Sunday, July 27, 2014

Beauty Routine

A mock toilette scene at Versailles...

The make-up and hair preparation that was part of Marie Antoinette's (and that of royalty before her) daily life can almost be compared to preparation for the stage.  Life at Versailles was ritualized to the point of being a production.  Processions to daily Mass, meals, Lever and Coucher (the daily rising and going to bed ceremonies), in which the players all knew their roles and didn't deviate from the required movements, were carefully scripted according to rules set in place by Louis XIV a century earlier.  The witty banter in which courtiers and royalty engaged, socially, would seem false by today's standards - at least by the standards of down-to-earth, cardigan-wearing, incapable-of-small talk Me. 

Rights to attend and/or participate in the ritual of Marie Antoinette's toilette were accorded by rank and status.  Sometimes it was a comedy of errors as she stood, half-naked and cold, while the finer points of etiquette were followed.  There's a story about how several tardy members of the Royal Family arrived , in succession, at Marie Antoinette's toilette, scratched (not knocked, as we do) at the door, repeatedly interrupting the ritual and upsetting the chain of command (as a Navy Brat like myself might think of it).  The whole production came to a standstill as whoever was getting ready to hand Marie Antoinette an item had to go through the complicated ritual of properly transferring the item to the newly arrived lady, bumbling and dropping items in the process, so that the the proper person could hand the item to the Dauphine (on a tray, mind you.) who stood shivering and muttering how ridiculous was the scene.  

On July 12, 1770, Marie Antoinette, as the young dauphine, new at court, married to Louis-Auguste, but before they were King and Queen, wrote to her mother, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, describing an average day.:

"Your majesty is kind enough to take an interest in me and you even want to know how I spend my days.  I will tell you, therefore, that I get up at ten, or at nine, or at nine-thirty and that, having been dressed, I say my morning prayers;  then I breakfast, then go to my aunts [Mesdames], where I usually find the King.  That goes on until ten-thirty;  after that, at eleven, I go to have my hair dressed.  At twelve, they call in the chamber, and then anyone can come in as long as they belong to the Court.  I put on my rouge and wash my hands in front of everyone;  then the men leave and the ladies stay and I dress in front of them...."  

She goes on to describe Mass, dinner in public, reading and writing (which she exaggerated in order to meet the Empress' high standards not met by her own unambitious literary interests), music lessons and the rest of her day.  Antonia Frasier's book quotes her as writing, more pithily, that "I put on my rouge and wash my hands in front of the whole world," but I took my quote from a collection of letters between the Dauphine, the Empress, and the Austrian Ambassador, "Secrets of Marie Antoinette" by Olivier Bernier.  I don't know exactly what they letter actually says, because I haven't seen the original and wouldn't have been able to read it anyway, because surely it was in French or German.  This sort of thing probably bothers me more than it should and is why I can't bear to read historical fiction.  If I read about a dinner where the main course was beef, I want to know if it was veal or aged, rare or well-done.  If they don't know for sure, they shouldn't just make it up!

Eighteenth Century Court ladies went heavy on the rouge.  Supposedly, French women of the day used 2 million pots of rouge a year, blending different colors together and forming large circles on their cheeks, leaving themselves vulnerable to the snarky remarks from foreigners whose pedestrian senses of style weren't as highly developed as those of the French.  Leopold Mozart (musician and father of Amadeus) is quoted in "Marie Antoinette:  The Journey," as saying that aristocratic French women looked like wooden Nuremberg dolls with their "detestable make-up... unbearable to the eyes of a good German."  Marie Antoinette's oldest brother, Joseph, mocked her, telling her to apply more color, so she could look like one of the Furies.

One of the actual trays used to transfer items to the royal hands.

Marie Antoinette's innovative hairdresser, Léonard, left memoirs, the accuracy of some of the content is questionable, but entertaining.  There are a couple of posts about him in my blog archives.  Or, you could read my friend (email and facebook count, damn it!) Will Bashor's book, "Marie Antoinette's Head... the Royal Hairdresser, the Queen, and the Revolution".

No comments: