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Picturing a World


Marottes were wooden or papier mâché forms used by hatmakers when they were decorating or showing their wares. They are clearly akin to penny wooden dolls and also remind me of artists’ lay figures. According to the OED, the word is possibly related to marionette, although the etymology of both is obscure.

A lithograph by Claude Regnier shows a midcentury modiste adding a ribbon rosette to a bonnet on a marotte. An interesting etching by Norbert Goeneutte from before 1888 shows a milliner, a hat on a stand, and a marotte.

In reality, they were simply useful tools; but as this detail shows, in art, they could also be suggestive or downright spooky. I suppose the almost-human can always be made whimsical, endearing, or sinister.

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