once linked to Queen Marie-Antoinette herself, the gown is still attributed to the queen's dressmaker, Marie Jeanne "Rose" Bertin (1747-1813).

The gown definitely belonged to a woman of very high status at the court, and it's exactly the kind of luxurious and costly garment that would bring the ire of French revolutionaries a decade later. Not only is the surface design - featuring draped ribbons, flowers, and peacock feathers - sophisticated and elegant, but the execution of the embroidery on the cream-colored silk satin is extraordinary. The list of the elements on the exhibition placard shows the complexity of the the needlework: silk embroidery, appliques of satin, metallic threads, chenille, sequins, and applied glass paste. Everything was designed to sparkle by candlelight, and make the wearer the center of attention as she danced.

What to me is even more extraordinary is that the gown remains a showpiece even though it has been significantly altered. Originally worn over the wide hoops (pannier) required for 18thc court dress, a later owner had the petticoat (skirt) narrowed to a bell-shape and the bodice remade to conform to mid-19thc tastes, and likely to make it more wearable and lighter as well. The ruffles shown are also later additions. No matter: it's still breathtakingly beautiful.

Formal Ball Gown, attributed to Marie Jeanne "Rose" Bertin, c1780s, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto. Photographs ©2018 Susan Holloway Scott.


Unknown said...

I hope you have found the book "Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antionette Wore To The Revolution", by Caroline Weber. Fascinating, well documented read that ties in well with this exhibition

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