Thursday, May 16, 2013

Textiles from the Domaine de Madame Elisabeth

La gazette d’été pour Madame Élisabeth, 1792,
Archives nationales © Archives Nationales /Pierre Grand

The property of Madame Elisabeth youngest sister of Louis XVI, is open to the public for the time of an exhibition which will last until the 21st of July. Princess Elisabeth of France, known as Madame Elisabeth, is intimate figure among the entourage of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette.  She was the generous, humane  and witty sister who never married, having intentionally chosen 'to remain at the foot of the French throne rather than to be seated on the throne of another country.' Orphaned at the age of 3, perhaps she felt her remaining family more important than any thing else. Her fidelity would later cost her life; 
the exhibit is entitled, Madame Elisabeth, princesse au déstin tragique

The graceful art de vivre of the years immediately preceding the Revolution is demonstrated through art, furnishings and artifacts, such as this Gazette des atours d'été, a catalogue of swatches for dresses worn in the year 1792. This was the last year before her imprisonment at the Temple with the royal family which was spent at the château des Tuileries. The dress of this year became necessarily more simple and no embroderies are noted among the pages of this gazette. Habitually, the use of a Gazette des atours is considered to serve in the choice of clothing for the day by placing a pin in the fabric samples. The lack of pin traces here suggests instead a document for inventory or accounting purposes.

by Adélaide Labille-Guiard 1788
MV 7332 © RMN / EPV
The Domaine de Madame Elisabeth, a gift from her brother Louis XVI, is situated in the Montreuil sector of Versailles. In the princess' day, Montreuil was a village outside of Versailles and Mme Elisabeth, known for her charity to the villagers was called the Bonne Dame de Montreuil - the Good Lady of Montreuil. Notice the beautiful rendering of airy lace collar and of the folds and pleats in the good lady's bodice!

Caraco ou « pierrot » et jupe, vers 1789,
musée Galliera © L. Degrâces et Ph. Joffre / Galliera / Roger-Viollet

This ensemble from 1785-85 made of cotton and linen batiste is embroidered in chain stitched multi-colored silk.  It represents the new freedom of fashion in the second half of the 18th century, whose silhouettes flowed more with the natural lines of the body. Ladies left off the hoops et whale bones for their more frequent informal country gatherings. The caraco camisole worn over a light cotton corset and supple skirts, not necessarily of the same  fabric, constituted the first clothes to be worn en negligé . This is the casual wear of the period.

Tapis Marie-Antoinette, 1791-1793, Marie-Antoinette et Madame Élisabeth,
château de Versailles © RMN-Grand Palais / Ch. Milet
The importance of needle work for women of the royal court is well-known. Marie-Antoinette and Mme Elisabeth began an immense project after their departure from Versailles for the Tuileries in 1791 which they likely continued during their confinement at the Temple Prison.  It was a rug intended for the throne chamber of the Tuileries Palace, embroidered square by square in wool on canvas. The design of flowers on a dark brown ground is very simple. 

© RMN-Grand Palais / Ch. Milet
Mademoiselle Dubuquoy-Lalouette who supplied the wool and canvas, retrieved the worked squares of canvas and stored them until the Restoration. She had them assembled to make up two large rugs and added decorative - commemorative borders. The above inscription reads,

Tapisserie faite par Marie-Antoinette et Mme Elisabeth pendant les deux dernières années de leur vie

Tapestry made by Marie-Antoinette and Mme Elisabeth during the last two years of their lives

more on the exhibit link here


  1. what a sweet sad story. cannot say that i'd ever heard of mme elisabeth before. i've been to the museum in grasse of provencal clothes but did not realize that they were dressing so similarly in the north as well, with the caracou etc. i'd very happily spend life in such clothes!

    1. She is not very well known, Mademoiselle. The clothes are elegant and comfortable looking, aren't they? It is funny to think of such light clothes considering the location. Empire dress was even lighter and much more dénudé. So very pretty, but women were always catching pneumonia the minute they let their paisley shawls slip!