Hot chocolate has been a fashionable drink since the eighteenth century, and the popularization of the beverage also saw the rise of new designs related to its consumption and preparation. This ornament print by the French designer and printmaker Jean-Baptiste Fay shows twelve different designs for chocolate cups. Each cup is decorated with a diverse combination of ornamental motifs ranging from floral festoons, arabesques, ornate initials, flowers, garlands, and birds. Fay also designed and published several ornamental prints including designs for jewelry, textiles, vases, and furniture. This particular sheet is an example of a designer responding to and taking advantage of new consumption trends.
While cacao beans were actively use in Mesoamerica around 1500 BC, it would be over three millennia until chocolate became known in Western European countries through Christopher Columbus’s expeditions. It was first introduced in France at the wedding of Louis XIII with Anne of Austria in 1615 and thereafter, drinking chocolate continued to grow in popularity in the French court. It was favored by Louis XIV, who created the position of “Chocolatier du Roi” (Chocolate maker to the king) in 1659 for David Chaillou (1628-1687). Chaillou’s shop near the Palais du Louvre was one of the first to serve hot cocoa in Paris. Louis XV, too, greatly enjoyed hot chocolate, and his personal recipes of the rich concoction survive to this day in the publication Les Soupers de la Cour ou l’Art de travailler toutes sortes d’aliments pour servir les meilleurs tables suivant les quatre saisons (1755). Hot chocolate in the eighteenth century was often made by boiling chocolate bars with water and adding egg yolk or whisked egg whites, sweetened sometimes with sugar or cream; spices such as cinnamon and cloves could be added for ostensible medicinal benefits.
The painting below by Jean-Baptiste Charpentier shows the family of the duke of Penthièvre drinking a cup of chocolate in an elegant setting. The women can be spotted with a porcelain chocolate cup in their hands.
Drinking chocolate and owning accoutrements of hot chocolate, incidentally, became a symbol of wealth. Marie Antoinette had a silver chocolatière set made by Jean-Pierre Charpenat in 1787-78 that included over a hundred items, with many other objects from the set ornamented with precious stones and ivory. The Cooper Hewitt also has several porcelain chocolate cups including the following chocolate cup made by the famous Meissen Porcelain Manufactory in 1735-45.
As for hot cocoa, a vestige of the French royalty’s obsession with chocolate still survives to the present day. The royal family chemist, Sulpice Debauve (1757-1836), the official chocolate-maker to Marie-Antoinette from 1780, founded the chocolate store, Debauve et Gallais in 1800 which is still in operation in Paris!
Cabelle Ahn is a MA Fellow in the Department of Drawings, Prints and Graphic Design at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. She received her MA in Art History from the Courtauld Institute of Art and is currently studying eighteenth century French works on paper at the Bard Graduate Center.