Have you ever buried some items in a time capsule for others to dig up far in the future and learn how you lived? I think most of us have, but few of us have the opportunity to see one open ourselves – until now! An eccentric wealthy civil servant, Louis Mantin, wrote a will stating that his house was to be closed then reopened to the public a hundred years after his death, shedding light on how people lived back in the 19th century. A veritable time capsule – albeit not of the buried sort!
Louis Mantin’s bedroom is a jewel of opulence with its carved four poster bed, but most extreme are the walls covered in gilded leather. This material was made in 1812 and covered in silver leaf, then varnished in yellow to give it a golden look. Next, paintings created using simple colors were hung on them, generally telling a story.
Leather and gold wall hanging
Mantin was a bachelor but had a secret 20-year affair with a married woman named Louise Allaire. During the inventory of the house, it was noted that in the lady’s boudoir there was meant to be a bed but it had been removed. Clearly Mantin wanted to keep the affair secret even after death.
The bed in the Ladies Salon was hung with curtains in the same pink material the walls are covered in. Called “Four Seasons”, Allaire’s room was extremely feminine, with painted ornamentation above every door showing seasonal scenes.
Winter, over the door of the Four Seasons room
The formal living room is opulent in the extreme! It contains marble-topped tables, a chandelier, embroidered chairs, and rather than the usual mirror above the fire place, there is a window into the next room. Mantin was very patriotic, and you can just see the red light bulb in the chandelier that went with a blue and white bulb to stand for the colors of the French flag.
Wanting the best of everything, Mantin’s was the first house in Moulins to have electricity, and one of the only ones to have hot and cold running water as well as toilets on each floor.
The electric lamp shown here came from the catholic church.
The assistant curator says: “Mantin wanted to have comfort—he was very interested in modernization.”
The toilet is porcelain covered with wood, and the bath of course is a modern (for the time) version of the hip bath. The screen in front of the fire was intended to prevent drafts when people were soaking in the warm tub.
Mantin was interested in all sorts of eclectic things, and in his house you could find not only the stuffed wolf but also a diorama of real dead frogs fighting a duel in a glass globe. There is also a rat playing a violin and a stuffed blowfish. All things we don’t expect to see decorating our houses!
This peek into life a century ago shows a world of opulence and change. Electricity and hot running water were new phenomena in houses, as were indoor toilets. The living areas were made for women who wore long skirts and sat sewing or at other gentle pursuits while men’s spaces were big and dark and bold. One wonders what people will make of our homes a century from now?