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Puce flea on pale puce background

Puce flea on pale puce background

There is a lot of misunderstanding about the color puce.  The American definition is a middle tone brownish purple-pink, however, in France, where the name originated, puce describes a much darker and sterner red-brown.  Other fashion sources occasionally also use the word puce to describe a murky shade of green horror created by mixing orange and blue (although I personally regard such a concept as misguided on many levels).

A Puce Sari

A Puce Sari

The dreadful sounding name has an equally vile origin.  The French word for a flea is “une puce”.  Puce was the term used for the brownish red dried blood stains left on sheets or clothing when a person was badly bitten by fleas:  so puce has its origin in bloodstains.  I suppose we are lucky it isn’t called “crime scene” or “parasite”.  Despite the confusion regarding the nature of the color, it has had periods of real popularity.  Marie Antoinette”s favorite color was said to be puce (although I can’t find any portraits of her wearing it).  The color seems to be favored by the great and powerful–it is also the boss’ favorite color in Dilbert.

French puce suede oxfords (from "Pointer" if you must have them)

French puce suede oxfords (from “Pointer” if you must have them)

Above is the emerald and diamond tiara of Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte, the Duchess of Angoulême.  Through several peculiar quirks of fate it is one of the few crown jewels of France to remain unaltered after the rest were sold or stolen. It can be found today in the Louvre surrounded by various crowns which are made of paste or missing their valuable jewels.

Marie-Thérèse was a strange figure in history.  She was the only child of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to survive the French Revolution.  During the Reign of Terror, her royal relatives in the Temple prison were carried away and beheaded one by one until she alone was left.  On May 11th 1794, two days after sending her aunt to the guillotine, Robespierre visited Marie-Thérèse.  The details of their discussion are unknown to history but whatever she said seems to have saved her life since the Terror ended 2 months later.

Marie Thérèse Charlotte (painted by Antoine Jean Gros)

In 1799, she married a powerful nobleman Louis Antoine, Duke of Angoulême who was also her father’s brother’s son (her first cousin). When her uncle Louis XVIII died in1824, her father-in-law became King Charles X and her husband became heir to the throne. She was the Queen of France for 20 minutes during the time between when her father-in-law signed a document of abdication and when her husband was reluctantly forced to sign one himself.

To quote InternetStones.com, “The tiara which was designed and executed by the French Royal Jewelers Evrard and Frederic Bapst in 1819, was a masterpiece of the French jewelry craftsmanship of the early 19th century. The design of the tiara was a symmetrical design of scrolling foliage, mounted with over a thousand diamonds set in silver, and 40 emeralds set in gold.”  The piece was technically part of the crown jewels because it was assembled from the royal jewel collection for a noble directly in line for the throne.

The tiara today (photo courtesy of the Louvre)

When Marie-Thérèse abdicated she returned the tiara to the French treasury.  During theSecond Empire it was the favorite crown of Empress Eugenie.  However she too returned it to the treasury when Napoleon III abdicated in the aftermath of the disastrous Franco-Prussian war.  The tiara was auctioned off by the National Assembly during the third republic. It passed through private hands until it was purchased by the Louvre in 2002 thereby falling into the hands of the fifth republic (the current government of France).

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