Marie-Antoinette’s android: the dulcimer player


Marie-Antoinette’s android

I don’t quite like the term android applied to an 18th century artifact, though it was actually coined at that time. I much prefer automaton. To me, droids are more evocative of Star Wars than the Court of Versailles or the Enlightenment, but that just me…

Anyway, all my thanks to my friend and fellow novelist Susan Holloway Scott for bringing to my attention this diminutive marvel, which is part of the Science et Curiosités à la Cour de Versailles exhibition, held at… Versailles, of course.

According to the curators of the exhibition, “this famous android was a collaborative effort by two Germans. Clockmaker Peter Kintzing created the mechanism and joiner David Roentgen crafted the cabinet; the dress dates from the 19th century. Automatons were in circulation and aroused much curiosity. Roentgen probably sent the tympanum to the French court and Marie-Antoinette bought it in 1784. The queen, aware of its perfection and scientific interest, had it deposited in the Academy of Sciences cabinet in 1785. The tympanum is a musical instrument that plays eight tunes when the female android strikes the 46 strings with two little hammers. Tradition has it that she is a depiction of Marie-Antoinette.”


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