Antique Jewelry Gold Diggers - Blanche d'Antigny
Blanche d'Antigny 1840-1874
The courtesans of Paris owned magnificent collections of diamonds. We have written about the jewels of La Barucci and La Paiva as well as the Empress Josephine.
#6786 Diamond and pearl bangle.
Blanche d'Antigny (Marie Ernestine by birth), was typical of the demi-monde, courtesan from Paris. Dirt poor from a broken home and the countryside, her early life was full of adventure - from running away with gypsies to working in a circus. She arrived in Paris and after beginning as a prostitute, worked her way up to the protection of a rich, Russian prince, who took her to live with him in Russia. After a number of years in Russia, where she continued to ply her trade and amass a fortune in the process, Blanche returned to Paris (well, she was actually thrown out of Russia when she went too far by stealing the Empress's dress and brazenly wearing it to the opera). After her return, a Parisian witness described her as being 'one mass of diamonds'. The diamonds having been collected during her sojourn in Russia. Being smothered in diamonds whets our appetite for more detail, but unfortunately, we do not hear the details of the diamonds, their settings or even sizes. Just the sheer quantity of them on a statuesque, large lady.
#6543 diamond earrings.
After her return from Russia, Blanche attempted a career on the stage. Despite her powerful ties in the press, her talents, apart from her monumental size, were derided. One critic wrote about: ... the part played by this lady's diamonds. They certainly perform better than she does... ". It was the diamonds that had both the press and the publics' eyes popping out of their heads. Everyone was so busy gaping at the dress and jewels, that her poor acting talents were ignored and she played many roles, drawing even more rich lovers (including Prince Napoleon), who showered her with gifts.
Another critic wrote about the jewel-encrusted actress: ‘This is not an actress we see on the stage before us but a jewelry store.’
Not only her jewels were sumptuous, but her wardrobe was beyond price, with a single dress worth a fortune.
Sadly for us, the only jewelry specified are the aigrettes, clearly beyond words. Further descriptions of Blanche's diamonds (page 12 of the Courtesans) reads: .. as for diamonds, they are everywhere; at the ears, on the neck, in the tousled hair they're even swarming on the small hat on the streaming golden hair, and I think there are some on the little slippers. ....she has these lights, these white flames., these captive stars, these decanter-stoppers at ten thousand francs apiece, a big enough pile of diamonds to build a barricade.
If we look at the first picture of Blanche in this post, we see diamonds galore covering her head and spilling down to her eyes. Diamonds cascade down from her ears. Starting below her chin, are loop after loop of beautiful diamonds and pearls. While the old picture is not clear enough to be sure, we can see many jewels attached to her dress and what appears to be loops of gold and gems fluttering from her right arm.
The opulent magnificence of Blanche's lifestyle are beyond this post, but we are told how despite her awesome collection, the one item that she was never without, was a simple gold cross that remained from her humble peasant beginnings.
Sadly for Blanche, she could not hold on to most of her jewelry. It appears that even during her hey-day, she lived in debt. She eventually scuttled off to Egypt, where she had an affair with the Khedive. She returned to Paris ill with typhoid, poor and alone, and thus she died. When she died, aged 34, people wrote that the smile of Paris was gone.
It was Blanche d'Antigny who inspired Zola's Nana. She also sat for and inspired many artists and paintings, including The Penitent Magdalene by Baudry.
painting by Baudry
reference: The Courtesans by Joanna Richardson