“Baroque Explorations” is a blog about my research into 17th and 18th century life. For my blog on (surviving) the writing life, click here.
For either blog, if you subscribe—see lower left—you will be sent new posts. (I promise that your inbox will not be flooded.)
Quote of the moment: “The future is the past, returning through another gate.” —from a poem by Victoria Chang
Stanford University in the U.S. and the Bibliothèque national de France have collaborated in creating the French Revolution Digital Archive, an astonishing collection of documents on the French Revolution.
A search of the image database revealed this delightfully imaginative sketch of Josephine:
Here is one of Josephine’s arrogant first husband Alexandre:
There are, of course, many images of Josephine’s second husband, Napoleon.
Of course I always take issue with the portrayals because I have my own vision of these characters. None the less, I’m eager to watch it, especially to see how Versailles is portrayed in its early days.
Madame Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslet) is an unlikely candidate for landscape architect of the still?to-be-completed Palace of Versailles. She has little time for the classical, ordered designs of the man who hires her, the famous architect Le Nôtre (Matthias Schoenaerts). However, as she works on her creation, she finds herself drawn to the enigmatic Le Nôtre and forced to negotiate the perilous rivalries and intricate etiquette of the court of King Louis XIV (Alan Rickman). But Sabine is made of strong stuff; her honesty and compassion help her to overcome both the challenges of her newfound popularity, and an unspeakable tragedy from her past, to win the favour of the Sun King and the heart of Le Nôtre.
Oh, how this makes me long to see such a movie about Claudette or Petite!
Since I wrote this post, and since A Little Chaos has come out, there have been mixed reviews. One objection is that the real story of Le Nôtre is quite interesting enough without tarting it up with a love interest. He was the most steady and loyal of men.
From the Guardian: A Little Chaos: leads historical accuracy down the garden path
Only 6.5 on IMDb: too bad!
From the BBC: Costume drama A Little Chaos fails to blossom
Nonetheless, I can’t wait to see A Little Chaos. Have you seen it? What did you think?
Tags: historical movies
The original Santa is St. Nicholas of Myra. Although little is known about him (and some contest his very existence), he is generally believed to be a 4th century Greek bishop and saint.
Because of a number of miracles attributed to him, he is also known as Nicolas the Wonderworker (which I love). His feast day is traditionally December 6.
How did St. Nick become a gift-giver?
Nicolas had a reputation for secretly giving gifts. One legend has it that he heard of a man in his parish who couldn’t afford dowries for his three daughters, and thus intended to send them to a brothel.
St. Nicolas, at night, threw three bags of gold in their window (one for each girl), and thus began the tradition of Santa’s bag of gifts. (Who knew they were to save us from a brothel!)
Over the centuries, Santa evolved. In the 17th century, the Dutch celebrated Sinter Klaas (or Sinterklaas), who rode a flying white horse. Becoming secular, he now arrives on Christmas (rather than December 6). He no longer wears the robes of a bishop, but a red, fur-trimmed suit (not unlike a red bishop’s cloak, in fact). He’s round and jolly, no longer thin, and he drives a team of flying reindeer, rather than the flying horse.
Good Saint Nicolas is the official patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, children, students, and even (curiously) thieves. Today he seems to have also become the adopted patron saint of Capitalism. It’s refreshing to go back to his origins, to the kindly bishop who secretly put coins in the shoes of the impoverished.
For details of a French 17th century Christmas, see The Huguenot Sword on FaceBook.
Tags: 17th century
Both Josephine and Napoleon have been much in the news, of late. One of Napoleon’s hats sold at auction for over 2 million dollars.
A pearl and diamond necklace believed to have been owned by Josephine went for almost 3.5 million.
And, just today, a letter Josephine wrote—a letter heavily edited by Napoleon (one presumes)—sold for $33,000.
This letter is seen as showing how subservient women were in the 18th and 19th century, but I don’t really see it this way. This was a letter to Queen Charlotte of Wurtemberg.
According to manuscript specialist Thierry Bodin, “In this instance, Napoleon wanted to make a political union with the Charlotte’s daughter, so he dictated what she could say.”
I imagine that Josephine wrote a draft, fully intending to show it to Napoleon before sending out a revised copy. My husband and I often do the same thing—don’t you? I imagine that there were times when Napoleon consulted Josephine about what to say, how to respond, as well.
It’s thrilling to see such artifacts emerge. In the case of letters, I only hope that they are made digitally available to researchers.
It’s simply astonishing what one can now find on-line. In the way of any wander through library stacks, I came upon this title on Gallica.bnf.fr, the French national library on-line:
Of course it was not at all what I was looking for, but although “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you find you get what you need.” :-)
I love the way the digital book opens with its cover:
And then turns to the marbled end-paper:
Here’s a crop of the title page:
(You can almost feel the rich texture of the paper.)
And then, the first chapter division:
What caught my attention “leafing” through this book was the section on legislation, a daily account of laws passed in the years 1798-1799.
They are very detailed: they needed to be. The French government was (once again) creating a government from scratch. Laws mentioned cover passport regulations, import duties, the re-establishment of a national lottery, the legislateurs’ own schedule (they will no longer meet on décadis (the end of the 10-day week), patents, manufacture of goods, the “uniform” to be worn by the members of the legislature …
“…habit français, couleur bleu national, croisé et dépassant le genou. Ceinture de soie tricolore, avec des franges d’or. Manteau écarlate à la grecque, orné de broderie en laine. Bonnet de velours, portant une aigrette tricolore.” – page 142
Alas, I am unable to find an illustration of this costume. No doubt they were somewhat more circumspect than those from 1796. Below left, Executive Director from 1796, compared to Napoleon’s uniform of choice as First Consul on the right:
The legal record is many pages long, but I’ll note a few:
One law passed condemns to death those who rob by force or violence. This is significant because violent crime had become rampant.
Marriages (which must be civil) could only be held on décadis.
One significant law, passed 12 Nivose, an VIII (January 1, 1799), declares that Blacks born in Africa or in foreign colonies, and transferred to French islands, were free as soon as they step foot on French soil. The Revolutionary government had several years before outlawed slavery in France, but I don’t believe that it had gone so far as to declare it illegal in its colonies. (I should note that Napoleon will eventually reinstate slavery in the French colonies, and no: it was not Josephine’s doing.)
It’s delightful how worthwhile procrastinating can be. I found an excellent Revolutionary calendar (more on that later), learned the date when there was an eclipse of the moon, what the new national fêtes were to be, and much, much more.
Fear of Ebola is helping me understand how people felt and responded to fear of the plague—the Black Death—in the Napoleonic era.
During Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign, there was an outbreak of the bubonic plague after the French capture of Jaffa on 7 March 1799. The news that there was plague in Egypt must have terrified the families and friends of the soldiers who were fighting there.
This from Wikipedia:
Before leaving Jaffa, Bonaparte set up a divan for the city along with a large hospital on the site of the Carmelite monastery at Mount Carmel to treat those of his soldiers who had caught the plague, whose symptoms had been seen among them since the start of the siege. A report from generals Bon and Rampon on the plague’s spread worried Bonaparte. To calm his army, it is said he went into the sufferers’ rooms, spoke with and consoled the sick and touched them, saying “See, it’s nothing,” then left the hospital and told those who thought his actions unwise “It was my duty, I’m commander-in-chief.”
However, some later historians state that Napoleon avoided touching or even meeting plague-sufferers to avoid catching it and that his visits to the sick were invented by later Napoleonic propaganda.
For example, long after the campaign, Antoine-Jean Gros produced the propaganda painting Bonaparte visiting the plague-victims of Jaffa in 1804. This showed Napoleon touching a sick man’s body, modelling him on an Ancien Régime king-healer touching sufferers from the “King’s Evil” during his coronation rites – this was no coincidence, since 1804 was the year Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself emperor.
One way of containing the spread of a highly-contageous disease in Europe was quarantine:
The practice of quarantine, as we know it, began during the 14th century in an effort to protect coastal cities from plague epidemics. Ships arriving in Venice from infected ports were required to sit at anchor for 40 days before landing. This practice, called quarantine, was derived from the Italian words quaranta giorni, which mean 40 days.
When Napoleon returned to France from Egypt, landing in Fréjus, he was criticized for not having observed the obligatory quarantine imposed on people coming from a plague-infected country. The breech of the quarantine laws was no small matter: it was punishable even with death.
According to Napoleon’s secretary Bourrienne, however, when the citizens of the village swarmed Napoleon’s boat in their enthusiasm,
In vain we endeavoured to keep the people off; we were fairly lifted up, and carried on shore. When we told the crowd of men and women the danger they ran [of contracting the Plague] they all cried out, “We’d rather have the plague than the Austrians.”
When we consider that 500 people landed and all the goods brought from Alexandria, where the plague had been raging during the summer…[it was fortunate] that France and Europe were spared.
On Ebola quarantine today and in years past: “Ebola is ‘Jerking Us Back to the 19th Century.”
I have been falling victim to research excitement. On one search, I came upon these letters, which did not answer my questions, but were too exciting to pass by.
All of the letters are part of an auction of letters and manuscripts. The first two were dictated by Napoleon to Géraud Christophe Duroc, displaying Duroc’s lovely handwriting. Since he is a significant character in the Young Adult novels I am writing, seeing his graceful, elegant handwriting speaks volumes.
This first one was written on November 13, 1796, in Verona. (See here for details.)
This second letter, also dictated by Napoleon and written by Duroc, was sent on September 30, 1797, from Passeriano, Italy, during the peace negotiations with Austria.
This next letter was written by Napoleon to his brother Joseph in October of 1792 from Ajaccio, Corsica, and it helps understand why Napoleon had need of a secretary. Napoleon’s handwriting was famously difficult to read.
This last one was written by Josephine on May 14, 1809, to her son Eugène.
It simply thrills me to see her signature.
It continues to amaze me what one can find on-line now. I was searching for pre-1805 publications that contained the name Madame Campan, the founder and director of the highly esteemed boarding school Josephine’s daughter, Hortense de Beauharnais, went to.*
I was charmed to find Madame Campan’s name listed in this title:
At the beginning of the Mémoires is thank you note to the subscribers, a very long list which includes many members of the Court (including the King and Queen). I gather that all these people paid in advance in order for the Mémoires to be published. This reminded me immediately of our on-line crowdsourcing like Kickstarter.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
*I was on-line trying to find out the name of the school as it had been referred to at the time. Here are two possibilities:
L’Institut National des Jeunes Filles/National Institution for Young Women
I’ve also seen (but only in English): National Institution for the Education of Young Women.
l’Institut national de Saint-Germain/The National Institution of Saint-Germain
I have doubts about this name because during the Revolution the name of Saint-Germain-en-Laye had been changed to Montagne-Bon-Air. It was changed back 28 février 1795, but would Madame Campan have been so bold as to jump immediately on the reversal?