The Frick Collection
Turkish Taste at the Court of Marie-Antoinette June 8, 2011, through September 11, 2011
Special Exhibition

Turkish Taste at the Court of Marie-Antoinette
June 8 through September 11, 2011

Exhibition Checklist

  Pierre Gouthière (1732–1813)
Pair of Firedogs with a Seated Dromedary from Marie-Antoinette's Turkish boudoir at the Château de Fontainebleau, 1777
Gilded bronze and blued iron

Musée du Louvre, Paris; on long-term loan from the Mobilier National, 1901

Made in 1777 for Marie-Antoinette's boudoir turc at Fontainebleau, this pair of firedogs added an extra touch of exoticism and sophistication to the queen's Turkish room. Designed and used as the decorative façade of an andiron — a metal support that holds burning wood in a fireplace — they stand today as works of art in their own right. The beautiful chasing and gilding is the work of Pierre Gouthière, the greatest bronze-maker, chaser, and gilder of his time. Their highly original design in the shape of a seated dromedary also received much praise at the court of Marie-Antoinette. During the eighteenth century, camels and dromedaries were associated with Africa and so were represented in numerous allegories of the continent; after 1777 they became a favorite motif of Turkish rooms. The period's fashion for classical architecture is reflected in the geometrical shape of the firedogs' bases, delicately chased and gilded with interlaced foliage, or arabesques, a decorative style that derived ultimately from the wall decoration of ancient Roman houses.

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Attributed to Jean-Siméon Rousseau de la Rottière (1747–1820) and Jules-Hugues Rousseau (1743–1806)
Pair of Panels from the comte d'Artois's Turkish Room at Versailles, 1781
Oil on oak panel
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1906

These two door panels come from the most sophisticated Turkish room at the court of Marie-Antoinette: the cabinet turc of the comte d'Artois, the younger brother of Louis XVI and the future Charles X of France. Created in April–September 1781 in the south wing of the Château de Versailles, the room was the prince's intimate retreat and private library. Its decor was remarkable for its extensive use of costly mirrors and fabrics, now lost, which evoked a sumptuous Ottoman Empire. The same imaginary Orient was depicted on the room's four doors, each consisting of two superimposed panels. The large medallion on the upper section of the door features two odalisques, female slaves in the Ottoman seraglio, offering a long-stemmed pipe to a sultan, or pasha, seated on an impressive throne surmounted by a crescent. This scene was probably inspired by a fashionable Oriental tale popularized throughout the eighteenth century by a set of prints or an illustrated book. The surrounding arabesques, turbaned figures, naiads, floral garlands, and strings of pearls combined classical motifs fashionable at the time with picturesque elements evoking the Ottoman Empire.

These fanciful panels are attributed to Jean-Siméon Rousseau de la Rottière and his brother Jules-Hugues Rousseau, named in 1774 designers and sculptors to the comte d'Artois and in 1780 painters and decorators to Marie-Antoinette. The Rousseau brothers had specialized in the design and execution of Turkish wall panels since 1776, stating the following year that they "were particularly au fait of this genre étranger."

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Pair of Small Console Tables, c. 1780
Gilded and painted beech and walnut with marble tabletop
The Frick Collection; purchased by Henry Clay Frick in 1914

The early history of these two console tables remains unknown, although their exceptional quality and highly original design suggest a prestigious origin. There is little doubt that these tables were commissioned for a Turkish room as every element evokes the Ottoman Empire. The crossed crescents at the top of the tables are a traditional symbol of Turkey, while the supportive figures representing African boys wearing turbans probably depict the African slaves or eunuchs who administered the Ottoman court harem.

The central medallions, which feature in low relief the profiles of a sultan and a woman, were inspired by the legendary, epic Ottoman Empire. One medallion represents Beyazid I surrounded by the inscription MUSULMAN IMPERATOR ANNO M.CD.II, which translates as "Moslem emperor." In 1402, the date on the medallion, Beyazid I was captured by the great tatar conqueror Timur during the battle of Angora. His tragic story inspired about forty operas between 1689 and 1840, including George Frideric Handel's Tamerlano, adapted from a 1675 French libretto by Nicholas Pradon.

The second medallion represents the unstable sultan Mustapha I, who ascended the throne in 1617, only to be deposed shortly thereafter. He regained the title in 1622, the date inscribed, when his predecessor and previous usurper, Osman II, was murdered, but reigned for only a year.

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The exhibition is made possible by Koç Holding.