Tuesday, January 27, 2015

It's Not a Comeback! It's a Return!

Bertie, Mr. Punch, Oscar and I have been gone for what seems like forever.  Well, we haven't actually been gone, we've been here.  It's just that we've been doing other things--things that weren't nearly as much fun as we had hoped they'd be.

Ah, well.

Starting next week, Stalking the Belle Époque will be back.  I don't know if I'll be able to keep up the pace that I started in 2010, but, it'll be a nice, steady journey.

Best of all, A Recipe for Punch will continue, after a brief catch-up with what's already passed.

I'll be adding some new features and changing others, but you can expect a lot of pretty things at which you can look and, hopefully, some interesting articles, an exciting story, and some delicious "Treats of the Week." I've got months of treats to show you!

So, we'll see you on Monday, February 2, 2015!

On behalf of Bertie, Punch and Oscar, I say we're all looking forward to it!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

If I could turn back tie-um...

Time is the longest distance between two places.
Tennessee Williams

Since I started this site several years ago, I've been determined to maintain seven daily posts, seven days a week.  Every so often, I'd miss a day, and I would take a few days off here and there, but, overall, I've been dedicated.  Except lately.  Lately, I've not been able to keep up with it, and, when I have, it's been repeats.

Time has not been my friend of late.

So, since my schedule has been overwhelming, and will continue to be for the next few weeks, I should just accept that posting may be spotty for awhile.  I apologize for that.  When I can, I'll get a few interesting articles up and I have a backlog of "Treats of the Week" for you.

Keep coming back.  I promise I'll get my act together soon.  

Time permitting.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Mastery of Design: The Piedmont Stomacher Pendant, 1800-1850

Piedmont, Italy
The Victoria & Albert Museum

While this piece looks like a traditional stomacher, it’s actually meant to act as a pendant. Made in Piedmont Italy, the piece shows the ingenuity of the early Nineteenth Century Italian jeweler.

Since most Italian women loved the beauty of heavy gold jewelry, Italian jewelers found ways to make their wares look substantial while keeping the cost relatively modest. This piece looks quite heavy, but it’s actually made from a thin sheet of hold. The stones are a bit of trickery as well. While they look like whole gems, they are, in reality a very thin sliver of garnet which has been set into a piece of transparent glass which serves to spread the color and add sparkle. This sort of stone is called a “doublet.”

By this point in fashion history, the stomacher favored by the European aristocracy during the eighteenth century, had fallen out of use except in the royal courts. Softer fabric stomachers with embroidery were adorning that triangle-shaped section (below the bust and pointing over the stomach) on the bodices of ladies’ gowns. However, the shape of a stomacher was still considered quite fashionable and the silhouette found its way into pendants like this one. These were traditionally worn, suspended from velvet or silk ribbons.

This jewel was purchased by the Italian jewelry firm of Castellani to add to their collection of Italian Peasant Jewelry which was displayed at the 1867 International Exhibition in Paris. The pendant is made up of five sections and ends in a stylized cross.

The Home Beautiful: An Unusual Cabinet and Stand, 1660-1690

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Cabinet and Stand
The Royal Collection

This cabinet and stand are a marriage of two individual pieces as well as a marriage of cultures. The cabinet itself was made around 1660 in Germany, possibly by Melchior Baumgartner. While the piece was created to hold precious jewels, it was also intended to be a jewel in its own right. The structure is crafted of pine, ivory, cedar, and ebony, with a facing of panels of pietra dura of semi-precious stones including lapis lazuli and agate, and gilt brass. The panels themselves were imported into Germany from Florence and Prague, thus making this a truly international piece.

The ornate gilt stand dates to about 1690 and is almost definitely an English addition. Historians believe that the stand was added to the piece when it was brought into the Royal Collection.

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Antique Image of the Day: Florence Fisher, 1872

Florence Fisher
Photo by Julia Margaret Cameron
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This delicate photograph, taken on the Isle of Wight, depicts Florence Fisher, the niece of the photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron. Cameron made six studies of her niece, one which she curiously titled “Study of St. John the Baptist.”

Cameron was a daring photographer and was not afraid to experiment with scale. Here, for example, the girl’s frontal gaze and the contrast of tones give us an intensely intimate look at the innocent child. Flowers were central to Cameron’s compositions. She often had female sitters hold lilies or roses, and some images depict the subject literally enveloped by foliage. In 1855, Cameron wrote to Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “I always think that flowers tell as much of the bounty of God's love as the Firmament shows of His handiwork."

Painting of the Day: A Masquerade at the King's Theatre, Haymarket, 1724

Click image to enlarge.
Masquerade at the King's Theatre, Haymarket
Giuseppe Grisoni, 1724
The Victoria & Albert Museum

* Giuseppe Grisoni (1699-1769) studied in Florence under the artist Tommaso Redi (1665-1726). After a brief sojourn to London with the painter John Talmann (1677-1726), Grisoni returned to Florence where he remained until 1740, working as a teacher at the Academy and turning out portraits and historical paintings. After 1740, Grisoni lived in Rome until the end of his life.

Though this painting is not as finely painted as most of Grisoni's work, it has been attributed to him nonetheless on the basis of a recorded remark, dated May of 1724, by George Vertue which suggests, "Mr Grisoni painter of Florence… has made a fine picture representing the masquerade with various habits."

The canvas depicts a masquerade on the stage of the King's Theatre in Haymarket. This was an opera house which was built by Sir John Vanbrught in 1704-05. The masquerades at the King's Theatre, often emulating the Venetian Carnival, became a tradition after a popular debut in 1711. This work achieves its primary goal of preserving the opulence of the event--showing the luxurious cakes and foods, the gleaming chandeliers and the sumptuous fancy dress.


Building of the Week: Florence Cathedral, Italy

An artist's conception of the finished cathedral, 1390
Andrea di Bonauito

One of the biggest triumphs of Renaissance architecture as well as one of the most important domed structures in the world, Florence Cathedral (also known as “Il Duomo” and, officially, the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore) is the work of history’s most celebrated architects and artists over several centuries.

The jewel in the sparkling crown that is Florence, Italy, the basilica is known for its brilliant multi-colored marble façade, its towering campanile and, especially, its massive octagonal dome. At the center of Florence’s artistic and religious life, the basilica represents some of the most radical thinking in the history of architecture.

Prior to 1296, the site was the home of a different cathedral dedicated to Santa Reparata which had been founded in the early Fifth Century. By the Thirteenth Century, the cathedral had begun to crumble after eight hundred years of use. The need for a new cathedral had become urgent as the population of Florence continued to grow. To make matters worse, Sienna and Pisa had begun new cathedral complexes and Florence was not about to be outdone.

In 1296, Arnolfo di Cambio, the architect of Santa Croce and the Palazzo Vecchio, had been commissioned to design the new structure. He envisioned a wide basilica with a tall octagonal dome. Though he hadn’t quite worked out the mechanics of the enormous dome (such a feat of architecture without the aid of wooden supports hadn’t been attempted since the Pantheon), Arnolfo’s plan was approved and construction began two years later. Sadly, Arnolfo died eight years later.

After Arnolfo’s death in 1302, construction of the cathedral nearly came to a halt for thirty years. His design was complicated and no one was quite sure how to approach the project—especially that pesky dome. In 1330, relics of San Zenobius were discovered in Santa Reparata (which still hadn’t been pulled down and was sitting in the middle of the construction site). This discovery escalated the need for the work on the cathedral to continue so that the increased number of pilgrims visiting the site could be accommodated. Famous architect and artist Giotto took over the project and worked steadily on it until a little trouble hit Italy in the form of the Black Plague in 1348.

Giotto’s death in 1337 meant that his assistant, Andrea Pisano, would have to take over. However, Giotto did manage to complete the campanile and several other structural elements following the original designs of Arnolfo di Cambio.

Several other architects manned the project over the following decades. By 1375, Santa Reparata was finally pulled down. And, by 1418, all but the dome had been completed.

Ah, the dome. That was a problem. How would it stand without wooden supports? How would it be constructed? As was often the practice of the time, a structural design competition was held to see who could complete the dome. The search was narrowed down to two people—both famous names: Filippo Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghiberti (who designed the ornamental doors to the Baptistry). Brunelleschi had the support of Cosimo de Medici, so naturally, he was awarded the commission. Work started on the dome in 1420 and took over sixteen years.

The Cathedral in 1880
The dome is constructed of a complicated series of bricks and mortar which is supported by metal and wooden bands within the masonry. A feat of engineering, the dome continues to dominate the skyline of Florence.

Though the cathedral was “open for business,” by the early Fifteenth Century, work continued on the decorative marble façade well into the 1880’s. Similarly, the gorgeous stained glass windows and numerous sculptures were also added over time. Despite the impressive architecture of the basilica, the interior is rather Spartan compared to others of the era—allowing for the building to speak for itself.

Today, Florence Cathedral remains one of the most impressive architectural accomplishments in history. It will forever be a symbol of the ingenuity of the Renaissance and of the arts of Italy. To learn more about Il Duomo, this Web site can offer you a lot of great information.