During my numerous visits to the Palace to devise the pattern chart for Versailles, it became evident that the queen Marie-Antoinette was a subject in her own right. And as luck would have it, I came across a gazette dedicated to the attires of Marie-Antoinette, the copy of a register containing fabric samples for the sovereign’s dresses. Marie-Antoinette (1755-1793) continues to fascinate people. Despite her tragic destiny and the many grievances held against her, she left a legacy of wonderful objects. She had disappeared into widespread indifference and it would take years before she was recognised to her former glory. It started with Louis XVIII who gave her the funeral she never had in 1816. Little by little, her ordeal was recognised and she became an expiatory symbol of the Revolution. Later, the Empress Eugénie (1790-1864), devoted a large part of her time collecting objects belonging to the former queen. This role was taken over by the 19th century writers, Dumas and the Goncourt brothers. Finally, Pierre de Nolhac (1859-1936), the first curator of the Versailles Palace, as well as a great writer and historian, completely rehabilitated the image of Marie-Antoinette by restoring the Petit Trianon with her original good taste and exhuming her portraits. Today, Marie-Antoinette is a world-renowned myth.
Pink was the obvious choice for the linen to use in this project. The colour is so feminine and enhances the pastels that Marie-Antoinette was so fond of. We know that pink was her favourite colour as a child before she developed a preference for green and blue.
This pattern chart is almost exclusively based on textiles, because there is so much to choose from, be it the wall hangings in the places inhabited by the queen or her splendidly elegant garments, which have contributed to the myth surrounding Marie-Antoinette.
THE TITLE OF THE EMBROIDERY
Of course, floral capital letters were required for the title. The rest is relatively sober in comparison, but elegant by the simplicity, and will not deter from the rose border.
THE PORTRAIT OF THE QUEEN
This portrait of the queen by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Marie-Antoinette À La Rose, is probably one of the most common images of the sovereign. It is displayed at the Petit Trianon. She is wearing a blue satin French-style dress with a striped ribbon. The neck line and sleeves are edged with fine lace. Look at the imposing feathered hat. It is not easy to interpret such a portrait in cross-stitch with the multiple nuances. Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, official painter of the Queen with over 20 portraits to her same said of her model: “… her skin was so transparent it would hold no shadow. Thus I could not capture the effect as I wished: there were no colours to paint this freshness, these fine tones which belonged only to this charming person and which I never found on another woman.”
THE QUEEN’S MONOGRAM
The intertwined “M” and “A” form the Royal Cypher. This monogram is found all over the Petit Trianon in different variants: on the forged iron bannister, on the panelling in the moving mirror room or in the sculpted décor of the Queen’s theatre.
With the complicity of the milliner Rose Bertin, Marie-Antoinette spectacularly changed the course of fashion, making it simpler and more sophisticated. She abandoned the heavy cloths and chose simpler, almost sober, cotton fabrics. The luxury came from the way they were cut and assembled, in the variety of accessories and the versatility of changing them regularly. A new trade appeared – the “fashion merchants” whose job, in collaboration with the dressmakers, was to demonstrate great creativity for “styling and garnishing headwear, dresses, underskirts, etc… That is to say, to sew and arrange according to the day’s fashion accessories and the perpetual imagination of these ladies”. (F.-A. Garsault, The Tailor’s Art, 1769). The extremely creative Rose Bertin opened a fashion store in 1770 in the rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré. She was presented to the Queen four years later. And thus haute couture was born…
The interpretations of the these fabrics were inspired by the reedition of a gazette dedicated to the Queen’s fineries, first issued in1782. This gazette written by Geneviève de Gramont, Countess of Ossun and lady in waiting to the Queen, is an amazing documentation containing an inventory of fabric samples from the dresses worn by Marie-Antoinette. It is striking to see the large number of pastels - pinks, blues, periwinkle and aqua. It is also said that the Queen inspired new tones, such as the colour “the Queen’s hair”, after the ash-blond colour of her hair. Louis XVI is credited with naming the colour puce, after the blue/violet dress of his wife.
The idea is to give the impression of a small sample catalogue of the Queen’s dress fabrics. To get this effect, some of the samples are embroidered directly on the base linen, others are embroidered on different coloured linen and others are pinked squares which are then attached to the main embroidery. Some of the samples overlap. All the details are explained on the poster.
THE LACES AND RIBBONS
Lace was used to give a sumptuous finish to clothes. Entirely hand-made, it was not exclusively used for ladies clothing. Cuffs, flounces, collars and other frills were passed from one garment to another.
The same applied to the ribbons, most often made of silk. Notice the beautiful large ribbon Marie-Antoinette is wearing in the portrait above.
To read the second: Marie-Antoinette embroidery - second part.
Discover more about the Petit Trianon on Versailles Palace official website.