The King of Tahiti, Venetian nobles, French artists and the favourite of the King of Persia – all were fair game for the diplomat and illustrator Jacques Grasset de Saint-Sauveur (1757-1810) who captured the clothing of all manner of classes and cultures at the very end of the 18th Century.
Born in Montreal, Saint-Sauveur followed a diplomatic career and became vice-consul in Hungary and later in Cairo. This suggests he was very well-travelled which give his illustrations some credibility. In 1784 he published “Civil costumes of all known peoples” and in 1796 “Costumes of the representatives of the people, members of the two councils, the executive directory, the ministers, the courts, the messengers of state, bailiffs, and other public officials, etc.” The Los Angeles County Museum of Arts that digitised these public domain works believes them to be from the latter.
These works form a valuable resource to break our fixation upon the dress of the wealthier classes in fairly narrow geographies. These illustrations show many diverse forms of materials, styles, headpieces and more, taken just after the French Revolution of 1789.
While the frontispieces marking each continent seem fantastical and allegorical, the actual costume illustrations seem highly-detailed. Of course these works recall the horrors of colonialism and the slave trade as well as cultural exchange and influence. Most of the works at the level of individual people do seem observant of idigenous cultures – albeit with contemporary terminology like a ‘savage’ of Natal – and present them much the same as Europeans regardless of wider politics. As for class, there is a beauty in Saint-Sauveur’s works based on a harmony and rhythm as different lives going about their daily business are recorded on the page as snapshots. Venetian nobles parade their finery, servants talk to pass the time, farmers put on their stilts to avoid sinking into the mud and march into town with a fresh bird.
What do you think of Saint-Sauveur’s work? Let us know in the comments below and nominate your favourite!
Man of the Isle of Candia (Crete)
Inhabitants of Corsica
Man of Natal
Nobleman of Java
Servants of Strasbourg
Man and Woman of Madagascar
Woman of the Hague, Netherlands
Man and Woman of Zante
Artisan of Bordeaux
The King of Tahiti
Man and woman of Prague
Bordeaux Farmer Going to the City
Peasant of Lucerne, Switzerland
Inhabitants of Caria (Turkey)
The Favourite of the King of Persia
“Morlaque de l’Isle Opus”