Wednesday, May 6, 2015

An 1807 Family Portrait for Mother's Day

Wednesday, May 6, 2015
Isabella reporting,

With Mother's Day coming up this weekend, I'm sharing one of my favorite portraits from the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg. I love how The Smith Family shows the mother, Rachel King Smith (1774-1823), as the center of both the picture, and their extended family. She looks like an energetic, fun mother, too. How many other 19th c. mothers are depicted so informally, with a child perched on her shoulders?

But what makes this picture extra special is that it's believed to have been painted by her husband, Captain James Smith (1762-1818), a Scottish sea captain who had sailed to India and southeast Asia. From this painting, he clearly loved his wife. According to the painting's placard, the family faced considerable challenges - only five of their nine children survived to adulthood, and there were financial woes as well – which must have made him appreciate her all the more.

Family tradition credits Captain James Smith with having painted this group portrait of his extended family. He included himself, in profile at the upper right. In 1790, the sea captain and merchant settled in Dumfries, Prince William County, Virginia, where he and his family occupied a 600-acre estate called Cedar Grove. A decline in the local shipping industry forced Smith into bankruptcy and relocation. In the fall of 1806, he opened a mercantile store in Richmond, and his family joined him there the following spring. The portrait is thought to have been painted around the time of their reunion.

Happy Mother's Day!

Above: The Smith Family, by Captain James Smith (possibly). Probably Richmond, VA, c. 1807. Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Fashions for May 1828

Tuesday, May 5, 2015
Walking Dress
Evening Dress
Loretta reports:

The plates shows the sorts of ensembles that the hero of Lord of Scoundrels found so amusing. The sleeves of the walking dress are starting to swell but they're quite modest compared to those of the 1830s. The hat description, you will note, takes up as much space as that of the dress. The “ariophane” of the evening dress is a thin crepe fabric. I am baffled by the “white satin shoes and sandals” (italics mine).
Dress description



From Ackermann’s Repository 1828. Images courtesy Philadelphia Art Museum via Internet Archive.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will allow you to read at the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.




Sunday, May 3, 2015

An All-Seeing 18th c. Man of Mystery

Sunday, May 3, 2015
Isabella reporting,

My visit to the Massachusetts Historical Society last week was not all lovely gowns. Anne E. Bentley, Curator of Art & Artifacts, had this military standard, or banner, to show us, too. Because the standard is now preserved behind glass, it was difficult to photograph, so I'm including the black-and-white image from the Society's collection for the overall view, and the iPhone photos so you can see that he's blue-eyed (all of them) and pink-cheeked.

Painted on both sides on silk that has split in places, the standard features a man's disembodied head that belongs in a Wes Craven movie. At first glance, the face appears to be covered with spots, but if you look more closely, you'll see that those spots are eyes. I counted over 30 of them, eyes that are complete with curling eyelashes and looking up, down, and sideways. Beneath the face is emblazoned "Vigilatibus",  Latin for be vigilant, or watchful, which would certainly be easier with all those eyes.

The mystery: no one today is quite sure of the standard's history or allegiance. Here's the MHS catalogue description:

A framed painted silk standard, double-sided, of a face with multiple eyes, believed by the donor to have been taken by British or Colonial New England forces from the French during the period 1756-1763. Efforts to substantiate this information have been unsuccessful. Given by Walter Gilman Page on July 14, 1900.

In other words, while Mr. Page made his gift (no doubt purposefully) on Bastille Day, Vigilantibus might have flown as a banner over French, British, or colonial American troops. Regardless of the the standard's owners, it certainly would have made an impression glimpsed through the smoke of battle or rising up in the New England woods during the French & Indian War.

So here's the mystery for our ever-knowledgeable readers around the world. Have any of you ever come across an 18th c. British or French regiment or military organization with "vigilantibus" as its slogan? Have you ever seen a similar many-eyed man in an 18th c. print or painting that might have inspired the banner? If you have, please let us know. After all, he's watching.

Once again, many thanks to Anne E. Bentley and the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Above: Vigilantibus standard, silk, 18th c. From the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society.
Below: Vigilantibus standard, photograph ©2015 by Kimberly Alexander.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Breakfast Links: Week of April 27, 2015

Saturday, May 2, 2015
Fresh for your weekend reading and relaxing - our weekly collection of our fav links to other blogs, web sites, articles, and images via Twitter.
• Homemade fortune-telling game, c. 1820.
• London's lost Victorian pneumatic railway: the world's second oldest underground.
• Nine beautiful libraries with extraordinary reading rooms.
• How 19thc. sailors' love tokens got into women's underwear.
• Tipu Sultan's ambassadors at Saint-Cloud in 1788: Indomania and Anglophobia meet in pre-Revolutionary Paris.
• In search of William Shakespeare's London.
• The gruesome murder of Thomas Webb, 1800, in Cuddridge, Hampshire.
Image: Swedish knitted wool wedding gloves, c. 1720-1775, worn by seven generations.
• Dream-like 1913 autochrome portraits of an engineer's daughter are among earliest color photographs.
• Books of art: images of medieval and Renaissance women reading.
• Windeby Girl (or was she a boy?): one of archeology's mysterious "bog bodies."
Child-stealing: the case of little Thomas Dellow, 1811.
Image: The enumerator in this 1901 census form must have been bored.
• "A jury of her peers": how American women finally got the right to serve as jurors, shockingly late in the 20th c.
• The rise and fall of the codpiece.
May Day festivities in the Georgian era.
• A very rare letter as old as Boston itself.
Image: Breathtaking painted and pierced mother-of-pearl figural fan.
• Fantastic Moorish music room in 19thc. house currently for sale.
Lord Byron's letter to Lady Caroline Lamb insisting that their relationship must end, 1813.
• Seventeenth-century gardens in the backgrounds of family portraits.
• Wondering about that too-awesome-to-be-true photo you saw on the 'net? Check out this blog to see if it's real or Photoshop.
Gender-neutral clothing isn't new; men and women have dressed similarly for centuries.
Image: "Come on, Dad!": poster from election of 1929, first for young women after universal suffrage.
• The Jealousy Glass: how to spy on a suitor without looking like you're trying.
• Setting the record straight on the bewitching history behind The Witch of Blackbird Pond (you know you read it in middle school!)
Olive Oatman, the pioneer girl with the tattooed face.
• Why can't we read anymore? Or can books save us from what digital does to our brains?
Image: The first female gardeners at Kew Gardens in 1896 were encouraged to wear men's clothing so as not to be distractions.
• Politics and slander: In 1731, the leader of the Opposition and a supporter of the prime minister fought a duel in London.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Friday Video: Origins of Monty Python

Friday, May 1, 2015
Loretta reports:

Though not the first appearance of what eventually became Monty Python, this show is part of their history.  Furthermore, it includes Marty Feldman, one of my favorite performers.

If you haven’t time for the whole episode, you might want to fast forward to the last sketch, the Four Yorkshiremen.


Illustration by me, with apologies to Terry Gilliam.

Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.
 
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