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  3.17 Marie Antoinette, 1776  

©British Libraryw, London
Marie Antoinette; 1776

Ormolu plaque, one of a pair; gilt bronze and marble
22 x 16.5 x 1.5 cm


ike the companion portrait of her husband, this piece was given to Haidar Ali on the occasion of Louis XVI coronation. Both plaques were found in Tipu's palace at the fall of Seringapatam, and preserved by a Company servant, John Rice, in whose family they remained until their acquisition by the India Office Library (now the British Library, Oriental and India Office Collections).

The French courtiers were somewhat contemptuous of Tipu's ambassadors, but the Queen was fascinated by these 'turqueries..' and hoped to obtain a wax portrait of them to decorate the rustic cottage in which she and her ladies amused themselves, playing at being milkmaids. No surviving wax portrait is known, but a splendid oil portrait of Mohammed Dervich Khan, by Mme Vigée Lebrun, shows a tall, imposing figure, clad in elegant muslin, richly embroidered, an exotic figure which Mme Vigée Lebrun herself describes in her Memoirs: 'They (Mohammed Dervich Khan and his son) were both dressed in gowns of white muslin, embroidered with gold flowers ….a kind of tunic with large sleeves folded back …..fastened at the waist with richly decorated belts.'

Paris was fascinated by these Indian visitors, and their visit was recorded by two of the artists who worked at the royal porcelain factory at Sèvres, Asselin and Wattier, both of whom no doubt anticipated that there would be a fashionable demand for images of the orientals. The visit certainly inspired the decoration of two charming Sèvres tea-cups: inscribed portraits of the ambassadors are set in circular reserves on the cup; their 'hubble-bubble' pipes are depicted, like an exotic still-life, in the reserves on the saucers.

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