Women weren’t the only ones to decorate themselves. Some men, those known as the vieux beaux and, at the time, vieux mignons, inundated themselves with perfumes and painted their faces.
It was the King, himself, who set the tone. His calumniators said of Henri de Valois that he was “uncertain King of France and imaginary King of Poland, Emperor of his wife’s collars and curler of her hair”. The extravagances of this prince in matters of toilette have remained famous. He loved to inundate himself with perfumes, daub his face with colours, or soften it with special pastes.
To conserve the freshness of his complexion, the King used a mask prepared with a few ounces of top quality wheat flour and a few egg whites. He applied this paste upon retiring and only removed it the next day with warm water. It is said that he got this recipe from the Venitians.
Following the King’s example, his mignons, conserved the whiteness of their complexion and of their hands, by using masks and gloves full of cosmetics, at night. Here is a cosmetic recipe from 1573, found in Instruction pour les jeunes dames (Instruction for the young ladies):
“I take firstly pigeons from which I remove the legs and wings, then terebenthine from Venice, lily flowers, fresh eggs, honey, a type of shellfish called cowrie, crushed pearls and camphor. I peel and incorporate all of these drugs together and put them to cook inside the bodies of the pigeons, which I put to distill in a glass alambic in a bain-marie. I put in the beak of the alambic a little plug of linen on which there is a small amount of musk and ambergris, and I attach the recipient with some lut [paste] to the neck of the screed to which the water is distilled, after which I put the water in a cool place and it becomes very good.”
At the Renaissance, an invasion of cosmetics and perfumes arrives from Italy and they supplant the practice of cleanliness which had characterised the wealthy in the Middle Ages. Catherine de Medicis, who had had all kinds of perfumes imported, had given a taste for them to her sons. They oiled and painted themselves like the women and also dressed like them.
Under Marie de Medicis, widowed, then under Louis XIII, perfumes and balms re-appeared in a new vogue. Diane de Poitiers or Marie Delorme, who contented themselves with simple, water-based lotions, were exceptions.
The Duchess of Montbazon used makeup openly. Mme de Rambouillet reddened her lips. Others put rouge on their cheeks, so abundantly, that this applied rouge destroyed the natural rosiness. Others again, to appear whiter, stayed in bed with unbleached sheets or ate lemons to make themselves pale.
It was from this time that date gloves a la Cadenet, because of that gentleman’s preferred perfume. He had created the cadenettes, Frangipani gloves, named in reference to the Marquis of Frangipani, and Neroli gloves, for which the Princess of Nerola had found the perfume.
Such habits could not disappear in one day. Although Louis XIV was antipathetic toward perfumes, he was obliged to tolerate that which he could only stop at the risk of upsetting his most agreeable subjects, and the excessive use of perfumes and makeup continued.
One day, a marquis, whose eyesight was not good, met a duchess who used an exaggerated amount of makeup, in the Versailles park. He wanted to kiss her but she avoided him by darting behind a statue, which received the kiss. This drew the remark: “Plaster for plaster, the error is not great,” from the marquis.
It is also said that the witty Mme Cornuel, meeting one day one of her nieces who had covered her face with a layer of white and pink, exclaimed: “My God! My niece, what a lovely mask you have there!… Your face can be seen through it.”
The King, himself, finished by catching the ambient contagion. He employed no fewer than eighteen china boxes to keep the various balms which he used.
If Marie-Therese, wife of Louis XIV, contented herself with her natural graces and did not abuse makeup, her brother-in-law spent his time creating himself a face. As a child, he was often dressed like a girl, and, as these clothes suited him admirably, he liked to dress in them. He opened formal balls dressed as a woman, a mask on his face, beauty patches on his cheek. At the court, he played female acting roles.
Saint-Simon painted him, already old: “Small, with a big stomach, mounted on stilts, his shoes were so high, always decorated like a woman, lots of rings, bracelets, sparkling stones everywhere, with a long wig all established in front, black and powdered, and ribbons everywhere he could put them, lots of all sorts of perfumes. He was accused of surreptitiously wearing rouge.”
Fourth part tomorrow.