The fortunate few of the eighteenth century dreamed and lived and danced in one of history’s most glorious periods. We are, of course, talking of the survivors - who are the only interesting people of any era.
The century burst like a rose and spent itself lavishly, blowing its vitality in a strong and beautiful way all over the Western world. It was a center of quality, artistry, precision, and scholarship. Light, opportunity, and exultation were everywhere. The architecture, the porcelains, the gardens were sublime; every teacup and every flower was very special. The colors were clear and clean - exquisite greens, porcelain pinks, and the wonderful blue that France has always been famous for.
Our own concepts of architecture and decoration were established in the eighteenth century. The interiors, the arrangements of the furniture, and the furniture itself were really all the first bloom of the way we live today, though we live much less lavishly. The comfort with which we live, the way a house is organized, the living in it, and the care of it were all creations of those days. Do you realize what a house was before the eighteenth century? It was huge - enormous and dark - with no halls. You went from room to room to get to a room and suffered drafts and cold.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries women definitely had power - if those around them were powerful and rich. But in the eighteenth century, women often found their way alone and with greater ease, as their talent was recognized and needed. They wrote books; they administered huge estates; they ran small businesses; they created salons where intellect and revolution found a place for expression; they ran convents, which were small worlds where women could live in great protection; and, of course, some women ruled great nations.
Women lived in towns and cities with new privileges. They dressed in the beautiful silks, linens, and muslins that we wear today. They pranced through the minuet, a very special dance that the partners had to know totally, for there was nothing haphazard about dancing - or living - in those days.
This world of the Rococo and the Baroque was also a time of revolution. But revolution is a part of life; it helps convert the possible into the real. And the women particularly are always having revolutions of sorts.
Visualize some of the many colorful women, these tireless letter writers and avid travelers of the world:
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who journeyed into the remote parts of Asia and went twice around the world alone.
The marquise - the beloved Pompadour - who was painted wearing gown of café-au-lait-colored silk and surrounded by flowers, or in Turkish pants while planning and directing more palaces and gardens and lovely rooms filled with exquisite Sevrès porcelain.
The grand and dignified Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, presented to us by Gainsborough walking through her vast estates.
Emma Hamilton, who, while living in Naples, drew all men and women to her feet by her incredible beauty and her amazing postures and poses, through which she became a living work of art.
The Marquise du Châtelet - beautiful, erudite - who read and wrote both Latin and Greek and was mistress of the beloved Voltaire. They say when she visited the king she pointed her nipples with two large rubies - much to her sovereign’s delight.
And all the while, Catherine, empress of all the Russias, was buying entire libraries and great collections of art - creating an empire for the land she adopted with such grace and passion
These women lived in a world of promise, optimism, and possibility. They had their dreams - as all women of all times have had - but they dreamed of a world of independence and privilege, and proceeded to create it themselves.
Diana Vreeland, Introduction to The Eighteenth-Century Woman—