Saturday, December 17, 2011

Mastery of Design: The Froment-Meurice Angel Brooch, 1847

The Victoria & Albert Museum

This enameled silver brooch takes the form of an angel with a viol. Made in 1847, this is the work of celebrated Parisian designer F.D. Froment-Meurice (1802-55). The angel with its shimmering instrument is cast in silver and set within this enameled brooch.

On the reverse, it is signed, “1847 François-Désiré Froment-Meurice.” Some of the enamel on the obverse has worn away over time.

The Home Beautiful: The Crane "Classic" Wallpaper Frieze, 1911

Victoria & Albert Museum

Here, we see a portion of wallpaper frieze with a deep paprika red ground dominated by an attractive lyre motif with an egg-and-dart molding pattern running above. The design was created as a woodblock print, allowing for intricate detail such as the artist’s attempt to imitate the texture of an ancient lyre which would have been made of tortoise shell and goats' horns.

This is the work of Walter Crane (1845-1915) who was a prolific designer of wallpapers. This frieze is one of Crane’s final designs. It shows the neoclassical revival style which was then popular at the time of the coronation of King George V. This frieze, or border, was designed for use with the Crane’s “Classic” pilaster paper.

At the Music Hall: “When Father Papered the Parlour," 1910

Our parlour needed papering and pa said it was waste
To call a paper hanger in, and so, he made some paste.
He bought some rolls of paper; got a ladder and a brush,
And with me mother's nightgown on, at it he made a rush


When father papered the parlour, you couldn't see him for paste.
Slapping it here, slapping it there, paste and paper everywhere.
Mother was stuck to the ceiling, the kids were stuck to the floor.
I've never seen such a bloomin' family so stuck up before!

The pattern was 'blue roses' with its leaves red, white, and brown;
He'd stuck it wrong way up and now, we all walk upside down.
And when he trimm'd the edging off the paper with the shears,
The cat got underneath it, and dad cut off both its ears.


Me pa fell down the stairs and dropp'd his paperhanger's can
On little Henrietta sitting there with her young man,
The paste stuck them together, as we thought t'would be for life,
We had to fetch the parson in to make them man and wife.


We're never going to move away from that house any more
For Father's gone and stuck the chairs and table to the floor,
We can't find our piano, though it's broad and rather tall,
We think that it's behind the paper Pa stuck on the wall.


Now, Father's sticking in the pub, through treading in the paste,
And all the family's so upset, they've all gone pasty faced.
While Pa says, now that Ma has spread the news from north to south,
He wishes he had dropped a blob of paste in Mother's mouth.


“When Father Papered the Parlour” with its theme of daffy dad high-jinks, proved to be a popular song at the music halls around 1910. It was written and composed by R. P. Weston and Fred J. Barnes and famously performed by comedian Billy Williams. In fact, this was considered one of Williams’ most successful hits.

Unusual Artifacts: An Antique Music Stand, 1810

The Victoria & Albert Museum

A wood and metal frame has been gilded and covered in printed paper to imitate japanning. With a telescopic support, this frame would have serves as an convenient, portable and attractive music stand when it was made in 1810. A music stand of this ilk would have been predominantly used by harpists. During the Regency period, the harp was a particularly fashionable instrument for women to play.

This stand is the epitome of Regency style which was clearly influenced by ancient Greek and Roman forms. The Neo-classical look of this music stand echoes the predominate style of Regency architecture.

The stand was made by the firm of Erard which was founded by Sébastien Erard in Paris in the 1770s. Erard had been close to the court of French King Louis XVI—a connection which proved problematic when the French Revolution unfolded in the 1780s and 1790s. Erard moved to London, where he re-opened his business in 1792 at 18 Great Marlborough St., Soho. There, he continued to be one of the major innovators in the music industry throughout his life.

Punch’s Cousin, Chapter 418

You gotta help me!” Mala shrieked as she banged on the door of the safe house.

“Shhh…please…” A kind-faced African man whispered as he opened the door. “We can’t go drawin’ attention to ourselves.”

“Imamu, I’m so happy to see ya.” Mala said, pulling her lips back into something that almost resembled a smile.

“Mala?” Imamu scowled. “You know we don’t want you ‘round here botherin’ the girls.”

“I ain’t here to bother no one.” Mala said. “Can’t you see I got someone here who needs your help?”

Imamu squinted. “What did you do to him?”

“I ain’t done nothin’ to nobody!” Mala groaned. “I done found this man on the street. He was bein’ beat up by three white men who run when they saw me comin’.”

“The white men ran when they saw you?” Imamu raised an eyebrow.

“Men always run when they see me.” Mala nodded.

“Sure they do?” Imamu nodded.

Odo—who was leaning on Mala’s arm, hunched-over, under a stolen blanket, made a few pitiful moaning noises to move things along.

“He’s hurt terrible bad. I knew I couldn’t take him back with me to Miss Iolanthe’s. So, I thought you could take him here.” Mala continued.

“What you care ‘bout this man for?” Imamu frowned. “Ain’t like you to care fo’ no one.”

“I want to change my ways.” Mala said. “Maybe I could even help you out here.”

“You ain’t one of us, Mala.” Imamu squinted.

“I am more so than I am anything else.” Mala sniffed, pretending to be hurt.

“We’ll take the man.” Imamu said. “You can be on your way.”

“Noooooo…” Odo feigned a weak moan.

“He wants me to stay with him.” Mala said quickly.

“Fine—for a few minutes.” Imamu scowled. “But, I’ll be watchin’ you. Let’s get this fella in and get the blanket off of him.”

“No. He’s terrible cold. Don’t take the blanket off jus’ yet.”

“Mala, I gotta look him over to see how bad he’s hurt.” Imamu said impatiently. “We’ll put him by the fire. He won’t be cold.”

Odo moaned again.

“See?” Imamu snorted. “This man needs my help.” He took Odo’s other arm and guided him toward a large open room with a fire around which many people warmed themselves—including Mama Routhe who still held little Colin in her arms.

Mrs. Routhe had not yet noticed that the newcomer was Mala, but she was curious about the noisy intruders.

“Mala, I guess it’s good you wanna help, but you gotta let this man go so I can help him.” Imamu said firmly.

“I can’t.” Mala replied nervously.

“What’s goin’ on here?” Imamu narrowed his eyes.

“I tol’ ya…” Mala began.

With one swift movement, Imamu reached up and yanked the blanket from Odo’s head.

“Ain’t you the Cages’ man--Odo?” Imamu exclaimed. “You ain’t hurt at all.”

Odo shook his head.

“What you want?” Imamu demanded.

For a moment, Odo looked as if he might be repentant. However, that was one of his tricks. He used the pause to lunge for Imamu, knocking him down.

“Mala!” Odo shrieked. “Grab the baby!”

Did you miss Chapters 1-417? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday, December 19, 2011, for Chapter 419 of Punch’s Cousin.

Christmas at Home: Photos of Bertie's Christmas Decorations

Bertie likes Christmas. He enjoys taking his presents out of gift bags. Of course, he’s not too interested in other people’s gifts, but when they’re for him, he knows and he’s very pleased. Bertie also enjoys the Christmas decorations and likes to guard the trees.

Each statue gets his or her own ornament to hold.
Next week, we’ll see some of the Christmas decorations that you’ve sent in. But, let’s conclude this week with a look into my own home. Oh! Wait…I mean, “Bertie’s home.”

Many of these ornaments I’ve had since I was a child. Like my parents, I’ve been collecting these ornaments throughout my life, adding new ones each year, and picking ones that represent special moments, places or interests. From the Father Christmas atop the big tree in the living room to the stocking my mother made for me as a small boy, I’m reminded of many happy Christmases past and many more to come.

Bertie's Personal Christmas Tree

I decorated this little tree when I was a kid and I've put it out ever since.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: The Annibale Rossi Virginal, 1577

The Victoria & Albert Museum

What is the difference between the musical instrument we call a “virginal” and the one we refer to as a “spinet”? Even museum curators find that the terminology for virginals and spinets is often unclear.

The instrument that you see pictured above—from the Victoria & Albert Musem--has been until recently described as a “spinet.” However, further research into the terms shows that this is actually of a type of instrument which is described by musicologists today as a “virginal.” Spinets and virginals, along with harpsichords, are stringed keyboard instruments which are special inasmuch as the strings have a plucking mechanism rather than a striking mechanism as in a piano. They are decidedly similar instruments.

The term “virginal”(thought to be chosen for its association with young female musicians) was commonly used in England to denote all plucked instruments, and some writers still use it to denote smaller instruments in rectangular cases. This practice was in use from the Sixteenth Century onward. Meanwhile, the term “spinet” has long been used to refer to a pentagonal or polygonal instrument.

Recently, the term “virginal” has been more accurately bequeathed to instruments with strings running at right angles to the keys, and with long bass strings at the front while the term 'spinet' denotes instruments with strings at an oblique angle and with the longer bass strings at the back. In other words, the spinet is a smaller version of the harpsichord—an instrument with only one set of keys.

In either case, both types of instruments were originally designed to be portable and were laid on a table top for playing.

The very first virginals were produced in Sixteenth-Century Italy. These early examples were created in a variety of shapes, from rectangular to polygonal. These Italian virginals were generally crafted of thin cypress wood, topped with elegant moldings and trim-pieces, and adorned with exotic inlays. These small instruments were surprisingly loud and could produce the entire range of notes in popular music of the time.

Here, we see such a virginal from Sixteenth-Century Italy with a cypress case and soundboard. It boasts boxwood and ivory ornaments, and is inlaid with pearls, amethysts, lapis lazuli, jasper, agate, turquoise and other precious and semi-precious stones. Since the ability to play an instrument was considered a “princely virtue,” instruments were treated with the utmost respect and were regally adorned. This example shimmers with 1,928 precious and semi-precious stones.

Annibale Rossi (active 1542-1577) of Milan in northern Italy, was the maker of this elaborate virginal. Rossi’s signature is still easily read on the piece. Rossi was praised in Paolo Morigi's work, La Nobilità di Milano (1595): wherein he was said to have produced an instrument “with the keys all of precious stones” for a “learned and refined nobleman.” Such a mention was quite an accolade considering that while the instruments and their owners were often praised, their makers were usually not.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Mastery of Design: The Devlin "Blue Eyes" Brooches, 1978

The Victoria & Albert Museum

Though kind of creepy, this pair of brooches is also cute and, certainly, opulent. The brooches are rendered in the form of two blue eyes with pupils of black pearls, irises of sapphires and diamonds, and the whites of diamonds. The eyelids are ridged in gold.

Historically, eyes were frequently depicted in jewelry—as portrait miniature mementos in elaborate jeweled frames which were given by a lady to her love. This work from the 1970s is an interesting play on that idea. And, truly, if you examine it, with the exception of the portrait miniatures, the use of human body parts in jewelry design has, historically, been anything but literal. Stuart Devlin, the creator of these “eye” brooches adds a note of surrealism to his design which make these jewels all the more interesting from an art historical standpoint and all the more flashy from the standpoint of fashion.

In London in the 1960s, a group of jewelers emerged, offering new ways of looking at jewelry and catering to women in high society who were once again turning to their jewels as a way of expressing their wealth and status. Like the jewelers of the Victorian era, these modern masters knew that, for the upper-class woman, what mattered most was an expression of individuality,

Stuart Devlin was certainly one of the best of this crop of contemporary British jewelers. The Australia-born Devlin was awarded a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art, London in 1958 and afterwards at Columbia University in the US. In 1965, he returned to London and opened a workshop where he designed jewelry, silver, trophies, coinage, medallions, furniture and interiors. He was granted the Royal Warrant of Goldsmith and Jeweller to Her Majesty the Queen in 1982.

Unfolding Pictures: The Terrero Fan, 1840-1860

The Victoria & Albert Museum
Click image to enlarge. 

Since, today, we’re looking at “conspicuous displays of wealth,” we can’t overlook the role the hand fan played in allowing a household to show their social station and fiscal strength. In addition to her gown and jewels, a lady’s fan showed her family’s ability to purchase the finest possible items as well as keep up with the latest arts and fashions.

Made in France between 1840-1860 by an unknown maker, this fan of gouache and gilt on paper is supported and protected by carved, pierced, painted, gilt and silvered mother-of-pearl sticks and ivory guards. This fan is of the finest quality, but also demonstrated that its owner kept abreast of the fashions and tastes of the day.

When this fan was made, the upper-classes were intrigued by the events and artistic styles of the past. Many fans made during this period were decorated with romantic versions of previous eras. The scene depicted here is meant to put one in mind of the time of Louis XIV, as figures are wearing the fashions of his reign (1643-1715). Meanwhile, the painting and decoration of the fan mimic the Rococo style of the Eighteenth Century.

Mr. Punch in the Arts: Judy's New Bonnet

The Victoria & Albert Museum

Even Judy wanted to show off every once in awhile—that is, as long as Mr. Punch would agree to it. Sometimes, Judy could catch Punch in a good mood. And, when she did, it might look like this…

Here we see another hand-colored glass slide depicting Punch and Judy. This is number two of the set of twelve that we’ve been looking at from the George Speaight Punch & Judy Archive at the Victoria & Albert Museum. The slides, made in the mid-to-late Nineteenth Century, were crafted for magic lantern shows.

The following text accompanies the slide during the magic lantern show:

Punch: How do you do? I’m in a good humour this morning, got out of bed the right side. Judy, Judy! my pretty Judy! where are you?

Judy: Now Mr. Punch I’m very busy, what is it you want?

Punch: Oh don’t trouble if you are busy, I thought you’d like a new bonnet.

Judy: Oh, Punchey dear, I’m not busy, you are a dear old man, and they go off to buy the bonnet.

I once had a chance to purchase one of a similar set of glass slides, but I was distracted and missed the auction online.  I will always kick myself over that.

History's Runway: The Lady Cowdray Mantua Gown, 1740-1746

This and all related images from The Victoria & Albert Museum

In the Seventeenth Century, a “mantua” was, ostensibly, a loose gown. As the decades passed, the garment became more stylized and, but the mid Eighteenth Century, the term “mantua” referred to an over-gown or robe which was worn over stays, heavy petticoats and stomachers. The mantua was, by this time, essentially worn in the Royal Court. Examples from the Eighteenth Century, such as the one we see here, show that these over-gowns were often extremely overdone and proportioned almost ridiculously. Still, they were the height of elegance and were truly the most fashionable article a woman could wear in the French and English Royal Courts.

Let’s examine this example of a mantua from the V&A. This would have been worn by a woman of aristocratic birth to show the Royal Family that her own family also possessed maximum wealth and and understanding of the fashionable arts. The opulence of a lady’s mantua was a direct indication of her family’s rank, power and financial standing.

This example contains almost ten pounds of weight from silver thread alone. The silver has been worked into an elaborate “Tree of Life” design. The train is signed “Rec'd of Mdme Leconte by me Magd. Giles.” “Leconte” is a name long associated with Huguenot embroideresses working in London between 1710 and 1746.

The mantua is composed of the over-gown, petticoat and fabric stomacher—all made of silk embroidered with real silver thread. Evidence of colored silk thread beneath the silver indicates that the textile was changed midway through in order to introduce the more aristocratic element of precious metals. Seven breadths of the textile create the wide skirt which, at its widest point is six feet across, filled out by a series of side hoops.

The gown has been altered. In the 1920s, the back seams were repeatedly taken in and let out in order to adapt the mantua for use as a fancy dress costume. Upon acceptance to the V&A, the mantua was relined and the damage from these Twentieth Century alterations was repaired.

Punch’s Cousin, Chapter 417

Marjani,” Mr. Punch smiled as he extended Julian’s hand toward the woman.

Marjani nodded as if she fully understood what Punch was suggesting. Joining hands, they knelt—their knees sinking into the cold mud.

“What are you doing?” Ulrika laughed.

“Some kind of Voodoo?” Giovanni Iantosca asked, peering out from behind Ulrika’s broad shoulders.

“You could say so,” Punch grinned. “Only this is the kind of voodoo what folks don’t seem to be scared of.”

“You begin, Mr. Punch.” Marjani whispered.

“Coo.” Punch sighed, his smile fading.

“Go on, tell the Holy Mother what you want her to hear.” Marjani encouraged.

“Dear Holy Lady Chum.” Punch began.

Ulrika and Giovanni watched, too entranced to be amused.

“We got here two folks what done a lot of bad. The fella’s one o’ them what takes people’s lives and steals the gold from their dead pockets. The woman—she’s pure wickedness who takes delight in makin’ other folk what did nothin’ to her suffer. But, that ain’t nothin’ you don’t already know. See, me chum, Marjani here, she explained it all to me, she did. She said that you and your son and your chum, the Lord (who ain’t a lord like me master were a lord afore he became a duke, but rather some kind of other Lord what lives in the sky and sees everything) already know what’s in the hearts of men. So, you don’t need me to tell you what these two are about.”

“Is he praying?” Giovanni whispered.

“Yes. I think he is, really.” Ulrika responded—unsure of what to do.

“Here,” Punch grunted. “It ain’t gonna help me if you’re gonna interrupt.”

“But, really, this is how you intend to punish us—by making us watch you pray?”

“No.” Punch scowled.

“So, what are you doing?” Ulrika asked.

“I’m hangin’ the hangman, I am.” Punch grinned. “Now, kindly, shut yer gob.”

Ulrika placed her hand over her mouth as a chill went up her spine.

“Thank you,” Punch sighed.

“Go on, Mr. Punch.” Marjani smiled. “You’re doin’ jus’ fine.”

“Where was I?” Punch muttered. “Oh, that’s it…” He cleared his throat. “Now, I don’t know a whole lot about what you do, Holy Lady Person, but me chum, Marjani, well, she seems to have a lot of faith in ya, and that’s good enough for me. You know these two here are no good. But, one thing I learned from me chums, 'specially Naasir what's dead and gone cuz someone hated him for no reason at all, is that holdin’ on to a lot of hate—that’s what makes a person no good. So, I ain’t gonna do it. It makes sense, don’t it? Look at Barbara. It were hate what made her mad. And, me mum. She were filled with hate and it made her do awful things. Nanny Rittenhouse, too. Maybe it’s somethin’ ‘bout that whole family. This Ulrika’s kin to Nanny. Either way, it’s hate what done all them folks in and hate what made all of us pay such a terrible price. I think that’s what’s wrong with these two. So, I ain’t gonna hate ‘em. I’m gonna do the ‘posite. And, see, I’m gonna forgive ‘em, and put them in the hands of you and them other folks up in the sky. I only got one request, I do. Make sure they live a long, long time, please. Make sure they live long enough to know what they done to other people were wrong. See that they feel the kind of horror and pain what they gave to other people. Then, maybe, they’ll finally understand. It ain’t out of meanness I say this, neither. It’s cuz I really want them to know so maybe they’ll get a chance to be happy finally and not make people suffer no more.”

Ulrika and Giovanni watched with wide eyes as Mr. Punch stopped speaking.

He looked at Marjani. “I think that’s it. Did I do good?”

“Very good, Mr. Punch. I’m proud of ya.” Marjani nodded.

“You got anything to say?” Punch blushed.

“I do.” Marjani nodded.

She paused and closed her eyes.

“Holy Mother, hear what Mr. Punch done jus’ told ya. May these two people live a long life. Now, I know what this means. I know that by them livin’, others will suffer. I know what sacrifice I must make, too. My own grandchild—Columbia, my only livin’ kin. One day, she, too, will suffer at the hands of these two poor, sad creatures. And, her sufferin’ will be the worst of all. But, still, with sadness of that fact, I say that Miss Ulrika and Mr. Giovanni—they need to live to see what they done. We all gotta make sacrifices for the greater good. You know that better than anyone. And, so, I do as you did with sadness and love. Amen.”

“We stand up now?” Punch asked.


Mr. Punch helped Marjani rise to her feet.

Marjani shook her head at Ulrika. “Your end will be long off from now. But, when it comes, it’ll come slow, thick and hot. Don’t make my sacrifice be for nothin’. When you drown on the earth—for that’s how you’ll go—let the last face you see be the one you wronged the most. And, when you look into those eyes as the earth takes your life—let the thoughts you have be ones of love and not hate. Don’t make me a fool.”

Ulrika laughed.

“So, that’s it?” Ulrika snarled. “Your companions were ready to strangle me, and you—you offer a prayer for my long life? That’s your punishment?”

“A long time from now, someone’s gonna know the right way to live because you showed ‘em the wrong way.” Punch shrugged. “And, now, I hanged the hangman.”

With that, Punch put his hand on Marjani’s shoulder and together they walked to join Adrienne, Cecil, Robert and Fuller.

“What happened?” Robert asked, hurrying toward Mr. Punch and Marjani.

“Take us the foxes,” Marjani smiled. “The little foxes that spoil our vines for our vines have tender grapes.”

“I don’t understand.” Robert said, pointing. “They’re getting back in their carriage.”

“Their suffering is yet to come, and it’ll be a far greater pain than anything we could give ‘em.” Punch replied, hugging his friend.

Marjani nodded.

“Now, we can go home,” Punch sniffed.

Did you miss Chapters 1-416? If so, you can read them here.

Obscure Book of the Day: The Silver Jubilee Programme, 1935

I was so pleased to receive this piece of history recently. Here, we see the “Illustrated Programme of the Royal Jubilee Procession.” This souvenir of the 1935 Silver Jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary is labeled as being “Authorised by H.R.H. the Prince of Wales.” In other words, it was given the approval of the Royal Couple’s eldest boy, “David,” “The Great Kerfuffler” ™, The future King Edward VIII whose reign lasted about as long as a Kardashian’s marriage.

The program was “Published in Aid of the Prince of Wales Hospital Fund for London to which the Entire Profits will be Devoted.” So, for the price of one shilling, those following the Silver Jubilee procession could purchase this handy program which would not only explain the significance of each stage of the procession but show illustrations identifying what they were witnessing.

It’s in remarkably good condition, especially when you consider that this was the sort of thing which was very quickly ruined and thrown away. Let’s take a look inside at some of the illustrations. They really would have come in handy as a means of identifying each group who—in their uniforms—joined in the procession in honor of the beloved King George V and Queen Mary.