Apollo Magazine (UK)
What Pompadour adored
Madame de Pompadour’s patronage of Sèvres porcelain has been given a worthy tribute, writes Caroline McCaffrey-Howarth
Everyday Rococo: Madame de Pompadour & Sèvres Porcelain Rosalind Savill
Unicorn Press, £200
This impressive and superbly illustrated twovolume book by Rosalind Savill is a masterful rendering of the life and patronage of JeanneAntoinette Poisson, Madame de Pompadour ( – ), who supported the Vincennes/Sèvres porcelain factory during its most significant period. Labelled by the Goncourt brothers as ‘the godmother and queen of Rococo’, Pompadour was destined to become Louis XV’s mistress – at least according to a fortune teller she visited as a child. Attracting his eye at the legendary Yew Tree Ball in , she later gained the title Marquise de Pompadour and moved into Versailles as the official maîtresse-en-titre. Although their relationship eventually turned platonic, epitomised by Pigalle’s marble sculpture of friendship ordered by Pompadour in
, she remained essential to the king. Over the years Louis XV spent a staggering , ,
livres sols deniers on Pompadour, facilitating her role as an influential patron of French art and craftsmanship.
Everyday Rococo takes us into the heart of aristocratic France in the mid th century, where luxury production reigned supreme. As Savill maintains, ‘even the simplest object had a role, and if that object was superbly accomplished in its design, craftsmanship, style and decoration, it became uplifting and special’. Savill incorporates rigorous object and archival research with close reading of inventories, lists of expenditures, factory stock, letters and memoirs, especially those of the duc de Luynes, duc de Croÿ, and marquis d’Argenson. The appendices alone will make this an excellent sourcebook for historians of the period.
Presented as a year-on-year chronological account of Pompadour’s life at court, Savill paints a complex picture. We learn about an Enlightened intellectual who manoeuvred herself and her family strategically to procure a prominent role in cultural and political affairs.
An avid collector of books, she supported Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie, and worked closely to bolster numerous French painters, architects and craftsmen. Nonetheless, her life was marked by a pervading sense of loneliness; she was often ‘bored to tears’ when Louis was away at war. Additionally, she miscarried at least three times, and never quite recovered from losing her only child, nine-year-old Alexandrine, in .
Pompadour occupied the morose Louis XV with a range of distractions from ballets-operas to parties and girls and, of course, their shared enthusiasm for the Vincennes/Sèvres porcelain factory. On April Pompadour acquired her very first documented piece, a bouquet of porcelain flowers mounted on stems worth livres (Fig. ). (In tune with rococo ideas about bringing the outside indoors, Pompadour and Louis XV shared a particular indulgence for these, and by had spent an extraordinary
, livres on porcelain flowers.) Founded at the disused Royal château de Vincennes in the s, the factory gained the conseil du privilege du roi in , and moved to Sèvres in
, conveniently closer to both Versailles and Pompadour’s château de Bellevue. At Sèvres, Pompadour provided her old glass-bottle works for workers’ lodgings. By her strategic interventions encouraged Louis XV to buy the factory outright.
Pompadour purchased a range of decorative and utilitarian wares, often direct from the factory, or its Paris outlets, as well as from the marchand-mercier Lazare Duvaux. Her patronage was recognised explicitly in , when the factory named a shape – the vase pot pourri pompadour – in her honour. On another memorable occasion she was asked to negotiate with an officer to discharge from the army one of the leading painter and gilders, Étienne-Henry Le Guay. Savill spares no detail in highlighting the remarkable craftsmanship of the Vincennes/ Sèvres factory. Likewise, we learn of the political affinity between factory and court, and their diplomatic agency. In fact, an attack at Mahon, a crucial French naval victory during the Seven Years War ( – ), was discussed by Pompadour and Cröy in April , and later commemorated by a new boat-shaped flower vase known as the
We are taken through Pompadour’s various interior refurbishments and building projects,
properties in total, from townhouses to apartments at Versailles. These spaces are carefully recreated in the text, revealing remarkable details about their decoration, spatial arrangement, and the display, use and significance of Pompadour’s ceramics, as well as her paintings, furniture, lighting and books. Throughout, Savill emphasises quotidian courtly life and the ways in which Vincennes/Sèvres porcelain catered not only to elite sociability, but also to Pompadour’s poor health. Frequently suffering from colds and fevers, she admitted her health was ‘always miserable’, and spent much time confined to her bedrooms. She purchased Sèvres broth bowls between and ; used an ingenious perfume burner that also functioned as an egg steamer; and owned a deep-welled saucer or enfoncé which enabled her to drink without spilling any contents while in bed. Her doctor Quesnay recommended milk as a key treatment and thus she created five dairies between and , for which large amounts of porcelain were also required. Savill, who has discovered several new objects linked to Pompadour, speculates that a previously unknown Sèvres tureen recently rediscovered in the Royal Collection may be a contender for the shape terrine ‘de laiterie’ modelled specifically for her dairy in . Pompadour’s health continued to deteriorate and she died in aged only . Her brother the Marquis de Marigny inherited some of her Sèvres, and the rest of her possessions were scattered, with auctions taking place between – . In Everyday Rococo Savill has assembled a cornerstone reference text in th-century European studies – thanks to which, Madame de Pompadour’s role as a ‘protectrice des Beaux-Arts’, and her contribution to the Vincennes/Sèvres factory, will never again be underestimated.