Saturday, November 20, 2010

Saturday Sparkle: “The Lesser George” Garter Insignia, 1810

The Lesser George
Sardonyx, Gold and Diamonds
Given to Prince Albert
by Queen Victoria
The Royal Collection
Two days before their wedding, Queen Victoria gave Prince Albert a set of magnificent jewels which included a diamond star, a badge and an unusual garter insignia (which is not worn on a garter, per se, but rather symbolic of being in “The Order of the Garter”). The insignia known as “The Lesser George” was the most important of the set. This piece was created from historical jewels belonging to previous monarchs—created originally in 1810. One hundred twenty-three brilliant-cut and one rose-cut diamond taken from the shoulder loop of George III frame this brilliant insignia which is carved with a figure of St. George and the dragon on one side and a figure of St. Andrew on the other. The carved stone is secured by gold pins so that it may be turned around to display either face.

After Prince Albert’s death, during Victoria’s long period of mourning, she wore “The Lesser George” in remembrance of her husband. She wore the piece for the first time at the wedding of the Prince of Wales (future King Edward VII) and Princess Alexandra. She wrote in her journal, “For the first time since December, ’61, [wore] the ribbon, star and badge of the Order of the Garter, the latter being one my beloved one had worn…”

Toys of the Belle Époque: A Novelty Egg Doll in a Box, 1870

Novelty "Egg Doll", 1870
The Museum of Childhood
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Dolls were often given as gifts to adults to celebrate occasions such as births, christenings and weddings. Very often these dolls were presented in “boxes” which were really elaborate cases of wood, papier mache and glass with elaborately painted backgrounds.

This English doll was most likely given as a gift for a christening or a birth. The figure of a baby is bursting forth from an egg. The doll can easily be removed from its case. Upon inspection, one notices that the doll’s head can be removed to reveal a cavity inside which was specifically created to hold sweets. The usual filling for such dolls was candied almonds—a traditional gift to commemorate joyous events.

The interior of the case is adorned with wax roses which frame a hand-painted mirror so that the doll could be viewed from all sides. Special items such as these were cherished for many years, however, given their fragile nature, few survive. This particular example can be viewed at the Museum of Childhood at the V&A.

Masterpiece of the Week: Victoria and Albert’s Magnificent Piano, 1856

Piano, 1856
Gilt Mahogany, Ormolu, Paint, Satinwood, Pine
S. & P. Erard
Presented to Queen Victoria
The Royal Collection
Ever-united, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were aficionados of fine music and both, by all accounts, played the piano beautifully. They enjoyed playing together as well as taking turns accompanying while the other sang. For them, the piano was the centerpiece of the home.

In 1856, this magnificent gilt piano was presented to the queen by its makers, S. and P. Erard. The piano is largely composed of gilt, painted and varnished mahogany with ormolu adornments and an interior of satinwood and pine. Queen Victoria selected the ornaments and painted scenes herself.

The piano has recently been restored. Would you like to hear it played? Here are some selections performed by Howard Shelley and Hilary MacNamara on the restored piano.

At the Music Hall: “Forty-Seven Ginger Headed Sailors,” 1928-9

Now there's a good ship,
H.M.S. Cock-Robin.
On her home trip,
Up and down she's bobbin'
So the crew's pretty tough.
The weather's so rough.
They're all fed up and say
That they've had more than enough.

I've got a brother
He's an able seaman
And they call him Redhead Tom
I wire to say I'll meet you
And with your pals I'll treat you
So who do you think I've had a message from?

Forty-seven ginger-headed sailors
Coming home across the briney sea
When the anchor's weighed
And the jouney's made
Then they'll start the party
With a heave-ho, me-hearty

This comedic foxtrot about precisely forty-seven auburn-haired sailors is best known to modern audiences because of Hugh Laurie’s rousing performance of the song as Bertie Wooster in Jeeves and Wooster. The song, however, was popular long before Mr. Laurie’s enjoyable performance.

Written in 1928 by British entertainer, singer and songwriter Leslie Sarony, the song became a hit in 1929. The song was popularized in the 1930’s by Jack Hylton and his Orchestra. It’s a delightful tune with humorous lyrics and a goofy foxtrot flare that’s sadly missing these days.

For your listening and viewing pleasure, I’m including two videos. The first is the 1929 version by Jack Hylton, the second is Mr. Laurie as Bertie Wooster which I’m posting mostly for the entertainment of my own Bertie Wooster who enjoys fellow-Westie MacIntosh’s barked interruptions.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 102

Gamilla,” Adrienne said hurriedly, “Have you given Chidi the list that I wrote out earlier?”

“Yes, Mrs. Halifax.” Gamilla nodded.

“Have you gotten all of Fuller’s…oh…what about his blue blanket? He needs his blue blanket if he’s going to sleep.”

“I’ve packed everything he will need, Mrs. Halifax,” Gamilla smiled.

“Oh,” Adrienne shook her head.

“And, all of your things are packed, too. I’ll carry your jewel-case myself.” Gamilla nodded.

“Thank you, Gamilla,” Adrienne said. “You are a treasure. I’m so terribly sorry that we’re leaving so unexpectedly. But, Mr. Halifax insists. What about you? Are you prepared?”

“Yes, ma’am. This is so exciting! I’ve never been to New Orleans.”

“You haven’t?” Adrienne asked.

“Well, no. Not counting when I was brought here from the docks there, Mrs. Halifax.” Gamilla said softly.

“No, I suppose you wouldn’t have been.” Adrienne responded quickly.

“Are His Lordship and Dr. Halifax ready? Mr. Halifax will want to depart very shortly. I had to convince him not to leave at daybreak.”

“Naasir has already packed His Lordship’s things and he’s just finishing up with Dr. Halifax, Ma’am.”

“Now, you and Naasir will ride in the carriage with Fuller and Toby while my husband and I will ride in the first carriage with Dr. Halifax and Lord Fallbridge.”

“Of course.” Gamilla smiled.

“I know I’ve forgotten something.” Adrienne shook her head.

“It’ll be fine, Ma’am.” Gamilla nodded. “We ain’t got nothin’ here that we can’t get in New Orleans.”

“I suppose not.” Adrienne sighed. “Where’s Mr. Halifax?”

“Out back in the studio, Ma’am. He’s tellin’ the men how to load them statues in the cart.”

“Ah, good.” Adrienne smiled. “That will keep him occupied for awhile. I’m going to look in on His Lordship and Dr. Halifax. Will you mind Fuller?”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Gamilla nodded.

“Thank you,” Adrienne said as she fluttered up the stairs.

The door to Julian’s room was wide open. She peeked inside and saw Mr. Punch sitting on the bed muttering to himself and staring at the floor.

“Good morning, Mr. Punch.” Adrienne smiled. “Are you prepared for our trip?”

“Huh.” Mr. Punch grunted. “I’d like to say I am, I would, only I got a problem, I do.”

“What’s that?” Adrienne asked.

Mr. Punch pulled back the quilt on the bed to reveal the puppet which he’d tucked in like a sleeping child. “Me wooden chum, here.” Mr. Punch sighed. “Was gonna leave him here to rest while we was away, see. Only, now I’m thinkin’ it might do to bring him with us. Ain’t nobody gonna talk to him while we’re in New Orleans. Don’t want him to be lonely.”

“I see.” Adrienne grinned. “Well, then, I see no reason why we shouldn’t bring him along. We’re already bringing Toby so he won’t be lonely without you.”

“But, how we gonna bring me puppet?” Mr. Punch sighed. “Wouldn’t do to put him in a trunk, and I don’t think Cecil’s gonna be too friendly to the idea of lettin’ him ride in the carriage with us like a people. Cecil ain’t in such a good humor today.”

Adrienne nodded and thought for a moment. “Are you sure we can’t place him—very gently, of course—in your trunk? I don’t think it’s uncommon for a puppet to be in a trunk. I’m fairly sure that’s how Punch and Judy Men and Guignol Men carry their figures.”

Mr. Punch frowned. “But, I don’t ‘spect the puppets like it too much. Wouldn’t want to be in a trunk me-self.”

“That’s because you’re more man than you are puppet. See, Mr. Punch, your wooden friend doesn’t need air or light the way you do now.”

“No.” Mr. Punch continued to frown.

“I have an idea,” Adrienne said. “I have a large hamper in the kitchen that Cecil and I used to take on picnics. It’s made of wicker and opens at the top. Why don’t we put your Mr. Punch puppet in that? The wicker will allow him some light through the weaving and he’ll have plenty of air. That way, he can ride with Naasir, Gamilla, Fuller and Toby in their carriage. I’m sure Naasir will give him a kind word or two as we travel.”

Mr. Punch grinned. “Here, that’s why you’re me angel, it is. Cuz you’re such a smart lady!”

“I have my moments,” Adrienne laughed.

“Say!” Mr. Punch whooped. “Then, I’m ready to go, I am!” He gently took his puppet from the bed and lifted it up in the air—spinning around for a second.

“Careful of your hands,” Adrienne said gently.

“Me master’s hands are getting’ better every day. By the ball, they’ll be all healed up. I’ll say this for people bodies, they do fix themselves.”

“Very often, Mr. Punch.” Adrienne nodded.

“Not like when you’re made of wood.” Mr. Punch chattered. “Then you gotta get a whole new set o’ hands or a new head. Ain’t no fixin’ that. Wood don’t heal itself, it don’t. Not once it’s off the tree, and even, then…” He paused. “Here, wood comes from trees, don’t it?”

“Yes.” Adrienne answered.

“Ought to say some kind things to trees, then.” Mr. Punch continued. “Never know who they might be. Here! Houses are made of wood, they are.” Mr. Punch furrowed Julian’s brow. “It’s all sort of confusin’.”

“Many things are.” Adrienne said. “Now, if you’ll give me your wooden ‘chum’, I’ll see to it that Gamilla rests him in that hamper.”

“Very well.” Mr. Punch said, handing the puppet to Adrienne.

“May I come in?” Robert asked from the doorway.

“Yes, of course.” Adrienne smiled. “Mr. Punch and I were just deciding on the best way for his puppet to ride with us.”

“Have you worked it out satisfactorily?” Robert chuckled.

“I do believe we have.” Adrienne grinned. “Now, listen, boys, I want you both in the front hall in ten minutes. Cecil is in a most dreadful hurry and I know that he can only be detained in his studio for so long before he becomes impatient.”

Robert nodded. “I understand completely.”

“Ten minutes,” Adrienne repeated before leaving the room.

“Off we go on another adventure,” Robert smiled at Mr. Punch.

“Seems like it.” Mr. Punch said. “Maybe this time we won’t get sick, poisoned or burnt.”

“That’s generally a healthy goal.” Robert laughed.

“We’re leavin’ some of the bad things behind us here.” Mr. Punch said hopefully.

“Temporarily. They’ll catch up with us. Furthermore, we’ll encounter some new ‘bad things,’ as you say, along the way. Are you prepared?”

“Sure I am!” Mr. Punch whooped. “Ain’t no devil I can’t beat.

“I know that to be quite true.” Robert smiled.

Meanwhile, further up the hill, Ulrika Rittenhouse stood on colonnaded balcony of the Rittenhouse Mansion and gazed at the scene in front of the Halifax’s house. She watched as Chidi and his son loaded the carriages with trunks and cases.

“Where are they going?” She muttered to herself. “It’s too soon to leave for the Masquerade. This won’t do. This won’t do at all.”

Ulrika hurried back into the house and burst into her bedchamber where Arthur and Barbara Allen still sat—slack-jawed and drooling—on the settee.

She clapped her hands in front of them. They both opened their eyes and moaned.

“I need the two of you.” Ulrika growled. “So, get your wits about you.”

Barbara struggled to speak.

“Your brother is leaving,” Ulrika interrupted. “Stop him!”

Did you miss Chapters 1-101? If so, you can read them here. Come back Monday, November 22, for Chapter 103 of Punch’s Cousin.

Goal for the Day: Avoid the Holiday Jitters

A lot of you who read Stalking the Belle Époque, live in England, France, Germany, Italy and other places, but here in the United States, next week, the unofficial “official” start of the Holiday season begins with Thanksgiving. After that, it’s typically a mad dash toward Christmas, Hanukah (and whatever other holidays one chooses to observe). What we tend to forget is that these occasions are really best spent enjoying our family and friends and being grateful for what we have in our lives.

Many people tend to become engulfed in some kind of “Holiday Mania.” The holidays aren’t a time to become nervous or feel pressure, they’re a time to rejoice and be comfortable. Your Christmas decorations don’t have to rival your neighbors’. You don’t have to have unspoken contests about who gives the bigger and better gifts. You don’t need to hurt yourself trying to make the occasion special when it’s special all by itself.

Human beings are competitive by nature. We’re also greedy. Some of us are greedy about what we get, others of us are greedy about what we give. Let’s just all remember that this is a season where the greatest achievements are peace and kindness. Those are two gifts we should remember to give all year long.

Object of the Day: A Nineteenth-Century Dutch Landscape

Signed “S. v. V. D”. and dated 1850 on the reverse, this large landscape painting most likely heralds from the Netherlands though it was purchased with a lot of English antiques which were brought to Texas.

Compositionally, we can find further evidence of its origins. Half of the composition represents water while the remaining majority of the scene is composed of a dramatic sky offset by the silhouettes of contrasting trees. A ridge of mountains cuts across the scene, leading the eye toward a domestic scene of two men fishing aside a humble, but sturdy house. The theatrical rendering of the landscape which dwarves the human-figures and their creations is typical of Dutch Landscape painting and also a favorite theme of English art collectors.

Such canvases were produced in the Netherlands for export to the United Kingdom during the Nineteenth Century when British middle and upper class households were clamoring for imported art to fill their walls.

We have another case where the artist probably never would have imagined that their work would be hanging in a house in America—let alone such an exotic and unknown place as Texas. It goes to show that there’s a permanence to all that we create. Long after we’re gone, our works will continue to exist, ending up in the most unexpected of locations.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Fun: La Tarantella di Pulcinella, 1959

We turn again to the delightful work of Emanuele Luzzati, the brilliant director, animator, painter, illustrator and designer who brought us many charming books and short films about Mr. Punch’s Italian Cousin, Pulcinella.  This 1959 short film by Luzzati shows a version of his Pulcinella character that predates the figure which would later define his interpretation of the loveable scamp.  My Italian isn’t very good, so I’m not terribly sure what’s happening here.  It almost seems as if these are two films pieced together with a vintage commercial for “Barilla” pasta in the middle.  If any of you have better Italian skills than I do (and, at least, I know that the dozens of you reading this from Italy do), I’d love some further insight.   

Antique Image of the Day: Obaysch the Hippopotamus, 1852

Obaysch, 1852
The Royal Collection
Perhaps one of the most popular attractions at the London Zoo in the 1850’s was Obaysch the Hippopotamus. Obaysch had been presented to the British Consul in 1850 by the Viceroy of Egypt. Visitors to the London Zoo flocked to see this creature—the likes of which they’d never seen before. Seen here in this 1852 salt print laid on card, Obaysch doesn’t look terribly happy to be in the zoo, but the spectators seem rather interested in him.

Obaysch was such a sensation that he even inspired a sculpture by Carl Fabergé which was acquired by Queen Alexandra in 1900.

Queen Alexandra's Agate Hippo
The Royal Collection

Pets of the Belle Époque: Royal Children and a Poodle, 1870

Prince Albert Victor, Prince George,
and Princess Louise of Wales with
a Poodle, 1870
The Royal Collection
Taken in 1870 by W. and D. Downey, this photograph shows Prince Albert Victor, Prince George and Princess Louise of Wales with a very fluffy poodle.  They seem to have inherited their mother’s love of animals.  This is, it would appear, is one of several poodles owned by Queen Victoria.  Most notable, of course, amongst Victoria’s poodle charges was Sammy, her intelligent poodle who had a love of balancing on things.  One can’t be sure if this poodle is of the circus-trick variety, but it seems to be a very affable dog and quite fond of the little royals. 

Mr. Punch in the Arts: An Antique Drawing by George Scharf

Punch & Judy Show
George Scharf
The British Museum
Drawn from life, this pencil and watercolor sketch shows a Punch & Judy show being performed on the street much to the delight of those watching.  In the highly decorative tent, we can see Mr. Punch with his famous slapstick, aiming for a rather frantic Judy.  Scharf’s depiction of the tent is quite authentic.  We can see the evolution of such a Punch & Judy booth from when this was drawn in the 1800’s to a version from 1912 (below).   Since this was drawn from life, we’re led to believe that the booth’s signage, “Our Endavour is to Please” is an accurate transcription of a misspelling on the part of the “Professor.” 

Punch & Judy Booth
The Museum of Childhood at
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 101

Marjani put her hands on Iolanthe Evangeline’s shoulders. Iolanthe winced as Marjani touched her still-raw wound.

“Unhand me!” Iolanthe spat.

“You gotta get outta here.” Marjani said.

“Don’t you realize that you’re sending me out to my death?” Iolanthe hissed.

“Ain’t nothin’ but death in here for ya.” Marjani shook her head. “Now, listen to me, woman. I don’t care what happens to ya. This whole place is filled with the seeds of the Yellow Jack. I don’t care whether you let them seeds into your body to take root and make you suffer like my babies done suffer, or if them angry men out there shoot you full of holes. But, I ain’t gonna let you stay in here with my family and leave them open to the evil that surrounds ya!”

“You know that I could destroy you.” Iolanthe whispered.

“I’m not scared of you.” Marjani said. “I done looked death square in the eyes many a time. You ain’t got nothin’ on the power of the world that’s all ‘round us. You’re nothin’ to me, woman. You ain’t no force that I gotta concern myself with.”

Iolanthe grinned. “I see.”

“Why you smilin’ at me?” Marjani asked.

“I think you’re a fool, but I respect you for it.” Iolanthe winked. “I’ll leave you with your family.”

“Good.” Marjani said.

Iolanthe looked over her shoulder to the two poor souls that suffered on that cot.

“I hope they die.” Iolanthe smiled. “Soon. For their own sake.”

“Get out.” Marjani growled.

Iolanthe left the shack.

Marjani fell to her knees in front of the door and sobbed. “Ain’t we suffered enough, Holy Mother? Why you gotta send us test after test? I ain’t got no answers left. I’m doin’ all I can!”

Marjani rose and went to her chair behind which she had tucked away the gifts that Naasir had brought. She found the bag of gris-gris and squeezed it in her hands. “I do these things in your name,” She said aloud. “I do these things not to go against, you, Lady Mother, but to make your power greater! Don’t punish me now.”

Meanwhile, outside, Iolanthe Evangeline made her way to the rambling plantation house of Manuel Fontanals. She crept onto the front porch and gently rapped on the French windows which opened into the front parlor. She could see Mr. Fontanals sitting in front of the fire, smoking his pipe.

Mr. Fontanals heard the tapping and came to the window, opening it.

“I’ll be.” Mr. Fontanals smiled. “If it isn’t Miss Evangeline come to answer my Christmas prayers.”

“I’ll do more than that if you let me in.” Iolanthe cooed seductively.

Mr. Fontanals offered Iolanthe his hand.

“Come right in,” He smiled.

At that very moment, Adrienne assisted the servants in putting her drawing room back together.

“We’ll need a new rug.” Adrienne muttered nervously, rubbing her slipper across the burn marks.

“Easily gotten,” Robert said.

“I could send a letter to a wonderful rug-maker I know in London.” Julian suggested. “He could create something beautiful in any colors you’d like.”

“Thank you, Your Lordship.” Adrienne said blankly.

“By now, Adrienne,” Julian smiled, “You know you can call me ‘Julian.’”

“Yes, of course.” Adrienne shuffled about. She glanced around the room. “Some broken glass and china, but aside from the burnt rug, there’s no real damage.” She clasped her hands in front of her chest. “Would that I could say the same about Cecil. Why doesn’t he come back?”

“He’s got the strongest men from the staff with him.” Robert said soothingly. “I’m sure he’s quite fine.”

“You Englishmen!” Adrienne grumbled. “Always so stoic!”

“We have to be,” Robert said.

“We’re not all so level-headed,” Julian smiled, lifting up his figure of Mr. Punch. “Some of us have rather unusual ways of coping.”

Adrienne chuckled despite herself. “True, Julian, but you’re exceptional.”

Julian blushed.

“I must go check on Fuller.” Adrienne said anxiously. “Excuse me.”

“Of course,” Robert stood as Adrienne skittered out of the room.

As Robert sat down, he glanced at Julian who seemed lost in thought.

“You’re not in pain, are you?” Robert asked.

“No, no.” Julian shook his head.

“He’s talking to you, isn’t he?” Robert smiled.

“Yes.” Julian nodded. “I suppose he always has. I’ve tried so hard to ignore him for all of these years. I figured I was simply mad—or perhaps everyone heard another voice in their head. I didn’t know. I should have listened to him. He’s got quite a lot to say.”

“Mr. Punch has been very good to you for many years.” Robert said softly. “He protects you.”

“I know.” Julian sighed. “I’ve not done a very good job of protecting him.”

“That’s why you have me.” Robert responded.

“Is it?” Julian squinted.

“In part. I must say, however, Mr. Punch does quite well on his own. He’s proven to be quite brave and sensible.”

“More so than I.” Julian answered quietly.

“Is that true?” Robert asked. “Aren’t you both parts of the same whole? The qualities that Mr. Punch displays are your own qualities, just interpreted in a different way. He exists because of you, he reacts from the drive within your own body. He was born in you, not the other way around.”

“I’d never thought of it that way.” Julian said thoughtfully. “He’s impatient. You should hear him chattering away in there…in here. It’s hard to describe.”

“He likes being out with people.” Robert said.

“Isn’t it strange?” Julian shrugged. “He likes it, and I don’t.” He looked up at Robert. “Please, don’t mistake me. I’m happy to be here with you. It’s just…”

“I understand.” Robert smiled.

Julian looked down and noticed his stickpin—the oak leaf with the glittering diamond. “I don’t recall…”

“That was my Christmas gift to you…” Robert said. “I’m sure Mr. Punch will tell you all about it.”

“Ah.” Julian drew in a deep breath. “Thank you.” His shoulders sagged. “Yet, I have nothing for you.”

“Mr. Punch gave me a lovely pen on behalf of both of you.” Robert grinned. “And, Julian, truthfully, the only gift I wanted this Christmas was for you to…” Robert stumbled over his words.

“Make an appearance?” Julian suggested.

“Yes.” Robert said.

The front door burst open and they heard Cecil shouting. “Go ’round back and guard the house.”

Cecil stomped into the front hall and cursed loudly.

Adrienne came running through the corridor.

“She got away, my angel. She got away.” Cecil moaned.

“I don’t care.” Adrienne said, throwing her arms around her husband. “I only care that you’re back!”

“Tomorrow morning,” Cecil said, after squeezing his wife. “We’re closing up the house.”

“We are?” Adrienne asked.

“Yes.” Cecil said firmly. “We’re going to New Orleans.”

“So soon?” Robert said. “You don’t need to be there until two days before the ball to set you the figures.”

“We’re going tomorrow! All of us.” Cecil said loudly. “Pack your things.”

“Where will we stay?” Adrienne asked.

“We’ll decide that when we arrive.” Cecil muttered.

“We can stay at Dr. Biamenti’s house on Royal.” Robert said. “I’ve got use of it all season. That’s where Julian and I stayed when we first arrived. Meridian, the housekeeper, will look after us.”

“Why must we go so soon?” Adrienne asked.

“Because I’m going to get that serpent—that ogress—in her own nest!” Cecil said firmly.

“Here!” Mr. Punch shouted.

Robert let his head sag, knowing his brief reunion with Julian was over, but somehow glad to hear Mr. Punch again, too.

“We’re goin’ to New Orleans! That’s the way to do it!” Mr. Punch whooped.

Did you miss Chapters 1-100? If so, you can read them here. You can also read a summary of the first one hundred chapters here.

Goal for the Day: Allow Yourself Time to Unwind

Much like clockwork figures, we wind ourselves up during the day to go, go, go.  By the evening, many of us wind ourselves up again and continue our activities—whether it’s work you’ve brought home or housework—until it’s time to go to sleep.  Many of us are so-wound up by the time we should be falling asleep that slumber is impossible.  That’s why it’s important to allow yourself an hour of relaxation before you go to bed.  Give your body a chance to transition between being constantly “on” and “shutting off.”  Just as our computers require some time to power down, so do our bodies.  So, tonight, as you start your weekend, let your body—and your mind—relax.  You’ll sleep better.  And, if all else fails, there’s going to be a lot of turkey consumed next week.  That ought to help. 

Objects of the Day: A Pair of French “Echidna” Sconces

This unusual pair of ormolu (gilt bronze) sculptural wall sconces heralds from Late Nineteenth-Century France. At some point in their existence, they were electrified, but are no longer wired, and thus, hold candles.

The sculptures are of Classical Greek “Echidna” figures—a winged creature with a woman’s head and torso, and the body of a sea serpent. Echidna was a drakaina (a female dragon with humanoid features) and was considered, “the mother of all monsters.” According to Classical Greek mythology, she was capable of some pretty awful things, but she makes for a nice lamp.

Finely sculpted with exquisite detail, the sconces are adorned with amethyst crystal drops from the tips of the wings. They’re rather idealized interpretations of Echidna created during a time when French artists were focusing on the beauty of ancient mythology and not the gorier details.

It’s always interesting to see the ideas of other cultures and times as viewed through the eyes of a completely unrelated people and time period. If these sconces were recreated today, no doubt the figures would be further idealized—losing any traces of their mythological origins and smiling with cherubic faces. I like them better this way.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mastery of Design: The Crown of the Emperor Bahadur Shah II, c. 1830

The Crown of the Emperor Bahadur Shah II
India, c. 1830
Purchased by Queen Victoria, 1861
The Royal Collection
Though referred to as a crown, this beautiful sculpture of gold, turquoise, rubies, diamonds, pearls, emeralds, feathers and velvet is more accurately, a skull cap. The piece was worn at the back of the head held in place by the emperor’s turban which was similarly bejeweled.

This piece, along with a set of two throne chairs, was purchased by Major Robert Tytler following the 1857 Indian Mutiny. Tytler returned to England and refused offers from a high-end Bond Street jeweler (amounting to a staggering £1000), instead preferring that the jewel was first offered to Queen Victoria. As Prince Albert handled the purchase of all of the queen’s jewelry, he was told of the “crown” and expressed great interest in its value as a work of the jeweler’s art, but also as a symbol of power over India. The Prince did, in fact, want the “crown” as well as the two thrones and offered £500 for the lot. Tytler felt the offer was far too low, but could not refuse Prince Albert who stated that the major would receive a special appointment from Her Majesty when he returned to India in order to make up the difference between the true value of the pieces and their offer. Tytler agreed. And, he returned to India. However, he did not receive any sort of appointment—special or otherwise. This slight so angered his wife that in her memoirs—written forty years later—she was still fuming about the episode.

Gem of the Week: Turquoise

Prized from the dawn of ancient civilizations for its unique color and beauty, turquoise has played an integral part in the art and design of many different cultures. The stone itself is a mineral which is a hydrous phosphate of copper and aluminum. With its opaque blue-green color which is often flecked with black or gold, the turquoise not only has been used in jewelry, but also in mosaics and sculpture.

Victorian Gold, Ruby and Turquoise Tassel Bracelet
Lang Antique and Estate Jewelry
The ancient Egyptians employed turquoise frequently in ornamental pieces ranging from jewelry and armor to sarcophagi and mosaics. Similar uses arose in Persia (Iran), China, and the ancient Americas. The stone is strikingly beautiful against a variety of colors, taking on the richness of gold, the coolness of silver or acting as a brilliant counterpoint to precious gems.

During the mid-to-late Victorian era, when England’s fascination with other cultures swelled to its apex, many pieces of jewelry were deigned to incorporate exotic turquoise and to emulate the masterworks of the finest of the world’s jewelers.

Turquoise remains popular today. Frequently imitated, you’ve got to be sure that the turquoise you’re buying is natural. Similarly, natural lower-grade turquoise is often treated to enhance the color. These stones are markedly less valuable than vibrant natural specimen.

Punch’s Cousin—The First One Hundred Chapters, a Summary

Today marks the one hundredth chapter of Punch’s Cousin. For those of you who may not have been reading from the beginning, here’s a recap of what’s happened thus far.

In 1852, comfortably hidden at his ancestral home, Fallbridge Hall, Julian, Lord Fallbridge rarely ventures out of his chambers. His father, Sir Colin Molliner is abroad in search of rare jewels. Julian’s mother, The Duchess of Fallbridge, is best avoided at all costs. Julian returned to Fallbridge Hall after living in Belgrave Square in London where he worked as a successful jeweler. A brutal attack in Covent Garden sent the already agoraphobic man into a total state of panic, and, thus, he returned to the family home.

Among Julian’s prized possessions—kept in a locked curio cabinet in his study—is a figure of Mr. Punch. Julian’s father had purchased the puppet for Julian when he was a small boy. Sometimes the puppet makes Julian feel uneasy and he gets the sense that sometimes the figure might be moving or speaking. He tries to ignore these sensations.

Julian’s valet, Arthur, tells His Lordship that his mother, the Duchess, wishes to see him at once. Nervously, Julian visits his mother on the lower floor of the great hall. The Duchess of Fallbridge makes her distaste for her son apparent, but tells him that his sister, Lady Barbara, has fled England just before she was to marry a wealthy suitor. The Duchess insists that Julian retrieve his sister immediately.

As Julian investigates what might have happened to his sister (with the mandatory assistance of the unctuous Arthur), he contemplates the thought of having to travel with dread. In the folly where Julian and his sister once played, Arthur “finds” a slip of paper left behind by Lady Barbara with the name and address of one Iolanthe Evangeline in New Orleans, Louisiana—The United States. Arthur finds a brass bell which Lord Julian recognizes as being from the hat of his Mr. Punch. Julian returns the hall and finds that his puppet is missing. He is haunted by the words, “I am lost in the sugar cane.” With great fear, Lord Fallbridge makes arrangements to go to the United States.

Accompanied by Arthur, Julian boards The Hyperion en route to Louisiana. On the ship, Julian begins to be further troubled by a problem he’s always had—extended periods of lost time during which he’s unsure what he’s done. The problem has gotten worse. Julian finds that during one of these blank moments that he agreed to meet with a man on the ship—Robert Halifax. Julian is distrustful of Robert and his eagerness to be of assistance. Robert finds Julian’s behavior puzzling—especially when he speaks in a rough manner and acts very much unlike a refined gentleman. During one of these moments, Robert is introduced to Mr. Punch. Mr. Punch is Julian’s other personality. Dissociative Identity Disorder was not recognized or understood at the time, but Robert accepts that Julian is not well and does a good job managing Mr. Punch.

Mr. Punch (who insists that his surname is Molliner, like Julian’s) is quite angry. He’s upset that his puppet body has been taken and his head “cleaved in two.” At first, Mr. Punch reacts just as his puppet counterpart might—with rashness, cunning and violence. Robert explains to Mr. Punch that they’d met before. When Julian had been attacked in Covent Garden, Robert was the physician who attended to him. Though it had been Julian’s body, it was Mr. Punch who was present at the time. Punch made appearances when Julian was overwhelmed. It seems, they’d been working in unison this way for thirty years. Punch describes to Robert how young Julian would confide in the puppet as they played, and that, over time, he became such an integral part of Julian’s mind, he formed himself as an independent entity. Punch was the keeper of secrets and refused to reveal some painful memory from Julian’s past—the very thing that caused him to be so fearful all of the time. Mr. Punch was further upset to find that Julian’s former nanny—Agnes Rittenhouse—was also aboard the ship.

Julian was further troubled to learn from Robert that his sister, Lady Barbara, had born a child out of wedlock and that Robert was the doctor who delivered the baby. Robert explained that the woman—Iolanthe Evangeline—that Barbara had left England to see was a famous brothel-owner and rumored murderer and magician known as “The Elegant Ogress.” Robert’s sister-in-law, Adrienne had been lured into Iolanthe’s web in a similar way until she was rescued by his brother, Cecil. They lived in a town near the levee called Marionneaux.

The journey was further complicated when Julian received word that his father, Sir Colin Molliner, had been murdered in France—seemingly the act of thieves who’s stolen the precious gems that he carried. Julian realized that when his Mr. Punch figure went missing so did a priceless blue diamond known both as “The Molliner Blue” and “The Fallbridge Blue.” The diamond had been hidden inside the puppet’s head. Mr. Punch was certain that Barbara had taken the stone.

Arthur began to act strangely, spending time with a nefarious man who called himself, “The Professor.” Clearly Arthur and this man—as well as the nanny—were in league against Julian. Arthur tried twice to poison Lord Fallbridge. The second time he succeeded in poisoning both Julian and Robert.

Mr. Punch awakened in time to save “his master” and Robert, and, then, furiously, searched for Arthur. Mr. Punch cornered Arthur on the deck of the ship. Just as he was about to throw the man overboard, Mr. Punch was interrupted by an African man who seemed to be aware of Julian’s special condition. The man, Naasir, told Mr. Punch that if he had to kill Arthur, he should close his eyes so that Julian would have no memory of it. Mr. Punch did as asked and was pleased to hear Arthur scream as he splashed into the sea.

Naasir explained that the legends of his people told of “The Great Man of the Rocks” who was two men in one. Naasir said that he wished to fulfill his destiny by helping “The Great Man” defeat forces of evil. He gave Mr. Punch a voodoo powder. Robert didn’t trust Naasir and felt very protective of Julian/Punch. However, Julian agreed to hire Naasir as his new valet since Arthur could not be found.

Robert reluctantly explained to Julian of his other personality. Shocked at first, Julian accepted the explanation and realized that the knowledge answered many questions about his life. Mr. Punch, Julian and Robert continued to grow closer as the ship reached New Orleans.

Upon docking at their destination, Robert was quite weakened from having been poisoned and showed signs of becoming ill. The doctor, however, insisted that he was fine. On the docks, Julian felt certain he’d seen his sister, but was distracted upon running into a woman in an elegant gown who he later discovered was the woman he was seeking—Iolanthe Evangeline also known as “The Elegant Ogress.”

Without Robert, Julian/Punch and Naasir went to Iolanthe’s brothel in search of Lady Barbara. There, Mr. Punch attacked Iolanthe who became irate and also had a strange reaction to Naasir whom she claimed had powers that were a danger to her. Iolanthe attempted to burn Naasir at an altar while she taunted Mr. Punch—unaware that he wasn’t technically Lord Julian. Luckily, Robert rescued the two men before they could come to real harm. He promised Iolanthe that they would leave New Orleans. That night, they traveled to Marionneaux to stay with Robert’s brother Cecil—a sculptor, his wife Adrienne and their infant child, Fuller.

The introduction to the Halifax family softened Mr. Punch as he bonded with the baby and Adrienne, and, later his new dog, Toby. Mr. Punch accepted his humanity and allowed himself to feel. Julian made very few appearances during this time and Robert feared that Mr. Punch had taken Julian’s body over completely. Robert continued to become increasingly ill. They became aware that Lady Barbara had actually been on the ship with them and that she (with the help of Iolanthe) had sold her baby to a family living in Marionneaux—The Cages. In order to get more information, they visited a neighboring plantation—The Rittenhouse Estate. During tea at the Rittenhouse estate, Robert collapsed and was diagnosed with pneumonia. He was told he could not be moved. Mr. Punch insisted on staying with Robert for as long as it took for him to recover despite the presence of Julian’s former nanny, Agnes, in the house. A servant from the nearby plantation of Manuel Fontanals—Marjani Carruthers—was hired to nurse Robert back to health. Marjani proved to be a good friend and ally—also aware of the stories Naasir knew and accepting Mr. Punch right away.

While at the Rittenhouse Estate, they learned that Lady Barbara is also there—in disguise—working as a maid. She has renamed herself “Barbara Allen” after the cruel woman of the famous English folksong. Why she’s there remains a mystery, however, she’s in league with the eldest Rittenhouse child, red-headed Ulrika who has strange intentions of her own. Barbara admits to stealing the diamond and says hateful things to both her brother and Robert. While in Robert’s room, Mr. Punch sees Barbara through a second story window. She is below, with the presumed-dead Arthur! In anger, Mr. Punch smashes the window. Naasir explains that he set Arthur free on the ship and that he couldn’t allow Mr. Punch to take a human life. Mr. Punch begins to understand. Naasir, Marjani, Robert and Naasir plot to expose Barbara, Arthur and Iolanthe. Naasir suggests Marjani help him sneak a voodoo powder into the drinks of the group of bad seeds. Mr. Punch assists them. They catch Arthur and Barbara in the stables with Ulrika Rittenhouse and “The Professor” who, it turns out, worked for Iolanthe Evangeline and had come to Marionneaux to do her bidding. Also in the stable is Iolanthe Evangeline who’d been shot by Cecil as he attempted to protect his wife and child from the ogress.

Naasir slips the powder to the group and Iolanthe and the professor begin to speak the truth—telling of the sale of Barbara’s child and the missing diamond. However, a fire is started by an overturned lamp. Mr. Punch rescues Iolanthe after Arthur flees. Ulrika runs off to find her mother and the professor and Barbara refuse to leave the blazing building. Barbara is frantically looking for the missing diamond which was to have been hidden in the stable. The professor wishes to die, realizing the horrible crimes he’s committed. As the burning building crashes down on them, Julian’s body is trapped in the flames.

Naasir managed to rescue Punch/Julian from the fire. Julian awakens after being unconscious for several days. Robert explains that the professor has been killed, that Iolanthe escaped and that Barbara and Arthur are missing. Meanwhile, Adrienne, in her attempt to extricate Barbara’s son from the household of Edward Cage—Cecil’s employer—who bought Barbara’s child, only angers the man who threatens her life and her husband’s livelihood.

Robert suggests that they corner Iolanthe and her wicked team at Edward Cage’s annual New Year’s Eve Masquerade Ball at the Waxworks. Marjani learns that her daughter and son-in-law have contracted the deadly Yellow Fever and she faces the reality that they will die and she will have to raise their small daughter, Columbia, on her own.

Together, they celebrate Christmas, growing closer and exchanging meaningful gifts. Meanwhile, Ulrika begins a torrid affair with Arthur—who is revealed to be Barbara Allen’s husband. Barbara tries desperately to get back to Iolanthe as promised, but is thwarted by Arthur when she learns that Ulrika has the diamond and also has a document stating that upon Barbara’s death, she will inherit Barbara’s estate. Ulrika wants to make it appear that Julian has taken his own life so that there will be no impediments to getting what she wants. She enlists Agnes to help her, and also begins performing mysterious “Mesmerism” on Barbara and Arthur.

The happy Christmas at the Halifax house is cut short with the arrivals of both Agnes Rittenhouse and Iolanthe Evangeline. Iolanthe shoots at Cecil and manages to start another fire in the house. Robert threatens to push Agnes out of the window unless she tells him what happened to Julian as a child. Both women manage to escape. Iolanthe flees to the cabin where Marjani is nursing her family and tries to kill Marjani’s daughter. Meanwhile, Ulrika’s plan is gaining momentum.

As we continue into Chapters 101 and beyond, Julian/Punch, Robert, Cecil, Adrienne and Naasir will return to New Orleans for the ball. The Cages and the Rittenhouse family will be coming along with them. Two powerful women—Iolanthe and Ulrika—both bent on destroying innocent lives will bring some people together in their schemes and tear others apart.

For a summary of the next one hundred chapter, click here

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: “Bertie with a Child and a Dove”

"Are you gonna eat that?"
Image: Child with a Dove, Pablo Picasso, 1901, The National Gallery, Britain

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 100

Iolanthe walked slowly toward the cot where Nontle and Gilbert lay sputtering. She quietly took the pillow from behind Nontle’s head and whispered. “You be quiet, now. It’s all gonna be peaceful for you real soon.”

She raised the pillow and placed it firmly over Nontle’s face. The woman squirmed.

Marjani snorted, waking quickly.

“What are you doin’?” Marjani screamed, jumping from her chair and staggering toward Iolanthe.

The ogress took the pillow from the young woman’s face. With tears in her eyes, she said softly, “Puttin’ her out of her misery.”

“Ain’t your place to do that!” Marjani grabbed the pillow from Miss Iolanthe’s hand. “What gives you the right?”

Tears trickled down Iolanthe’s face. “My son. My own son is…” She wiped her face. “I know what it means to have a child who is ill. My own son has said those words to me, ‘Help me.’ I couldn’t help him. I can’t help him. But, I thought I could help these two poor souls.”

“What do you care ‘bout folks’ souls?” Marjani barked. “I know who you are!”

“I’m sure that you do.” Iolanthe stiffened.

“Nobody’s takin’ my babies. Nobody but the Holy Mother herself. And, you ain’t the Holy Mother! This ain’t their time, woman. No. This ain’t their time for to go!”

“I only wanted to help.” Iolanthe said firmly.

“No one wants your kind of help. Now, get out of here!” Marjani spat.

“I can’t.” Iolanthe shook her head. “I must stay—just for awhile longer.”

“Why?” Marjani growled.

“I’m in danger.” Iolanthe responded plainly.

“You’re in danger if you stay here.” Marjani narrowed her eyes in the dim light of the shack.

“I’m not a woman who begs and I don’t want you thinkin’ that I am. But, you gotta let me stay in here awhile longer. You do me a good turn and I’ll do one for you.”

At that very moment, Adrienne hurried into the drawing room of her house and spied the wreckage for the first time. She gasped. “Mon Dieu. Qu'est arrivé ici ? Ma belle maison!”

“J'aiderai tout remets. Il y a de rien vous déranger.” Robert responded in French without thinking. “I will help. There’s nothing to upset you.”

“On Christmas…” Adrienne put her hands over her face.

“Where’s Fuller?” Julian asked.

“With Gamilla and the others in the servants’ hall.” Adrienne answered. “Toby’s with them—quite happily eating some fine turkey.” She tilted her head to one side. “Oh, Lord Fallbridge! You’re back. I didn’t realize at first.”

“He’s been struck on the head.” Robert said, rubbing Julian’s arm.

“Is he injured?” Adrienne asked.

“I don’t think so.” Robert shook his head. “Thankfully.” He paused, “Adrienne, I broke a window upstairs. It seems Julian and I leave a trail of broken windows behind us wherever we go.”

“That’s the least of my concerns.” Adrienne sighed as she set about righting the room. “Where’s my husband? Is he still chasing Iolanthe?”

“He is,” Robert nodded.

“I do wish he’d come back. It’s not worth it. She always wins.” Adrienne began to sob.

Julian sat up, the figure of Mr. Punch still on his lap.

“Come and sit, dear Adrienne,” Julian said. “Please.”

“I cannot, Mr. Punch.” Adrienne cried. She shook her head, “I mean, Lord Julian. I’m sorry…I’m so confused. Pourquoi arrive-ceci ? Nous avons souffert déjà autant de!”

“I know, Adrienne,” Julian said soothingly. “We have all suffered more than it seems humanly possible. However, we must remain strong. We must have confidence.”

“Julian’s correct.” Robert grinned, proud of His Lordship for stating something that he should have believed long before. “Cecil will walk in that door any moment now.”

“Carrying the head of Iolanthe Evangeline?” Adrienne sobbed.

“At least it would mean an end to all of this.” Robert sighed.

Meanwhile, Agnes Rittenhouse burst into Ulrika’s bedchamber.

“Get out!” Ulrika spat. “Can’t you see I’m busy?”

Barbara Allen and Arthur were slumped motionless on the settee in front of Ulrika who stood before them both. Their faces were expressionless, their jaws slack.

“He tried to kill me!” Agnes sputtered.

“Who?” Ulrika grinned. “The lunatic Lord? How delicious!”

“No.” Agnes stammered. “The other one. His companion!”

“Oh.” Ulrika’s eyes widened. “I didn’t think he had that much vinegar in him. Really, how terribly exciting! Did you leave the note as I requested?”

“Don’t you care that I almost lost my life?” Agnes asked.

“Not really.” Ulrika grinned. “You’re here, aren’t you? Clearly, you’ve survived.”

“You are heartless.”

“You have no idea.” Ulrika smiled. “Now, get out. I’ll call for you if I need you.”

Speechless, Agnes left the room.

Ulrika knelt down in front of Barbara and Arthur and spoke to their limp bodies.

“Now, we’re alone again. Are you listening?”

Arthur mumbled something that Ulrika couldn’t quite understand.

“There’s no need to speak.” Ulrika snapped. “Just listen…”

Did you miss Chapters 1-99? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Chronicle Your Home’s History

Details of photos of my home from 1890, 1932 and 2002.
 Whether your home was built in 1890 or 1990 or anytime before or after, it’s your home. It’s part of your history and you’re a part of its history. You won’t always live there. In time, another family will move in and become a part of the home’s collective narrative. Obviously, I’m interested in history or I wouldn’t do what I do or live where I live, but I think all of us have an interest in permanence as well as seeing how we’ve gotten where we are.

Very often, we take out homes for granted. We walk the same floors, see the same sights and, frankly, let our surroundings fade away. As we approach Thanksgiving in the United States, let’s take some time to take a few pictures of our homes—both inside and out. Though they may seem like nothing special to you right now, in the future, those photographs will be quite important. Imagine how thrilled I was to be given photos of my house. Luckily, the original family kept good records of how the structure changed from 1890 to the present. What may seem commonplace to you will be a treasure to someone else in a century.

Object of the Day: An Antique Plate by Meakin

In the Nineteenth Century, J. and G. Meakin of England produced ironstone plates with “tourist” scenes of English landmarks for export to Australia, Canada and the United States. In 1970, Wedgwood took over the Meakin name, stopping production in 2000.

This plate by Meakin dates to the late Nineteenth Century. The green transfer-ware scene depicts one of the “stately homes of England”—just the sort of thing that a “foreign” market would want to collect as an example of the collective imagery of Britain.

The reverse of the plate says, “Romantic England. Penshurst Place. Kent, c. 1341. Historic ancestral home of the Sidneys. Sir Philip Sydney, poet and soldier, was born here. J & G Meakin, England. Permanent Decoration, A Genuine Hand Engraving by Frank Trigger.”

Sturdy and attractive, these plates found their way into many a home and were more often than not displayed as opposed to used in daily life. Such interesting “souvenirs” can often be found in antique shops today.

Penshurst Place today.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Precious Time: A French Bronze and Alabaster Mantel Clock, 1860

Mantel Clock, 1860
Alabaster, Bronze, Ormolu
Victoria & Albert Museum
Everyone in my family has an affinity for antique clocks. We’d be quite pleased to own this one. However, The Victoria & Albert Museum got to it first.

With a movement created by the famed French firm Japy Frères, this clock dates to 1860. The clock case—set atop an ebonized base and under a glass dome—was most likely crafted for the retailer, H.Y. Marc of Paris. The alabaster case features a shimmering bronze and ormolu sculpture of a warrior atop a charging stead. The timepiece is an excellent example of the singularly fine craftsmanship of the French clockmakers of the period.

Painting of the Day: Franz Winterhalter’s “The First of May,” 1851

The First of May
Franz Winterhalter, 1851
The Royal Collection
May 1, 1851 was an important day in the life of Queen Victoria. And, so, as one does, she commissioned Franz Xaver Winterhalter to paint a commemorative portrait befitting the occasion.

The date marked the first anniversary of the birth of Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught (future father of the Prince Arthur who was given the “Merman” mentioned below) as well as the eighty-second birthday of Prince Arthur’s godfather, the Duke of Wellington. Not only that, but it was the opening day of The Great Exhibition!

Winterhalter’s composition purposefully reminds us of Italian Baroque scenes of the “Adoration of the Magi,” as we see the Duke of Wellington from behind presenting Lilies of the Valley to the infant Prince who is held firmly in Queen Victoria’s arms. Lilies of the Valley were a traditional gift on May Day—given for good luck.

As usual, Winterhalter has done an a remarkable job with the painting. While an idealized look at this trio, it is nonetheless realistic.

Unusual Artifacts: The British Museum’s “Merman”

The British Museum
Presented to Queen Victoria’s grandson, HRH Prince Arthur of Connaught, in the early 1900’s, this nautical curiosity was said to have been “captured” in the Eigtheenth Century. The gift was made to the prince by one Arisue Seijiro of Japan who claimed that this mummified creature was in fact, the desiccated remains of a “Merman.” We’re not quite sure if Prince Arthur believed that this was true, however, he did donate the thing to The British Museum.

Of course, we know that this object is really the dried top-half of a monkey attached to a mummified fish tail—held together by means of a wooden interior support. However such marriages of mummified animals were not uncommon. Many such “Mermen” made their way from Japan to Europe—purported by their sellers as quite authentic. Such curiosities were quite popular both in private homes and in sideshows up until the Nineteenth Century (I’m sure some sideshows still display them today). This particular specimen is displayed in the British Museum’s “Enlightenment Gallery” which strives to show the history of museums from mad collections of curiosities to scientific encyclopedias of objects curated in a truthful and logical manner.

It’s quite a ghastly thing, yet interesting in its way. I’d have paid a shilling to see it. And, in fact, I still might.

Building of the Week: The Palazzo Spada, Rome, 1540

Palazzo Spada
Front Facade, 1540
Galleria Spada
Originally built in 1540 for Cardinal Girolamo Capodiferro, the Palazzo Spada stands near the Tiber River and is relatively close to Rome’s Palazzo Farnese. The initial structure was designed by architect Bartolomeo Baronino with the ornate interior and exterior stucco work having been created by Giulio Mazzoni. The stucco features patterns of swags of fruit and flowers around niches which are filled with exquisite sculptures symbolizing divinity.

Borromini's Trompe-l'oiel Arcade
Galleria Spada
In 1632, the palace was purchased by Cardinal Bernardino Spada who commissioned Francesco Borromini to alter the existing structure. Borromini did not modify the palace’s original front façade with its masterful Manneristic stucco work. He did, however alter the inner courtyard. Borromini’s most impressive contribution is the stunning arcade which can only be seen from the interior of the courtyard. While the arcade appears to be 120 feet long, ending at a life-sized sculpture of a human figure, it is, in reality only twenty-six feet long with the figure at the end appearing seven times its real height. This optical illusion is achieved through a trompe-l’oiel mural (a painting designed to literally “fool the eye”) which is a true masterpiece of artistic perspective.

An Interior Gallery
Galleria Spada
The palace was purchased by the Italian state in 1927 and today is comprised of impressive art galleries which house Cardinal Spada’s exquisite collection of Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century paintings. The paintings are hung in the traditional style of the Seventeenth Century—frame to frame with little-to-no space between--creating an awe-inspiring sight. Among the artists represented in the collection are: Andrea del Sarto, Guido Reni, Titian, Jan Brueghel the Elder, Guercino, Rubens, Dürer, Caravaggio, Domenichino, Salvator Rosa, Parmigianino, Francesco Solimena, Michelangelo Cerquozzi, Pietro Testa, and Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi.

For a stunning trip back to the Seventeenth Century, a visit to the Palazzo Spada is a must if you’re in Italy.

Portrait of a Gentlewoman by Raphael
From Cardinal Spada's Colelction
Galleria Spada

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 99

Mr. Punch was startled as he heard the thunder of footsteps running through the upstairs corridor. He yelped as Agnes Rittenhouse flew past him, running down the stairs. She screamed as she ran. Robert was in fast pursuit behind her.

“You maniac!” She shouted as she reached the ground floor and ran to the door. “You’re all insane!” She struggled with the handle of the front door before finally flinging it open and running out into the cold.

“What happened?” Punch asked, grabbing Robert’s arm with his wounded hands as Robert hurried past him.

“That sour old hag…” Robert panted. “She was in your room. I wanted to kill her!” Robert leaned on the railing and coughed deeply, staggering for a moment.

“She wouldn’t tell me.” He continued to pant, his voice raspy. “I was so angry. I pushed her down. I wanted to throw her through the window. I wanted to hear her scream as she fell.”

“Chum,” Mr. Punch put his arm around Robert’s waist to support him.

“I couldn’t do it. I threw a chair through the glass. I wanted to show her what I was capable of, but I…” he coughed again. “She got away. I’ve got to get her.”

“No.” Mr. Punch said quickly. “We got worse problems. There’s been shooting. Cecil and Iolanthe Evangeline.” Punch pointed to the closed drawing room doors.

“She’s here?” Robert’s eyes widened. “I heard the sound, but I didn’t…”

“We gotta get in there.” Mr. Punch said quickly. “Come on.”

“Let me do it.” Robert said, hurrying down the stairs still breathing rapidly.

“Not a chance,” Mr. Punch followed.

“Go see if Adrienne…where’s Fuller?” Robert asked alarmed.

“I sent him and Toby with Gamilla. Adrienne’s safe in the servants’ hall.”

“How can you be sure?” Robert moaned.

They heard a struggle coming from within the drawing room.

Robert raced to the door, followed by Mr. Punch. Pushing open the pocket doors, they saw Cecil lying on the floor with Iolanthe standing over him—a pistol aimed at his heart.

“Stand back!” Iolanthe shouted at Punch and Robert. “Less you want me to shoot you, too.”

“Cecil!” Robert shouted.

“I missed the first time, but I’ve got him where I want him now.” Iolanthe growled. “I won’t miss again.”

“Please,” Robert said slowly. “He has a child.”

“Don’t matter to me!” Iolanthe shouted wildly.

Mr. Punch lunged toward Iolanthe, knocking her down to the floor. The pistol flew out of her hand and Robert grabbed it as it skittered across the wood floor.

Iolanthe writhed and screamed, trying to break free of Mr. Punch’s grasp. She kicked at him. Punch could feel the blood rising on Julian’s legs where he’d been burned.

She managed to free one arm and pounded Julian’s back and shoulders with her fist, finally striking him on the back of the head with such force that his body went limp and he fell on top of her.

“Dear God!” Robert screamed as he helped Cecil up.

Robert rolled Julian/Punch off of Iolanthe and pulled the man’s limp body toward himself. He knelt down and cradled his companion as Cecil lumbered toward Iolanthe.

“Give me the pistol, Robert, and I’ll finish this once and for all.” Cecil shouted.

Robert handed the pistol to Cecil.

Iolanthe ran to the corner of the drawing room, overturning tables and chairs as she went. She grabbed a large curio cabinet by its spindles and overturned it—sending glass shattering everywhere.

Cecil stumbled backwards, but caught himself on the leg of an overturned tea table. He aimed the pistol toward Iolanthe Evangeline who grabbed a lit oil lamp and flung it toward Robert and Mr. Punch.

“If I’m goin’, you’re all goin’. Let’s see if His Lordship can survive two fires!”

The lamp shattered to the floor and immediately started burning the Persian rug. Without getting up, Robert reached for a table cloth from the upset table closest to him and beat the fire with it. However, that only served to fan the flames.

Male voices signaled the arrival of Chidi and his son who had heard the commotion from the servants’ hall and been dispatched by Adrienne to investigate.

Ty Chidi grabbed a large urn filled with pine and winter branches and poured the water over the fire, stamping at it with his feet until it was out.

Gros Chidi rushed Iolanthe who screamed as he drew near. She rose her leg and kicked Chidi in the stomach, crumpling the man into a heap on the floor. She took that opportunity to rush toward the drawing room doors. Making her escape through the foyer and the already open front door.

“She’s not free. Not this time,” Cecil growled, chasing after her.

“Ty Chidi,” Robert said, still cradling Julian’s body. “Is your father terribly hurt?”

“I’m fine,” Gros Chidi coughed. “Just got the wind knocked outta me.”

“Are you certain?” Robert asked.

“Yes, sir.”

“Ty Chidi, follow Mr. Halifax.” Robert said quickly. “Gros Chidi, please tell Miss Adrienne that Lord Fallbridge is hurt and, then, have some of the other men go after Mr. Halifax as well.”

“Yes, Sir.” The men said in unison.

Robert ran his hands over Julian’s face. “Come on, then. Come back to me.”

Julian’s eyes opened. Robert immediately knew that it was Julian who had awakened and not Mr. Punch.

As the smoky tendrils of blackness swirled around Julian’s eyes, he squinted and looked around the room.

“What’s happened?” Julian asked. “I smell fire.”

“There’s nothing to worry about,” Robert said gently. “Nothing at all.”

Robert helped Julian to the settee.

“Can you see?” Robert asked.

“Yes.” Julian nodded.

“Are you in any pain?”

“My head. And my legs…” Julian answered.

“Don’t worry,” Robert said. He spotted the figure of Mr. Punch on the floor where it had landed when Iolanthe rampaged through the room. “We’ll protect you.” He picked up the puppet and placed it in Julian lap. “We’ll protect you.”

Meanwhile Iolanthe Evangeline ran through the sugar cane fields. She had a vague sense of where she was. She recognized the house as being that of Manuel Fontanals. She was familiar with Mr. Fontanals who had been a frequent patron of her establishment in New Orleans. Spotting a shack at the rear of the property, she saw her opportunity to hide. Racing toward the shack, she opened the door and hurried into the cold darkness inside.

She was startled by the sounds of wheezing and sputtering. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she saw two people crowded together in a narrow cot. Their dark skin was made sallow and pale by sickness. On a chair in the corner, she spotted Marjani, passed out from sheer exhaustion, wrapped in a fine quilt.

“Help me…” The woman in the bed groaned.

Tears rose in Iolanthe’s eyes.

“I’ll help you, Girl,” She said.

Did you miss Chapters 1-98? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Know Your Neighborhood

Many communities have a “Neighborhood Watch.”  Many don’t.  Regardless, you should make a point of knowing your neighborhood.  Try to get a sense of the people and vehicles you see on a daily basis.  Everyone has a daily pattern.  Get to know your neighbors’ patterns.  If something seems out of place, for example a car parked too long where it shouldn’t be or unknown people lurking around, keep your eyes open.  Should you feel that there’s a problem, never hesitate to call the police.  It’s up to us to protect our communities.  Very often, our instincts are correct.  If something seems wrong, it usually is. 

Object of the Day: A Paperweight From Correia Studios

Correia Studios is responsible for some of the most exciting art glass produced in the last thirty years. Their collection of vases, sculptures, and paperweights is unrivaled in ingenuity, composition or color.

This paperweight entitled “Emerald Elite,” was created by glass artist Welgrio and features a crystal bubble encased in layers of glittering, striped green glass. The whole of the weight is surrounded by emerald and amethyst-toned sparkling crystal which has been infused with minerals to make it shimmer. This method of layering different types of glass is one of Correia’s hallmarks and one of the reasons their creations are so celebrated.

The weight has been faceted so that the face of it comes to an angle. When viewing the piece from the front, your eyes are tricked into seeing two crystal bubbles when there’s only one. I call this piece, “The Owl,” because when viewed straight-on, the illusion is that of an owl’s countenance.