Marie Antoinette and Her Passion for Flowers

Marie Antoinette had a passion for flowers so much that when her husband became king and gave her Petit Trianon, he did so saying, “You love flowers … well, I have a bouquet for you — the Little Trianon.”[1] Among some of Marie Antoinette’s favorites flowers were irises, hyacinths, tulips, lilacs, lilies, poppies, and violets. There were so many flowers in the gardens of Petit Trianon, they impregnated the air with their scents. In addition, the Queen also loved roses, and, in 1784, she ordered more than two thousand dog roses to be planted in the gardens of Trianon.

Passion for flowers Marie Antoinette demonstrated in her Trellis Bedroom at Petit Trianon

Trellis bedroom at Petit Trianon. Author’s collection.

Because of Marie Antoinette’s passion for flower, her Petit Trianon guests, such as the Princesse de Lamballe or the Duchess of Polignac, did not just enjoy flowers outdoors:

“One of her ladies had special responsibility for seeing that everywhere in her apartments huge Chinese pots and small vases of crystal, Sèvres or Venetian glass were filled with flowers.”[2]

You could also see the profusion of flowers that grew outdoors from inside as the facade of Petit Trianon looked over a French garden of geometric shaped flower beds, “and the flowers themselves [were] planted in straight lines.”[3] Inside the little place there were also “ornaments upon the panelling — crossed quivers surmounted by wreaths of roses and garlands of flowers — executed by order of Marie Antoinette.”[4]

Growth Cycle of the Dog Rose, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Growth cycle of the Dog Rose. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Flowers were so important to Marie Antoinette, that even after the women marched on Versailles and the royal family left Versailles and Petit Trianon behind, flowers continued to play an important role in her life and the life of her family. It began when the children’s governess convinced the King to let the Dauphin, Louis-Charles, have a small patch of ground to create a garden at the Tuileries Palace. The King agreed and “in this little garden the Dauphin looked after his hens and ducks, cultivated his flowers, and played and worked in perfect freedom.”[5] As the revolution raged on he watched his flowers grow and every morning because he knew of his mother’s passion for flower, he “choose the very best to tie up into nosegays … [The Queen’s ladies] tried to impress on [him] … that there were plenty of gardeners … and that the Queen had flowers enough. ‘No other flowers give her as much pleasure as those I gather for her,’ was his answer.”[6]

Because of Marie Antoinette’s passion for flowers, floral themes were found wherever the Queen lived. In fact, there was rarely any palace that did not have wallpaper, furniture, or fabric without some sort of floral motif. Demonstrative of this was the Palace of Versailles. Mirrors, jewelry caskets, harps, clocks, and porcelain were embellished with floral motifs. Her bedroom at Petit Trianon, called the “Trellis Bedroom” embraced a floral theme and also had uniquely painted and carved pieces that included “wheat-ear” furniture decorated with lilies of the valley. At Saint Cloud there were more flowers. For instance, in her dining room there was a sideboard with semi-circular sides, white marbles shelves, and a central panel that bore “the monogram of Queen Marie-Antoinette among wreaths of flowers delicately chiselled and gilt.”[7]

Sideboard at Saint Cloud, Public Domain

Sideboard at Saint Cloud. Public domain.

Flowers were also included in paintings and her favorite floral artists were Pierre-Joseph Redouté, renown for his watercolors, and Anne Vallayer-Coster, lauded for her still life floral creations. There were also two paintings of the Queen with roses — a flower that was symbolic of Marie Antoinette’s Austrian Hapsburg heritage. Both paintings were done in 1783 by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun. The first was titled Chemise à la Reine (Marie Antoinette in the Muslin Dress). In the painting the Queen was depicted wearing one of her favorite outfits — a loose fitting belted muslin dress — and holding a rose. Unfortunately, because it looked like the Queen was wearing undergarments, many people complained their sovereign looked undignified and undressed. Because of the controversy, Le Brun painted a second version, Marie-Antoinette dit à la Rose (Marie Antoinette said to the Rose).  This time when the Queen held her rose she was wearing a traditional dress rather than the more casual and controversial muslin. 

Marie-Antoinette

Le Brun’s Paintings – On the left is Chemise à la Reine and on the right is Marie-Antoinette dit à la Rose. Public domain.

Controversy over Le Brun’s first rose painting did not stop Marie Antoinette from continuing to maintain a passion for flowers. One way she used them in her everyday life was by ornamenting herself with them. She frequently added flowers to her headdresses, and other French women liked the look so much they copied her style. One headdress that incorporated flowers and was considered the height of fashion was the Coiffure Iphigénie designed by Marie Antoinette’s hairdresser, Léonard Autié. She wore it when her brother (Joseph II) visited and they attended a dramatic five-act tragedy called Iphigénie, for which the headdress was named. The headdress was described as “a full wreath of black flowers surmounted by the crescent of Diana in diamond.”[8] It was deemed an immediate and immense success. However, sometimes because the headdresses were so outlandish, satirical engravings appeared.

Passion for flowers - Satirical Image of One Outlandish Headdress titled the Flower Garden, Author's Collection

Satirical image of one outlandish headdress titled the “Flower Garden.” Author’s collection.

Besides ornamenting herself with flowers, flowers were also incorporated into Marie Antoinette’s daily routines in other ways. For instance,the Queen regularly wore an intense floral scent distilled from roses, irises, orange blossoms, and jasmine. She also liked to embroider and included flowers in her embroideries. One embroidery included “the attributes of hunting, war, and agriculture, in medallions of white thread, surrounded by garlands of roses … [and another composed of] lilac daisies, [was] worked on hangings of white velvet.”[9] Besides flowers appearing regularly in her embroidery, flowers also made an unexpected appearance in her morning chocolate. By the 18th century, chocolate had become extremely popular, and Marie Antoinette love it so much, she created the lucrative post of “Chocolate Maker to the Queen.” In this official capacity, the chocolate maker prepared “elaborate recipes such as chocolate mixed with an orchid bulb for strength, chocolate with orange blossom to calm the nerves, or chocolate with sweet almond milk to aid the digestion.”[10]

Passon for flowers - Marie Antoinette's embroidery of a Fire Screen

Flower embroidery done by Marie Antoinette for a fire screen. Courtesy of Metropolitan Museum.

Because of Marie Antoinette’s passion for flowers, perfumers of today have tried to recreate the scents closely associated with the Queen. This has resulted in at least three different perfumes. The first was created in 2007 by one of France’s premier perfumers, Francis Kurkdjian. He developed Sillage de la Reine (In the Wake of the Queen), which contains “amber essence of jasmine, orange blossom, tuberose, iris, cedar and sandalwood.”[11] Another perfume that came on the market in 2011 was created by the perfumer Lubin. It is called Black Jade and is supposedly the last scent worn by the guillotined Queen. Finally, and most recently, Versailles released a limited edition perfume called Le Bouquet de la Reine (The bouquet of the Queen). It was available mid February to mid March 2016 and was inspired by the gardens of Versailles and all proceeds from it went towards renovating the Palace of Versailles.

Black Jade Perfume, Courtesy of Lubin

Black Jade perfume. Courtesy of Lubin.

References:

  • [1] Once a Week Literature, Popular Science and Art, 1867, p. 254.
  • [2] Fraser, Antonio, Marie Antoinette, 2002, p. 178.
  • [3] Once a Week Literature, Popular Science and Art, p. 255.
  • [4] Ibid., p. 254.
  • [5] Tschudi, Clara, Marie Antoinette, 1902, p. 141.
  • [6] Ibid.

  • [7] Dreyfus, Carle, French Furniture, Volume 2, 1780, p. 8.
  • [8] Jackson, Catherine Hannah Charlotte, The French Court and Society, Reign of Louis XVI and First Empire, 1881, p. 239.
  • [9] Tytler, Sarah, Marie Antoinette, 1883, p. 163-164.
  • [10] Mercier, Jacques, The Temptation of Chocolate, 2008, p. 66.
  • [11] Moore, Molly, “Traces of Marie Antoinette, Caught in a Phial of Perfume,” on Washington Post

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