Thursday, September 2, 2010

Madame de Pompadour

   Why start with the Madame, you are thinking. Reasonable question of course. The Madame has been on my mind since a certain history class in high school. I had a wonderful teacher, a woman whose name is long forgotten, who taught me french and history. She gave details to people and events I could never have realized were so important. Like when Marie Antoinette was to be sent to the guillotine, the night before her hair turned white! Imagine what that says to a ten or eleven year old. One day she told us of  Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of Louis the XV King of France. I am sure there was some important information said that day but all I remembered was that Madame loved flowers and had hundreds of them made by the French porcelain company Vincennes. She put them in vases, on tables, in the garden and amazingly sprayed them with perfume so they would smell like the actual flowers themselves ! I was riveted by this thought for many years. I always wondered if this story was true. It is only now because of the internet, with all its information and books available online to read that I was finally able to confirm the story of Madame and her porcelain flowers.

   Madame de Pompadour, also known as the marquise de Pompadour, is not known for her porcelain flowers. Most people may know she was mistress to a king, or that the pink of Sevres porcelain is called la rose de Pompadour and that the Pompadour hairstyle and the Pompadour heels are named after her.

The Madame did love flowers, and as a sign of the times was totally enchanted with exotics. This was a time when expeditions were made to other countries to search for and procure new and wondrous plant material and to bring it back home. Once home large portions usually ended up in the greenhouses of kings and queens where their gardeners would try to keep the plants alive and with hope propagate them. Her favorites were white flowered exotics, in particular the highly scented jasmines and gardenias.

I do not know if she gardened. I doubt it. She was intelligent, beautiful and musically talented. She came from a wealthy family and ended up in the French court. She had great influence over Louis XV and it seems to have been a benefit for France. She planned the buildings of Le Petit Trianon and Place de la Concorde. She was responsible for the development of the porcelain factory Sevres (originally Vincennes), one of the most famous in Europe. It was at Vincennes that the porcelain flowers were made and interestingly by the wives of the workmen. They were made to look as real as possible. Madame de Pompadour is known to have purchased some in 1748 at the cost of 3,000 livres. There is a story that Madame once received the king in a room filled with porcelain flowers in bloom that emitted wondrous perfume. The story relates that the king was surprised, deceived, and delighted at the spectacle; but it is probable that the surprise was feigned, since another story, also exaggerated, but founded on fact, says that the king once ordered porcelain flowers,chiefly for the marquise and the Chateau of Belle Vue, of the amount of eight hundred thousand livres.

That is my story of Madame de Pompadour. 

Porcelain flowers from Vincennes - photo from John Whitehead works of art


  1. Hello!
    Could you tell me where you found an image of the Vincennes Manufacture flowers?
    Best wishes.

  2. Thanks for stopping by. I found the photo on this web site :
    but it seems to no longer be there.


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