Thursday, March 31, 2016

Those Tiny 1890s Waists & What Adorned Them

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Loretta reports:

Following up a little on the Belle Èpoque video

My most recent trip to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts had me taking a closer look at the Kreuzer collection of belt buckles from the late 19th & early 20th centuries and, in particular, information about the collection. The printed placard offers a good example of the difference between engraved images of fashion and real people wearing them. I think this contrast is pretty stark, and it would be more so if these weren’t models but average women, who would probably be a bit more full-figured. Then, as always, models tended to represent a fashionable ideal rather than reality, though not as extremely as the images on the catalog page.

Previously I’ve posted a garnet belt buckle as well as other objects from the VMFA’s outstanding collection, including sporting prints, Art Nouveau furniture, Art Nouveau & Art Deco jewelry (here and here), and decorative objects. These are only small samples of the offerings. The VMFA is a splendid museum, well worth a visit—or several.

Please click on images to enlarge.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

From the Archives: The Shameful Effects of Reading a Romance, 1760

Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Isabella reporting,

Eighteenth-century women enjoyed reading romances. Just like many of their romance-reading sisters today, they were often ridiculed for doing so.

But while the sighing, novel-reading miss was an easy target, there were also sterner critics who went much farther than simply dismissing romances as a waste of time. To them, reading romantic fiction corrupted virtuous women, and made them more susceptible to seduction and ruin. It's no surprise that the loudest voices were male, certain that female readers needed protecting because they did not possess the ability to read critically or to differentiate between fiction and reality.

Conduct books warned against the dangers of the roman d'amour. In the popular Manuel de la toilette & de la mode by Conrad Salomon Walther, published in 1771, the author claimed that romantic novels played to "the depravity of the reader." Not surprisingly, he disapproved of honest women reading such books: "There are books that one must not read in order to remain virtuous and out of respect for public opinion, which quite correctly esteems that a young woman should remain ignorant about certain things."

All of which explains the state of the young woman, left. Despite her noble intentions to higher learning indicated by the globe and scholarly books on the table, she has succumbed to reading a ::horrors:: romantic novel. Still open beside her, this book has reduced her to a near-swoon, flushed, limp, and spent, with her clothes in disarray. The book has debauched her as surely as a real lover might, here in the intimacy of her own bedchamber. Even her little dog in his brocade kennel seems exhausted by so much literary passion.

Of course this painting isn't a warning, but a sly exaggeration. It's a scene intended to titillate, not serve as a cautionary tale. The artist, Pierre-Antoine Baudoin, painted many such knowing pictures, and this was probably intended to amuse a worldly male patron. Either way, the message is still clear: romance novels are powerful stuff. But we knew that all along, didn't we?

Above: La Lecture, by Pierre-Antoine Baudoin, c. 1760. Musée des Arts décoratifs, Paris.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Atlanta's Historic Oakland Cemetery

Monday, March 28, 2016
View of Bell Tower Ridge
Loretta reports:

The first time I visited, years ago, all I knew about Atlanta’s oldest public cemetery was, Margaret Mitchell was buried there. Then I knew nothing about the rural cemetery movement, only that this was a beautiful place.

On my most recent trip to Atlanta, I had the privilege of touring Oakland Cemetery with members of the Historic Oakland Foundation, as they planned their annual Halloween tour. My lips are sealed about the tour, but I promise a fascinating experience for those who join it next October.

Still, Oakland is well worth a visit, no matter what.* In spring it’s simply glorious, with its flowering trees and shrubs and joyous birdsong. Though not originally planned as a rural cemetery, it is, like others I’ve visited, an oasis amid the city’s hubbub. It’s a park—a Certified Wildlife Habitat, in fact. This one, though, is filled with stories.

It’s the End of the Trail for Benjamin F. Perry, Jr. who designed the Buffalo Head nickel. Golfer Bobby Jones rests here, too. So does Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first African-American mayor, whose grave’s placement “would symbolize the final breaking of the color line within Oakland’s Original Six Acres.”

Slave Square
Yes, the cemetery was segregated, and yes, the Confederacy looms large here—the Civil War and segregation are part of US. history. But here, too, in the Rawson mausoleum, are buried Julian** and Julia Harris, who owned the Columbus Enquirer-Sun, a paper that won the 1926 Pulitzer Prize for “the service which it rendered in its brave and energetic fight against the Ku Klux Klan; against the enactment of a law barring the teaching of evolution; against dishonest and incompetent public officials and for justice to the Negro and against lynching.”

Along with politics and war are human stories, many told briefly but poignantly in epitaphs, as well as art, from grand monuments and mausoleums with beautiful stained glass to small, delicately carved stone markers.

All quotations are from Ren and Helen Davis’s Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery: An Illustrated History and Guide, a handsomely illustrated book offering exactly what the title promises: a detailed history as well as guide to the cemetery’s several “neighborhoods” (with maps), tales of those buried therein as well as that of the cemetery’s restoration.

*There are guided walking tours year round as well as special tours.
**Son of Joel Chandler Harris.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Breakfast Links: Week of March 21, 2016

Saturday, March 26, 2016
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Artist seeks to revive the lost craft of painted Tudor wall coverings.
• Never returning to normality: zoot suits, drape jackets, and bondage trousers.
• More than a musical instrument: a portable Irish harp, 1819.
• From fashion accessory to feather duster: the history of the ostrich feather trade in London.
• Followed by: fashion, feathers, and animal rights.
Dracula and the Victorian politics of blood.
Image: Birmingham's Victorian "Temple of Relief" is surprisingly elegant for a public urinal.
• Florence Nightingale saved lives with statistics and made data beautiful.
French customs and manners as observed by an 18thc Scotsman.
• The unknown Roman girl buried beneath a London landmark.
• The global connections of 18thc Charleston, SC.
• Psychologists have studied writer's block - and they know how to beat it.
Image: A luxurious gold box for storing hats or headdresses from 15thc Florence.
• A plea on behalf of immigrants, most likely written in Shakespeare's hand.
• An international incident in 1839: an unsigned treaty and a slave ship from Duxbury, MA.
• Here be dragons - and battleships. In the middle of Manhattan, 1917.
• Touching the past: why history is important.
• Seven strange facts about early American funerals.
• Image: Spinning op art mosaic floor with Medusa at the center, from 115-150AD.
• Fighting in plain sight: women soldiers of the American Civil War.
• Would you buy a used car from William Shakespeare? How about mustard?
• Picking locks and foreign plots: ciphers in British Library manuscripts.
• Just for fun: Quiz to determine what your profession would have been in Victorian England.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Friday Video: The Belle Époque—A Beautiful Life Once Upon a Time

Friday, March 25, 2016
Loretta reports:

Many of us are aware that WWI was the end of an era. Life changed everywhere, and it was, among so many other things, the beginning of the end of the great aristocratic houses with their armies of servants. While the houses remained, at least for a time, the way of life was gone, as were millions of young men.

This beautiful video uses paintings to show something of what was lost and why the era has been called the Belle Époque. But let’s remember that Mark Twain called it the Gilded Age, referring to surface beauty. Like other eras, it had a dark side.

For now, though, let’s focus on the beauty of these paintings, so seamlessly brought together in a panorama.

You can see the individual paintings here.

And here you’ll find, along with the video, more pictures as well as a summary.

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.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Samuel Pepys Checks His, Watch, 1665

Thursday, March 24, 2016
Isabella reporting,

Recently I shared an 18thc painting of several fashionable folk consulting a pocket-watch with much the same intensity that people (fashionable and otherwise) stare at their iPhones and Androids. Turns out that this fascination with the newest technology is even older, and English diarist, administrator, and politician Samuel Pepys (1633-1703), left, was equally addicted in the 1660s.

Here's a quote from his diary from May, 1665, discussing his watch:

"The the 'Change [the shopping mall of Restoration London] and thence to my watchmaker, where he has put [my watch] in order, and a good and brave piece it is, and he tells me worth £14, which is  greater. . . than I valued it....So home and late at my office. But, Lord! to see how much of my old folly and childishnesse hangs upon me still that I cannot forbear carrying my watch in my hand in the coach all this afternoon, and seeing what o'clock it is one hundred times, and am apt to think with myself, how could I be so long without one; though I remember since, I had one, and found it a trouble, and resolved to carry one no more about me while I lived."

So even though all that Pepys's watch could to was tell the hour, he still couldn't help but check it repeatedly - and ostentatiously - throughout the day in a very smartphone manner.  Unlike the ubiquitous smartphone, however, a watch was still a gentleman's costly status-piece, something that very few ordinary Englishmen would have possessed at the time. Pepys proudly states that his watchman valued his watch at £14. To put this in perspective, the average English laborer in 1670 was earning approximately £13 a year.

It's impossible to know exactly what Pepys' watch looked like, but it was probably similar to the watch shown here, right. Made in London about 1640 by master watchmaker Edward East, it features outer and inner cases of silver and a movement of silver, steel, and gilded brass, with an elegant openwork floral design, lower left.

Note that the watch has only a single hand, for marking the hour. The second, minute hand didn't come into use until later in the 17thc, when the accuracy of watches had increased sufficiently to merit it. This watch could have run as long as sixteen hours from a single winding, although in the course of that time, it could also be as much as several hours wrong. But for its day, it was a marvel. Just ask Samuel Pepys.

Top left: "Samuel Pepys" by J. Hayls, 1666, National Portrait Gallery, London.
Lower right: Watch, made by Edward East, c1640, London. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

From the Archives: King William III's Private Place

Tuesday, March 22, 2016
Loretta reports:

State apartments are all very well, and I can be easily awestruck by, say, a magnificent painted ceiling, or candle stands that tower over my head.

But the most fun for me in touring a historic site is looking into the less public spaces:  kitchens, for instance.  Wine cellars.  Bathrooms.

Previously we looked into Queen Caroline’s (Caroline of Ansbach 1683-1737) bathroom at Hampton Court Palace.

Nowhere in my perambulations, however, did I come upon the King’s bathroom.  I did find his lavatory, though.

King William III (1650–1702) was not an extrovert.  He liked to be alone or with small groups of friends.  One of the places where he could have some privacy was what’s called the King’s Closet.  Here he’d meet with the privileged few and work at his modest-looking walnut desk.  His long-case clock nearby needs to be wound only once a year—highly advanced technology for the time.

And in this private area, not far away, and in plain sight between the jib doors* is King William's own actual close stool.  According to the brochure, “the Groom of the Stool was a senior courtier who not only ran the Bedchamber department but also had to personally attend the king on his ‘stool.’”

I leave you to surmise what attendance entailed.

*"In Architecture, a door so constructed that it stands flush with the adjoining face of the wall on both sides, and without dressings or architraves. Thus it appears to form part of the wall, the intention of a jib door being simply to disguise the aperture." —A Dictionary of Science, Literature, & Art, 1875

Sunday, March 20, 2016

"Philadelphia in Style": A Century of Fashion

Sunday, March 20, 2016
Isabella reporting,

As anyone who reads this blog regularly knows by now , there are few things I enjoy more than an exhibition of historic clothing. Last week I attended the preview of a splendid one: Philadelphia in Style: A Century of Fashion from the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection, Drexel University. The exhibition is now on display at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, PA, not far from Philadelphia, and what a pleasure it is.

I saw a selection of pieces from the Fox Collection on display last year, but their holdings are so vast (over 14,000 pieces) that there aren't any duplicates this time around. The focus of this show is Philadelphia as center of style, and features clothing and accessories made, worn, or sold by Philadelphia women from 1896-1994. Unlike many costume exhibitions, the clothes are not locked away in Plexiglas boxes, making it easy to see (and photograph) the details of stitch, lines, and embellishments. I also appreciated that, while the clothes did belong to an elite group of customers, these women also came in a variety of heights, sizes, and shapes. These aren't all minuscule model-sized garments, and they reflect their wearers' bodies (and supporting undergarments) as much as their tastes.

In addition to some truly exception clothes made by some of the biggest names in modern fashion history - Dior, Chanel, Halston, Callot Soeurs, Gallanos, Oscar de la Renta, Adrian – the exhibition also includes a selection of fashion drawings from the 1920s-1950s. These stylish sketches, (like the one middle left) some with fabric swatches attached, helped wealthy customers decide what to order from designers in those days before everyone had an iPhone aimed at the runway.

As difficult as it is for me to choose favorites, here are two of the dresses that I liked the most. The navy blue day dress, above left and right, was part of a Philadelphia bride's trousseau in 1903. The fabric is "homespun" (an evocative, romantic term by then, not a literal one) wool, but a very light-weight wool, woven in an open weave, that would have made it practical for summer travel or promenades. But it's not entirely sensible: the contrasting trim adds stylish emphasis to the dress's lines, and the embroidered Chinese-inspired applique is bright and eye-catching. The young bride who wore this dress would have begun her married life quite fashionably.

Not even twenty years separate the navy dress from my second favorite, but fashion changed dramatically in that time. Gone is the ground-skimming hem and corset-defined shape The dress, right, is a 1916 evening dress by the famous Parisian design house of Callot Soeurs, and it's as insubstantial as a summer breeze.

Made of silk satin and net, and trimmed with metallic embroidery, velvet trim, and millinery flowers, the colors are still fresh and vibrant. There are two long streamers from the back shoulders, and those, combined with the airy full skirt, must have been made for the latest foxtrot. But although the colors are still fresh and bright - I'd bet there are plenty of high school girls today who'd love to wear this dress to their proms - the dress itself is so fragile that this will likely be its one and only time on display. Like Cinderella herself, this dress will have this final time beneath the lights to sparkle, and then back it will go into careful storage.

Philadelphia in Style will be on view through June 26, 2016. See the exhibition web site for more information and directions. For more information about the Fox Historic Costume Collection, see here.

Top dress: Day Dress, blue homespun wool, 1903, American. 
Middle illustration: Fashion Illustrations for Nan Duskin, watercolor, gouache, ink on paper, c1954, American.
Lower dress: Evening Dress, by Callot Soeurs, silk satin, net, velvet, millinery flowers, with glass and metallic embroidery, c1916-1917, France.
All pieces from the Fox Historic Costume Collection, Drexel University. 
All photographs ©2016 Susan Holloway Scott.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Breakfast Links: Week of March 14, 2015

Saturday, March 19, 2016
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Mark my words: the subversive history of women using thread as ink.
• The 1871 cat show at the Crystal Palace.
• The best fashions of the 1940s through the pages of Life magazine.
Image: In 1910 the National Association OPPOSED to Suffrage published this pamphlet outlining their opposition.
• How to find love in the 19thc: valentine writers and flirtation cards.
• How female computers mapped the universe and brought America to the moon.
• How patriot Ethan Allen got married to a Loyalist widow.
Image: Recreation of Helen of Troy's makeup based on 13th BC Mycenaean plaster head.
• The oldest street scene photographs of New York City.
Fanny Eaton, the black Pre-Raphaelite muse that art history forgot.
Mansfield Park at two hundred: in defense of Fanny Price.
• Very rare stockings for a suffragette, embroidered with "Votes for Women."
• Debunking the myth of Scottish slaves.
• The laptops that powered the American Revolution.
• How a word's meaning changes: what could be nicer than nice?
Image: A book of erotic subjects, owned by George IV.
Flora MacDonald: Jacobite or not?
• In the steps of 19thc knitting designer Jane Gaugain.
• The 1830 food riots in Limerick.
• R.K. Rowling interprets the historical tragedy of the Salem Witch Trials as...something else.
Petticoats, busk boards, and pink lightning.
• Online exhibition of objects related to women during World War One.
Image: Kensington Oval suffragettes, 1908.
• Two survivors linked to St. Alban, Wood Street: an old library book and an lonely church tower.
• Psychogeographers' landmark London Stone goes on display at last.
• Remarkable 15thc house and shop for sale in France - but it's a serious handyman's special.
Utopia: nine of the most miserable attempts to create idealized societies.
• Just for fun: Mr. Darcy's shirt is coming to America, and no, you can't try it on.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Author Event in Florida

Friday, March 18, 2016
Loretta reports:

As many of our readers are aware, my real job is writing historical romance. As they are probably also aware, I don’t do many personal appearances. This is not because I don’t like meeting my readers. On the contrary, it’s way too much fun, and the temptation is to keep going here there and everywhere to meet them... and then fail to finish the book on time.

But this time my publisher made an offer beyond my temptation-resisting abilities: a chance to join Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and Caroline Linden for an author event and book signing.

The bonus is, it’s in Florida, where I’ve been fortunate to spend the worst of the last few winters. All we have to do is not get eaten by alligators on the drive from the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic side.

If you’re in the vicinity of Vero Beach, please stop by and say Hi.

Sunday 20 March

Vero Beach Book Center
325 Miracle Mile
Vero Beach FL 32960

Update: Just received the store's specific address within the plaza listed above,:
Vero Beach Book Center
392 21st St
Vero Beach FL 39260

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Fashionable Bookcase for March 1814

Thursday, March 17, 2016
Secretaire Bookcase 1814
Loretta reports:

Morgan & Sanders, of Nos. 16 & 17 Catherine Street, Strand, London, made and sold patent furniture that was often featured in Ackermann’s Repository. The globe desk I showed last month is an example.

Readers weighed in about the practicality as well as aesthetics of the item, which made me acutely conscious of the distance between the image and the actuality. This gap is clear when I show fashion plates. Rather like fashion sketches today, they’re stylized images, which often make clothing seem stiff and bizarre.

I think the furniture suffers worse in the illustrations. In both cases, I assume this happens partly because these kinds of engravings did not allow the artist the flexibility that paint did, but also because artists lacked the necessary skills and/or time. While Ackermann’s was an expensive magazine, the illustrations are not all of the same quality, and furniture seems to suffer worst.

In any case, I invite you to compare the magazine illustration with a version of one of these globe desks—this time not literally a globe, but global in form—as presented on the site 1stdibs. While this object may not appear any more comfortable a place to write, it doesn’t look as much like a strange object from outer space, and I think we can understand a little better why the Princess Augusta would buy it.
Bookcase description

In the same spirit, I offer for your contemplation Morgan & Sanders’s “Secretaire Bookcase.” While I couldn’t find a version of the piece online, I did find some similar objects for compare and contrast exercise, here & here.

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

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Intrepid Women: Actress Sarah Siddons, 1755-1831

Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Isabella reporting,

In my new book, A RECKLESS DESIRE, my humbly born heroine Lucia di Rossi is determined to become an actress, and the hero Rivers is equally determined to guide her to dramatic success. For her debut in London, Lucia appears as Ophelia in a production of Shakespeare's Hamlet, a role that Rivers chooses as fitting her gift for tragedy.

The inspiration for much of Lucia's budding career comes from the most famous dramatic actress of the Georgian era, the legendary Sarah Kemble Siddons (1755-1831.) Although she was born into a theatrical family, Sarah's parents wished better for her than to be an actress, and also wished to remove her from the handsome but empty-headed leading man in the family troupe. They sent sixteen-year-old Sarah to Warwickshire, far from her sweetheart, where they hoped she would learn to become a lady's maid in a country house.

But Sarah forgot neither William Siddons nor acting, and entertained her fellow servants with dramatic readings in the servants' hall and before her master's guests. Finally her parents relented, and at eighteen, she married Siddons, and with him joined a provincial acting company. Word of her success there reached the famous London actor and producer David Garrick, who gave her her first role at Drury Lane in 1775.

It was a disaster. The critics were not kind, and she herself said that "she was banished from Drury Lane as a worthless candidate for fame and fortune."

But the twenty-year-old Sarah refused to be discouraged. She returned to playing lesser theaters to hone her craft and mature into the tragic roles that would become her specialty, and to bear the first of her seven children. When she returned to Drury Lane in 1782, her performance was a triumph, and she never looked back.

While most successful Georgian actresses were graced with conventional beauty (some things never change), Sarah's appearance was more striking than pretty. She was tall, with flashing dark eyes, a prominent profile, and an intensity that mesmerized audiences. She specialized in playing powerful roles of tragic women, and made Lady Macbeth her own. She fascinated artists as well as playgoers, and she sat for all the major portrait painters of the day - Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, Gilbert Stuart, John Downman, George Romney, and Thomas Lawrence - who all attempted to capture her brilliance.

Sarah was remarkably dedicated to her career. Part of this was from necessity - she was the main support of her large family - and part was her own drive to perform. She continued to appear on stage throughout all of her pregnancies, usually up until a few weeks before giving birth. As her children grew, they were incorporated into her performances when her role called for her to play mothers. The audiences loved her all the more for it.

Sarah formally retired from the theatre in 1812 after a career that stretched forty years. As writer and critic William Hazlitt noted, "passion emanated from her breast as from a shrine. She was tragedy personified."

Upper left: Sarah Siddons as the Tragic Muse by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1784, Huntington Art Gallery.
Right: Sarah Siddons by John Downman, 1787, National Portrait Gallery.
Lower left: Mrs. Sarah Siddons by George Romney, c1785, private collection.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

From the Archives: Hair Care in the 1820s-1830s

Sunday, March 13, 2016
Hair for evening 1828
Loretta reports:

Susan’s posts (here and here )about 1770s hair care sent me to my beloved The Lady’s Stratagem by Frances Grimble.* to see how much had changed (or not) in the 1820s-1830s, the setting for my books.

For those fluent in French, the text from the original, Elisabeth Celnart's Manuel des dames (published between 1827-1833), is here.  Those, like me, who aren’t fluent, will be grateful for Ms. Grimble’s translation.  You will note that, as Isabella pointed out, clean doesn’t necessarily mean what a modern reader thinks it means.  Recipes abound for oils and pomatums.  Shampoo?  Not so much.  It’s more or less a last resort, as you’ll see.

“Your principal task must be to keep your hair extremely clean.  Every morning, before arranging your hair, disentangle it with a large comb, holding it upright in a straight line in order not to break the hairs...When your hair has been well cleansed*...rub it with a square brush with a handle, whose bristles are very soft, or better yet are replaced with fine rice roots...

“When night comes, very gently undo your coiffure, first removing all the black pins which you find there, and shaking out the locks as you let them down.  These steps are especially necessary when your hair has been dressed by a hair-dresser.”

After this the lady is urged to comb her hair well and plait it.  Unplaited hair becomes damaged.  It also easily escapes one’s night cap and soils the pillow.
Hair product c. 1860

“When by nature, or by the prolonged or exaggerated use of oils and pomatums, your hair is greasy to the point of being dull, dense, and flat, you must resort to soap solutions.  Pour a demi-tasse of lukewarm water into a saucer.  Soak a very lightly-perfumed toilet-soap in the water for a few moments, and stir it a little.  Soon the water will be foamy.   Then spread the locks of your hair well apart, and with a sponge dampened with the soapy water, wash them well from all sides.”

You dry the hair with warm linen, then brush it with the rice brush.

Madame recommends that blond hair be “washed very rarely.”

*More about this fabulous compendium here and  here and here and here.)

**by combing

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Breakfast Links: Week of March 7, 2016

Saturday, March 12, 2016
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Was bundling in the winter really less dangerous than a sofa in the summer?
• Be amazed by the many achievements of France's most-decorated woman, Marie Marvingt.
• The bawdy history of medieval playing cards.
• Cow's dung, ash-boughs, and rose petals: how to sleep safely in early modern England.
• The truth about Lady Barrymore, the boxing baroness.
Image: American author John Steinbeck totally used the "dog ate my homework" excuse.
• "On board the schooner Pilgrim at sea, a prisoner."
• Days before John Adams' inauguration, his wife Abigail was working out the year's farming at home in Massachusetts.
Waterproof garments in the 19thc.
St. David meets the Victorians.
Image: Beautiful flowered shoes that belonged to the Empress Josephine.
• Thirteen women who changed science.
Edgar Allen Poe writes a story based on a Boston Harbor legend.
Real-life "Downton Abbey": drudgery, abuse, sexual harassment.
• Making a black ball gown and social change in the 1870s.
• The "Lady Nurse of Ward E" watches the Civil War come to Washington, DC.
• Why are goats associated with the Devil?
• Battle-scarred skull from Culloden now 3D scanned.
Image: Cats dance in The Witches Cove, a 16thc Flemish painting by a follower of Jan Mandijn.
•A baffling story from Victorian London: a mother arranges for her daughter to marry her stepfather bigamously.
• How to defraud your lord on a a medieval manor.
The Anti-Slavery Alphabet: 1846 children's book designed to teach the ABC's of slavery's evils.
• The story of lorem ipsum: how scrambled text from Cicero became the standard for typesetters everywhere.
• Just for fun: a quiz to determine how Jane Eyre you are.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Friday Video: The Changing Face of Europe

Friday, March 11, 2016
Loretta reports:

Maps have changed so rapidly in my lifetime that I’ve lost track of the correct names for many countries, not to mention cities. But the problem existed in the early 1800s, too. I’ve found myself checking and double checking borders and names.

Online we can find any number of videos showing the changing face of the world. If you have one you like better, please feel free to share in the comments.

Meanwhile, I offer this “History of Europe (3000 BC-2015 AD)"

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.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

From the Archives: A Fabulous Gift to Readers from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Thursday, March 10, 2016
Isabella reporting:

This post first appeared nearly four years ago, but that "fabulous gift" from one of the world's greatest art museums is still available, and it's an offer well worth exploring again for new treasures. Happy hunting!

It's a long time until Christmas, but the Metropolitan Museum of Art is playing the part of Santa and giving all us Nerdy History Folks the presents early. Dozens of digital versions of the Met's out-of-print exhibition catalogues and art books are now available online for FREE.

Yes, the price that can't be beat: free. Available both as Google books to read online or as higher-quality PDFs to be downloaded, these older titles are often impossible to find as books.  The digital versions aren't streamlined, either. All the original text, reproductions, and illustrations are included. Nor are these out-dated or irrelevant tomes; many of these books have permanent places on our Nerdy History Girls bookshelves.

Because the Met has such a vast and varied collection, the available books are equally diverse, ranging from ancient sculpture to medieval armor, Victorian furniture to modern musical instruments, portraits to tapestries. I can't begin to list them all here (here's the link to the search page), but I will recommend several favorite books that I own, wonderful, gloriously illustrated books produced by the Met's Costume Institute.

The striped taffeta robe á l'anglaise, top left, (French, c. 1785) is featured in The Age of Napoleon: Costume from Revolution to Empire, 1789-1815. French fashion changed dramatically in this time period, from the elaborate styles set by Queen Marie-Antoinette to the classically inspired elegance of Empress Josephine. There are also chapters devoted to jewels, military uniforms, court attire, and the influence of French fashion on American women.

The white cotton mull summer dress, right, might have been worn by an American Gibson Girl c. 1902-1904. It's to be found in Our New Clothes: Acquisitions of the 1990s. This collection ranges from a court lady's late 17th c. silk mantua to a man's red velvet suit designed by Tom Ford for Gucci in the 1990s. Also included are explanations of what made each garment a specially prized addition to the Met's collection.

The tableau of 18th c. French gowns, lower left, is from my all-time favorite costume book, Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the Eighteenth CenturyThis book is the catalogue to one of the most ravishing costume exhibitions ever mounted at the Met. The specially-created mannequins were posed not in display cases, but in the Museum's period rooms, almost like actors and actresses in some exquisite 18th c. drama. I love how the relationship between the ornate furnishings and the clothes is so effortlessly shown, and how the mannequins are beautifully "styled", with the appropriate jewelry, shoes, plumes, fans, and hair. It's a gorgeous, fanciful book, and one that's been highly prized (and priced!) on the used book market, and I'm so glad it's now available here.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

An 1828 Guide to London Pitfalls & Scams

Tuesday, March 8, 2016
Doctor Syntax Overboard
Loretta reports:

In my Endnotes to Dukes Prefer Blondes, I quote from John Bee’s A Living Picture of London, 1828, which is well worth exploring.

To begin with, there’s the full title:
Interspersed with 
And supported throughout by numerous
By JON BEE, Esq.
To which is appended, the Author's former 

The short excerpt below, from the chapter about what to expect when you get off the boat, is a fine example. You can find the “regulated fares of watermen” here.

Out-door Delinquencies

Jon Bee, A Living Picture of London, for 1828, and Stranger's Guide.

Image, possibly by Robert Cruikshank, from Doctor Syntax Through London, “Doctor Syntax Shoots London Bridge & Pops Overboard.

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

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Inspired by an 18thc Dancing Dandy

Sunday, March 6, 2016
Isabella reporting,

One of the questions most asked of writers is "where do you get your ideas?" Usually I don't have the answer, since ideas just...appear. 

But in the case of my newest book, A Reckless Desire, I know the idea for the story came to me when I first saw this portrait on display in the Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion exhibition at the RISD Museum in 2013. His name is Auguste Vestris (1760-1842), and he was (obviously) included in the exhibition for his remarkably stylish appearance – clearly a born dandy. But he was also a celebrated dancer who, with his family's ballet troupe, became the toast of 1780s London.

I wrote the following blog post about Auguste Vestris and his family at that time, but I couldn't put the flamboyant, talented Vestris family from my head.  I found myself wondering what would become of the hapless child who didn't possess the talent for dancing but was born into such a family. 

That child became Lucia di Rossi, the heroine of A Reckless Desire, who can't dance, but still has the desire to perform and move an audience to tears. She became the spark that started the rest of the story, inspired by the Vestris family and their life in the 18thc theater. My thanks to Monsieur Vestris himself....

In this portrait, Auguste reflects the dramatic change in men's clothing that would be embraced by gentlemen like Beau Brummell. Gone are the bright colors, extravagant wigs, embroidered waistcoats, and full-skirted coats of earlier 18th c. gentlemen. Stylish young men like Vestris now preferred a more subdued effect overall, with a new emphasis on the finer details of fit and fabric. His high-collared grey broadcloth coat is closely tailored to display his lean and athletic body. His waistcoat is pale yellow silk, barely containing his voluminous cravat of immaculate white linen. His shaggy fur hat is tipped at a jaunty angle, and he wears yellow gloves with a bamboo walking stick tucked beneath his arm. He wears his own hair, not an old-fashioned wig, and for extra dash, gold hoop earrings.

But as wonderful as this portrait is as a fashion statement, I was still curious to learn more about the sitter. Turns out Auguste Vestris was an acclaimed professional dancer and teacher with a colorful history to match his wardrobe. He was born into a dancing family: his Italian father was Gaëtan Apolline Balthazar Vestris, the most celebrated dancer of his generation in Europe and Louis XVI's ballet-master, and his mother was a much-younger French dancer, Marie Allard. Auguste followed his parents to the stage, making his dancing debut at aged 12.

By the time he followed his father to London in 1780, young Auguste had become the kind of celebrity that's usually associated with modern singers named Justin. He was called "le Dieu de la Danse" - "the God of the Dance." His performances were packed, and the ladies in particular found him and his dancing irresistible. The buzz around him was so great that on the night of a special benefit performance in 1781, the House of Commons adjourned early so the members would be able to attend; Vestris himself earned over fourteen hundred pounds that evening, an astounding amount for any 18th c. performer.

 Here's Horace Walpole's droll description of Auguste-Vestris-mania:

"The theatre was brimful in expectation of Vestris. At the end of the second act [of the ballet Ricimero] he appeared; but with so much grace, agility and strength, that the whole audience fell into convulsions of applause: the men thundered, the ladies forgetting their delicacy and weakness, clapped with such vehemence, that seventeen broke their arms, sixty-nine sprained their wrists, and three cried bravo! bravissimo! so rashly, that they have not been able to utter so much as a no since, any more than both Houses of Parliament."

The satiric print of a performance, right, seems to focus on Auguste's very tight breeches as well as his success. In his right hand he holds his hat, filled with bank-notes, and in the other is a full purse. The print's title Oh qui goose-toe [O che gusto] is an unsubtle allusion to Vestris's Italian heritage, while the caption below is equally mocking:  "He Danc'd like a Monkey, his Pockets well-crammed,/Capered off with a Grin, 'Kiss my A--- & be D–––d.'"

Still, he who laughs last, laughs best. It's no wonder Auguste Vestris projects such attitude in his portrait – he obviously earned it.

For comparison - here's another, earlier portrait of Auguste, painted when he was twenty-ish, by Thomas Gainsborough c. 1780. And for a suggestion of how he might have appeared on stage, see this video of the great Michail Baryshnikov dancing the title role in Vestris, a ballet inspired by his 18thc predecessor.

Above: Portrait of Auguste Vestris, by Adèle Romany, 1793. RISD Museum. 
Below: Oh qui goose-toe! (Auguste Vestris Dancing), print made by Francesco Bartolozzi, after Nathaniel Dance; published in London by W. Humphrey, 1781.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Breakfast Links: Week of February 29, 20016

Saturday, March 5, 2016
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Fantastic collection of pictures of women at work during World War One.
• George Washington, hairdresser.
• The persistence of high heels through fashion history.
Virginia Poe's sad acrostic valentine for husband Edgar Allen Poe.
• Love boats: the delightfully sinful history of canoes.
• Merging 18thc fashion with modern sensibilities to create the costumes for the Broadway hit Hamilton.
• Dashing World War One pilots smiled for the cockpit cameras.
Image: Carved shell sewing kit from Paris, 1815-1820.
• George Cruikshank's 1867 illustration showed British society as a beehive.
• The art of giraffe diplomacy.
• How did Napoleon escape from Elba?
• Poignant 1,800 year old letter from a Roman soldier serving far from home.
• How cat hair brought down a pair of art forgers.
• Historical insults, thanks to the Oxford Dictionaries.
• How 43 giant, crumbling presidential heads ended up in a Virginia field.
• What did female friendships in the early 20thc. have to do with international relations?
Image: A London bookseller's bill, 1727, for the equivalent of $25,000.
• From World War Two parachute to the world's most romantic wedding dress.
• Does sleep have a history?
Disability in the 18thc Foundling Hospital at Ackworth.
• "And did those feet in ancient times....": cat paw prints discovered on a 17thc map of Japan.
• Ten things you probably don't know about the Queen's House in Greenwich.
Image: A rare slashed silk doublet from 1620, one of only two that have survived.
• Playing at women's liberation, World War I, and colonialism through vintage board games.
• "Imprudent acts and great bastards": sex advice from 1861.
• Medical quackery: bloodletting.
• Mid-19thc comic manuscript illustrating verb tenses.
• A closer look at Colonel Mordaunt's Cock Fight by Johann Zoffany.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Friday Video: Exquisite Embroidery from India

Friday, March 4, 2016

Isabella reporting:

Professional embroiderers are few and far between in America today, but in India - which produces much of the world's commercial fine needlework - embroidery is still an art practiced commercially by both men and women. This short video was produced by the Victoria & Albert Museum in connection with their recent exhibition, The Fabric of India.

Here's the V&A's description for the video:

The embroiderers at the Sankalan embroidery design and production house in Jaipur, Rajasthan, practice a variety of stitch techniques to embellish fabrics by hand. The V&A followed their work on a lehnga, a wedding skirt, from traced outline to finished product. Only by slowing the footage could the incredibly fast stitching of ari embroidery be captured, as professionals perform it so rapidly it is nearly impossible to see with the naked eye.

The extremely fine hook that is being used in the video to create the chained stitches reminded me of tambour work (see my earlier post here) a kind of embroidery that was popular in the 18th-19thc. Since professionally embroidered textiles were being imported from India to France and England at the same time, I'm guessing that the technique was imported as well, and transformed with a larger hook and a French name into an elite lady's pastime. Do any of you needlework historians out there know for certain?

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Fashions for March 1824

Thursday, March 3, 2016
1824 Morning Dress
 Loretta reports:

Last month we looked at fashions from 1812.  This month we advance to the 1820s. By this time, the waistline has dropped, with a snug-fitting bodice, and the hems tend to be richly trimmed.

I chose these fashions from Ackermann’s Repository for March 1824, because the artist was showing figures in motion, which I think allowed the dresses to more closely approximate what they would have looked like in real life.

Unfortunately, with fashion illustrations, we tend to get a very stiff, almost cartoon-like image, while portraits as well as clothing in museum collections often show a softer flow, and fabric clinging more gently to the figure. (Some Wikipedia examples here, here, and here.)

1824 Dress Description

1824 Evening Dress

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

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

"A Reckless Desire" On Sale Today

Tuesday, March 1, 2016
Isabella reporting,

March is roaring in like a noisy lion, and with it comes a new historical romance from me. A RECKLESS DESIRE is on sale today, everywhere and in every format - ebook, print, and audiobook.

This is the third and final book in my Breconridge Brothers trilogy (the other books are A WICKED PURSUIT and A SINFUL SEDUCTION, which are both still available), but since each one is a stand-alone book, you won't feel lost if you jump in now - although of course I hope you'll want to read all three.

A RECKLESS DESIRE is my take on Pygmalion and My Fair Lady. Set in Georgian England, it's a story of transformation: by dreams, by hard work, and by love. Lucia di Rossi dreams of becoming a great actress and escaping her dreary life as a serving-maid in her family's dance troupe. One night backstage, an expansively drunk Lord Rivers Fitzroy makes a wager with a friend that he can transform any woman – even the mousy Lucia – into the queen of the London stage. When Lucia appears on Rivers' doorstep the following morning, ready to begin her training, he has no memory of either her or the wager, although he is intrigued by Lucia.

But what begins as a drunken bet and an intellectual challenge soon grows into something more - much more. Rivers isn't prepared for Lucia's raw talent or her fierce determination, and Lucia in turn is blindsided by just how attractive her bookish tutor turns out to be. And neither of them expect the fireworks that result when his intellectual reserve meets her impulsive emotions, or that the love and passion that result will change both their lives forever.

I'll be sharing some of the inspiration behind A RECKLESS DESIRE in future blogs - including the answer to that always-asked question "Where do you get your ideas?" - which in the case of this book, actually happened right here in plain sight on this blog.

You can buy A RECKLESS DESIRE, in both paperback and ebook formats, from Amazon here, from Barnes & Noble here, from Books-A-Million here, and Powell's Books here. You can also order both paperback and ebook editions directly from Random House here.

For those of you in the UK, A RECKLESS DESIRE is published by Headline Books/Eternal Romance, who is offering it for sale here. It's also available from your local bookseller, as well as from AmazonUK here.
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