Saturday, April 12, 2014

Unusual Artifacts: A Miniature Vinaigrette, 1800

Miniature Vinaigrette
The Victoria and Albert Museum

Here we have a miniature vinaigrette which is designed to resemble a coffee table (in gold) with a coffee service of six coffee cups with saucers and spoons, a sugar bowl with spooon and a coffee pot (in parcel gilt) attached to the top. The wee table featues cabriole legs and a hinged top.

If you’re not familiar with the term, “vinaigrettes” were boxes designed to hold scented sponges. These were used by both men and women to prevent inevitable fainting fits and counteract the myroad unpleasant smells inherent to life in the city.

When the Victoria & Albert Musem acquired this miniature vinaigrette it contained a card from the donor which offered the following story:

This vinaigrette was the property of Princess Charlotte (daughter of George IV) who died in 1817. An ancestor of mine, name probably Wyatt, was librarian to the above King and saved the vinaigrette when the princess threw it into the fire in a fit of temper. I cannot verify this account but I think it probably correct.

According to the V&A, research indicates that there never was a royal librarian with the name of Wyatt. However, the architect James Wyatt and his son Matthew Cotes Wyatt were frequent visitors to the palaces during this period.

I imagine that Princess Charlotte—throughout her short, unhappy life—had many reasons to throw a variety of objects into the fire. So, I like to think that this story is true. 

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