Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Fastes de Cour et Ceremonies Royales, Le costume de Cour en Europe 1650-1800

There are only 18 days left to see the exhibition of Costumes of the Court and Royal Ceremonies in Europe 1650-1800 at Chateau Versailles.

This stunningly beautiful exhibition took my breath away. Never have I seen so much opulence and beauty in one place. The grandeur of the exquisite beading, sparkling jewels, intricate embroidery and rich fabrics on display cannot be described.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the influence of French fashion was widespread across Europe. Many of the royal courts of Europe ordered their ceremonial dress from Parisian suppliers. And unlike the French court who abandoned their wardrobes of one year to the officers and ladies that served them, the courts in Sweden, Denmark and the region of Saxony systematically preserved royal garments linked to key moments in their reigns. The bulk of what is shown in this exhibition at Versailles has been loaned by the museums in these countries and supplemented by loans from the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Hermitage, the Pitti Palace, the Louvre, Musee Galleria de la Mode de la ville de Paris and private collectors. There are also many paintings on display to provide context to the exhibition of costumes and jewelery. In total, there are over 200 items on exhibit.

The exhibition encompasses seven rooms:
1. French royal costume - a gallery of portraits of all the kings of the senior branch of the Bourbons, including Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI

2. The coronation and the royal orders - a display of the coronation clothes including the grand habit worn for the coronation of Sophie Madeleine on May 29, 1772 in Sweden

3. Weddings and State ceremonies - a showcase that includes the wedding clothes of Danish Princess Sophie Madleine to crown prince Gustav III of Sweden on November 4, 1766

4. The grand habit - examples of the grand costume for a lady's official presentation to the king and queen which included a very rare (but amusing) doll mannequin

5. Religious pomp - a gallery of religious costumes worn by church officials

6. The king's day - a presentation of kings' dressing gowns and hunting attire

7. Fashion and court costume - a display showcasing the influence of fashion on court dress which includes the gown owned by the Royal Ontario Museum.

I had the pleasure of being guided through the exhibition by curator Pascale Gorguet Ballesteros. The depth of her knowledge and her passion for her work left me in awe.

Having the privilege to meet with the curator and others like her on my trip gave me a new-found respect for the challenges faced by museum staff. I now have a better appreciation of their desire to protect these priceless treasures and guard their copyright. No photos were allowed in the exhibition. I purchased the catalogue (even though it was only available in French) which is 278 pages of beauty and well worth the 52 Euro cover price if you can locate a copy. (I purchased mine at the Louvre bookshop and it may still be available from the Chateau Versailles website.)

The following three photos were provided to me as part of the press kit associated with the exhibition. I can attest to the fact that the photos do not really convey the magnificence of the clothing on display.

The last photo is of the gown owned by the Royal Ontario Museum that has been attributed to Rose Bertin, marchandes des modes for Marie Antoinette. The dress was displayed from the back to showcase the beautiful embroidery on the train. Shown adjacent to the dress was a sample of 18th century embroidery located in an archive from an atelier in Lyon. The emblematic peacock feathers and floral motifs favoured by Marie Antoinette which are on the dress matches that of the embroidery sample!

This grand exhibition will close on June 28, 2009. For more information visit http://fastesdecour.chateauversailles.fr/index_en.html#/en/exposition