Tuesday, November 20, 2018

From the Archives: How (Not) to Dress a 17thc Puritan Maid

Tuesday, November 20, 2018
Susan reporting,

With Thanksgiving just round the corner and festive Pilgrims featured in every advertisement, let's revisit one of our most popular posts with a "Puritan maid."

Historical clothing is one of our favorite topics on this blog, and readers of both our posts and books will know how hard we try to get things *right* when in comes to what people were wearing in the past. Yet I'm also willing to concede that there can be considerable wiggle-room when it comes to theatrical costumes (no one really expects Cinderella to wear a perfect replica 18th c. gown, do they?) and other artistic expressions of past fashion.

But what happens when that artist's vision becomes such a potent image that it wipes the real thing clear away?

That was my thought while reading one of my favorite blogs, historian Donna Seger's Streets of SalemA recent post featured the 19th c. Anglo-American painter George Henry Boughton (1833-1905), and how his paintings of 17th c. New England Puritans have influenced how we today imagine those early settlers. (Read her post here.) She's right: Boughton's paintings have illustrated countless school history books, and his version of Puritan dress is still widely accepted as the real thing. In fact, when I did a search for the painting, left, the Google best guess that comes up is "Puritan fashion", followed by links to a teaching site that labels this as an example of "colonial clothing."

Except that it isn't. Like most history-painters, Boughton's intentions were the best, but what this young woman is wearing bears no more real resemblance to 17th c. clothing than the sturdy stone walls and substantial brick buildings in the background do to mid-17th c. architecture in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Boughton painted his Puritan maiden in 1875, and to me her expression and posture seem more akin to a fashionable lady of that era; compare her with the lady in James Tissot's Portrait, also painted in 1875.

But it's the costume that Boughton contrived for his model that fascinates me the most. I'm guessing that, like many artists, he had a collection of antique and fancy-dress clothing in his studio, and he assembled an outfit from bits and pieces that looked right to him. To be fair to Boughton, he was trying to create an artistic mood, a somber, thoughtful reverie set in the past, rather than a 17th c. fashion plate. In 1875, people regarded historical clothing as old clothes to be worn to masquerades (no one loved fancy-dress more than the Victorians), and the academic study of dress and fashion was in its infancy.

Still, I'd like to offer a challenge to you. Among our readers, there are many art historians, re-enactors, costume historians, historic seamstresses and tailors, and others of you who know your historical fashion. How many different elements and eras can you see represented in this young woman's costume?

Above: A Puritan Maiden, by George Henry Boughton, 1875, Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of November 12, 2018

Saturday, November 17, 2018
Breakfast Links are served! Our weekly round-up of favorite links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
Lost identity of 150-year-old body discovered in New York City discovered.
Women at sea: Ann Johnson and Abbie Clifford.
• "The joy of my life": seeing-eye dogs, disabled veterans and civilians, and World War One.
• "A revolution in female manners": the political portraiture of Mary Wollstonecroft.
• "I'll glut you with gold": the strange ambivalence of the treasure map.
• Follow the thread for all the amazing images: the American Revolution as imagined in 1861 by a Japanese artist and author who had never left Japan.
Ada Lovelace and her mother Annabella Byron: the Countess of Computing and the Princess of Parallelograms.
• A toy monkey that escaped Nazi Germany and reunited a family.
Anna Morandi, the 18thc Italian anatomist and sculptor who brought dead bodies to light.
Pyrotechnia: an Elizabethan fireworks guide includes how to make a firework dragon.
• The last velvet merchant in Venice.
• Archaeologists and medical historians discover how castration affected the skeleton of famed 18thc opera singer Farinelli.
• An up-market new suburb in late 17thc London: the development of St. James's.
Child-stealing in Regency England.
• Nineteenth century Bostonian Harriot Kezia Hunt, an early practitioner of holistic medicine and staunch civil rights reformer.
• Don't try these at home: eight dishes made by notorious poisoners.
• Creeping (or creepy?) baby doll patent model, 1871.
• A c1870 silk dress with an ingenious built-in method for lifting the hem away from a dirty street (be sure to click on "additional images.")
• The Tenement Museum in NYC maps a century of deadly diseases and their human stories.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Friday Video: Pearls & Diamonds Worn by Queen Marie Antoinette

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Susan reporting,

Diamonds may be forever, but the jewelry that enhances them seldom is. Precious stones can be recut and reset, and precious metals reformed into new settings and pieces. Royal jewels are among the most transitory of all, especially those belonging to a doomed royal family in the midst of a revolution.

Queen Marie Antoinette of France was famous for her jewels, and it can be argued that her love for diamonds helped lead to her tragic downfall. This week, a few of her pieces (along with other jewels belonging to the Bourbon Parma family) came up for auction through Sotheby's. As can be imagined, the interest in jewels with such a history was considerable, and this video features the rarest of the pieces in the auction, and beautiful things they are, too.

Pre-auction sales estimates often tend to be low, but I imagine even Sotheby's was stunned by the final sales figures. The small enamel and seed-pearl pocket watch engraved with the queen's monogram and featured in the video was estimated to sell for around $8,000-9,000; it sold for $248,203. The triple-strand pearl necklace with the diamond clasp had an estimate of around $198,000-297,000; it sold for $2,278,499.

But the real star was the large pearl pendant on a diamond bow, right. The pre-sale estimate was around $1,000,000-2,000,000. The final price? A staggering $36,165,090.

See here for photos and a listing of all the pieces in the auction.

If you receive this post via email, you may see a blank space or black box where the video should be. Please click here to view the video.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

From the Archives: Harriette Wilson on Virtue

Tuesday, November 13, 2018
Loretta reports:

The Regency era courtesan Harriette Wilson belonged to the sorority called Girls Just Want To Have Fun.  Here’s her take on virtue:

~~~
There certainly was much aggravation of sin, in my projected criminal intercourse with the Marquis of Worcester.  Many women, very hard pressed par la belle nature, intrigue because they see no prospect nor hopes of getting husbands; but I, who might, as everybody told me, and were incessantly reminding me, have, at this period, smuggled myself into the Beaufort family, by merely declaring to Lord Worcester, with my finger pointed towards the North—that way leads to Harriette Wilson’s bedchamber; yet so perverse was my conscience, so hardened by what Fred Bentinck calls, my perseverance in loose morality, that I scorned the idea of taking such an advantage of the passion I had inspired, in what I believed to be a generous breast, as might, hereafter, cause unhappiness to himself, while it would embitter the peace of his parents.

Seriously I have but a very confused idea of what virtue really is, or what it would be at.  For my part, all the virtue I ever practised, or desire to learn, was such as my heart and conscience dictated.

Now the English Protestant ladies’ virtue is chastity!  There are but two classes of women among them.  She is a bad woman the moment she has committed fornication; be she generous, charitable, just , clever, domestic, affectionate, and ever ready to sacrifice her own good to serve and benefit those she loves, still her rank in society is with the lowest hired prostitute.  Each is indiscriminately avoided, and each is denominated the same—bad woman, while all are virtuous who are chaste.

…The soldier’s virtue lies in murdering as many fellow creatures as possible, at the command of any man, virtuous or vicious, who may happen to be his chief, no matter why or wherefore.

The French ladies’ virtue is, generally speaking, all comprised and summed up in one single word and article—bienséance!*

*propriety
~~~
Excerpt from The Memoirs Of Harriette Wilson, which were first published in 1825.
You can read the first two volumes from the 1909 edition online here.    And for further insight into this fascinating woman, you might want to look into The Courtesan’s Revenge: The Life of Harriette Wilson, the Woman Who Blackmailed the King.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Friday Video: Getting Dressed in 1816

Friday, November 9, 2018

Susan reporting,

Another wonderful video from our friends at CrowsEyeProductions - and this one also tells the story of how author Mary Shelley came to write her legendary novel Frankenstein. Many people believe that women's clothing of the early 19thc was breezy and uncomplicated. In comparison to the more structured clothing of the 18thc, perhaps it was; but as this video showed, there were still a good many layers involved, and a lady's maid continued to be useful.

Many thanks to Pauline Loven for sharing the latest in the "Getting Dressed" series with us.

If you receive this post via email, you may be seeing a black box or empty space where the video should be. Please click here to see the video.
 
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