Tuesday, April 19, 2011

One Fine Footman, c. 1813-29

Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Susan reporting:

Recently I visited a dandy (literally!) costume exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art called The Peacock Male: Exuberance and Extremes in Masculine Dress. Despite that academic title, the clothes on display were anything but stuffy. There were male peacocks of every variety, from silk-embroidered court suits to gaudy mummer's costumes to day-glo psychedelia.

Much of the exhibition's clothing had been designed and worn with the intention of displaying wealth, rank, or personal expression. This coat, left, does all three - but not for the wearer. It's a livery coat worn by a footman or groom in the service of Austrian statesman Prince Klemens Lothar von Metternich (1773-1859). Metternich was a titled, cosmopolitan diplomat best known for his part in the negotiations of the Congress of Vienna. He would have wished his servants to be dressed in livery that not only reflected his family's rank and status, but also his own power, and all with an awareness of international fashion, too. Most likely the footman who wore this coat would have been chosen for his height and appearance as well as his footman-skills, making him the perfect human accessory to the prince's personal magnificence.

The coat's yellow wool has been fulled to give it a plush, velvet-like surface, and then almost completely covered by satin and velvet braid woven especially for the prince's livery. The design features a repeat of three scallop shells (they read more like skulls in the picture, but they ARE scallop shells), symbolizing pilgrimage, that was drawn from the Metternich coat of arms. The Metternich arms also appear on the cast brass buttons. The coat would have been worn with a matching yellow waistcoat and breeches; though this style of male dress was old-fashioned by 1815, livery often clung to older styles as a way of reinforcing its ceremonial purpose.

Now imagine being helped from your carriage by a footman dressed like this....

Above: Livery Coat for a Servant of Prince Klemens Lothar von Metternich, 1813-29. Fulled wool plain weave, satin and cut and looped velvet (lampas weave) ribbon, cast brass buttons. Made in Austria. Philadelphia Museum of Art

8 comments:

Fichu1800 said...

Great article! Wish I could see the exhibition.

Natalie

Anonymous said...

Love it. The English had some just as ornate.
It seems that generally the male servants were clothed inngarments a gneration behind the current fashion until the Regency where I think it stuck.

T.J.Palmer said...

Wonderful workmanship. Excellent example of dressing to impress. This certainly was the 'Golden Age' for livery, before all servants were dressed in boring black.

Deb said...

The Queen of England hires footmen who are 5'9" with a 36" chest measurement so that they can wear livery passed down from their predecessors. Some of the livery is 200 years old - about the same age or older than Metternich's servant's coat and still in use!

Tracy Grant said...

How wonderful! Metternich is a major character in my book Vienna Waltz, so I particularly enjoyed seeing this. The detail work is amazing!

ColeV said...

Now that is what they called FULLY laced. Wow.

Anonymous said...

How very...German.

Charity Girl said...

Is it just me, or do those scallop shells look like the mask from Scream? A sinister footman indeed!

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