Louis XV and the Marquise de Pompadour

 

 

In the whole of Europe, Louis XV's Court was known as "the Perfumed Court" either to admire it or to stigmatize it .... In fact, the 18th century was not only the age of enlightenment, it was also that of elegance and perfumes ... Perfumers such as Fargeon and before him Dejean have left manuscripts where the use of raw materials and the tastes of the time are carefully documented.

 

Historians recorded the passion that the King and the Marquise had for oranges, bouquets of flowers, bathing (the recent restoration of the Marquise's bathroom with two bathtubs in Versailles illustrates this well), and potpourris ...

In the King's private and secret apartments in Versailles, perfume was everywhere.  Many experts claimed that the King fled the stench that reigned in Versailles' rooms ...

 

The couple spent a considerable amount of time in other residences where the Marquise reigned as an absolute mistress of pleasures, olfactory ones included. There are reports that show expenditures of five hundred pounds per year for perfumes. ...

 

The Marquise appeared in all her pictures surrounded by flowers arranged symbolically almost like an illustration of the perfumery formula. The historian, Danielle Gallet, author of a well-known biography on the Marquise, has remarked : "roses and their ancient symbolic meanings are omnipresent in all their forms", in her gardens, in the interior decoration of her lodgings, in her theatre, in the light shades of her library, in the material of her dresses and of course on her coat of arms. Generally, she loved the fashionable bouquets of flowers whose colours and scents were composed in a highly refined manner.

 

This trend in perfume and bouquets lasted until the end of the 19th century: it was the quintessence of the kingdom.  A water took on the name of "mille fleurs", a thousand flowers.  This dream of perfection was used in what is called nowadays "the heart note".  For the "base note", the fashion was to use ambergris and musk, even though the letter was becoming less popular ...  The "top notes" were citrus based and were already fashionable in Louis XIV's court thanks to the Princess Trémoille - Nerola after whom is called the famous bitter orange blossom: Neroli.   Louis V and the Marquise greatly appreciated the "Portuguese" orange essence which was also used for medicinal purposes and distilled on site in the castle grounds.  Danielle Gallet reported that the Marquise used the orange blossom water to calm her migraines.  

 

At that time, no distinction was made between feminine and masculine perfumes, the two famous lovers shared the same perfumes.  They exchanged them every day like an erotic game.

 

Moreover, the manner to perfume oneself was different to our present day customs as we only use perfume on our bodies.  At that time, the whole environment was perfumed.  One of the Marquise's own original recipes for pot-pourri has been founded. She had them made and distributed in her lodgings in de Sèvres porcelain pots 

that she had made for this purpose.  Even the woodworks and glue for material and paper were perfumed! Fresh flowers and pot-pourris for the room, salts for baths, scented sachets for wardrobes and clothes, gloves and handkerchiefs were perfumed and of course, wigs and hair were powdered with iris root scented talcum powder. Perfume to be used on the body merely completed the panorama.  Nevertheless, given that the 18th century enjoyed integrating all the products coming from the orient and the colonies, the formulas were very sophisticated. Some perfumes were made with more than thirty different ingredients and were consequently very expensive. They were very different from the perfumes used by Marguerite de Valois, whose perfume comprised of just three different ingredients just two centuries earlier!

 

In his re-creation, Nicolas de Barry has not tried to reproduce « the » royal couple's perfume, but « a » perfume (in two different examples) that take inspiration from many different fomulas used which all had a common base that varied little : Orange, Neroli and Bergamot dominating the top notes and the heart note is comprised of the couple's favorite flowers : rose, jasmine, gardenia, lilac, violet, hyacinth, daffodil, carnation, tuberose etc. Iris and ambergris give elegance to this bouquet; more powdery for the Marquise and more citrus orientated for the King. The body of the perfume is nevertheless identical …

On the day of the Marquise's funeral, the King watched the funeral procession from behind his windows in Versailles but could not partake in it because of court etiquettes: He paid a tribute to his mistress by ordering the funeral bearers to wear perfumed gloves made by Lady Amey, the Marquise's glove-maker...