Art of the Shoes
Art,  Art and Design,  English

From Sandals to Sneakers: The Fascinating History of Shoes

Introduction video credit: Woman Walking In High Heel Shoes video of Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels.

The text below is the excerpt of the book The Art of the Shoe (ISBN: 9781783107339), written by Marie-Josèphe Bossan, published by Parkstone International.

Shoe of Henry II de Montmorency

Henry II de Montmorency was the grandson of Anne de Montmorency, supreme commander of the French army, Marshal of France, and advisor to kings Francis I and Henry II. The last representative of this illustrious family’s older branch and the nephew of king Henry IV, Henry II de Montmorency added to his family’s prestigious appointments: Admiral of France and Brittany, viceroy of New France, and finally, governor of Languedoc after his father’s resignation in 1613.

Shoe having belonged to Henri II de Montmorency
Shoe having belonged to Henri II de Montmorency. Leather decorated with a fleur de lis on the vamp. Initials of the duke on the flap. France, 17th century. International Shoe Museum, Romans.

The scepter of Marshall awarded his military victories. But Gaston d’Orléans convinced him to rise up against Languedoc; his impudent revolt against Cardinal Richelieu led to his imprisonment at Castelnaudary. Abandoned by Monsieur, the king’s brother, as Gaston d’Orléans was called, de Montmorency was condemned to death and beheaded in Toulouse in 1632. His leather shoe, preserved at the International Shoe Museum, is monogrammed and decorated with a fleur-de-lis on top of the upper. It is evidence of the type of virtuoso shoemaking that existed during the first half of the 17th century.

Madame de Pompadour’s Shoes or the triumph of the heel under Louis XV

These low-heeled shoes in yellow silk embroidered with silver thread and with a slightly raised toe have lost their buckles and show some wear. They come from the estate of Madame de Pompadour who left them to her personal maid.

The seated portrait of Madame de Pompadour, painted by François Boucher in 1758 and now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, shows her crossed feet dressed in new shoes embellished with a substantial buckle, probably of silver. In Boucher’s standing portrait of Madame de Pompadour in the Wallace Collection, her right foot is hidden by her yellow dress, but the left foot, dressed in a heeled shoe fastened with a buckle, is similar to the example found in the International Shoe Museum, Romans. A third portrait by Boucher, in the collection of Maurice de Rothschild, highlights Madame de Pompadour’s sumptuous pink mules.

François Boucher. Portrait of the Marchioness of Pompadour, Art of the Shoes
François Boucher. Portrait of the Marchioness of Pompadour. Alte Pinakothek, Munich.

These shoes have raised tips in the oriental style and are enhanced by elaborate decoration on the upper, which is also trimmed with a meridian coil running lengthwise and bordered with shirred fabric. The high heel covered in white leather is a typical example of a Louis XV heel. These pink shoes create a visual echo of delightful harmony with the pink ornaments on Madame de Pompadour’s green dress. Quentin de la Tour’s pastel portrait preserved at the Louvre Museum depicts beautiful pink mules that are rather similar, but the ornamentation is simplified.

As she displays her own shoes in these four portraits, Madame de Pompadour, who was famous for her elegance, perfectly illustrates which women’s shoes where fashionable during the reign of Louis XV: shoes fastened with a buckle and mules. Mules with Louis XV heels (still a commonly used term) would experience a considerable vogue and are still fashionable in the 21st century. The technical dictionary of the shoe industry written by Louis Rama, an authority in the matter, defines the Louis XV heel as follows: “Louis XV heel: a high heel, much knocked down by a concave profile; the throat is covered by an extension of the sole obtained by splitting called the heel breast flap.” Although methods of heel manufacture and styles have definitely evolved over time, the concept of the Louis XV heel, elaborated in the 18th century, remains unchanged. It is still a heel with an evocative name, whose very mention calls forth the symbol of eternal femininity.

Bottines of the Belle Otéro, Art of the Shoes
Bottines of the Belle Otéro. Brown and beige kidskin, silver kidskin inlays. Paris, around 1900. International Shoe Museum, Romans.

The Shoe of Marie-Antoinette

Attributed to the Queen, this shoe was found at the base of a guillotine at the place de la Révolution in Paris on October 16, 1793. It was sold the same day for one Louis to the Count of Guernon-Ranville, who immediately turned it into a relic.

The interior bears a handwritten inscription inserted like an innersole:

“Shoe worn by Queen Marie-Antoinette on that horrible day she mounted the scaffold, this shoe was picked up by an individual the moment the queen died and immediately purchased by Monsieur le Comte de Guernon-Ranville.”

Shoe of Marie-Antoinette, Art of the Shoes
Shoe of Marie-Antoinette collected the 10th of August 1792. Anonymous, Carnavalet Museum, Paris.

As André Castelot writes in his book on Marie-Antoinette:

“She hurried and climbed the steep ladder with such haste (with bravado said one witness) that she lost one of her little plum Saint Huberty shoes.”

According to the account of Rosalie Lamorlière, the Queen’s personal maid at the Temple, Marie-Antoinette went to her execution wearing plum shoes with two-inch heels (they measured two pouces or about six centimeters) in the Saint Huberty style. The style was named after the opera performer who started the trend. This shoe could be of silk or leather.

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