Sunday, April 29, 2018

A c1785 Striped Dress for Walking in a French Garden

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Susan reporting,

There are two pink striped dresses in the Visitors to Versailles: 1682-1789 exhibition (now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through July 29, 2018.) Yet while these two dresses are nearly contemporary, together they show the two very different styles in French women's fashion in the 1770s.  I've already written about this lavish robe à la Française, a gown from the 1770s that would have been worn to the most formal events at the palace; consider it a wealthy 18thc French lady's "red carpet look."

The dress shown here dates from about a decade later, 1785-87. This style was called a robe à l'Anglaise, or a dress in the English manner. The robe à l'Anglaise was inspired by British tailoring. Unlike the softly flowing back pleats of the  robe à la Française, worn over hoops for sideways volume. the robe à l'Anglaise featured a closely fitted bodice and long sleeves, and a skirt with volume gathered to the back over a false rump or hip pads.

The pinked edges of the ruffled and gathered trim along the skirt offered a feminine contrast to the close-fitting bodice. They would also have drew attention to the wearer's feet with each step - important for a stylish walking-gown.

The fabric is a crisp striped silk with a more tailored air than the floral damask of the earlier dress. The stripes accentuate the seaming and pleats, and also displayed the mantua-maker's skill at neatly mitering those stripes into sharply geometric angles. I also appreciated how the dress was exhibited next to a painting of the gardens at Versailles, juxtaposing the fanning paths of the gardens with the stripes of the dress.

robe à l'Anglaise like this one would have been worn for day, and the exhibition suggested that it would be perfect for strolling the expansive gardens at Versailles. The shorter skirt would facilitate walking, too, and also show off a stylish pair of heeled silk shoes. A sheer white kerchief of fine muslin or silk would have been tied over the neckline, and an oversized hat or cap and perhaps a parasol would have completed the look. Any of the hats from the painting I shared last week would have been perfect.

Are you ready to go for a stroll?

This dress was also included in an earlier exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the now-legendary Dangerous Liaisons in 2006. The strikingly photographed catalogue is considered one of the very best costume books to feature 18thc clothing; although long out of print, it's available to read or download for free here on the museum's website.

Above: Robe à l'Anglaise, maker unknown, France, 1785-1787, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photographs ©2018 by Susan Holloway Scott.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of April 23, 2018

Saturday, April 28, 2018
Breakfast Links are served! Our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• The art of dressing museum mannequins in rare historic garments.
• The publishing journey of Jane Austen's Persuasion.
• The weathervanes of London.
• The ancient (and continuing) history of red headwear.
• An intimidating library bookplate - and the story behind it.
Image: Tombstone of Phoebe Hessel 1713-1821 who at age 15 enlisted as a soldier in the 5th Regiment of Foot, disguised as a man to follow her sweetheart.
• Three everyday items invented by women.
• When artist Elisabeth Vigee LeBrun met Emma Hamilton.
• Fascinating historic and natural preservation in the middle of New York City: the complete history of Haarlen Meer in Central Park.
• For Antiques Roadshow fans: a Baroque painting worth millions found in an Iowa storeroom.
• How 1816 was the "year without summer."
Image: Queen Charlotte's pocket diaries for 1794.
Cleopatra and the bee-powered vibrator (hint: it's a myth.)
• Gershom Bulkeley: a sensory chymist living in colonial Connecticut.
• What exactly is a Regency-era fanchonette - and how do you make one?
• An 1890s New York City tenement with a dramatic facade - and a history of violence and suffering.
Working dress, fashion, and textile raw materials in 18thc gardens.
Image: "I am anxious that it should not be circulated": James Boswell writes the 1792 version of a drunk text.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Friday Video: The Fife Tiara, A Wedding Gift for a Royal Princess in 1889

Friday, April 27, 2018

Susan reporting,

With the next British royal wedding fast approaching, the speculation grows daily as to what exactly American Meghan Markle will wear to walk down the aisle with Prince Henry of Wales. Yes, the wedding dress is the greatest mystery - but right after that comes the question of the bride's headdress. Will Meghan go for something simple like a wreathe of flowers, or will she go the full princess-to-be route with a glittering tiara?

The breathtaking tiara featured here already comes with a royal heritage. Created in the 1880s by jeweler Oscar Massin, the Fife Tiara contains approximately 200 carats of diamonds set in gold and silver. It was a wedding gift to Queen Victoria's granddaughter Princess Louise of Wales, below, daughter of Edward VII,  from her new husband, the Duke of Fife; that dukedom was a wedding gift to the groom.

Today the tiara is valued at 1.4 million pounds.  Accepted by the government in lieu of taxes, it was permanently allocated to Historic Royal Palaces for display at Kensington Palace. It can be seen there now as part of the Victoria Revealed exhibition.

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Thursday, April 26, 2018

What Ordinary People Wore in the Early 1800s

Thursday, April 26, 2018
1808 Woman Churning Butter
Country Fair 1808
Loretta reports:

Given comments on my last blog, it seemed like a good time to look at resources for what working people wore. Susan and I have written about tradespeople and servants here, here, here, here, here, and elsewhere.

They are rarely the subjects of portraits, although they might be included in scenes of, say, a great estate. Also, a few employers actually had at least some of their servants’ portraits painted. Later in  the 1800s, Victorian servants appear in quite a few photographs. But for those of us who are looking at English dress before photography, there are other ways to get an understanding of what ordinary people wore.

William Henry Pyne is one of my go-to illustrators. I have two reprints of his work dealing with this subject: Picturesque Views of Rural Occupations in Early Nineteenth-Century England and Pyne's British Costumes.

Online, there’s also his Etchings of rustic figures, for the embellishment of landscape.

Rustic figures
Rustic figures
Other sources include satirical prints. Though we need to be aware of exaggerations, they generally seem to get the clothing details right. Images in Ackermann’s Microcosm of London show ordinary people as well as those of the upper orders.

In some cases, we see a distinctive uniform for a trade or profession. The watermen or firemen, for instance. Others might wear a certain type of vest. Many professions and trades required badges. Whether one’s clothes were in fashion or not would depend on one’s business. A dressmaker, for instance, would need to look up-to-date. For haymakers, it was another case entirely.

14. A woman churning butter with a cloth apron tied about her waist and a mob-cap on her head, another woman milking a cow beyond. Title page lettered "The Costume of Great Britain. Designed, Engraved , and Written by W. H. Pyne." "London: Published by William Miller, Albermarle-Street. 1808." Courtesy the British Museum
Couple at fair looking at a clown and a bell ringer, W.H. Pyne, [1808], courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Rustic figures from Pyne, Etchings of rustic figures, for the embellishment of landscape.

Rowlandson, Thames Watermen from Miseries of London 1807I courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of 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.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Extravagant Hats on French Ladies, 1788

Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Susan reporting,

As much as I enjoy the immense variety of historical images that now can be discovered thanks to the internet, staring at a jpg on my laptop screen will never replace being able to see the real thing. 

Sometimes, that experience is a revelation. One of the paintings featured in the new Visitors to Versailles: 1682-1789 exhibition (currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art) is this one: Promenade of the Ambassadors of Tipu Sultan in the Park of Saint-Cloud. The entire painting is shown below (and as always, please click on the images to enlarge them.)

It's a justly famous painting, for it shows how truly international the 18thc world could be: the delegation of Tipu Sultan had come halfway around the world to seek French assistance in removing the British from Mysore, and to negotiate more favorable direct trading with France. Crowds of French people have come to welcome (and likely to gawk at) the ambassadors as they walk in the Park at Saint-Cloud.

When this painting is used to illustrate the international politics of the late 18thc, it's usually a small reproduction that emphasizes the crowds, the lawns, and the nodding greenery. But when I saw it in person, all I could see was the HATS.

The late 1780s were a time of oversized and extravagant hats and caps, with curving brims, plumes, buckles, ribbons, silk flowers, and silk gauze ruffles. The variety of fashionable examples - like wedding cakes for the head! - captured in this painting are truly stunning. It's all in miniature, too; the entire painting measures about 38" wide, so most of these figures are at most a couple of inches tall.

There are also some delightful small dramatic scenes: the little boy either having a tantrum or a fainting fit while his nursemaid scowls up at his negligent mother, upper left; footmen in elaborate royal livery try to contain the crowds around the ambassadors, upper right; and two women have decided it's all too much and have retreated beneath their wide parasol to a park bench, where a black-clad gentleman in a wonderful wig (perhaps a clergyman?) has joined them, lower left.

But my favorite detail, lower right, shows a man selling prints and sheet music. He's wearing jaunty striped trousers and a long-tailed coat as he stands before his wares, which are pinned on rows of strings to display. He's playing a horn for his dog, who is dancing on its hind-legs with a stick in its front paws - what better way to attract customers?

Promenade of the Ambassadors of Tipu Sultan in the Park of Saint-Cloud by Charles-Eloi Asselin, 1788, Cité de la Céramique-Sèvres et Limoges. 

Monday, April 23, 2018

Fashions for Mature Women in the 1800s

Monday, April 23, 2018
Lady Anne Hamilton at age 49
Loretta reports:

A reader asked, “Do you have any fashion plates of older women?”
The answer is no. Whether it’s the 1800s or the 1900s or the 2000s, fashion is most usually displayed on younger women.

The fashions I post monthly seem to be mainly for married women. In France, for instance, unmarried young women were expected to dress with almost nunlike simplicity; and it’s my sense that young English women, while not dressing as severely as their French counterparts, generally did dress more demurely than matrons, at least through the Regency.

Still, there’s nothing matronly about the fashion prints. The images are always of young, slender women with, depending on the era, ridiculously tiny waists. I’ve yet to see older faces or plumper bodies. The fashion plates always show the idealized youthful image of the time.

Then as now, that is the way fashion is sold. A style blog focused on the over-forty woman offers an explanation that I believe is applicable to previous centuries of fashion merchandising.

Today, we do see the occasional exception. A few brands will feature 40+ models and/or fuller-figured women in their advertising. But these are rare. Rarer still are mature and/or fuller-figured models on the runways. This always seems to be the case, even though older women are buying the clothing.

To get an idea of what older women wore in earlier eras, we need to turn to portraits. It's possible that the subject isn’t necessarily wearing the latest fashion. Then as now, a woman might have stuck with a style she found comfortable and believed becoming. However, when it comes to royals and aristocrats, the portraits are generally very stylish, which makes sense: Since they could afford to buy new things all the time, and they weren't shy about showing off their wealth, they were more likely to wear the current fashion when they had their portrait painted.
Maria Amalia of Naples & Sicily about age 57

Let’s also not forget that well-off people were not buying their clothing ready-made. The fashion plate would be no more than a possible starting point. A lady would have her favorite dressmaker, who would adapt styles or create a distinctive look. Though the fashion plates featured young women, I suspect older women then would have had a better chance than we do of getting clothes that fit and flattered them. Dressmakers were far from rare, labor was cheap, and the competition for customers was fierce: It was simply good business to make the customer look great, no matter what her age or figure.

James Lonsdale, 1815 Portrait of Lady Anne Hamilton (1766–1846), lady-in-waiting to Queen Caroline1815
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Louis-Édouard Rioult after Louis Hersent, Portrait of Maria Amalia of Naples and Sicily (1782-1866) about 1839
Current location Palace of Versailles 

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.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of April 16, 2018

Saturday, April 21, 2018
Breakfast Links are served! Our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• The decades-long quest to find and honor the grave of pioneering 19thc black sculptor Edmonia Lewis.
• Treasure maps, pirate utopias, and author Robert Louis Stevenson.
• Little-known story of the six Chinese men who survived the sinking of the Titanic, only to be immediately deported after arriving in NYC.
• The Hancocks of 18thc Boston in wool, silk, and linen.
• GIFs that return ancient ruins to their former glory.
The Progress of a Water-Coloured Drawing: highlights from a how-to-paint book from 1804.
Love letters between 19th inmates at Eastern State Penitentiary reveal secret communications and relationships at the famously isolating prison.
Image: Necklace fashioned posthumously from radical author Mary Wollstonecroft's hair.
Medieval graffiti: the lost voices of England's churches in the middle ages.
• Women's riding apparel, in the 1920s and now.
• The tragic story of Elizabeth Whitman, the inspiration for The Mysterious Coquette.
• Biscuits, broth, and hasty pudding: the diets of the Romantic Poets.
Image: All about the honey: a medieval Winnie the Pooh appears in this 15thc Italian manuscript.
• The myth of Dolley Madison and the White House Easter Egg Roll.
• James Ince & Sons, umbrella makers.
Queen Mary I of England washes the feet of the poor.
• Albany's Willy Wonka: remembering hand-made chocolates.
Image: Title page of translation of Plutarch's Lives, as critically annotated by Mark Twain.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Friday Video: Loretta's Musket Training

Friday, April 20, 2018
Loretta reports:

I’d never fired a weapon in my life. The closest I’d come was holding Baron de Berenger’s unloaded musket at the Kensington Central Library.

Last November, I found out from author Caroline Linden that one could fire a black powder weapon at Colonial Williamsburg. Susan Holloway Scott—aka the other Nerdy History Girl—sent me photos of her family's experience not long thereafter. I was sold. There's lots of history one can only read in books. I am not going to turn down a chance to experience it firsthand.

The video is very short. What I learned is very long. I fired two weapons, a musket and a fowler. What you don’t see in the video is Loretta trying to heft either of them. The musket weighs ten pounds, the fowler is a little bit lighter, and they're both looong. My arms shook, lifting the gun. Then I had to hold it and aim at the same time. Also, you don’t see how hard it is to draw back the cock. I had to use two hands. (I really need to work on my upper body strength.) Meanwhile, there's the loading process, with which I received a great deal of assistance. Otherwise, I could have been there for half an hour for each shot. Soldiers could load their weapons in 15 seconds.

These are far from accurate weapons. Even when you know how to aim, you can’t be sure the ball will go where it should. But yes, I did badly wound a couple of paper bottles.

Video: Loretta Shoots!!
On my YouTube Channel
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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A 1770s Dress Worn by One of the "Visitors to Versailles"

Wednesday, April 18, 2018
Susan reporting,

Last week I previewed a major new exhibition called Visitors at Versailles, 1682-1789, now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York through July 29, 2018. Created in partnership with the Château de Versailles along with loans from many other institutions, the exhibition brings together nearly two hundred paintings, drawings, tapestries, porcelains sculptures, furnishings, books, and costumes (and even a sedan chair) to recreate the era when the palace of Versailles and its gardens truly were the center not only of the France, but also the world of fashion, diplomacy, and sophistication.

Versailles was a public court, drawing visitors from around the world. Yet it wasn't just courtiers jockeying for a moment of king's favor. During the reigns of Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI, Versailles brought together the leading artists, musicians, intellectuals, and master artisans in one place as well, and visitors as diverse as Benjamin Franklin and the seven-year-old crown prince of Cochinchina (modern Vietnam). We can't go back in time to visit Versailles in its 17thc-18thc glory ourselves, but this exhibition is an excellent introduction, and highly recommended.

One of the first galleries features the lavish clothing required by the French court, and I'll be featuring some of these costumes in future blogs. The style of this beautiful silk dress was called a sack, or, more glamorously, a robe à la française. According to the museum's gallery notes:

"Characterized by free-flowing back pleats that extended from shoulder to hem, the robe à la française had been largely abandoned by the 1770s - except at court. A woman conveyed her status not only through the display of rich textiles, but also through her elegant negotiation of the cumbersome hoop under the large skirt, a learned skill intended to give the impression of natural grace."

While the dress and its matching petticoat have survived together, the original stomacher (the triangular insert that filled in the two sides of the bodice) has not. This isn't that unusual. A stomacher was an important 18thc accessory. Because stomachers were pinned into place for wearing, women could easily update an older gown or change its look by swapping stomachers.

According to the Met's website, this dress has been displayed several times before, and it has been shown each time with a different stomacher - perhaps in the spirit of that 18thc lady. For the current exhibition, the dress's fabric and trim were carefully recreated for a matching stomacher inspired by contemporary fashion prints. Earlier exhibitions have featured a stomacher with buttons and lace, and another sported rows of exuberant bows. It's also interesting to see the changing styles in modern display mannequins. Which do you prefer?

 Link for more information about Visitors at Versailles, 1682-1789.

Above: Dress (robe à la française), French, c1770-75. Silk faille with cannelé stripes, brocaded in polychrome floral motif, trimmed with self fabric and silk fly fringe. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Top left image by Susan Holloway Scott; all others Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Neckcloth Part 2

Tuesday, April 17, 2018
Loretta reports:

Last time, in tackling the immense subject of men’s neckwear, I focused on the material in the early 19th century neckcloth, and several readers were kind enough to explain further. The subject is daunting, and I’m taking Mark Hutter’s remark as my mantra: There is no “typical.”

For instance, stocks were old-fashioned, then they weren’t; “correct” colors and materials changed for both neckcloths and stocks, depending on the occasion and that capricious being, Fashion; and then, some people use the terms interchangeably.

What seems clear is that neckwear offered a way to express one’s individuality, especially after men’s clothing became more subdued in color and more uniform in style, thanks in great part to Beau Brummell.
Folding & tying the cravat
One important way of expressing oneself was in the way one tied that important length of fabric.
My neckcloth, of course, forms my principal care,
For by that we criterions of elegance swear,
And costs me each morning some hours of flurry,
To make it appear to be tied in a hurry.*
Cravats for travel
I don’t know the author of this verse. It appears here, there, and everywhere, referring to Beau Brummell. He didn’t write it, but everybody stole it without attribution, as often happened/happens. Still, a great deal was published anonymously or under whimsical names. One of these days I’ll pin down its first appearance. Meanwhile, let’s look at those hours of flurry.

Many readers are familiar with Cruikshank’s 1818 illustration from Neckclothitania (top left). Like many publications of the time about neckwear, it’s a combination of fact and satire.

However, it turns out that another book on neckcloths became an international bestseller. The Art of Tying the Cravat: demonstrated in sixteen lessons, including thirty-two different styles ... (the title’s longer than the book), appeared first in France, then Italy, then England, apparently by different authors. But the names seem to have been a joke: “Baron Emile de l’Empesé, Conte della Salda, and H. LeBlanc, which translate respectively as Baron Starch, Count Starched, and H. White or Starch,” as Sarah Gibbings points out in her fascinating tome, The Tie: Trends and Traditions 1990. Nonetheless, the Art of Tying the Cravat is charming. And informative. I recommend taking a look at it.
Advice to Julia excerpt

You can also find a number of Youtube videos, but none struck me as satisfactory. For a good visual, I suggest you take a look at MY Mr Knightley: Tying a Cravat, at the blog Tea in a Teacup.

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, April 16, 2018

From the Archives: How Many Handsewn Stitches in an 18thc Man's Shirt?

Monday, April 16, 2018

Susan reporting,

Since Loretta's last post featured men's neckcloths, it seemed like a fine time to share this post from the archives about the shirts worn with those neckcloths.... 

In the 18thc, a man's linen shirt was perhaps the most democratic of garments. Every male wore one, from the King of England to his lowest subjects in the almshouse, and though the quality of the linen and laundering varied widely, the construction was virtually the same.

Contrary to the modern belief that the people of the past were dirty slobs (a bugaboo we NHG are always trying to banish), Georgian men were fastidious about their shirts. Men were judged by the cleanliness of their linen. From laundry records of the time, it's clear that the majority of men changed their shirts daily, and in the hot summer months, it wasn't unusual to change twice a day. This wasn't just a habit of wealthy gentlemen, either. Tradesmen, shopkeepers, and others of the "middling sort" had a good supply of shirts in their wardrobes, a dozen or so on average.

While most of these shirts were purchased from tailors, shirts were one of the few garments that women could make at home for their husbands, brothers, fathers, and sons. Eighteenth century shirts were loose-fitting, geometric garments, all precise squares and rectangles with straight seams. They weren't difficult for the average seamstress to construct - keeping in mind that everything was being sewn by hand before the invention of the sewing machine. The precision of that seamstress's stitching would make them not only more attractive, but also more long-wearing through the rough-and-tumble laundering (no gentle cycle) of the time. But how long would it take to make such a shirt? And how many stitches must be taken in the process?

When I was visiting the Margaret Hunter millinery shop in Colonial Williamsburg last month, the mantua-makers (whose seamstresses can make men's shirts just as readily as the tailors) were pondering this exact question. A chart in the July, 1782 issue of The Lady's Magazine, right, calculated the "number of stitches in a plain-shirt", perhaps to provide the amateur seamstresses among their readers with a number to impress the home-stitched shirt's wearer. The Magazine's estimated total was an impressive 20,619 stitches for a man's shirt.

The Margaret Hunter seamstresses took these calculations a step further. Working an average of 30 stitches per minute at a gauge of 10 stitches per inch, it would take approximately eleven and a half hours to stitch a shirt. Of course that doesn't take into account the time for cutting threads, finishing a thread, or threading needles, nor for cutting out the pieces to be sewn, and it also doesn't make allowances for the individual seamstress's speed. While the needles in the Margaret Hunter shop seem to fly, the ladies freely admit that they'd probably be considered slow in comparison to their 18thc counterparts who sewed from childhood.

More about 18thc shirts here and hereMany thanks to Janea Whitacre, mistress of the mantua-making trade, Colonial Williamsburg, for her assistance with this post.

Left: Shirt, maker unknown, linen, probably made in America, c1790-1820. Winterthur Museum.
Photograph © 2014 by Susan Holloway Scott.
Below: Excerpt from The Lady's Magazine, July, 1782.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of April 9, 2018

Saturday, April 14, 2018
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• How much scent was too much for a Victorian lady or gentleman?
Sophie Blanchard, the first woman to fly solo in a balloon, 1805.
• Online exhibition: American aviatrixes: women with wings.
Image: Sample book of crochet stitches and patterns.
• "Stupid news" of the 19th century.
• The truth about Johnny Appleseed: he was "a bit of a loon" who died a rich man from planting apples to make hard cider.
• Finding "buried treasure" of the material culture variety on the grounds of an historic 18thc New England house.
• The history of church fans: a quintessential accessory in the American south, and much more in the hands of black women.
Image: Watercolor painting of George III and Queen Charlotte giving alms to the poor, Maundy Thursday, 1773.
• Medieval Arabic recipes and the history of hummus.
• Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and the war that changed poetry forever.
• One hundred forty-six people, mostly young immigrant women, died a horrific death in New York's Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in 1911.
Image: Medieval church mermaid, All Saints, Upper Sheringham, Norfolk.
• An African abbot in Anglo-Saxon England.
• Online exhibition featuring "Silence Dogood" - the creation of a teenaged Benjamin Franklin, marking his first published pieces as a journalist.
• Dinner on horseback: a Gilded-Age party for the books.
Mary Katherine Goddard: the woman who printed the Declaration of Independence.
• In 20thc restaurants, nightclubs, and hotels: check your hat?
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Friday Video: Listen to the Earliest Known Surviving Piano

Friday, April 13, 2018

Susan reporting,

While we were away on our spring break, we missed one of those daily celebrations that the Internet so loves, and honors with a hashtag: #PianoDay. Fittingly, this was the eighty-eighth day of the year, with a day for each of a piano's keys.

But perhaps everyday should be piano day. In the world of instruments, pianos are relative newcomers. The first were invented by Venetian-born Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655-1732), who built instruments for the Medici court in Florence. The piano in this video is the earliest known to survive today, and is now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. For more information and additional photos, see the museum's entry here.

In this video, pianist Dongsok Shin performs the Sonata in d minor, K.9 by Domenico Scarlatti. Enjoy!

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Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Neckcloth Part 1

Thursday, April 12, 2018
David, Pierre Sériziat, 1795
Loretta reports:

Not very long ago, a reader who’d happened upon Susan’s post about 18th C men’s shirts, asked what an English gentleman’s stock was made of, saying, “In painting of the era it seems to be of a very light material as there are multiple folds.”

I brought the question to Mark Hutter, Master Taylor in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Trades Department.

The answer, as is the case so often with fashion, is, “It depends.” But he did clarify further, as well as guiding me toward several resources for my investigation. A gentleman’s choice of fabric to put around his neck would depend on the time period as well as the occasion, his bank account, and his personal taste. As Mark pointed out to a visitor, there’s no “typical.”

Because it’s a huge subject, I’m picking one era, place, and financial situation, the one in my stories: early 19th C British gentlemen of the upper classes.

According to Ian Kelley’s Beau Brummell, the dandy’s neckcloth was “a triangle of fine Irish muslin, cut diagonally from a square yard and plainly seamed.” From what I can ascertain, fine Irish muslin would have been quite expensive.
Regency style neckcloth

It gets tricky, distinguishing between cotton and linen fabrics. Undergarments like shirts, neckcloths, collars would be referred to as “linen,” though they might be made of other material. Good cotton, however, as far as I can discover, wasn’t cheap. The famous muslin dresses Regency ladies wore were made of fabric imported from India, and like their miles-long cashmere shawls, displayed their wealth.

Mark mentioned lawn and cambric, terms some of our readers might have come across in their reading. According to Harmuth’s Dictionary of Textiles, lawn is “a plain woven, very light, soft, smooth and sheer cotton or linen wash dress goods ... similar to cambric but lighter.” Irish lawn is “very fine, plain woven, bleached lawn, made of pure, hard-spun ply linen yarn.”

To answer the reader’s question, then, the neckcloths in the portraits were of quite fine material, most likely of linen or muslin. The white neckcloth* we see so often in Regency portraits would have been lightly starched to allow one to create the correct folds. Too much starch would make it too stiff. Usually. A few styles, it turns out, demanded stiffer fabric. But that’s another topic.

In the next post, we’ll take a look at the incredibly tricky business of tying these things.

*They came in other colors, as well as in silk, but we’ll deal with that later, too. Eventually.

Image: Jacques-Louis David, Portrait of Pierre Sériziat, 1795, Louvre Museum
English: A Regency style neckcloth tied in a bow on a starched Grafton collar. Attribution: CharlieHuang at English Wikipedia

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, April 10, 2018

Wall Street & the Tontine Coffee House: New York City in 1797

Tuesday, April 10, 2018
Susan reporting,

While I'm not *quite* ready yet to reveal the title and subject of my next historical novel, the painting shown here will offer clues galore. This is a view of Wall Street in New York City around 1797, between the modern Water and Front Streets, in what is now the heart of the Financial District.

Writing novels set in the early years of America can offer many challenges, including the the small number of drawings, prints, and paintings (and of course no photographs) showing the cities and landscapes of the time. Set a story in 1790s London, and there are countless primary images for inspiration while creating a character's "world." Resources like those are much harder to find for the young United States. Professional artists were rare in 18thc America, and often the best surviving paintings and drawings of places are the work of visitors from abroad (like these panoramic watercolors, here and here, by Frenchman Pierre L'Enfant, or this view of the Hudson River by British Lieutenant Thomas Davies.)

All of which makes this painting of the New York, (above, with details below; click to enlarge), that my characters would have known especially useful to me. This street corner would have been familiar to Eliza and Alexander Hamilton in I, Eliza Hamilton, and it's equally well-known to my new characters, too. The scale of 18thc New York may bear little resemblance to the towering skyscrapers of today, but the city's legendary intensity is already present. Every person (and even the dog in the lower left) seems filled with energy and purpose as the Stars and Stripes snaps and flutters in breeze.

At this time, Wall Street led directly to the waterfront and the East River wharves, the source of much of the city's wealth and power. Those tall masts at the end of the street must have been a constant reminder that New York was a flourishing international port, sending ships not only to Europe, but to destinations in Africa, South America, and the faraway Pacific. The cargo in these ships included coffee, sugar, and tea, silk, cotton, and linen, fine furnishings and silver. It could also include enslaved men, women, and children, for slavery was still legal in New York, and many households and businesses, large and small, relied on enslaved workers.

Coffee houses played an important role in 18thc New York, and two of the most notable appear in this painting. The small clapboard building on the corner with the gambrel roof is the Merchants' Coffee House, one of the gathering-places for political discussions during the Revolution, and later, during the 1780s, the site of the creation and organization of the Bank of New York. Across the street and nearly out of the left side of the painting is the Tontine Coffee House. This was the first home of the New York Stock Exchange, and of merchant activity of every kind.

According to  Travels through Lower Canada, & the United States of North America, in the Years 1806, etc. by John Lambert (published in 1810):

"The Tontine coffee-house was filled with underwriters, brokers, merchants, traders and politicians; selling, purchasing, trafficking, or insuring; some reading, others eagerly inquiring the news. The steps and balcony of the coffee-house were crowded with people bidding, or listening to several auctioneers....Every thing was in motion; all was life, bustle, and activity....Every thought, word, look, and action of the multitude seemed to be absorbed by commerce...and all were eager in the pursuit of its riches."

Above: Tontine Coffee House, New York City by Francis Guy, c1797, New-York Historical Society.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Fashions for April 1833

Monday, April 9, 2018
April 1833 Ball Dress

Loretta reports:

Since my new series, Difficult Dukes, is set in 1833, and we’re up to the 1830s in the monthly fashion prints, it made sense to offer sample fashions from that year. You’ve seen enough of the 1830s images by now to be familiar with the immense sleeves and lofty approach to hair styles and headwear. These plates, published in The Lady's Magazine and Museum (Improved series, Enlarged Vol. 2), uses the high quality French engravings, rather than some of the cheap copies we see elsewhere.

You will notice, in the ball dress description, that the corset-style top can be a different color from the dress. Indeed, any of these dresses might have been made in other colors and fabrics, with individual touches. Somewhere there may be a fashion plate with the dress in two colors, since the engravings were hand colored, and the publisher would have employed more than one artist.
April 1833 Walking Dress

Dress description

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.
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