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Friday, December 31, 2010

French court dolls

I remembered an article I read in an old issue of Doll Reader which featured a group of carved wooden jointed dolls of french nobility, called French Court dolls. 
I tracked it down (Dec 1995/Jan 1996) and have found even more dolls than those cited after exhaustive searching online. The author of the article, John Darcy Noble, mentions that he knew of 18 such dolls. The article itself contains photos of 12 of these silk clad creations. I have since found one sold by Thieraults which is purported to be Marie-Antoinette.
But these are not dolls as we know them, certainly not likely to have been for children. No, these look like the playthings of adults. They look like marionettes but they have never had strings attached. Their incredibly elaborate carved hairstyles and very individualistic faces are quite striking.  
In common with dolls of the era they are complete with genitalia - and some have strange anatomical features. One has twin penises, several are hermaphrodites and one seen by the author had three breasts all in a row. One has a head that opens to reveal a cavity. 
The author suggests they are virtual portraits of real people used in some kind of puppet play by the nobles of Marie-Antoinette's court. 
They are believed to have been owned by the Princess de Lamballe. (What provenance and evidence there is he doesn't say.)
But this is what I don't get. From all I have read the Princess de Lamballe was rather modest and proper - indeed supposedly prudish.   However, the author states that the Princess owned houses of ill repute in Paris as well as one of the two openly erotic theatres. This is news to me. It sounds like the tales spread about the nobility to inflame the people. But it doesn't accord with any of the reading I have done about her character. So who is right? If you can shed some light on this I'd be pleased to hear from you. 
In the meantime, pictures of french court dolls coming up!  I am currently reading a book about them so more posts on these amazing dolls are inevitable!


  1. The most oppressed and prudish cultures are the ones that become deviant in private.

  2. Hi! Some information about the dolls can be found on the wikipedia page for Rose Bertin, the first and foremost Paris Fashion designer, who worked with Marie Antoinette as her principle client. Enjoy!