Friday, February 1, 2008

The Marquise de Coetlogon

My first thought after Françoise announced our theme as Chocolate, was of something I had read on my last visit to the chocolate museum in Köln (Cologne).

It was an excerpt from a letter written in 1671 by Madame de Sévigné to her then-pregnant daughter advising that she herself not consume chocolate as

” … the marquise de Coëtlogon took so much chocolate, being pregnant last year, that she produced a little boy who was as black as the devil who soon died.” *


This story seems so outlandish to our modern sensibilities. I still can’t decide if it’s demeaning, insulting, quaint, amusing, stupid, naïve, foreboding, or what. I did find it intriguing, and certainly it offers a different view of chocolate. It offered a good challenge, so I went with it. It’s been great fun too.



I posted earlier that my piece would be visually expressed as a cross between a Fragonard painting and a Harriet Powers-style story quilt. Helen asked “How???” so here’s my thought process:

First I thought about the basic elements of the story: chocolate (of course), 17th Century French aristocracy, gossip, sex and taboo, the unseen servant/love toy, the impropriety of having a child born of said servant, the intrigue (I don’t believe for a minute that the child died of natural causes), society and the class system.

Next I considered how these elements could be expressed visually. Fragonard came to mind first as his paintings, although 18th century, are the epitome of French aristocracy and erotic frivolity. Since our chosen medium chez 12×12 is quilts, I also considered what in the history of quilting might be appropriate. This is definitely a story, so something pictorial made sense. To base it on a style known to be used by marginalized Africans (even if they were in the US and not France) seemed appropriate since a marginalized African played a central role in the story even if no one would admit it at the time.

Then I had to figure out how to translate it to fabric. Toile, being French, made a perfectly “frou-frou” background and looks a bit like engravings of Fragonard’s paintings. I’m not much of a toile collector myself, but I managed to dig up just enough from my stash. Slave quilts are characterized by asymetry, improvisation, and multiple patterning, so I could use some or all of those aspects in my work. Using many printed fabrics suggests not only the improvisation and patterning, but the luxurious textiles of the aristocracy as well. Organza would not have been used in a slave quilt, but it’s sheer quality is perfect for expressing an invisible presence.

Now to put pencil to paper. The Marquise is the focus, with her child in arms. Her breasts are bared not just to nurse, but in a voluptuous show of her sexuality. If there is any doubt that she’s the aggressor, her skirt is hiked confidently up to show more than a little leg and she’s allowed her sleeves to slip off her shoulders. Her head is turned, not lovingly towards the child, but to the chocolate, which her out-stretched arm suggests she wants more of. To express her gross consumption, the chocolate pot is large in scale. Smaller, and barely there in his transparency, is the Moorish servant no one is talking about. He holds the aphrodisiac with hips thrust forward, ready to give her what she wants.

Although I felt that the picture told a narrative well, this particular one is not universally known and I did want to reference it specifically. To that end, I embroidered the excerpt from Madame de Sévigné’s letter.

* There's a few more pictures and links on my blog here.

13 comments:

twolimeleaves said...

I have a theory that in any class or group there will always be one quilt that is the quilt you wish YOU made. This is my one from this round. I adore everything about this quilt - the story, the imagery, the fabrics (her hair is perfect!), the stitching, the text. Lovely.

Françoise said...

Wonderful quilt, Kristin! Love the details pictures you've posted on your blog.
Great work!

StegArt said...

Kristin this is wonderful. I loved learning the story behind it and the graphics on the quilt are fabulous.

Karoda said...

girrllllllll, you've captured the story in the quilt very well and i love the way you broke it down!!!!

Karen said...

You put so much thought into the design and execution of this piece and it really shows in the workmanship

Terry said...

Oh. My. Kristen, you have gone over the top with fabulousness here! The story is delightfully bizarre and your execution is amazing. The figure of the Marquise is perfectly, perfect. I'm at a loss for words, except that you have outdone even yourself. I simply adore this!

Nikki said...

Amazing! I love the richness and how you captured the story. Each little detail adds so much to elegance and intrege. How dangerous chocolate can be!

Gerrie said...

I so agree. This is just beautiful. I mean it is just so beautiful and wonderfully executed. It has to be my favorite. The fabrics, the stitching of the story, it all works so well. Excellent! Fabulous. Have I run out of superlative adjectives, yet?

Diane said...

Kristin, this piece is astonishing to me (wonderfully so) in so many different ways. First, the idea that you read that quote and that became your inspiration for this piece -- it's so NOT the way I would think that it fascinates me to learn that's what your inspiration was. And then your thought process for designing the images and choosing the fabrics and excuting it all in such meticulous detail-- it's mind-boggling and wonderful. I can look at it and look at it and see new things (the toile is the perfect background fabric, and I LOVE how you captured the woman's hair, especially). Oh -- and the beading on the edge is the perfect finish. Lovely, lovely work.

Helen Conway said...

Oh this is like like those really really snobby chocolates you get in teh top department store of capital cities. Almost pornographic in their lush and provocative presentation but just acceptable enough so you can have have some and feel decadant and rich and spoiled. I am sure I willkeep coming back to look at this one

Deborah said...

Yowza! I did not expect this at all. I adore it. I will have to study it more and comment again later. But I will say that if we ever have a group show -- this quilt might cause some controversy! (at least in Dallas) Which would be so exciting!

jpsam said...

Stunning! Wonderfully so.
joan

Brenda said...

At first glance, this could almost be mistaken for one of those classic chocolate box tops with a picture of an elegant lady. Then you look closer and WHOA realise that there is so much more going on here. You have captured so much in just 12 square inches. A remarkable and arresting piece.