To the anonymous mannequins standing in fashion plates, the Bonnarts rapidly added portraits of high- ranking people from the Court. Repeating the same formal codes, these “portraits in mode” speculated on the celebrity of people from the Court, by adding to the stereotype image of a young and elegant man the name of a well-known person from the Court entourage. Praising their appearances and their “beauty”, these images were also a way for the merchants, who were selling them, to compliment and flatter the sitter.
These plates began to appear in the 1690s and were highly successful as they were adopted by most of the editors. This was in fact legitimated as the Court was considered to be the place where fashions were invented, but also the natural place where fashion was alive, the City – to quote La Bruyère – as being the “monkey” of the Court.
Beyond the scenery and the dress and accessories intended to fashion the sitter, these images echo contemporary portrait paintings, in particular in their composition. Especially group portraits, and conversation pieces where framed portraits within portrait paintings, standing portraits in military uniforms and portraits in mythological costumes, were the basis for the creation of the “portraits in mode”.
Even though the Mercure galant wrote in 1699 that men are less keen that women on changing clothes every season, the fashion plates demonstrate that the question of appearance was important for both genders, scrutinized in all people at Court, the first being the King. The refinery of the waistcoats, the shape of their sleeves or their pockets, the matching garments are largely described through the pages of the Mercure and the engravings, which insisted on the correct way of wearing lace cravats, muffs, how to place a hat under the arm, the size of the wig, the trim of the ribbons, as well as the jewels, the buckles and other items of adornment.
The luxury and the refinery of male fashion were obviously indicated in black and white engravings by a firm drawing of the cut and the adornments. These were largely reinvented and transformed when the fashion plate was illuminated and gilded, which eliminated and modified the details under the multi-coloured surface and the gold and silver motifs. Even though the colours did not respect the lines of the etching, they called to mind the luxury and the variegation of one man’s toilet, even if hiding the shiny buttons with which the engraver aimed to restore the sparkle.
Fashion Prints in the Age of Louis XIV: Interpreting the Art of Elegance, (Costume Society of America Series) ed. Kathryn Norberg, Sandra L. Rosenbaum, Texas Tech University Press, 2014.
A Kingdom of Images: French Prints in the Age of Louis XIV, 1660-1715, ed. Peter Fuhring, Louis Marchesano, Rémi Mathis, Vanessa Selbach, Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute, 2015.
Fashioning the Early Modern. Dress, Textiles, and Innovation in Europe, 1500-1800, ed. Evelyn Welch, Pasold Studies in Textile History Series, 2016.
Forthcoming 2017: Pascale Cugy, La dynastie des Bonnart. Peintres, graveurs et marchands de modes à Paris sous l’Ancien Régime, Rennes, Presses Universitaires de Rennes.