Versailles, second half of the 18th century
Even after the death of Louis XIV, France remained the most perfect example of monarchic absolutism. However, in the eighteenth century, during the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI, absolute power became weaker and weaker, eventually culminating in the French Revolution.

The small drawing room-study room of de Pompadour in Versailles, is a cultured and refined environment, sumptuous and furnished in very fine taste. The magnificent, well-educated favourite of Louis XV is reading while leaning to a table laden with books, among which stands out Diderot-D'Alembert’s Encyclopédie, an authentic manifesto of the Enlightenment.

A lady-in-waiting, echoing the famous Maid bringing the chocolate by Liotard, is serving a cup of the aromatic drink, especially appreciated by the men and women of the Enlightenment, particularly by Voltaire, friend and great supporter of the Marquise, who used to drink about a dozen cups per day of it. Particularly important is the fabric of the dress of the Marquise, (a silk lampas) that has been recently reproduced by Caprai as a historically-inspired fabric called Petit Fleur.

The eighteenth century is the era of the specialization of lace; every centre produced lace with characteristics of its own: ALENÇON and ARGENTAN made needle lace, BRUXELLES, BINCHE, VALENCIENNES, MALINES and LILLE, produced bobbin lace.

  • In a manuscript, a sort of account book, that detailed the expenses of de Pompadour during her “peak” years, it is noted that the total expenses amounted to a grand total of thirty-six million nine hundred twenty-four thousand one hundred and forty pounds in eighteen years. “Greedy gatherer of wealth”, she exaggeratedly amassed jewels, statues, paintings, palaces, castles, exclusively for her pleasure and for the cupidity to own them. (M. Buggelli, La Pompadour, Milan, 1968, p.145).
  • The lace makers that manually worked the Valenciennes bobbin lace earned only one franc, working fifteen hours a day in dark, underground rooms and it is not surprising to learn that it was rather common that, at around only thirty years of age, they began to lose their eyesight. The time needed to work this kind of lace was rather long: while Lille lace makers executed from three to three and a half meters of lace per day, Valenciennes lace makers could only make thirty to forty millimetres per day. The total production of some types of this lace was no more than thirty-six centimetres per year. (B. Palliser, Histoire de la Dentelle, Paris, 1892, pp.180-183).
  • If during the reign of Louis XIV, the ostentation of luxury and elegance seemed excessive, with Louis XVI it became more and more evident. Under Louis XV, fashion requested mostly airy and transparent, practically impalpable, lace, such as bobbin lace; on the contrary, the quantity of threads and the stitches used in needle lace made it very stiff and heavy. (N. Hudson Moore, The Lace Book, London, 1937, p.136).
  • "Rubies, mirrors and lace are three things the French cannot live without", these are the words of an unknown author writing during the reign of Louis XV. In the seventeenth century even servants exhibited such rich lace on their liveries that they could compete with their employers. (B. Palliser, Histoire de la Dentelle, Paris, 1892, p. 137).
  • It is documented that Louis XVI, in the year before his death, possessed no less than fifty-nine pairs of "gatherings" made in Malines (Malines) lace, ten made in English lace and twenty-one in Valenciennes lace. The effects of the French Revolution on the French lace industry were terrible; in many lace-producing centres ancient traditions, that until then had been the pride of the country, were completely lost. (M. Eirwen Jones, The Romance of Lace, London, 1951, p. 92).
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