Sunday, October 19, 2008

Is this really Marie Antoinette's Dress?

Is this really Marie Antoinette's dress as the Royal Ontario Museum claims?

In my view, the bodice is altogether too plain and the neckline is too high. And why is the bodice unadorned with ribbons, bows or embroidery?

Compare the bodice to that illustrated in this engraving from the Galerie des Modes, a type of fashion portfolio published in France the later part of the 18th century. The decolletage and the adornments on the bodice are markedly different between the two dresses even though they are dated to be within the same time period (1770-1780).

This Galerie de Mode image from 1778 is said to be of Marie Antoinette in the grand habit de cour. The dress is lavishly adorned with lace, diamonds, pearls, ribbons and tassels.

Yesterday at the lecture on Marie Antoinette's Fatal Flair for Fashion at the ROM, Caroline Weber, author of "Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution", admitted that "the dress may or may not have belonged to Marie Antoinette and may or may not have been from the marchande des mode of Rose Bertin."

The facts that lead the ROM to believe it is Marie Antoinette's dress include:
1. the dress is scattered with embroidered wildflowers, one of the Queen's favourite motifs
2. the peacock feathers in the embroidery are representative of royalty
3. the description of the dress seems to match an entry in Rose Bertin's records that describes "an ivory silk dress"

I would have liked to question Ms. Weber about the bodice and the attribution to Marie Antoinette, but time did not permit. If this was Marie Antoinette's dress, I would hazard a guess that the remodelling of the dress in the 1880s not only included narrowing the dress to remove the paniers but also significant alterations to the bodice.

The dress will be on display at the Royal Ontario Museum for one more week - until Sunday, October 26, 2008. See for yourself and make your own conclusion.

Royal Ontario Museum
100 Queen's Park Circle, Toronto