18th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Marie Christine of Austria in somewhat less pink

What to say about last week’s dress….oh dear.  Not a lot of love from most of you.  So much to complain about…colour, textures, silhouette, and that pectoral fin.  Mostly colour though.  Some enterprising viewers noted that if you were colourblind, the chartreuse and pale pink looked lovely together, and wondered if the wearer/maker had been colourblind.  Personally I rather liked the colours – they are so unexpected, and the Victorians did love to play with wild colour schemes.  I will agree that the dress had other issues, so despite the few people who really loved it, I’m not surprised that the final rating was a 3.4 out of 10

Since so many of you had problems with the colour, let’s tone the palette down in this weeks ‘Rate the Dress’.

The last time we looked at Marie Antoinette’s sister Marie Christine she was wearing pink, and lots of it.  You called her a ‘blinged out sheep’ with an 18th century mullet’, and still managed to give her a 6.5 out of 10.

Today her ensemble is considerably more subdued, as befits an outfit worn to spin thread.  She is a princess though, so she wasn’t restrained enough to leave off her trademark OTT jewellery.

Self-portrait of the Archduchess Marie Christine of Austria (1742-1798), daughter of Franz I and Maria Theresia, spouse of Albert, Prince of Saxony (1738-1822), circa 1765

Do you like her palest-grey gown, with muted blue bows and practical black apron?  What about the lace fichu, lace bonnet, and triple-pearl earrings?  Has she managed to combine industrious housewife with glamourous princess, or does Marie Christine just lack any semblance of fashion sense?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. Elise says

    The first thing I noticed is that she looks miles more intelligent than Marie Antoinette. Did I read correctly that this is a self-portrait?

    The styling itself I could take or leave–7–but I’m fascinated by what she is attempting to convey: Bucolic scenes painted, and half covered by a curtain. And the black apron really really contrasts with the light grey. Oh! Where is an art historian when you need one?

  2. How pretty! It’s a self portrait, to boot! I loved her pink dress, and I love this dress of her’s as well–it’s simple because of the color, yet kept interesting in its details. I think the whole picture is very nice. Something about her white ensemble just makes me think “clean” and “pure.”

    Ten out of ten!

  3. Daniel says

    Classy, subtle, intelligent and poised. If this is how she saw herself, I’m impressed – she may have made herself look prettier, but she’s not made herself look like a Barbie pink puffball princess. Is she wearing a Brunswick jacket and petticoat rather than a dress? Either way, I like it a lot – I love the contrast of the black (but a soft grey black rather than a stark black) with the pearl grey and the soft blue bows are lovely with both. As a self portrait it’s really interesting because she clearly wanted to show herself as composed, graceful, industrious and intelligent. I like it very much indeed. I would say 9 out of 10 as I can’t give it full marks, but I like it a lot!!

  4. Love it! Although I believe she is wearing a Brunswick (a type of jacket) with a matching petticoat. The Brunswick seems to have been rather popular in Europe, particularly as a traveling outfit.
    I give her an 8.5

  5. I’m not a big fan of that tight collar-thing; it just somehow seems too… blingy?… for the rest of the outfit. And the silks and laces just seem wrong for the activity…
    But yes, overall, it’s very pretty and still nicely subdued for a princess of that time, so: 8/10

  6. I love that she’s spinning her wool into thread or yarn. Very DIY! And it’s a self portrait… very nice, although her painterly style for shading the fabric folds is a bit primitive, I like how much she’s stuck into one painting. I think some of the awkwardness of the portrait has to do with the placement of the head… maybe she was too caught up in getting all the details and forgot she still had a body and dress to paint! Oops. Either way, though, I think the dress is lovely and her apron makes me a fan… 9/10

  7. karenb says

    lovely colours throughout the painting but couldnt quite work out where she put her bosoms. looks like those dolls with a china head and bust and then fabric.
    pretty dress and I like the apron.


  8. She seems to have picked the correct domestic chore for a dress with all those ruffles. Can you imagine trying to scrub a floor or to wash dishes with those sleeves? Overall, I rather like it. The blue bows in particular really appeal to me. 9/10

  9. Well, I like her color combination (lavender/grey, very pretty) and her tiny spinning wheel, but I’m not a fan of the lace cap and fichu, they’re a bit much. The choker is also a bit much, but as it coordinates with her gown I give it a pass! One does wonder why she’s wearing a brunswick to spin. 7/10, say I.

  10. Lynne says

    9 out of 10 for a really pretty dress. Some lovely lace there.

    That out of the way, it is the rest that is intriguing. A self-portrait! Talented lady. The jewellery is so silly. “Which tiara shall I wear to do the dishes this morning?” How often have we all said that?

    But I am delighted with her spinning. I have shared with a spinning friend, and will try to find out what it is she is spinning. We think silk, as a first guess. Wool and linen would be too bulky for such a dear little spinning wheel. Turned by hand! Very fiddly, only having one hand to do the spinning – the treddle wheels must have been such a joy when they came out.

    And the apron. A real apron, not some ‘Marie Antoinette playing milk-maids’ apron. A pinny, pinned with real pins, and black.

    A treat, this painting.

    • fidelio says

      I’d wondered about that mtself, but I am not a spinner, so I wasn’t sure if it was just me.

      I agree with you about the apron–it’s a glam version of a working apron, but it really is a working apron, intended to keep your dress neat and clean, and not just as an vehicle for additional decorations.

      I’ve never been in love with all the ruffles aand such from this period; I’m just not a ruffle person. Leaving aside questions of artistic competence in the painting, though, the dress is becoming to her, and her accessories are not overwhelming, although I agree the jewelery is a bit much for the otherwise domestic nature of the scene*. I’d give it an 8/10, because I am not, as I noted, a ruffle person. She doesn’t look like a china figurine, though, which is a plus for this period. I do like that we can see what ladies in Austria did in cold weather–it’s rare that we see dresses with long sleeves or undersleeves from the 18th century, and yet there are plenty of cold winters recorded then.

      Since this was done around 1765, Marie Christine would have been around 13 years old, which might explain the lack of bosom/cleavage. I am also intrigued by the stove at the right edge of the picture–she’s clearly sitting about as closely to that thing as she can manage, without setting her dress on fire.

      She was apparently her mother’s favorite daughter, and her sisters deeply resented this.

      *The jewelery is also a bit much for her age at the time, unless we think of this as part of the machinery of royal propaganda-the message in this case being: Available princess! Good complexion, domestic nature, sensible enough to cover up in cold weather (Google ‘Frozen Charlotte’ sometime); from a solvent dynasty (note bling!). Send inquiries to Empress Consort Maria Theresa, Archduchess of Austria, King of Hungary, etc., Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna

  11. What dress? Look at that little flax wheel!
    If that wasn’t there to distract me, I’d give the ensemble an 8- it’s fairly casual for morning receiving yet carries enough lace to indicate her rank, especially when paired with that bonnet.

  12. For me the only excuse for this bland collection of fru-fru is as an exercise in painting drapery for which I only give it a 5/10. The dress isn’t interesting enough to be very offensive (but what’s with the bit by her, um, seat? So 4/10

  13. Demented Seamstress says

    That is the most adorable spinning wheel I’ve ever seen!

    The dress is pretty nice too. The sleeves are a bit odd but other than that I think it’s lovely. The choker somehow works with that funny cap to frame her (very beautiful) face.
    Self portraits are so interesting! And this is so different from most royal portraits.
    I think it’s a charming painting.


  14. I love her cap, and her gown–except for the oddly puffy lower undersleeves. The jewelry suits her perfectly. I view the apron as more of a prop than anything else. It seems like her way of saying “See, I’m royal, and a good housewife too!” So I don’t really think of the apron as part of her costume. The costume proper I give 9 of 10.

  15. The Choll says

    Partly 8 with a chance of 9 on the whole glorious appearing. The painting holds infinitely more charm than does the ensemble itself, but that which does not specifically offend is met with approval in this case. The lace cap arrangement is very Mary (Queen of Scots.) I personally like the juxtaposition of unrelenting bling with quaint machinery and references to housework, but then, I am a deeply flawed woman myself.
    I am concerned about the bosom, though… how much breast plate can you show before any suggestion of cleavage appears?

  16. I really like this portrait. And the fact that this was a self portrait is really awesome. There’s nothing I don’t like about her outfit and I’m a sucker for aprons.

    9.5/10 because nothing “pops” in the painting.

  17. Claire Payne says

    Not my cup of tea I’m affraid. I feel some what unconvinced by this self portrait though cannot determine why. I am not a fan of the clothes of the era and that despite the muted tones, there is still a lot going on in terms of trim and lace for my taste. I can appreciate the work involved in making such a dress however and the colours could be worse (let us not think about last week’s rate the dress. Gracious!) A 5 out of 10 from me and I admit that it probably deserves more. 1 out of 10 for the apron. It ruins the look.

  18. Daniel says

    I suspect this is a “miniature” painting – there is something very delicate and small scale about it and the techniques look quite miniature style. Probably big as miniatures go, but the reproduction is probably close to actual size.

  19. Again, I think she is conveying a story. As a costumer I try to tell a story with every costume (when I have the time and money) standing alone from the rest of the production. She certainly accomplishes that here. I wonder if she wore that choker for more than an hour at a time. I give it 9/9 because I think she is the pinnacle of beauty and grace and refinement.

Comments are closed.