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Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the Eighteenth Century (Metropolitan Museum of Art Publications) Hardcover – 3 Mar 2006


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About the Author

Harold Koda is Curator in Charge and Andrew Bolton is Associate Curator of The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Danielle Kisluk-Grosheide is Associate Curator of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars 26 reviews
75 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fusion of Fashion and Style, done with amazing grace 5 May 2006
By Rebecca Huston - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When I was young, I read a biography for children about the tragic Marie Antoinette, last queen of France, and found myself enthralled by the exquisite decorative arts of the time. It was a culture that viewed that every surface and substance was an opportunity to embellish and use. Sometimes the end results were overblown, but also managed to stay on the edge of good taste.

In 2002, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City went through its extensive collections, and assembled a collection of rooms, clothing, everyday objects, and put them together to recreate a lost world of glamour and intrigue. Organized around a sensationalistic novella of manners and seduction, La Maison Petit by Jean-Francois de Bastide, the exhibit took the idea that the setting created by the aristocratic and well-to-do in eighteenth century France was not just to create a world of beauty, but one that was also meant to seduce the senses and aid in the game of sex and manners that undercut the entertainment and pastimes of the upper classes.

For the exhibition, the Met took the existing French rooms that were on exhibit in their Decorative Arts galleries. Filled with the items to be found in drawing rooms, then mannikins were dressed in the period clothing -- all from the museums' extensive collection in the Costume Institute -- and then assembled in scenes of daily life. The viewer, both in the exhibition and in the catalog then becomes the voyeur, peeking into this shadowy world of delights, and just a touch of decadence.

Each room of the exhibit depicts an aspect of aristocratic life, with figures engaging in conversation, getting dressed, making music, playing (or rather, cheating) at cards, two lovers being spied upon, among other activities. Along with the photographs, there are essays exploring the relationships between the aristocracy and the culture of leisure and excess that they created.

One thing that I noticed clearly in this book was something that most writers never seem to mention on works on aristocratic France, and it's a telling one. The sign of a 'true' aristocrat was the appearance of never having to lift a finger, and extreme grace while doing nearly nothing. The art of moving through a room wearing cumbersome clothing -- women sometimes had to enter a room sideways with the immense skirts that they wore -- navigating through tables and chairs that often had items of porcelain, and equal delicacy on them. A nouveau riche could be spotted by their hesitancy, and sometimes clumsiness in handling a fragile tea service or a lace sleeve dragging through an inkwell.

Another point that I really enjoyed was that these large rooms in the Met, which had before seemed too big and rather pompous, suddenly had scale with the addition of life-sized mannikins. Women with their hair dressed in towering styles appeared to fit right in, and the rooms instead became frames for sumptuous dresses and elegent courtiers in embroidered coats and vests. There were even replicas of pet dogs here an there, curled up on a chair or lolling at their mistress's feet.

It's a fascinating study, and this book is filled with the photographs from the actual exhibit, close ups of clothing and objects of art, engravings done with an eye for detail, and reproductions of paintings that helped to supply the poses and attitudes. The essays are well-written and insightful, and help to explain what is really happening in each room. At the end, there is a selected bibliography, a break down of each room -- detailing the origins of each object and the room itself -- and an index.

For any student of culture, art history, or someone who wants to see some truly beautiful creations, this is a book not to be missed. Fans of the filmed versions of Dangerous Liaisons will have a field day with this, and perhaps inspiration to do further explorations into a world where excess was the norm, and the art of beautiful living was carried to a zenith.

Five solid stars from me, and enthusiastically recommended.
36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sumptuous Flower of a Stunning Costume Exhibit 19 Mar. 2006
By Glenn R. Urbanas - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Illustrating a modest but very memorable exhibition by the Costume Institute of NYC's Metropolitan Museum in the spring of 2005, this title represents its sumptuous late-bloom - a very aesthetically pleasing catalogue. About twenty-five beautifully dressed be-wigged mannequins - posed to illustrate scenes from the famous 1782 novel 'Les Liasons dangereuses' - are arranged in conversational groups among the furnishings of the French period rooms at the Met. The exquisite final flowering of late 18th c. French costume before the Revolution are shown in all their charming elegance of textile & embroidery. The photographs of the exhibition mannequins, including many details, are interspersed with colour reproductions of period paintings that tend to illustrate & augment the exhibition. The book would make a superb gift, a fine coffee table ornament, & its worth every penny of its 30 dollar list price but it's a steal at any sort of a remainder discount for those with a love of the 'Enlightened' period when France was the world's arbiter of taste in science and culture (if not commerce) when the ex-army officer Chaderlos de Laclos wrote his unexcelled epistolary novel - a novel that no less than four late 20th c. film directors have attempted to capture on screen & each time without success and which many consider the finest French novel before Proust. There are a few other titles that may be considered in the same category - 'The Elegant Art' 1983 LA Mus of Art, the Williamsburg Costume catalog of 1986, and the exceptional catalog published ten years ago by the Kyoto Costume Institute - The only fault I can find with 'Dangerous Liaisons' is the lack of technical detail - just how were those minute pleats tucked and stitched anyway?
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Book 22 April 2006
By Boufflers63 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Dangerous Liaisons, Fashion and Furniture in the 18th century, is the companion book to an exhibit by the same name that was shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2004. Consisting of the museum's collection of 18th century French period rooms, the exhibit was brought to life by mannequins dressed in actual period clothes and set up in the rooms themselves. Although the wait for an exhibit catalogue was long, this book was well worth the wait. The text is wonderful, and is supplemented by beautiful plates of both period paintings and engravings and shots of the exhibit itself. A must for anyone interested in the 18th century, art history, France, or period costume. Once you've read it, put in the DVD of the 1988 Dangerous Liaisons with John Malkovich and Glenn Close; the exhibit comes to life on your tv!
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Du Marivaudage" or about Seduction in french style fashion and interiors 5 Aug. 2006
By Dominic - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is a book you will enjoy. It will appeal to anyone interested in decorative arts in France between 1750 and 1789. The fashion focuses on dress and its aesthetic interplay with art, furniture, and the decorative arts of the period. Presented in a dramatic setting, the beautiful pictures of the Metropolitan Museum exhibition explore the dressed body's spatial negotiation of the 18th-century interior as a choreography of seduction and erotic play.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning collection of costume photos 29 Jun. 2006
By S. Caramagno - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Beautiful full color photographs of the Met's Louis XIV's clothing collection and furniture. Manequines are dressed in beautiful originals and posed in drawing rooms and boudoirs in real life poses, flirting, playing piano, having their hair done, playing cards. The photographs are very well done, clear and the detail pieces will be a boon to any costumer. I highly recommend this book for costumers and other historical clothing buffs.
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