The Evolution of the Chocolatière: From French Innovation to Retirement in Museums

As the 16th century cultural exchange between the Old and New World progressed, the consumption of cacao beverages transitioned from being a ritualistic foodstuff among the ancient populations of the Americas to a new, European luxury. It is alleged that in 1606 chocolate was brought to Italy from Spain by a traveler and, from this point on, began to spread to other major European nations such as France (“A Concise History of Chocolate,”). In 1648, France emerged from the Thirty Years’ War and was beginning to enjoy a period of political and economic stability; thus, French citizens had the economic capability and the social curiosity to invest in new luxury trends such as the production and consumption of cacao beverages (Perkins 89).

Joseph-Théodore_Van_Cauwenbergh_-_Chocolate_Pot_-_Walters_571802-1
A traditional French chocolatière pot made of silver and amaranth wood. This pot was made in 1774 by Frenchman Joseph-Thèodore Van Cauwenbergh.

When cacao spread to Europe, the French hybridized ancient Mesoamerican techniques with new and refined values to create a Europeanized production of cacao beverages. A physical result of this hybridization is the chocolatière pot, a French invention that encompassed both efficiency in making and serving the beverage and a sophisticated aesthetic. This pot did more than supply a vessel in which chocolate beverages could be produced and consumed; it created a distinctly French niche within the international chocolate production scene. The French were motivated to making up for their late arrival as participants in the international chocolate industry by fashioning sturdy, sophisticated cookware. Commonly, a traditional chocolatière pot is a pear-shaped vessel made out of metal- usually silver or gold- that features a hinged or removable lid. The lid contains a hole to place the handle of the “moulinet,” which is normally made of wood and is used to rapidly froth the beverage before serving. Although the chocolatière itself was French, it combined the basic shape and idea of ancient Mesoamerican gourd vessels and the wooden frothing instrument of the colonial Spaniards, the molinillo (Perkins 90). The chocolatière experienced a rise in popularity, particularly among the elite and the royal, until its decline and ultimate disappearance from the French household after the Industrial Revolution (Righthand).

The legacy of chocolate in France begins with the marriage between Anne of Austria and Louis XIII in 1615 (Coe and Coe 150). Austria had already been introduced to the chocolate making process and it is likely that chocolate was exchanged as wedding gifts between the newlyweds. France’s earliest, most notable supporter of chocolate products was Alphonse de Richelieu who promoted the consumption of cacao for medicinal purposes (Perkins 90). Chocolate was quickly gaining popularity with the elite- by the start of the reign of Louis XIV in 1643 chocolate was served daily in Versailles. This new trend necessitated innovations for more efficient self-production; resultantly, the French chocolatière was created. Although the origin of the chocolatière is not completely known, Sophie and Michael Coe support the theory that it was a French invention (158). Records show that chocolatières were given as gifts to French royalty from foreign nations in the late 1600s, yet it is hypothesized that the invention predates these records and evidence of such has not been found or preserved (Coe and Coe 158). The first substantial reference to a chocolatière pot is dated to 1671, when Marquise de Sévigné laments about the tragedy of her daughter not having access to a chocolatière (Coe and Coe 154).

“But you do not have a chocolatière; I have thought of it a thousand times; what will you do? Alas, my child, you are not wrong when you believe that I worry about you more than you worry about me,” (Coe and Coe 155).

As chocolate gained popularity, the chocolatière pot was mentioned in most chocolate-related literature for the rest of the 16th and 17th centuries. Some of the most notable works include Nicolas Blégny’s 1687 work of Le bon usage du thé, du cafféet du chocolat and François Massaliote’s Nouvelle Instruction pour les Confitures, le Liqueurs, et les Fruits in 1734  (Perkins 90-92). The pot became a physical symbol of France’s involvement in this international trend.

But by the end of the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution, chocolate production practices had began to change and progress. Chocolate became a more widely available product and small volume production equipment such as the chocolatière was becoming less desired. In 1828, the cocoa press was invented by Conrad Johannes Van Houton (Righthand). The press allowed for quick production of cocoa powder which could easily be mixed with water to create chocolate beverages- thus, the

François_Boucher_002
One of the most famous pieces of art that features chocolatières and chocolate serving table pieces is “Le Dejeuner,” by François Boucher.  A viewer can notice the chocolatière pot featured in the center background of the piece.

chocolatière pot was becoming archaic in the presence of the new technology. By the conclusion of the 19th century, new technology had revolutionized chocolate manufacturing and lessened the demand for the chocolatière pot.

The 19th and 20th centuries experienced the disappearance of chocolatières due to their low demand; however, an increased interest in antiquities for gift giving is fostering a revival of the pots. Traditional chocolatières and any associated artwork are now popular attractions in museums and pricey investments in modern antique shops.

Here is an interactive “exploration,” of a traditional chocolatière pot held in the Walters Art Museum. The animation only allows the viewer to zoom in/out but it has clear quality for observing details such as lid engravings: http://art.thewalters.org/detail/5934/chocolate-pot/

 

 

Works Cited:

“A Concise History of Chocolate.” C-Spot. Web. 20 Feb. 2016.

Boucher, François. “Le Dejeuner.” 1739. Oil on canvas. Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.

Perkins, Suzanne, Grivetti, Louis, Yana Shapiro, Howard. “Introduction: The Chocolatière and the Refinement of Aristocratic Manners in Early Modern France.” Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2009. Print.

Righthand, Jess. “A Brief History of the Chocolate Pot.” History, Travel, Arts, Science, People, Places | Smithsonian. Smithsonian Magazine. Web. 20 Feb. 2016.

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