The Queen’s Midget and her Wardrobe, 1770

 

Katia Johansen
ICOM Costume Committee member

 

Queen Juliane Marie of Denmark brought the 8-year old girl Anna Maria to court in 1763. Anna Maria was a midget, and when she died at age 15, a wax figure was made from her death mask and clothed in her best garments. The 26-inch tall figure was exhibited in the Royal Kunstkammer less than two years after her death, and is still part of the Royal Collections at Rosenborg Castle. Undressing the figure for conservation revealed that she wore miniature stays, hip pads, undergarments, a fashionable gown and hooded overgown, shoes, stockings, and hat, all apparently used by Anna Maria up to her death in 1770.

Anna Maria was born December 22, 1755 in provincial Jutland, to a blacksmith and his wife. Very little is known about Anna Maria’s life at court, but, with luck, some archival information will turn up. Until now, it was assumed that the custom of keeping dwarves at court had disappeared in the 17th century. The religious Queen Juliane Marie’s bringing this girl to court might be considered an act of generosity rather than selfish amusement. That Anna Maria’s garments are preserved makes it possible to deduce that she enjoyed the Queen’s favor, as the dress of silk and lace are equal to what fashionable women at court wore.

The bodice, skirt and hooded overgown are all made of a bright green patterned silk, lined and trimmed with coral silk and narrow lace. (This kind of gown was called a “Brunswick gown” in English, an interesting correlation as Queen Juliane Marie was born as princess of Braunschweig.) The fashionable flat straw hat is trimmed with lace, ribbons, and feathers. Her silk-covered shoes have miniature jewels of facetted polished silver. She wore boned stays trimmed and tied with silk ribbon and cord, a chemise which had been darned, and knee-length knickers. This last piece of clothing may well be the earliest example of women’s undergarments in Denmark: there are no records of women’s underwear from this period, and there was not even a word for them in Danish at the time!

The death mask from which the wax cast of the figure’s head was made still exists, and from it, missing parts of the damaged wax face and shoulders were reconstructed. The original wig was badly damaged, but microscopic analysis reveals that the hair was golden blond, and the pattern of knotting in the wig base made it possible to reconstruct the hairstyle.

This complete set of garments is one of the oldest in Denmark, and despite the perhaps tragic and perhaps uplifting circumstances of Anna Maria’s short life, further investigations into her clothes and her circumstances cannot help but reveal hitherto unknown aspects of life at the Danish court in the eighteenth century.

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