Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Politicians Take It Easy in 1835

Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Taking It Easy
 Loretta reports:

Figaro in London was one of several 19th-century publications featuring satire and caricature. Among the  famous names in this business were George Cruikshank (whose caricatures have often adorned our blog posts), William Hone, and Leigh Hunt.

Since we’re unfamiliar with the individuals and issues being mocked, with varying degrees of savagery, much of the satire can be impenetrable to us.

In this case, though, I think readers will have no problem relating to Figaro’s satire about legislators—fair or unfair—who seem to have mastered the art of, as Charles Dickens put it, How Not To Do It (please scroll down to Chapter X).
Lord Melbourne

Lord Russell

Images: Head shot of Lord Melbourne from Wikipedia (detail from copy of larger portrait by John Partridge at National Portrait Gallery).

Head shot of Lord Russell via Wikipedia (detail from larger portrait by Lowes Cato Dickinson at National Portrait Gallery).

If you look  up these gentlemen at the National Portrait Gallery, you’ll find numerous paintings and sketches, including somewhat younger versions of themselves, closer to the time of the Figaro piece.

Satiric image, "Taking It Easy ," from Figaro in London.

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 29, 2016

From the Archives: Bugler's Cry: The Origin of Sounding Taps

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Isabella reporting,

It's been a few years since we last shared this short video, but I can't think of a better time to post it again.  The bugle call known as Taps is over 150 years old, and from the first notes it's both instantly recognizable and hauntingly evocative – and especially appropriate for Memorial Day in America.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Breakfast Links: Week of May 23, 2016

Saturday, May 28, 2016
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Arch enemies: a (sometimes uncomfortable) social history of the high heel.
• Unearthing the lost gardens of poet Emily Dickinson.
• Finally: Congress approves Arlington burials for female WWII pilots.
• The extraordinary life of Marianne North, the Victorian gentlewoman who traveled the world.
Image: A mother and young son make flower garlands, c1911-14.
• For better or worse: origins of several popular good and bad luck charms.
• How England's first feline show countered Victorian snobbery about cats, 1871.
• Strange encounter: when Princess Caroline met Empress Marie Louise.
Child actors were kidnapped to order in Shakespeare's day.
• In the days before plastic bags: parcels and boxes for textile purchases in the 19thc.
The New York Times regrets the error, but readers don't.
Image: Hannah Stilley, born in 1746 and photographed in 1840; one of the earliest born individuals captured on film.
• The Jacobite mystery of Cluny's cage.
• The rediscovery of Alexander Hamilton's working papers.
• Reproduction of garments for a young 18thc New England woman, from the 1738 probate inventory for Sarah Williams.
Image: Young women at a domestic training school, 1938.
Agnes Sorel, 15thc mistress of the French king.
• What it's like to be an historical advisor for A-list movies.
• Unearthing the secrets of New York's mass graves.
• Why are there so few knitting patterns in early recipe books?
• How horses helped cure diphtheria.
Image: Sometimes the best pieces in a costume collection come with a story of love attached.
• The New England teachers who invented New Math in 1788.
• Rediscovered photo album shows ill-fated granddaughter of Queen Victoria in happier childhood days.
• The haunted doll of Hokkaido, whose hair won't stop growing.
• "Flower power" to aid 18th-19thc beauty.
• What a difference twenty years makes: two very different 19th trips from Boston to California.
Image: Just for fun: Calvin & Hobbes explain writer's block.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Friday Video: Lace in 18thc Virginia

Friday, May 27, 2016

Isabella reporting,

Today nearly all lace is produced by machine, and as a result it decorates everything from lingerie to t-shirts and doll clothes. Lace has lost some of its cachet - but once handmade lace was as valuable and treasured as a piece of fine jewelry. This video from George Washington's Mount Vernon features Sarah Woodyard, journeywoman mantua-maker (one of our favorite historic tradespeople from Colonial Williamsburgand Cynthia Chin of Mount Vernon. Using reproductions made in the shop as examples, Sarah explains the importance of lace to fashionable 18thc Virginians.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Wanstead House, Its Heiress, & Her Unfortunate Choice in Men

Thursday, May 26, 2016
Richard Westall, Wanstead House
Loretta reports:

The clipping from the Annual Register sent me off in 2NHG search of more, as you’d expect, and boy, did I find a story, straight out of melodrama: Young Heiress Ruined By Fortune-Hunting Scoundrel.

A site devoted to Wanstead House tells the story here.

Annual Register May 1823
Further searching led me back to a beautifully illustrated site for Wicked William Pole-Tylney, which Isabella had very recently called to my attention for an altogether different nerdy historical reason (a lovely post on coaching inns). And which included an advertisement for the auction of the house’s contents the previous year.

Geraldine Roberts, who’s written a book about Catherine Tylney Long, The Angel and the Cadoutlines the heiress's story on her website, with many fine images, including the (rare) one of Catherine below.

William Pole-Tylney
Catherine Tylney Long
Image at top: Richard Westall, Wanstead House, undated (I’d guess about 1790s), courtesy Yale Center for British Art.

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.

Monday, May 23, 2016

What to Learn from Miss May, 1781

Monday, May 23, 2016
Isabella reporting,

Last month Loretta and I had the pleasure of speaking at the annual conference of the New England Chapter of Romance Writers of America. Ostensibly our topic was busting a few historical myths that turn up all too often in historical romances, but because it was us and we like to talk, we made several other points about research as well. Two of our favorites: popular prints can be great sources of historical information, and, conversely, don't take everything you see (or read) at face value.

This print, right, would've made a perfect example. Pretty young women seem to have always been used to illustrate the calendar months, and this lady coyly glancing over her shoulder represents May, 1781. She's one of a set of twelve prints that could have been purchased together or individually. Hand-colored prints like this were increasingly popular in the 18thc, whether framed or simply pinned to the wall, where they added a touch of fashionable gentility in homes and businesses that couldn't necessarily afford paintings.

Miss May is dressed so elegantly and so on-trend that she could almost be considered a fashion plate. Strewn with woven flowers, her silk dress was called an Italian gown, with a close-fitting bodice, long narrow sleeves, and a great deal of fullness in the back. Open in the front, the gown would have been worn over a matching petticoat. She's also wearing a sheer embroidered apron that's purely decorative, as well as a ruffled kerchief. Her silk-trimmed straw hat is tipped forward over a pleated cap, and hanging beside her is her hooded cloak, also trimmed with lace.

So what about her appearance and attire is a faithful representation of women's dress in 1781, and what's exaggerated? It's safe to say that her tiny little foot in its tiny little shoe wasn't really that tiny; surviving shoes from the period prove that English women's feet were in proportion to the rest of them. Her dramatic hairstyle was accurate (see our earlier posts here and here on 18thc big hair), but to make her hair and hat more stylishly impressive by comparison, the artist seems to have shrunk her face. And that ample posterior? That, perhaps surprisingly, is accurate, and would have been achieved with the help of a false bum or rump - pillow-like enhancements that were tied around the waist to support the skirts and give a come-hither wiggle to the walk. (See more about false bums here.)

But there are other things to learn from this print, too. Because it's May and spring is here, the lady has not only put aside her cloak, but opened the windows in her house, too. Of course those windows have no screens; wire screens don't become affordable and widely used until the 19thc, and even then they're much more common in America than in Europe (they still are.) The window behind the lady appears to be tall enough to be used as a doorway when raised, leading to a path through the park.

There's also another indication that May has arrived. The scene in the street that the lady is watching is a May Day (the first of May) celebration called the "Milkmaid's Garland", which is also illustrated in the painting, right. To quote the Victoria & Albert Museum's caption:

"One of the ancient customs observed on May Day that persisted until the early 19thc was the 'Milkmaid's Garland.' The milkmaids would dress in their best clothes and dance in the streets for their customers. A donation from the customers and from passers-by was expected. A 'garland' - a pyramid of borrowed silver tankards, plates, and flagons decorated with flowers - was paraded by the milkmaids or carried, as in this painting, by a porter."

I'm sure that the grotesque figures also dancing in the street - probably with oversized masks - have something to do with an 18thc May Day as well, but I haven't discovered exactly what. Does anyone among our scholarly readers have the answer?

Left: May/The Twelve Months, published by Carrington Bowles after Robert Dighton, London, 1781. The British Museum.
Right: Detail, The Milkmaid's Garland, or the Humours of May Day, by Francis Hayman, 1741-1742, Victoria & Albert Museum.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Breakfast Links: Week of May 16, 2016

Saturday, May 21, 2016
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• The Swan with Two Necks and other important London coaching inns in early 19thc London.
• The First Children who led sad lives.
• The hidden messages of colonial handwriting.
• The deadly pain medicine sold by skeletons.
Image: A Victorian book called Pleasing Stories for Pleasant Children naturally begins with King Herod ::shudder::.
• "Novelties that Create Fun" c1920.
• "This faithful machine": the literary history of word processing.
• Who could marry whom - a matter of concern to the law.
• The insults that sparked duels in Alexander Hamilton's America.
• Who let the dogs out?
• Art history project replicates hair styles worn by Porch Maiden caryatids on the Athenian Acropolis.
• Eavesdropping on Weimar: the true story behind the bestseller & movie Grand Hotel.
Couture copies in America.
Image: An 18thc snapshot of the grim conditions for bound coal miners in Scotland who have escaped from their master.
• The worst epidemic in 18thc North America (and it's not what you think.)
Workhouse diets: paucity or plenty? Part two here.
• An important part of the early slave trade, Narragansett Pacers were one of America's earliest and most reliable breeds of horses.
• The biggest cat painting in the world.
Image: The severed head of Medusa stares out from this 1911 silver-gilt relief.
Airships over London, in war and in peace.
• A conspiracy unraveled: the murder of Captain Joseph White, 1830.
Isaac Newton and the apple: the story and the myth.
• Glorious watercolors of tulips, the favorite flower of the 17thc.
Image: John Adams' "Miss Adorable" letter to Abigail, 1762.
• "Time me, gentlemen": Dr. Robert Liston, the fastest surgeon of the 19thc.
• The flattering tricks of 19thc portraiture.
• A visit to the blacksmith's shop at Gretna Green - an infamous Regency landmark.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Friday Video: Food Shopping Tips for 1950

Friday, May 20, 2016
Interior, Marden-Abbott Store
Strawbery Banke Museum
Loretta reports:

Today's video called to me because I grew up living behind the shop, that is to say, behind a small Mom and Pop store. In those days, what today we’d call a convenience store was "the corner store," which Worcesterites called a spa—and no, I have no idea why.

The main articles on offer at our place were canned goods, bread, milk, soda, cigarettes, and penny candy—and then, a few years after the store opened, there was a snack bar, too, which became very popular. In any case, neither our shop nor even the supermarkets, as they were then, were anything like today's mega-super-duper-supermarkets. A tangerine was about as exotic as things got in the produce aisle.

Though my parents set up shop a decade or so later than today’s video, we girls learned these same shopping principles, at home and in Home Economics classes. No, the boys weren’t taught, although, if the video offers a clue, they could have used the lessons.

Image: Interior of Marden-Abbott Store (WWII era)  at Strawbery Bank Museum, courtesy me.

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, May 19, 2016

Update: More About Those 18thc Leather Stays

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Isabella reporting,

Last fall I shared a post about the replica leather stays that were being made at Colonial Williamsburg. Following historical examples, the stays were made by leather-workers Jay Howlett and intern Emma Cross for two of CW's apprentices: blacksmith Aislinn Lewis and tinsmith Jenny Lynn. When I wrote more about Jenny's 18thc clothing on Monday, reader Adam Cyphers asked if there was an update on how the leather stays were working "in the field."

The answer is a little mixed. In the pictures above, Aislinn is wearing her stays. As a woman working in a physical trade, she might well have worn the stays like this as an outer garment, and without a bodice or gown over it. Yes, stays were undergarments in the 18thc, but since they were always worn over a linen shift and not against the skin, it wasn't scandalous to wear them like this; it was considered practical.

Jenny's stays weren't as successful, with the original measurements just enough off to make them uncomfortable to wear for a full day's work. Because the stays are cut from single pieces of leather and scored instead of seamed, there isn't a way to adjust or modify them, and the stays are now being used for display in the Margaret Hunter Millinery shop, left. As you can see, however, Jenny did wear the stays long enough for them to begin to assume her shape.

While Jenny waits for another pair, she's wearing a different kind of stays that were popular with working-class women. Hers are stiffened not with whalebone (baleen) strips - used in the more expensive stays of the 18thc - but with thin oak splints that are also used in basketmaking. These stays are Jenny's favorites for everyday, and for now, they're more comfortable, too.

Top: Photographs ©2015 Colonial Williamsburg's blog, Making History.
Below: Photograph ©2016 Susan Holloway Scott.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Lansdowne House in Berkeley Square

Tuesday, May 17, 2016
Lansdowne House 1811

Loretta reports:

By now everybody’s aware of my fascination with lost architecture. Unlike Northumberland House, Lansdowne House isn’t completely lost. A still-impressive piece of it remains in Berkeley Square, as the home of the Lansdowne Club,*
from 1818 London map 
and a drawing room is in the Lloyd’s Building. Other pieces (of the interior) are scattered hither and yon, including another drawing room, now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and a dining room in NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

You can learn a great deal more about the house, its contents, and where they’ve gone, here at the DiCamillo Companion site.

*Visiting the club’s site will reward you with a history and some lovely old and new, mainly interior, photos of the building, including some fine Art Deco work from the 1930s.
Lansdowne House description
Note: “It was from its inception the only private members club in London where ladies had equal standing with men as they still do.”

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, May 15, 2016

What the Apprentice Tinsmith Wore, c1775

Sunday, May 15, 2016
Isabella reporting,

It's easy enough to see how the nobility and royalty dressed in the 18thc; there must be scores of portraits, paintings, and prints documenting the wardrobe of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France. But it's much more of a challenge imagining the clothing of ordinary women whose lives weren't as thoroughly documented. Thanks to the professional staff of Colonial Williamsburg, I've shared several posts featuring the clothes of Colonial American and English women c1775, and here are the links to the posts for a mantua-maker's apprentice, a housewife of the middling sort, a maidservant, a seamstress, and a female blacksmith.

The latest in my series shows one of the newer apprentices in Colonial Williamsburg's historic trades program. Jenny Lynn is serving her apprenticeship to become a tinsmith. Tinsmiths (also called whitesmiths) made and repaired objects - including pans, pots, kettles, cups, lanterns, plates, funnels, and saucers – that were commonly found in most 18thc homes and workplaces; see here for more about the tin shop and tinsmith's historic trade at Colonial Williamsburg.

Finding Jenny working in an 18thc tin shop isn't a 21stc equal-opportunity anachronism. Diderot's famous Encyclopédie, published between 1751-1772, showed women workers in the plate on tin making: "Metallurgie, fer blanc": (detail, lower right). There are documented examples of women tinsmiths in 18thc Britain, France, and colonial America, including a daughter continuing her mother's trade in South Carolina.

But while women are mentioned in advertisements, newspapers, and other documents, there are no known images of colonial women tinsmiths. When it came to researching what Jenny should wear for her apprenticeship in the shop, CW's historians in the Costume Design Center chose to dress her as a working-class tradeswoman. She's shown here wearing a brown wool gown over a striped linen petticoat, a checked linen apron, a cotton neckerchief filling in her neckline, and a linen cap covering her hair. Everything is handsewn. Long hand-knitted wool mitts, lower left, would have kept her forearms warm and protected them from sparks while keeping her fingers free for work.

She's also wearing stays (the 18thc word for a corset.) Not only would stays have been worn by her 18thc counterpart to maintain a fashionable and respectable silhouette, but the boned undergarment helps support her back during long days at her workbench.

Her most important garment for work, however, would be her black wool apron, or pinner, because it pins to the front of her bodice to protect her gown and petticoats. The women in the Diderot plate are wearing similar pinner aprons. At first Jenny wore a pinner of white linen, the most common kind for the time. But the white linen didn't work for tinsmithing. The white failed to offer enough contrast while working with the brightly polished metal. More importantly, the hot flux used in soldering the tin is made from acidic pine rosin, which ate through the linen apron.

Jenny switched to a black wool pinner, and both problems were solved. The wool resisted the acidic rosin and any stray sparks from the fire, and presented good contrast for working. Jenny isn't alone, either. Based on historical records as well as preferences, the male tinsmiths and several of the blacksmiths wear baize (a heavy woolen) aprons as they work, too.

A note about that black pinner. When I wrote a post last year about how the mantua-makers at Colonial Williamsburg were experimenting with black silk pinners for embroidery, I inadvertently ignited a minor furor on social media. Purists among reenactors maintained that if there wasn't primary source proof of the black pinners in use in colonial Virginia, then they should not be employed for interpretations. Ever. However, when that proof doesn't exist, sometimes even the most conscientious scholars have to rely on hands-on experience and a bit of ingenuity as to what works and what doesn't - exactly as an enterprising 18thc woman would have done as well.

Photographs ©2015 by Susan Holloway Scott.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Breakfast Links: Week of May 9, 2016

Saturday, May 14, 2016
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Brains plus bonnets equal an historic first: meet Mary Kies, America's first woman to become a patent holder.
• London watermen's steps in Wapping.
• Six lesser-known female pioneers of 19thc photography.
• A brief history of menstruating in outer space.
Knitting for victory: a how-to book of projects for men serving in World War One.
Image: "Have dinner at one, dear": 1897 stereocard shows a dramatized version of the "new woman" and her bicycle.
• Thirsty? Documenting the fresh-water springs and wells that used to be in New York City.
• The Scottish Play and the real Macbeth.
• Early color photographs of Russia from the Library of Congress.
• The 19thc Cherokee Phoenix allowed a people to speak with a newly created voice.
• Enjoy a virtual tour of George Washington's Mount Vernon.
Image: Lady Duff Gordon - also known as the  designer Lucile - fashionably dressed on the deck of the Titanic.
• Dressing the part for Carnival.
• "Summer, sun-brightest": an Anglo-Saxon summer.
• The story of a Rembrandt painting's complicated journey from a basement in New Jersey to the Getty Museum.
• The effulgence of country gardens - on velvet.
• How was Napoleon's death reported by the newspapers?
• The life and death of Mummy Brown.
• Found in Yorkshire: a gold ring, possibly worn by royalty, from the 5th-6thc, and with a sapphire that came from Sri Lanka.
Image: An American woman teaches English busboys how to do the Charleston, 1925.
• No men were allowed at a Puff Pant Prom in the 1920s-30s.
• "Human serpents sent to us by our Mother Country": the transformation of Anthony Lamb, transported convict, 1724.
Dressing up smart for God in the Tudor church.
• Twelve word facts you may not know about cake.
• Explore the photos of old NYC from the New York Public Library with their new free app.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Friday Video: An Extravagant Desk and Dressing Table, c.1765-1770

Friday, May 13, 2016

Isabella reporting,

Last month I shared an 18thc gaming table that magically unfolded to accommodate several different game boards - the work of German master cabinetmaker David Roentgen (1743-1807.) Today I have another piece made by David Roentgen and his father, Abraham (1711-1793.) This is a rolltop desk, useful for reading or writing, that could transform into a poudreuse, or dressing table. Behind the elaborately embellished surfaces are nearly forty compartments and drawers that would have offered the fortunate owner a place for every possible beauty item.

The front of the desk has an elegant monogram of inlaid mother-of-pearl with an intertwined "MA" that was long believed to belong to Marie Antoinette, Queen of France. But according to the web site of Hillwood Museum, which now owns the desk, the letters more likely belong to another noteworthy lady of the 18thc, Maria Antonia, Princess of Bavaria and the Electress of Saxony.

"Maria Antonia was a talented and artistic woman....Not only was she a respected composer and patron of the arts, she also served as regent of Saxony from 1763-1768 until her son came of age. The musical instruments and other images on the marquetry reflect her artistic interests and pursuits."

More recently, the desk belonged to yet another extraordinary woman, American socialite and businesswoman Marjorie Merriweather Post, who bequeathed it to the museum.

See here for video of another amazing desk made by the Roentgens.

Rolltop desk, made by Abraham Roentgen II and David Roentgen, 1765-1770, Hillwood Museum.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Clandestine Marriage Attempted 1846

Thursday, May 12, 2016
The Marriage ca 1846
Loretta reports:

From the Annual Register Vol 88, Chronicle for 2 May 1846

2. A Marriage In High Life Prevented.—This morning, just as the Rev. M. D. Ffrench was about to commence the morning service at St. George's Hanover Square, a license for marriage was presented by a lady and gentleman. Upon the document being read, the reverend gentleman was much surprised to find that it authorized the performance of the ceremony for parties no less distinguished than the Lady Anna Eliza Mary Temple Nugent Brydges Chandos Grenville, daughter of Richard Plantagenet, Duke and Marquis of Buckingham and Chandos, and Gore Langton, Esq., son of Colonel Gore Langton. The late hour at which the proposed bride and bridegroom reached the church rendered it impossible for the ceremony to be performed previous to the morning service. Mr. Ffrench, in the meantime, seeing that the bride and bridegroom were not accompanied by any of their friends, and fearing that the proposed marriage was a clandestine one, sent a messenger to the Duke of Buckingham to inform him that a marriage in which he was so deeply interested was about to take place.
2nd Duke of Buckingham & Chandos
After a pause of incredulous amazement, the Duke hastened to St. George's Church. In the meantime the morning service had been completed, and the preliminaries had been duly performed in the vestry, and the parties had proceeded to the altar to have their union completed. The clergyman had just commenced, when the Duke of Buckingham arrived, and warmly expressed his decided objection to the performance of the ceremony. On the other hand, Mr. Gore Langton and the lady claimed as a matter of right that the ceremony should proceed immediately. Mr. Ffrench calmly stated that his duty did not afford any option; the parties were, it appeared, of mature age, the license was in all respects sufficient, and he was bound to perform the ceremony without further delay.
A scene of painful excitement ensued; but finally the clergyman declined to perform the ceremony, and the lady retired with her father. It was stated that the objection of the noble parents of the bride were not so much directed against the person of the bridegroom, (although much surprised at the discovery of the attachment,) as to the clandestine manner in which the union was about to take place. The parties were subsequently united, with the consent, but not in the presence of the Duke and Duchess.

Image: The Marriage, ca 1846, lith. & pub. by Sarony & Major, courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.

Richard James Lane, 2nd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, circa 1825-1850

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, May 10, 2016

Portraits that Stayed Fashionable, c1775

Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Isabella reporting,

When I saw this portrait, above left, last month at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I was puzzled by the lady's hair. Here on the blog, we're no strangers to 18thc Big Hair (see here and here), but the exaggerated styles don't come into fashion until the mid-1770s, and this woman's dress with the wealth of bows is firmly around 1760, which is where the museum places it, too.

So how did she manage to be so fashion-forward for her portrait? Turns out it's a case of 18thc celebrity Photoshop. Marie Rinteau and her sister Geneviève were celebrated beauties who, according the museum's notes, converted fleeting musical careers into the more profitable ones as "cultured courtesans known as les demoiselles de Verrières." Marie was the mistress of soldier and courtier Maurice de Saxe, and bore him an illegitimate daughter, Marie Aurore.

In 1761, the two sisters had their portraits painted by François Hubert Drouais (1727-1775), an artist who specialized in beautiful portraits of beautiful women; among his sitters was Louis XV's mistress Madame du Pompadour. The sisters were painted in rich settings, wearing lavish silk gowns with costly lace. To indicate their musical talents, Marie is holding sheet music, while Geneviève is shown gracefully playing her harp. They were also originally painted with the hairstyles of 1760, which were tightly curled and close to the head, much like another lady that Drouais painted around the same time, below left.

Fifteen years later, however, the demoiselles decided that their portraits needed to be updated. Either Drouais or another artist added the latest hairstyles sweeping upwards from their foreheads and decorated with plumes and festoons of silk flowers and faux pearls. Yet like the infamous portrait of Dorian Grey, their painted faces remained unlined and youthful.

Marie died in 1775, aged around forty-five. Perhaps this refurbishing was a final small vanity before her death, or perhaps it was her way of stalling the inevitable in a "career" that would have become increasingly difficult to maintain as the years passed. Either way, I'm sure she'd be pleased that her portrait is now admired by hundreds of visitors a day in one of the greatest museums in the world - and her hair is perfect.

Extra: One of our friends of the blog, art historian Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, recently published an article about other 18thc portraits that were altered to update them. You can read it here in the magazine of the Huntingdon Library; search for Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow to go directly to the article in the issue's pdf.

Above left: Detail, Marie Rinteau, called Mademoiselle de Verrières, by François Hubert Drouais, 1761, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Right: Geneviève Rinteau de Verrières by François Hubert Drouais, 1761, private collection.
 Bottom left: Detail, Countess Darya Petrovna Saltykova, by François Hubert Drouais, c1760.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Church on Mulberry Street Moves to Demolition Row

Monday, May 9, 2016
Loretta reports:

Those driving on I-290 through Worcester, MA are familiar with what my husband calls “Our Lady of the Highway.” In the city’s 1960s grim era of “urban renewal,” this new highway cut through and leveled old, stable neighborhoods. Among other consequences, Our Lady of Mount Carmel church on Mulberry Street, whose front faces the highway, has been getting a daily dose of shake, rattle, and roll (tiny, repeated earthquakes, in other words) since the highway was completed.

Now it’s closed and awaiting the wrecking ball.

The church is familiar to me, not through religion, but because of the area in which I grew up and the friends of my youth. Built by Italian immigrants & their descendants (who paid cash) in the 1920s, it’s the heart of one of Worcester’s many ethnic neighborhoods. It’s also been the starting point of an annual festival I remember fondly. During my junior high school years (preteen-early teens), the church’s recreation center was one of the few places where my parents would allow me to go dancing.

If I remember Mount Carmel fondly, I can imagine the parishioners’ feelings about the church their parents and grandparents built, and wasn’t at all surprised when a passionate debate broke out about the demolition decision.

Is the (steel) structure sound or isn’t it? Is the crumbling façade the only problem? Should we blame its condition on the highway or on some poor maintenance decisions? Ought the parishioners to have spoken up or ponied up before now? And so on. You can get a glimpse of the issues here (also a great view of the church from the highway) and here and here.

Everybody, in short, has something to say, and the newspapers don’t even begin to cover the controversy details/accusations/counter-accusations.

Meanwhile, continuing his campaign of documenting the city’s historic architecture, mio marito (that’s Italian for my husband) turned up at the last Mass and took some pictures. OK, like a thousand.

Crumbling or not, Mount Carmel is, to my eyes, one of the prettier churches in the city, at the head of one of Worcester's most vibrant areas—although, until I looked at his photos, I didn’t realize those souls at the bottom of the pediment were roasting in the flames of Hell!

All images © 2016 Walter M. Henritze III

Clicking on the image will enlarge it. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Breakfast Links: Week of May 2, 2016

Saturday, May 7, 2016
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• When booklovers guarded their prized possessions with tiny works of art.
• Were the Victorians healthier?
• Frolicsome engines: the long prehistory of artificial intelligence.
Expenses, 1774: the cost of living and the cost of giving.
• Egyptian mummies in tartan?
• Medieval "proof" that Star Wars happened (maybe).
• Walking and skipping: how Edwardian footballers trained.
Image: When a lady is corseted and nature calls....
Duart Castle: the turbulent history of the ancestral home of Clan Maclean.
• Fearless photographs of the first tornado chasers, 1890s.
• These shoes once stomped out the rhythm of Los Angeles.
• Is Thomas Jefferson the most over-rated of the Founding Fathers?
• A 19thc map of our "square and stationary" Earth.
• Saucy escort cards were a way to flirt in Victorian era.
Punch and Judy still live on in London's Covent Garden.
Image: Cancan boots, c1900-1920.
• A 1900 advertisement for bicycles for women made a daring claim.
• Medieval textiles: Italian silks and velvets.
• "That country is my country": Loyalism and 18thc maps of British America.
• Rate this 1860s dress and all its flowers and swags.
Napoleon's napkin from the Island of Elba, 1815.
• Bathing in an age of extravagance: make your own 17thc scented washball.
Image: New rates for traveling the Thames in 1803.
• A forgotten plague: making sense of medieval dancing mania.
• A bottle with a message tossed into the sea in 1906 is finally recovered.
Canoeing fashion in 1903 and the United States Postal Service.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Friday Video: The Countess di Castiglione, Queen of the Selfies

Friday, May 6, 2016
Scherzo di Follia (1863-66)
Loretta reports:

A couple of days ago, my husband sent me a link to some photographs of an Italian countess I’d never heard of. She turned out to be well worth hearing about.

Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione, loved having her picture taken—under her command. As a result, we have a photographic treasure trove of mid-Victorian fashion and costume worn by a woman who upends our ideas of what “Victorian” mean.
But then, she was Italian.

I'm not going to tell her story here, because you can read all about her at Wikipedia and especially in this article at Mashable, which includes some splendid photos made under her direction (thus the "selfie" of this post title).

Instead I offer a video. I turned down the music, because it seemed a little overwrought for the subject. You may feel otherwise.

Image: Scherzo di Follia (1863-66)

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.

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, May 5, 2016

"The Opening of the Great Exhibition by Queen Victoria on 1 May 1851"

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Isabella reporting,

When newsworthy events happen today, the rest of the world is instantly informed by television and social media. Images can become part of our shared consciousness almost as soon as they occur - sometimes even while they're occurring.

Things worked a bit more slowly 165 years ago. In the spring of 1851, the most important event in London was the opening of the International Exhibition of Arts and Manufacture - more customarily (and concisely) known as the Great Exhibition - in the enormous Crystal Palace in Hyde Park. Initiated by Prince Albert, the Exhibition was an early "tech show," showcasing the best manufactured examples of imagination and ingenuity from around the world.The not-so-subtle message, however, was that the creations of Great Britain were hands-down the best in the world, and so the exhibition became as much a tribute to the British Empire as it was to international excellence. Even the Crystal Palace itself was an architectural triumph, a marvel of British engineering.

While over six million people visited the Exhibition between 1May and 11 October, 1851, there were still many more, unable to attend, who wished a glimpse at its wonders. Artists of the day were quick to capture the Crystal Palace and the various exhibits, and while they couldn't post the images on Instagram or Facebook, they swiftly did produce prints of their work that were sold around the world.

The painting shown above was made by Henry Courtenay Selous (1803-1890), and shows the opening day festivities. Of course the Royal Family (above left) is the centerpiece of the composition, but the Archbishop of Canterbury is also there, offering a benediction, as well as many of the dignitaries connected with the exhibition, right. (Except for Queen Victoria and her ladies, these are all male; other women appear to have been relegated to the viewing stands on either side of the ceremony, lower left, the curving brims of their bonnets framing their faces like scallop shells) In the foreground, the dignitaries are all carefully painted portraits, their presence documented.

For that, really, was the purpose of a commemorative painting like this: to preserve an important historical moment for posterity. The painting became an event in its own right, and was publicly exhibited for an admission fee in the year after the exhibition had closed. The large scale of the painting - it's over ten feet wide - meant that details could be studied and appreciated equally by those who had attended the opening and those who had not. In addition, prints were produced and sold commercially, making this one of the most popular and best-known images of the exhibition.

A reviewer in the Art Journal in August 1852 proclaimed: "[This painting] will form an interesting memorial of an event that for many years to come will lose little of its attractiveness in the estimation of thousands." It still does.

The Opening of the Great Exhibition by Queen Victoria on 1 May 1851, by Henry Courtney Selous, 1851-1852. Victoria & Albert Museum.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Fashions for May 1842

Tuesday, May 3, 2016
1842 Fashions
Loretta reports:

Let me just say at the outset that finding good images for the 1840s is a bear. While I’ve located a number of magazines online, color plates are not abundant, and the scan quality of many is less than ideal. And I do wish the women didn’t wear such simpering expressions.

The poor quality may be the fault of the paper used in the magazines. There was a shift from rag paper to paper paper at some point in the Victorian era, and rag doesn’t deteriorate as easily as paper. As to the simpering expressions, I can come up with a couple of explanations: (1) the artists weren’t good with faces or (2) this is the way the ideal woman was supposed to look: sweet and not too intelligent.

In any case, I think this plate will explain why I refer to the early-to-mid Victorian look as droopy. Remember those wild and crazy hairdos of the 1820s and 1830s? Gone.

Hair is now  slicked down on top, with the curls and braids and other artistic inventions relegated to the back of the neck. But that’s a sexy place, especially when the lady is wearing evening dress, with shoulders bared and bosom exposed in a way that seems not at all prudishly Victorian.
1842 Fashion Description

In any case, I think these dresses are very pretty. Notice that while the skirts are full, they haven’t yet yet attained the room-filling, knocking-over-tables-and-small-children width of the 1860s.

Images from The Magazine of the Beau Monde for May 1842

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, May 1, 2016

From the Archives: Men (and Women) Behaving Badly: May Poles

Sunday, May 1, 2016
Isabella reporting:

We've just begun the merry month of May Day and May poles. While most of us today think of May poles with school children clutching the ribbons, that sweetly pretty version is a Victorian invention. Earlier May poles were much less innocent, with pagan antecedents so distant that no one knows exactly when the first was, ahem, erected.

But there's no mistaking their symbolism: a phallic pole firmly planted in Mother Earth, part of the annual celebration of fertility, procreation, and returning spring. Most May Rites were in that spirit, too, with much drinking and bawdy carousing. Puritanical Christians were appalled, as this description from Anatomy of Abuses (1583) by conservative pamphleteer Philip Stubbs (c.1555-1610) attests:

"All the young men and maids, old men and wives, run gadding over night to the woods, grove, hills, and mountains, where they spend all the night in pleasant pastimes; and in the morning they return, bringing with them...their May pole, which they bring home with great veneration, as thus: they have twenty or forty yoke of oxen, every ox having a sweet nose-gay of flowers placed on the tip of his horns, and these oxen draw home this May pole (this stinking idol, rather) which is covered allover with flowers and herbs, bound round with strings, from the top to the bottom, and sometimes painted with variable colours, with three hundred men, women, and children following with great devotion. And thus being reared up...they fall to dance about it, like as the heathen people did at the dedication of the Idols....I have heard it credibly reported (viva voce)...that of forty, three-score, or a hundred maids going to the wood over night, there have scarcely the third part of them returned home again undefiled. These be the fruits with which these cursed pastimes bring forth."

Could there be any coincidence that May with its May pole and night-long "gadding" is soon followed by June, the traditional month of weddings? 

Above: The May-pole Dance, c. 1620. While there are many written descriptions of 17th c. May poles, both in their favor and against them, this demure illustration is the only contemporary one that I could find. Perhaps all the artists were too busy running into the woods?
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