Unpacking Marie Antoinette’s Luggage

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If you live in Tokyo or if you plan to visit, this is what you have to do: Buy a Grutt Pass. For 2,000yen (or about $18) you can buy a booklet that gives you a discount or free entrance to 56 museums, zoos and aquariums. You’ve got two months to use it. If, like me, you love museums, then it’d be easy to get more than your money’s worth.

I used the Grutt Pass for the first time yesterday at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, and attended the latest exhibit, titled “Louvre”.

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I went in thinking it was a sample collection of pieces from the Louvre but in fact it was something much more specific. The small print subtitle of the exhibit, written in French, means “Record of the 18th Century French Court”, which just doesn’t sound as sexy as using the name of the one of the most famous museums in the world. It was definitely a marketing ploy to cash in on the cachet of the Louvre. Still I wasn’t disappointed.

There were an abundance of snuff boxes, candy boxes, furniture, silverware, clocks, candelabras and other courtly furnishings. Most were made of precious metals like gold and silver, as well as lapis, ruby, marble and other precious stones. One especially stunning snuff box was made of gold, studded with diamonds, with a small painting of the owner in the middle.

I liked the way the exhibit was divided between styles of periods, from rococo to neo-classical. I found that orientalism appeared often as imagined representations of East Asian art. These included a silhouette of a Japanese farmhouse etched into a cabinet, Ming color schemes on vases, and Korean ceramic influences.

My favorite pieces include finely crafted desks made of apple, walnut and rose woods. And I also thought Marie Antoinette’s traveling case was especially fascinating. It is an enormous case, housing a full set of tableware, all monogrammed with MA.

Antoinette, Louis and their court have been generously romanticized in film and literature. Rarely is the perspective of the peasants who chased them out of power featured as more than rampaging, dirty mobs. A more interesting way to exhibit such over-the-top wealth would have been to put typical peasant household items next to the items of the French court. One of those snuff boxes, which were bigger than I imagined, I’m sure would have been equivalent in wealth to the household earnings of an entire village. Without providing a fuller picture of pre-revolutionary French society, it’s easy to fetishize the excesses of the French aristocracy.

Photo credits: Marie Antoinette’s Travel Case: ©Photo RMN-©Jean-Gilles Berizzi / distributed by DNPAC. Snuff Box: ©2007 Musée du Louvre / Martine Beck-Coppola

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2 thoughts on “Unpacking Marie Antoinette’s Luggage”

  1. I looked into the Grutt pass and it’s last valid date is March 31, 2008. I hope they start the pass program again as it is a great deal! Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  2. The Grutt Pass has been issued every year that I’ve been here, but this is the first time that I’ve taken advantage of it. But it is a bummer that you have to use it within two months.

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