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Casanova and Mlle Clairon: Painting the Face in a World of Natural Fashion

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In the second half of the eighteenth-century fashions were radically altered. The towering wigs and thick layers of face paint worn by the aristocracy and copied by the masses came under attack. Men and women were encouraged to adopt simpler styles of clothing and to rely only on their own natural traits. This shift away from artifice was espoused most strongly by enlightened philosophes, who advocated a social structure based on transparency and merit, rather than finery and blood. Cosmetic masks were an obvious sign of Old Regime corruption and needed to be erased. This paper looks at how this shift in fashion affected two prominent painters of the face: the libertine Casanova and the actress Mlle. Clairon. Their memoirs illustrate the complications that arose out of such an extreme shift in fashion. Though both led unrepresentative lives, their attempts to conciliate their own desires for artifice (for themselves and in the case of Casanova for his conquests) with the ascendancy of natural beauty, has resonance for the lives of other eighteenth-century coquettes and petit maƮtres. Neither succeeded in eliminating the stigmas attached to old age and primping, but they did succeed in painting themselves as vibrant, enthusiasts of a youthful, natural Enlightenment, despite visible traces of rouge.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/136270403778052230

Publication date: March 1, 2003

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