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Volume 1, redone Dec. 2014


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Mlle de Guise: interior decoration that prefigures Country Life

I have never used the following information about Mlle de Guise's country house known as "La Ménagerie," so I am making it available here. The omnipresent red upholstery, red-and-white hangings, and white and "red" pots call to mind the country interiors often photographed for articles in Country Life or that could be seen a decade or so ago in ads for Ralph Lauren's and Laura Ashley's lines of interior decoration.

Source: The inventory of Mlle de Guise's possessions taken in March-April 1688, A.N., R*4 1056, numbers 908 ff.


On April 10, 1688, the notaries who were making an inventory of the possessions of the late Marie de Lorraine de Guise went to her little house called "La Ménagerie" at Bercy-lès-Paris. They were taken through the house by her gardener, Charles de la Moue.

The first room they visited was the kitchen and a "chambre servant pour la panneterie." In other words, food was prepared there, probably for the collation that was de rigueur during this pause in Her Highness's customary ride through the Bois de Vincennes.

Next came a "salle par bas, ayant veue sur le jardin de ladite maison." In this "low" room were: "une table de bois peint, petit lustre de crystail de rocher à six branches" and "10 tableaux de moyennes grandeurs dont 8 paysages, petits personnages," plus 2 paintings of the Virgin. There were also 6 large paintings (no details about the subjects), and 4 "portraits de famille." There is no evidence that anyone sat in this room: rather, it was a small gallery with paintings from a variety of genres.

In the "chambre à costé," which also looked onto the garden, were 11 paintings, all described as "portraits de famille." In other words, this is a portrait gallery representing several generations of Guises and Joyeuses, not unlike the one that Mlle de Guise's niece, the Grande Mademoiselle, was creating around that time. The other furnishings consisted of: "un petit lustre de cristail de roches à huit branches, 10 [?] pièces servants de garniture de cheminée, dont 7 rouge de terre cizelées et 8 blanches de porcelaines de Portugal." Here too no chairs are mentioned. This suggests that visitors came to both the "low" room and this room and strolled through them, as they would in an art gallery. We shall see that the objects on the mantle of this room are a sort of prelude for the contents of the rooms to come.

The next room visited is described as a "chambre au bout de la gallerie." It apparently did not look out on the garden, so it must have stood back-to-back with the first two rooms. In this room ­ which had a fireplace ­ the notary found "6 tabourets [stools], 10 chaises [armless chairs], 1 fauteuil [armchair]," and 6 bigger "tabourets couverts de satin de Bruges." In other words, the entire courtly hierarchy is represented by the chairs in this room: a single armchair for the most elevated person in the room, armless chairs for persons of the next lower rank, and stools for still less prestigious guests. The numerous chairs suggest that this was a reception room, and that a fire could make it cozy on a chilly day. The room was crowded with fine furnishings: "un cabinet de bois de rose" with drawers, which was sitting on a matching table, plus a little square table of "bois de violette." This is the first reference to a "cabinet": every successive room will boast at least one of this type of furniture. (Their contents are never enumerated. Were they really empty? Or did they contain miniatures, as such pieces did at the Hôtel de Guise?) Mlle de Guise apparently came here alone on occasion and wrote letters in this room: there was "un petit pupitre de bois de noyer sur son pied garny de son tiroir servant d'écritoire, poudrier, encrier, bougeoir d'argent, et deux cachets" engraved with her arms. On the wall hung a "miroir de 8 pouces de glace de bois façon Chine." All the walls were hung with a "tenture de tapisserie satin de Bruges" about which the auction records provide additional details: "une tenture de tapissierie de Bruges rouge et blanc, avec ses bordures de satin aurore [golden yellow] et vert," made for the "salle de la Ménagerie" (as summarized by Langlois, Les Hôtels de Clisson, de Guise et de Rohan-Soubise, 1922, p.118). In short, the red-and-white theme that formed a fil conducteur throughout the house was manifest in the very walls of this "salle", this "chambre au bout de la gallerie." This same red-and-white theme doubtlessly was strengthened by the seats of the "tabourets," which appear to have been covered in the same red-and-white damask as the walls. (The green in the border of the wall hangings ­ presumably the shade known as "le vert de Guise" ­ was Mlle de Guise's way of evoking the House of Guise.) These hangings served as a background for paintings of Calvary and of the Magdalene (both copies after "Tissier" or "Tissien" ­ that is, Titien), the Holy Family, and a second Holy Family (this one with a gloire). Not a single family portrait! Every image in this room was devotional. The red-and-white porcelain-pottery motif of the previous room continues in this room: "3 porcelaines fines (2 cassées), 6 pièces de composition de Portugal blanc, et 3 rouge de terre." In this room the gardener had stored "4 parasols de taffetas et damas, et 2 écrans." In other words, on fine days Her Highness and her visitors would go out into the garden, where they were protected by screens and large umbrellas.

In the "petit cabinet à côté" was a "tapissierie de la porte de Paris" ­ but nothing else.

Also opening off this "chambre" was a "gallerie" ­ that is, a room with windows down one side, or if in the middle of the house, down both sides. It contained 3 "formes" (upholstered benches) et 3 "chaises à dos," all of them upholstered in red morocco leather. There were 3 cabinets" in the room: the two larger ones stood on matching tables. Although there was a fireplace, "2 braziers de fer poly" could be lighted to take the chill off the room. This "gallery" housed a portrait gallery: on its walls hung 24 family portraits ­ plus paintings of a hunt and a hermitage, presumably dessus de porte.

Next the notaries entered a "cabinet" located at the end of this gallery. It opened onto the garden. It too had a fireplace. This room was an extension of the family portrait gallery, for it contained 12 more family portraits, plus a work described as a "portrait représentant une cuisine" [sic]. The room was furnished with 3 "forms" upholstered in red, plus "8 tabourets et 11 chaises à dos," all upholstered in red morocco leather. On the mantle were 11 little "vases blancs en forme de tasses et 14 autres terre de Cigelée." Again we encounter the unifying red upholstery and the white and "red" incised earthenware that were appearing in increasing numbers.

Next came a "petite chambre à costé," also equipped with a fireplace. In this "little" room all the themes from the preceding rooms came together in an artistic and personal whole. As in the other rooms, there was a cabinet and some "tabourets." The focus of the red motif was a "fauteuil de toille rouge," most likely reserved for Mlle de Guise herself. In addition there were "2 chaises de bois de noyer garny[es] de paille fine," plus an intriguing decorative element: "28 noeuds de petits rubans verts satin." Green bows: probably of same distinctive green that Mlle de Guise had integrated into the floors of the Hôtel de Guise when she remodeled it in the late 1660s and into the borders of the Bruges-satin hangings that (as we saw above) decorated the "salle" of the Ménagerie. Numerous works of art hung on the walls, as they did in the other rooms: 2 landscapes, an "Enfant Jésus tenant sa croix," 12 small paintings of the months, 2 paintings of the Virgin on copper and "un autre représentant la femme adultère peint sur cuivre"; 2 "architectures" on copper; 2 paintings of the "Sainte Famille" by Sébastien de Bourdon; 4 little paintings of flowers; another depiction of the Holy Family; "une Flamande"; 7 "miniatures de dévotion" of different sizes; a painting of "Notre Dame de Montserrat"; and a miniature depicting birds. Not a single family portrait: in short, half the house was a portrait gallery and was used primarily for receptions, while the other was far more personal and comfortable. Finally, the porcelain and earthenware theme reached its apogee in this room, which held "128 pièces blanche de terre de Portugal et 36 de terre cigellé rouge de terre de Portugal." In this room that clearly was reserved for Mlle de Guise and a friend or two, we reach the summit of an entire devotional and esthetic program. There was a visual continuity from one room to another, based on furniture and walls covered in red and white, and white and red (or orange?) pottery. There was also a calculated flow through the different artistic genres: family portraits, devotional scenes, and genre-landscape scenes. And the family turns out to have been excluded from the most intimate rooms.

The next, and final room was also described as a "chambre." It opened onto the garden. It contained the usual "cabinet," this time on a marqueterie table. Here too the dominant color was red: 4 straw-seated chairs with red leather cushions filled with horsehair, 4 "tabourets" covered in red leather, and an armchair upholstered in red linen, with red leather cushions. Here too there were "pièces de terre cigilées," some white and some "red" ­ 31 in all, plus 2 little "urns" of fine porcelain, and some matching goblets. The only paintings were "2 paysages" (dessus de portes, perhaps?) This apparently was the only room with curtains: "deux rideaux de fenêtre de toille de cotton rayée." Although this room comes as an anticlimax of sorts ­ few precious objects and only two paintings ­ its decor adheres to the overarching theme.

The remaining items inventoried confirm what one has already suspected: Mlle de Guise did not sleep at La Ménagerie. Rather, this little house apparently was the goal of the afternoon promenades she and her guests would often taken to the Bois de Vincennes. A servant could, and clearly did sleep there, however, for "dans un petit cabinet sur la montée" (that is, the steps up to the attic), was a "lit de sangle" with its mattress, pillow, and white wool blanket. The other objects of the little room probably were kept there for safekeeping, awaiting Mlle de Guise and her guests: 12 linen damask towels, 8 faience plates from Holland, 3 salad bowls, and some silver place settings. In the "greenhouse that served as an orangery" were 50 oleanders in wooden boxes, 15 orange trees in similar boxes, two large faience pots containing jasmine plants (the ones Mlle de Guise had nagged the Grand Duke of Tuscany about?), 8 oak garden benches, a vehicle for moving the large plants about, ladders, and a watering can and a few tools.