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
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.