For over 200 years, myths surrounding Marie Antoinette have been perpetuated in popular culture. One of the more titillating tales is centered around the ‘Etruscan’ Style Porcelain Breast Cup made by Sèvres for Marie Antoinette’s pleasure dairy at Rambouillet. The whimsical story that evolved is that she had the cups modeled for the dairy after her own breasts. The real story is rather different.
In the late 18th century, King Louis XVI created a pleasure dairy at Rambouillet as a surprise for the Queen in the hope that she would spend more time there while he hunted. Marie Antoinette also enjoyed a pleasure dairy at Versailles. Neither ‘dairies’ were used for production of milk products, instead they served to host the fanciful consumption of already prepared products by the Queen and her guests. These frivolous and out of touch activities that were meant to embrace values of rural life were perceived by the populous as pantomime. Regardless of how the concept of these spaces were viewed, Rambouillet was a surprise for the Queen. To preserve the impact of his gift, King Louis XVI commissioned all aspects of the project which was overseen by comte d’Angiviller. The ‘style etrusque’ was chosen which was popular at the time due to the excavation of Etruscan sites in Italy
The Sèvres porcelain service for the dairy was designed by Hubert Roberts in the ‘style etrusque’. Only sixty-five pieces were ever delivered over two shipments from the factory in 1787-88. It is likely Marie Antoinette only saw the first shipment as she visited Rambouillet only once before her execution. The second shipment contained the infamous set of four breast cups made for drinking fresh milk from the dairy. True to the ‘style etrusque’, the cups were more likely modeled from the Attic pottery ‘Mastos’ cups and not the Queen’s bosom, to which the designer would not have had access. The irony of the breast cup myth is that Marie Antoinette probably never saw the Sèvres version she’s accused of having commissioned.
Perhaps because of the controversy surrounding the King and Queen and despite the French Revolution, Sèvres kept the molds for these cups which retained popularity. Empress Josephine Bonaparte commissioned a set in the 19th century in white and gold from the molds. Even today, you can still acquire your own copy of the breast cups made from the same molds directly from Sèvres, or from us at Stair in our Porcelain sale, Lot 29.
The desire for hot chocolate continued to remain popular as it spread to a larger audience in the 19th century. In Vienna, chocolate became inseparable from daily life, perhaps an ancestral reflection of Anne of Austria’s original enthusiasm for the drink. Chocolate houses sprang up alongside coffee houses and when on a journey traveling chocolate pots were brought along. The elite traveler might want to enjoy a restorative warm beverage at a moment’s notice, so naturally the small pots were often part of a nécessaire de voyage along with their toiletries. The traveling chocolate pot incorporated a stand and spirit burner for heating chocolate on the go. An example of this type of accessory can be found in our upcoming Silver Sale at Stair in Lot 198. This petite chocolate pot is from the 19th century and made from fine silver which was an elegant solution for conducting heat to the chocolate. The design displays a high level of craftsmanship and detail.
The love for hot chocolate continues today with modern iterations that continue to evolve. Many childhood memories of holidays and cold weather center around a frothy cup of coco with marshmallows. Regardless of how hot chocolate is prepared or consumed, we can be sure the comforting properties will be enjoyed for centuries to come.
Time & Location
The Porcelain Sale
Thursday, November 4 at 11am