Hundreds of years after her death, Marie Antoinette lives on—as an automaton. For most of her time, she sits idle in a dark room at the Musée des Arts and Métiers in Paris. It’s only when a hand cranks the plunking, whirring gears that the miniature robotic 18th-century French queen comes to life.
Built in 1784 by the German cabinetmaker David Roentgen, the automaton is no typical replica of Marie Antoinette. The approximately 20-inch, intricately crafted doll sits playing a dulcimer, a string instrument struck with handheld hammers. In the video, the Metropolitan Museum of Art demonstrates how the Marie Antoinette dulcimer player, or La Joueuse de Tympanon, works. When wound up, the music box mechanism moves the figure’s head and arms, making them dance across the strings and chime out a ping-y tune. The player has a repertoire of eight songs.
The automaton was presented to King Louis XVI, who gifted it to his wife. It’s said that the beautiful lace dress was made from fabric of one of Marie Antoinette’s dresses, and that mannequin even has some of her real hair. While the Marie Antoinette automaton is a stunning masterpiece, the uncanny rigid movement of her neck and eyes as she awakens may make you shiver.
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