Stomacher. France, 18th century. Silk embroidered with silk and metallic. Bequest of Marian Hague, 1971-50-125.

A Pastoral Fantasy

 Imagine being able to change the entire look of your favorite dress by simply changing the front panel. If you lived in the eighteenth century, this would be your reality. Stomachers were an important part of a women's dress between the seventeenth and nineteenth century, they were most popular during the Rococo movement in eighteenth-century France. The stomacher is a panel that is attached to the bodice of a dress. It can be removed and changed for different styles or formal occasions. Bodices were constructed so that this decorative piece would leave an open space specifically for this type of decorative panel to show through.

What makes this extravagant stomacher unique is the pastoral nature of the narrative that is embroidered onto the stomacher. A pastoral theme is one that is related to a farm or the countryside. It is almost as if this piece is representing a specific person or place; perhaps it is symbolic of a courtier, or famous mistress of the King working in the gardens of Versailles. This stomacher illustrates the importance of the pastoral themes in the French court at the time. For example, Louis XV often held pastoral themed court masques where courtiers would dress as shepherds and shepherdesses.[i] In addition, royal mistress Madame de Pompadour was known for her love of pastoral themed decorative arts collections and pastoral themed performances at the Theatre des Petits Cabinets in Versailles.[ii] This stomacher is an example of the fondness for pastoral imagery during this time period.

There are eighteenth century accounts of metallic and color embroidery techniques being reserved only for the noblest of courtiers.[iii] Some of these techniques can be seen in this stomacher. Therefore, this particular stomacher may have been used to impress important figureheads and worn by someone who had access to the most sought after places inside and outside of the palace. After all, the better a courtier looked, the better the chance that their status would be elevated by the monarchy and high society. Who knows, this may have even belonged or been worn by Madame du Pompadour herself.

Katie Kupferberg is a graduate student at Parsons the New School for Design in the History of Decorative Arts program, focusing on fashion and textiles. Katie has previously worked on Broadway and Off-Broadway shows on the Costume Design team.



[i] Tortora, Phyllis G., and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume: a History of Western

Dress. 4th ed. New York: Fairchild Publications Inc., 2005.

[ii] Bremer-David, Charissa. Paris Life & Luxury in the Eighteenth Century. Los Angeles:

Getty Publications, 2011.

[iii] Tortora, Phyllis G., and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume: a History of Western

Dress. 4th ed. New York: Fairchild Publications Inc., 2005.

 

Museum Number: 
1971-50-125