François-Marie Arouet, simply known by his nom de plume Voltaire, was a well-known eighteenth century French Enlightenment writer who became famous for his wit. He was also known for criticizing French institutions, religious dogma, and the Catholic Church. He was frequently thought of as fascinating and because of this fascination, “a great prince” wrote a satirical description of him in the eighteenth century that was transmitted to a magazine by an “ingenious Correspondent of the Royal Academy of Sciences at Berlin.”
Philippe Mathé Curtius was a doctor living in Bern, Switzerland. He was also a bachelor and hired a domestic servant, who was the widowed mother of Anne-Marie Grosholtz (the future Madame Tussaud). While living in Bern, Curtius became interested in providing anatomical models for medical students and began to create miniature flesh-tinted models from wax for study purposes. These tiny anatomical replicas initially sparked local interest. News also spread about Curtius’s realistic wax models, and among those who learned of his wax models was the French Prince of Conti, a cousin to Louis XV and a celebrated art collector.
When the Prince of Conti visited Bern, he decided to see Curtius’s models for himself. He was so impressed that he proposed a financially beneficial patronage to Curtius but required Curtius to move to Paris. The offer was appealing enough to cause Curtius to renounce the medical profession, pack up his belongings, and settle in Paris in the Rue St. Honoré. When Curtius left Bern in 1765, he also left behind Marie and her mother. However, when Marie was about six years old, she and her mother joined Curtius in the bustling city of Paris. Continue reading →
Jean-Lambert Tallien was born in Paris on 23 January 1767 to an Italian maître d’hôtel working for the Marquis de Bercy. The Marquis noticed Tallien’s abilities, educated him, and placed him as a law clerk. Tallien soon left the position, began working at a printer’s office, and by 1791 was overseeing the Count of Provence’s printing department.
Tallien became more well-known to revolutionaries after the King was arrested. It was then that Tallien placarded large poster on Paris walls twice a week under the title of Ami des Citoyens, journal fraternal. He also organized the Fête de la Liberté on 15 April 1792 to celebrate the release of soldiers of Chateau-Vieux.
Tall and imposing in appearance, Tallien was only 24 years old when he was elected to the National Convention in 1792. He soon took a seat on the high benches with the radical members of the Montagnards and was in the thick of everything. He promoted the insurrection on 10 August, supported the September Massacres of 1792, spearhead opposition to the King, voted for the King’s death, and helped to overthrow the Girondins. Continue reading →
Madame Tussaud’s Napoleon relics were displayed in her exhibition hall in one of two rooms that first opened in 1843. The rooms were dedicated to the Emperor and those associated with him. They contained all sorts of interesting items, and, according to Madame Tussaud, the rooms were “fitted up exactly in the style of the period, with splendid ceilings, and picture-frames made expressly to show the peculiar fashion of Napoleon’s time, without regard to expense.” Visitors to these rooms paid an extra 6d. and were also allowed admittance into the Chamber of Horrors.
Among the many relics perhaps the most popular was Napoleon’s military carriage that he had used on many of his military campaigns and while he was exiled on Elba. It ended up in England, after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. A Major von Keller confiscated it as “his own booty,” and the carriage was either bought by the British government or given to the Prince Regent. A William Bullock then purchased it from the Prince Regent. He displayed the carriage at the London Museum and took it on tour throughout England, Ireland, and Scotland. It was then sold at an auction to a gentleman who planned to tour with it in America, but when that fell through, the carriage was used to satisfy a debt and became the property of a coach maker, who in turn sold it in 1842 to Madame Tussaud. Continue reading →
Marie Josephine Cyvoct, who took the name Amélie, was born 26 December 1803 in Belley-en-Bugey, located in the Ain department in eastern France. Her father was a doctor named André Cyvoct, and he practiced at the Belley Hospital. Her mother was Mariette Récamier. Amélie was seven and half years old when her mother died in 1811.
A few months after Amélie’s mother died, Amélie’s uncle, a wealthy French Banker named Jacques-Rose Récamier, adopted Amélie. A socialite and French salonist named Jeanne-Françoise Julie Adélaïde Bernard, but called Juliette, had married Jacques-Rose when she was fifteen on 24 April 1793. Thus, Juliette Récamier (also known as Madame Récamier) became Amélie’s adopted daughter. Continue reading →
Marie Sallé was the first female choreographer of the ballet, having started her life as a ballerina. In fact, Sallé became one of the two most popular female dancers of the 18th century. The other popular ballerina was Mademoiselle Marie Camargo. Because of their dancing abilities Voltaire immortalized the pair in the following couplets:
“Ah! Camargo, que vous êtes brillante!
Mais que Sallé, grands dieux! est ravissante.
Que vos pas sont légers, et que les siens sont doux!
Elles est inimitable, et vous êtes nouvelle:
Les Nymphes sautent comme vous.
Et les Grâces danset comme elle.”
Madame Tussauds (without an apostrophe) is a popular attraction with sites throughout the world that include not only the United States and Great Britain but also India, Japan, Pakistan, China, and the United Arab Emirates. The originator of this world-wide legacy, was a vivacious, talkative, and determined woman named Marie Tussaud. Besides being feisty, creative, and motivated into her eighties, there are eleven other tidbits about the wax sculptor Madame Tussaud that you may not know:
Tidbit #1. Madame Tussaud was born Anne-Marie Grosholtz (sometimes spelled Gresholtz) in Strasbourg, France, on 1 December, and her baptismal record is dated 7 December 1761. She learned her wax modelling skills from Philippe Mathé Curtius. Curtius was a doctor who began to create miniature anatomically correct flesh-tinted models from wax for anatomical study. Marie’s mother worked as a housekeeper for him and Marie called him uncle (although he may have been her father). He mentored her in the art of wax modelling, and when he died, he left his estate to her. Continue reading →
Marie Antoinette loved hot chocolate, towering hairdos, and flowers. She also loved the small château called Petit Trianon that Louis XVI gave after he became King. It was Marie Antoinette’s retreat where she could ramble through pathways dressed in muslin gowns and floppy hats and pretend she was a commoner. She could also visit the Hameau de la Reine (The Queen’s Hamlet) near Petit Trianon with its rustic gardens, dairy, and functional farm. Yet, despite all these things that Marie Antoinette loved, there were at least five people at court that she disliked (or despised). These five people included Anne d’Arpajon, Madame du Barry, Jacques Necker, Madame de Genlis, and the famous general of the American Revolution Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette. Continue reading →
Jean-Marie Roland de la Platière and his wife, Madame Roland, were supporters of the French Revolution. In addition, Jean-Marie was also an influential member of a loose political faction called the Girondins. When the Girondins fell in 1793 during the Reign of Terror, Jean-Marie went into hiding in Rouen with two spinster sisters, the mademoiselles Malortie. The spinsters were sisters to his previous fiancée, who died unexpectedly.
While Jean-Marie was in hiding, Madame Roland was arrested, as were other Girondins and Girondin supporters. She was imprisoned at the Abbey of Saint Germain des Près that had inscribed over its door, “All hope abandon, ye who enter here!” This was also the spot where a wave of killings, called the September Massacres, had taken place between the 2nd and 7th of September in 1792. Continue reading →
Marie Antoinette’s cabinetmaker, or ébéniste in French, was Jean-Henri Riesener. He was born in Gladbeck, Westphalia, Germany, on 4 July 1734 and moved to Paris in 1754. In Paris, he became apprenticed to another cabinetmaker named Jean-François Oeben, Oeben was the man who worked extensively for Louis XV’s mistress, Madame Pompadour, and he was the maternal grandfather of the painter Eugène Delacroix. Riesener also later married Oeben’s widow after Oeben died in 1763.
In January of 1768, Riesener received the title of master ébéniste. The following year he began supplying furniture to the Crown, and, in July 1774, he formally became ébéniste ordinaire du roi, “the greatest Parisian ébéniste of the Louis XVI period.” The Chateau de Versailles describes Riesener’s extraordinary abilities in glowing terms: Continue reading →