Saturday, January 14, 2012

Mastery of Design: A Gold and Diamond Bust of King George IV, 1810-20

The Victoria & Albert Museum

Always a sucker for the latest fashion both as Prince Regent and as King, George IV spared little expense on any luxury. Take for instance this wee bust His Majesty had commissioned of himself in gold set with diamonds to emulate his garter star.

Made about 1810, this shows the roguish king's propensity for lavish accessories.

Gifts of Grandeur: A Gentleman's Buttons, 1795

The Victoria & Albert Museum

In the late 18th century, men's fashion dictated that his coat and waistcoat could be adorned with sparkling buttons. These expensive items were often used repeatedly, re-sown on different garments. Cut-steel buttons were very fashionable, but also very costly--set with faceted studs designed to sparkle and reflect light.

The most celebrated maker of cut-steel jewelry at the end of the Eighteenth Century was Matthew Boulton who was in partnership with John Fothergill from 1762 to 1781 and James Watt from 1775 to 1800. Boulton's pattern books show many pages of designs which cost up to 28 guineas for a full set of cut-steel buttons.

Such was the fashion that a caricature published in the same year entitled "Steel buttons / Coup de Bouton" shows a fashionably dressed lady knocked backwards by the light reflected from the coat buttons of a gentleman.

At the Music Hall: Now I Have to Call Him Father

I used to be as 'appy as the pigeons on the trees
That's when I was courtin' and me mind was well at ease
I used to feel so loving with me 'Enery by me side
Looking forward to the day when I should be his Bride
But now he's thrown me over and I'm full of misery
Someone else has done me out of William 'Enery

He used to come and court his little Mary Anne
I used to think that he was my young man
But Mother caught his eye and they got married on the sly
Now I 'ave to call him Father

He used to call me 'Dreamy Eyes' and take me on his knee
Kiss me little ruby lips and make a fuss of me
He bought a second-handed home to comfort me through life
Now he's thrown me over for a second-handed wife
And on the Weddin' Day when he was married to Mama
He said, "Go and wash your face, and kiss your new Papa"

When I got home this afternoon, it broke my 'art to see
William cuddlin' Mother as he used to cuddle me
At ten o'clock last night I felt I'd like to punch his head
When he said to me, "Pop off, it's time to go to bed"
The next young man I get, I'll let him see me to the door
But I'll never introduce one to me Mother anymore

He used to come and court his little Mary Anne
I used to think that he was my young man
But Mother caught his eye and they got married on the sly
Now I 'ave to call him Father

This rather tragic, yet comic, song by Charles Collins and Fred Godfrey was popularized by Vesta Victoria and, later, Ada Jones in 1908. It recounts the sad tale of a young Cockney woman whose lover was stolen by her own mother. It was the Edwardian precursor to the late, lamented Pine Valley, I suppose.

Enjoy this version by Vesta Victoria.  As the story goes Fred Godfrey wagered with a rival to see who would first sell a song to Music Hall star Vesta Victoria.  They tossed a coin.   Fred won, and this was the song he offered to her. Thankfully for Godfrey, it became one of her greatest, most enduring, hits, although she did not record it until 1911.

Unusual Artifacts: A Nightshirt, 1874

The Victoria & Albert Museum

Nineteenth Century nightshirts remained relatively unchanged throughout the century. All had a plain turned-down collar, buttoned at the neck, with a central opening extending down the front. Think about Ebenezer Scrooge's nightshirt. You can picture it with short slits up the side, reinforced with gussets, made of white cotton or linen.

During this period men's shirts were almost as long as nightshirts. So, it's easy to confuse them. Nightshirts, until the 1860s, were worn with nightcaps, but that fashion quickly went out of style.

Ultimately, nightshirts went out of style, too--replaced during the 1880s with pajamas based on Indian designs. By the 1890s, the nightshirt was so out of fashion that the "Tailor and Cutter" of 1897 reported:

"The doom of the sleeping shirt is written. Those possessed of any ought to preserve them carefully so that they can show to succeeding generations the wonderfully and fearfully made garments their forefathers slept in ... The pyjama sleeping suit is to take its place ... of oriental origin, of silks, etc., generally striped."

This cotton nightshirt from 1874 is an excellent example of the latest stage of the fashion with its small stand collar fastened with a pearl button, a front placket closed with a matching button, and cuffs each fastened with a button. This nightshirt is marked in ink with the wearer's name and the date, " R. McAntrim 1874.". This was done so that maids and laundresses could identify them when doing them. Sometimes names were embroidered in silk thread.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 436

Mr. Punch dropped the red leather pouch and it landed with a sandy thud to the wooden bed of the cart. A flood of rapid images passed through his thoughts as he recalled Naasir and the voyage to New Orleans and another such bag. "Gris Gris," Naasir had called it.

"It might not be bad," Punch said aloud though he was unaware that he had done so.

"It done came from Marie Laveau, didn't it?" Gamilla snapped. She caught the tone of her voice and flushed. "I'm sorry, Sir."

"I don't mind." Punch said softly.

"Heave," Gerard moaned.

"What is it, beardy chum?" Punch asked, bending over.

"In the sea." Gerard said weakly.

"He wants you to toss the bloody thing in the sea." Cecil snapped.

"Oh," Punch said, picking up the bag again. "I'll come back, Gerry.". Quickly scrambling over the side of the cart, Punch added to Robert, "Want me to fetch Marjani, do ya, to help?"

"No, I think not." Robert whispered. "I'd prefer that she stay with Adrienne and the children. They need her strength. Perhaps Gamilla can assist if I need it."

Gamilla nodded.

"Now, hurry and dispatch that foul thing." Robert nodded. "on your way back, reassure the ladies, please."

"Sure. I'll be fast." Punch replied, scurrying away.

Marjani watched as Mr. Punch ran to the end of the dock, her eyes widening in horror.

"Don't do that!" Marjani screamed as the leather pouch hit the water.

"It's too late," she moaned as the air around the docks filled with Marie Laveau's laughter.

Did you miss Chapters 1-435? If so, you can read them here. Come back Monday, January 16, 2012 for Chapter 437 of Punch's Cousin.

History's Runway: A Waistcoat from 1770

This and all related images from the V&A.

Famed author Beatrix Potter found some of the inspiration for her book "The Tailor of Gloucester" at what was once the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A). Potter told her editor, Norman Warne, "I have been delighted to find I may draw some most beautiful 18th century clothes at S. Kensington museum." This waistcoat, still on display at the V&A, is one of the pieces that Potter copied for her illustrations. In fact, it appears several times in the book.

This waistcoat from 1770 of cream satin, embroidered with colored silks in stem, would have been part of a dress suit worn by a man on formal occasions. The embroidery was worked in a professional workshop and the front edges were laid with cotton net and edged with couched chenille thread.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: A Pair of Victorian Socks, 1890

The Victoria & Albert Museum

Socks. I love socks, especially colorful socks (or, in gemological terms, "fancy-color" socks"). These socks were made in 1890 which makes me love them all the more.

How long have socks been a part of the lives of human feet? The love affair with socks began around the Eighth Century, but the fashion didn't really catch-on until the beginning of the Nineteenth Century when men began wearing trousers instead of breeches. (Okay, I know. What's the difference? Breeches, let's say, hit the knee whereas trousers are longer and go to the ankle. With breeches, men wore stockings but socks were easier to keep in place beneath a trouser leg). By the 1840s, ingenious hosiery-makers were producing socks with ribbed cuffs, so that they would not slip down. Of course, they still did, but not as much. Men's socks were usually made of cotton, merino or silk.

These dandy socks were meant to be worn during the day and would have added a bit of jazz to the wearer’s outfit. Tartan socks and stockings such as these were particularly fashionable for women and men alike by the 1860s and were the height of popularity for day and sporting wear by the 1890s.

This pair is machine-knitted silk with the welt and foot in scarlet, and the toe finished in white silk. They were made between 1890 and 1900 by I. & R. Morley Ltd., the largest hosiery manufacturer in England at the time.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Mastery of Design: The Dame Joan Evans Diamond Slide, 1700

The Victoria & Albert Museum

Glittering majestically after three-hundred years, this slide, made in 1700, was once in the important collection of Dame Joan Evans, and now sparkles in the V&A. It takes the form of a vase of flowers, set with table-cut diamonds in gold and silver, and hung with a luscious Baroque pearl.

It features a French import mark, stating that it came to Britain in 1893 through France. However, it is thought to have been made elsewhere with the cut of the diamonds suggesting Central Europe.

Worn originally on a ribbon as dictated by Eighteenth Century fashion, the slide would later have adorned a chain of gold.

Mr. Punch in the Arts: The Enamel Punch Candlestick, 1755-60

The Victoria & Albert Museum

This delightful candlestick features a figure of Mr. Punch rendered in soft-paste porcelain which has been gilded and painted with enamels. Punch dances--his right foot raised as holds aloft a lantern in his right hand.

He is cheerfully dressed in a striped and floral-patterned jacket, flowered trousers, yellow shoes and a hat. The socket for the candle is formed from a swirl of leaves atop a stump with yellow and crimson applied flowers and details picked out in green.

Made between 1755 and 1760 by the Derby Porcelain factory (manufacturer), the modeling is the work of William Duesbury & Co.,

What's Bertie Watching? USA's White Collar

Regular visitors to Stalking the Belle Époque, on any given day, can expect to see something pertaining to Mr. Punch--the lovable, but decidedly criminal character which originated in the pantos of the Italian Commedia dell'Arte. That's what you get reading the daily musings of a puppet-loving art historian and author. Fridays, especially, tend to focus on Punch and his family. But, today, I thought--with Bertie's firm encouragement--we would celebrate the world of the charming rogue by reminding you that another Punch-like figure will be returning with the Tuesday, January 17th premiere of White Collar, Season Four on the USA Television Network at 10/9c.

Two extremes of the adorable rogue.  Mr. Bomer is not saddled
with a Punch-like visage, but his "Neal Caffrey" does share
some of Old Red Nose's characteristics, both charming and
Photo of Matt Bomer from USA Television.
While White Collar's Neal Caffrey is not burdened with Punch's physical attributes--luckily for his portrayer, the impossibly good-looking Matt Bomer--he does rather share some of our Mr. Punch's characteristics. Like Punch, Neal is charming, sly and cunning; an accomplished thief and artist who is, at times, over-confident in his abilities, but nonetheless manages to get the better of those who would pursue him and, "beat the Devil."

Here, however, instead of Jack Ketch, the Hangman, our adorable rogue is pursued by an FBI agent, Peter Burke (Tim DeKay) with whom he shares a complicated affection. Their fraternal (and, at times, filial) friendship is often, no, always, tried by Neal's overwhelming impulse to seek the high of the next con. Neal's frequent Scaramouche is the anti-establishment Mozzie (Willie Garson) who urges Neal to forget about the appeal of the temptingly cozy life of a do-gooder and to keep his eyes on their increased fortunes.

Tim DeKay and Matt Bomer star as
Agent Peter Burke and Neal Caffrey in this
contemporary take on Jack Ketch and Mr. Punch.
Photo from USA Network.
And, there the similarities to the pantomime end. Creator Jeff Eastin and a team of accomplished writers have ensured that White Collar is at once intelligent, exciting, witty, emotionally-charged and engaging. This is not just your typical "handsome boys in suits" show.

Led by the talented and infectious duo of Bomer and DeKay whose interaction is one of the most delightful and interesting of any team on television, the cast also includes Tiffani Thiessen as Burke's wife, Elizabeth; and Marsha Thomason as Agent Diana Beragon.

When Season Three concluded, Elizabeth Burke had been abducted by Neal's greatest enemy, leaving Neal torn between loyal friendship and a life of freedom. I hope you'll take Bertie's recommendation and tune in to see this blue-eyed, modern-day Pulcinella try to triumph over his own particular demons.

White Collar's new season starts Tuesday, January 17 at 10/9c. on the USA Network.

Sculpture of the Day: The Mansion House Dwarf, 1750-52

The Victoria & Albert Museum

This figure in porcelain is painted with enamels and has always been identified as a male “dwarf” [from Schreiber Register], notably called “The Mansion House Dwarf.” Now, in the Eighteenth Century, throughout Europe, wealthy households often “employed” little people as amusing curiosities and companions. So, this attribution is a logical and natural one.

However, later study of this important piece of porcelain reveals that it may not, in fact, depict a beloved household companion, but rather, our Mr. Punch.

Made in England between 1750 and 1752 at the Chelsea Porcealain Factory, the figure is marked with an anchor in relief. The figure Punch wears a high conical hat with feathers to one side, a tunic with slashed yellow sleeves and big black buttons. Around his waist, a pink fringed belt hangs and he carries a sword at his right side. So is this a courtier dwarf or Mr. Punch?

Further study shows us that the figure was modeled after an engraving by Jacques Callot in a series published in 1622 under the title “Varie figure Gobbi.” Depicted there are a series of grotesques owing more to the Commedia dell’Arte than to representations of actual living humans.

Let’s look at this wise-faced fellow. His facial features are not exaggerated with the hooked nose and chin of our Punch. They are distinctively human. Yet, his distended stomach and hunched back suggest that the subject is, at least, in the guise of Pulcinella. It is not inconceivable that a household would have commanded that an indentured performer reenact popular pantomime figures. So, we’ll have to meet somewhere in the middle.

Punch’s Cousin, Chapter 435

Before he was even aware of the cause, tears filled Mr. Punch’s eyes as the dilapidated wooden cart carrying Gerard clattered toward them at an alarming speed—pushed with great force by its unseen chauffeur.

Adrienne screamed as the cart sped toward them. Instinctively, she leapt up, twisting at the waist to protect her son. Robert did the same, shielding Colin from a potential impact, almost crashing into Marjani as she pulled Columbia to safety—the dog Toby safe in the little girl’s arms.

Cecil charged forward and, with Punch’s help, stopped the cart before it could collide into their family. Still the cart upset the metal drum of burning scraps. Gamilla hurried to rest it before any embers could spill into the weathered wood of the dock. Thankfully, she had the forethought to cover her hands with her scarf to protect them from the searing heat of the metal.

“No, no!” Punch yelped when he saw Gerard in the cart. Without thinking he climbed inside pulling the limp man up by his armpits. “Come on, beardy chum,” Punch whimpered. “Talk to old Mr. Punch. Who done this?”

Gerard sputtered.

Punch chattered, “What’s them marks on his forehead? Cecil? What’s them marks? Who done this?”

“Marie Laveau.” Cecil narrowed his eyes.

“Cecil!” Adrienne shouted. “What’s happening?”

“Stay back!” Cecil commanded, not looking at his wife. “Send Robert over.”

Gamilla hurried to the side of the cart before Robert.

“Gerry!” Gamilla gasped.

“Gamilla, please,” Robert said softly. “Join the other women.”

“No, Sir.” Gamilla shook her head. “I may not be a man. I may not be your equal from my sex to the color of my skin, but this man is my friend and I’m stayin’ at his side and ain’t nothin’ you can say to get me away.”

“As you wish,” Robert nodded. He tapped Punch gently on the shoulder. “Let him rest, dear Punch. Let him down and come out of there so I might examine him.”

“Someone scratched him,” Punch gulped. “Beat him and scratched them marks on ‘im. Ain’t right. Poor man. I shoulda gone instead.”

“So you could have been beaten by that witch?” Cecil bellowed. “To leave your ward without a guardian? To leave my son without his beloved uncle? To leave Robert…alone?”

“I coulda beat her.” Punch moaned. “This ain’t Gerry’s fight, it ain’t. It’s mine! Wasn’t right for me to put him in danger. Servant or no.”

“Dear Punch,” Robert repeated softly. “Come out of there. Let me see him.”

With tears stinging his eyes, Punch lowered Gerard back to the bottom of the rough wooden cart. Gerard reached for his master with a clenched fist.

“What’s this?” Punch said, gazing at Gerard with pity. “What is it, Gerry?”

Gerard groaned, thumping his fist against Punch’s arms.

Punch took Gerard’s hand. It was raw and cold. The man’s fingers slowly unclenched and he deposited a red leather pouch into Punch’s open hand.

“Drop it!” Robert ordered.

Punch looked up, alarmed.

“Drop it now!” Robert shouted.

Did you miss Chapters 1-434? If so, you can read them here.

Unusual Artifacts: The Punch Seal, 1749-1754

The Victoria & Albert Museum

I was thrilled to stumble across this remarkable item while cataloging images on the V&A site. I’ve never seen a seal like this, and so, I leapt at the chance to share it with you. Made of porcelain sometime between 1749 and 1754, this seal takes the form of Mr. Punch—masked Pulcinella-style, in a striped ensemble. He stands on a base inscribed 'TOUJOURS GAY', above a carnelian intaglio of a bird on a tree with the word 'FIDEL', and set with gold mounting in the base.

The seal comes from Charles Gouyn's London factory and shows no wear in its brilliant enameling. Celebrating eternal happiness and fidelity, just the very sight of this gleaming seal accomplishes its task over two hundred fifty years later.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: Punch Composing a Polka, c. 1850

The Victoria & Albert Museum

This beautiful hand-colored lithograph is undated and has no provenance. I’d place it circa 1850. Part of the massive collection in the V&A in the George Speaight Punch & Judy Archive, we see a polychrome Punch composing a Polka—as he would. Punch, as the voice of the people, was often associated with music and found himself the subject of many a polka and dance song.

Frankly, I wish I knew more about the origins of this piece, the artist and the publisher, but, I’m really just glad it has survived. If the utmost fascination is the intelligent, thoughtful look on Mr. Punch’s face as he works. Anyone could associate with Mr. Punch in some way—from noblemen to the laborer on the street. He managed to rise above his comical tragedy and his impish (and murderous) misbehavior, to become a true icon of the arts and society.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: Harpo

"Play 'Sugar in the Mornin'.' Then, honk your horn at the nun."

Click image above to enlarge

Image: Suspicion, Thomas Uwins, 1848, The Victoria & Albert Museum

Show your affection for Bertie with one of our "Gratuitous Bertie Dog" designs.

History's Runway: The Cornelli Countryman, 1905

The Victoria & Albert Museum

This costume design by Attilio Comelli was intended for the role of a countryman or peasant in a production of : The Prodigal Son” in London, 1905. The design depicts a man dressed from head to toe in pink with a “gnome style” hat and a mask that covers his forehead and nose—Pulcinella-style. He dons a knee-length coat with a waistcoat and a large bow tie, striped trousers and horizontal striped hosiery and shoes.

Comelli’s design in pencil and watercolor on board is clearly rooted in the tradition of the Italian Commedia dell’Arte. The production opened in September of 1905 at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

Mastery of Design: The Abruzzi Coral Stands, 1820

The Victoria & Albert Museum

This impressive necklace is ablaze with crimson and coral. Coral, since prehistoric times, was a favorite medium for Italian jewelers, especially in the south of the country. One favorite souvenir for wealthy tourists (especially the British) was coral jewelry, and for this reason, many examples of this unique medium survive in collections around the world.

This bold necklace from Abruzzi looks as if it came off of the runway of today. It consists of sixteen rows of barrel-shaped coral beads which have been gathered into two silver ends with loops for ribbons. Such ribbons were fashionable in the Nineteenth Century with Italian women who preferred the feel of silk on the backs of their necks to the cold touch of metal.

Unfortunately, these ribbons rarely survive. This, from 1820, is one of the few surviving examples of original Italian neck ribbons. The reason for their survival is that this piece was purchased by the V&A from the Castellani Collection of Italian Jewelry in 1867 at International Exhibition in Paris.

The Art of Play: The Grace Fraser Wax Doll, 1830-1850

The Victoria & Albert Museum

Made in Italy between 1830 and 1850, this doll with a cream silk band around its neck represents an infant seated upon a red throne. The doll is a work of poured wax (the shoulders, head and hands), with a stuffed cloth torso. Beneath the torso, from a cone of card, feet protrude, however, there are no actual legs. The doll features blue glass eyes and rolls of white wool hair.

This figure, dressed in a patterned cream silk, is adorned with silver braid, sequins and a glass circular paste jewel. It holds in its right hand a bouquet of artificial flowers and in its left, an orb of pale blue silk with a gold braid cross, suggesting that this might be meant to represent the Christ Child.

The doll is encased in a rectangular wooden box which is tapered to offer perspective. The rear of the box is papered in blue silk with a floral pattern. Painted details hint at a landscape ornamented by pedestals and flowerpots with blooms of cream and orange tissue.

More so meant to be a work of art than a plaything, this doll has survived despite the loss of the front glass panel which was meant to protect it.

Punch’s Cousin, Chapter 434

Mr. Punch bit his cheeks to keep from saying it, though he wanted to very badly. He was so very proud of himself, but, his time living amongst humans and trying to emulate them had taught him a few things about social interaction and appropriateness.

He looked with wide eyes at the fire he’d started in a large metal drum. He’d gathered the papers and scraps of wood himself. With tremendous pride, he watched as his “family” gathered around it for warmth against the bitter, cold wet wind from the water.

“Is there something you’d like to say, dear Punch?” Adrienne asked.

“No.” Punch shook his head, smiling.

“You may.” Adrienne nodded, hugging Fuller close to her body.

Punch looked from face to face. First Adrienne, then Robert who sat with Colin in his arms, then to Marjani who was cuddled up with Columbia and Toby. Then, he looked toward Gamilla who stood away from the group, but close enough to feel the warmth of the fire, and then, to Cecil who was keeping watch.

“No,” Punch repeated. “I ain’t got nothin’ to say.”

“Not even, perhaps, that you’re pleased? Very pleased? Pleased to see us all comfortable because of your quick thinking.”

“I am pleased.” Punch nodded, blushing. “But, that ain’t somethin’ what someone says ‘bout his own self.”

“Sometimes one may,” Robert winked. “I’m pleased for you. Pleased as Punch.”

“Here!” Punch guffawed. “I been holdin’ it back.” He leaned in and whispered. “See, Cecil don’t like puns. He told me they were the lowest form of humor.”

“It’s acceptable. My brother can’t hear. Besides, you should hear some of his attempts at humor. He is not an authority, I assure you.” Robert smiled.

“Come by the fire, Sir.” Marjani nodded.

“Yes, Uncle Punch!” Columbia chirped. “Sit by Grandmama and me and Toby.”

“Very well,” Punch wandered over, squatting by Columbia and his beloved dog. He quickly glanced over to see that no one had bothered his puppet from its slumbering place in the large basket.

“What a sight we must be.” Adrienne chuckled. “A flock of refugees.”

“Fine refugees, Lady Chum. Soon to be the talk of London.” Punch smiled, but quickly became distracted as his eyes darted to the horizon.

“Coo!” Punch rose, pointing. “Is that it, Chum?”

Robert looked up at a ship approaching slowly in the distance.

“Might be,” he nodded.

“Think,” Punch exclaimed. “Soon, we might be on that ship—on the sea, goin’ home.” He began chattering excitedly. “You’re gonna like England, you are, Marjani. You’ll see. You and Columbia and Gamilla. You’ll like it. Lots to see, there is! Oh, there’s the Abbey and the fine palace what her Majesty Victoria lives in with her fine prince.” Punch frowned for a moment when he thought of Prince Albert and the visions he and Julian had shared of the Prince Consort.

“Something wrong?” Robert asked.

“No.” Punch shook his head. “I gotta remember that sometimes the things what we think ain’t the same as the things what are real.”

“True.” Robert agreed.

“Still,” Punch picked up where he had left off. “Lots to see in London. Oh, and what a fine house we got there. And, Cecil will get a position with that French lady with the waxworks and we’ll get ya a nice house in Knightsbridge where Fuller can play in the back garden. Oh! And, we can all take trips to Fallbridge Hall and I can show you the folly and the tributary and the places where I grew up…”

Again, Punch’s face fell. “Only I didn’t really grow up nowhere, did I?”

Robert looked intently at his friend.

“What is it, dear Punch?”

“Dunno.” Punch shrugged, sniffing. “I’m all in a muddle.”

“Sometimes anticipation makes us feel many emotions at once.” Robert said softly.

“Musta done, anticipation and such.” Punch shrugged again. “Only I’m worried ‘bout Gerry, too. And, Mama Routhe. Maybe I shoulda gone with that Odo like he said I should.”

“I have no doubt,” Adrienne smiled, “that Gerard is right now escorting Mama Routhe to her family and on his way back to us.”

“Hope so.” Punch nodded. “He ain’t a bad bloke, Gerry ain’t. Sure, he were mixed up with Arthur and that made him a little, well, wrong. Only Arthur’s gone and Gerry’s learned the difference.” He sighed. “I’ll bet you’re spot on. I’ll wager he’s on his way back to us just now.”

Gerard was, in fact, on his way back to them. But, not as they expected, and not by his own volition.

As the wheels of the cart that carried Gerry back to the docks creaked, he could feel his life slipping away like strings of tinsel into the cold. With each grind of the wheel, he felt weaker and his forehead burned from the three scratches which rose on his flesh—three x-shapes, swelling pink against the alabaster of his skin.

Did you miss Chapters 1-433? If so, you can read them here.

Sculpture of the Day: Cardinal Giovanni de'Medici, pre-1475

The Victoria & Albert Museum

This rather imposing gentleman, when studied against painted and medallic portraits, has been identified as Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici (1475-1521) who was elected pope in 1513--taking the name of Leo X.

Since he wears a biretta—a cardinal’s cap—clearly, this bust was made before he was elected to the papacy. The modeling of the bust suggests that it was meant to be seen from below. When viewed face-on, his stance is awkward with his head projected peculiarly onto the chest. Furthermore, it is only painted on the front. So, it’s a safe bet this was made to be placed in a high niche or in a pediment above a door.

The pope’s right shoulder is severely damaged and his nose is quite chipped, but this is not unusual for a terracotta sculpture made in the Fifteenth Century. This sculpture is possibly the work of the Florentine Antonio de'Benintendi and may have been commissioned by Giovanni de' Medici prior to the exile of the Medici family from Florence in 1494, and certainly before the 1475 election to the Papacy. It has been postulated that the bust was molded from a casting taken directly from the cardinal’s face.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: The Landi Mirror Frame, 1475-1500

The Victoria & Albert Museum

This is truly exceptional. After over five hundred years, her face is still as dewy and lovely as the day it was painted. I rather like the way the V&A has described this item, so I will quote directly, “This idealized face once presided over a small, round mirror.” Isn’t that a charming thought?

You see, in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries especially in Italy and France, beauty was thought to be a virtue, and it was believed that gazing upon a beautiful face would inspire virtue in the viewer. So, having an attractive face above your mirror might just—by way of your eyes—make you equally attractive.

I suppose now I should paste some pictures from White Collar or Downton Abbey above my bathroom mirror. Maybe it’ll work.

This mirror frame was made in Siena, Italy circa 1475-1500. The relief of the woman’s face is painted papier mache (cartapesta in Italian)! How has it managed to survive?! The frame was supported by two putti with outstretched arms. The woman depicted wears a jewel in her elaborately dressed hair, a gold dress flows from her bodice and she is adorned with a coral necklace and pendant.

It is thought that this came from the workshop of sculptor Neroccio de' Landi (born 1447 - died 1500) since the figure very closely resembles the Mary Magdalene in Neroccio's painting of a Madonna and Child from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Washington. Furthermore she resembles the “Portrait of a Lady” by Neroccio in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Similarities in facial structure, coloring and even pose suggest that the same model was used for all three.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Mastery of Design: A French Speaking Trumpet, 1738

The Victoria & Albert Museum

A Speaking Trumpet is, really, just a megaphone. But, somehow the word, “megaphone” doesn’t do this object of engraved brass justice. It bears the monogram” SMA,” ensigned with a coronet and a crest suggesting ducal ownership.

The trumpet is signed by French metalworker Jacques Vincent Fecit, 1738. Adorned towards the larger end with three broad bands of foliage, the middle band includes the monogram and crest (depicting a windmill). These are enclosed in frames supported respectively by two lions and two dogs.

Gifts of Grandeur: The Aguatti Snuffbox, 1800-1825

The Victoria & Albert Museum

This oval box of tortoiseshell, gold and copper features a cover set with an impressive micromosaic depicting a black and white spaniel dog sitting in a field with a landscape in the background. The image is signed by the artist, Antonio Aguatti) in tesserae (mosaic pieces).

Dating between 1800 and 1825, this lovely snuffbox comes from Rome and used the image of a dog as a symbol of fidelity, a theme which was popular in the Nineteenth century.

Sculpture of the Day: Lady with Blackamoor, 1737-1740

The Victoria & Albert Museum
Early porcelain figures such as this Meissen figural group were made to be placed on the dining table during the dessert course of grand dinners. Such figures replaced the sugar paste and wax figures that had been made centuries earlier to adorn the table during royal feasts. The original purpose of these figures was to serve as a symbol of dynastic power and to celebrate political allegiances. To this end, allegorical themes were introduced into these table settings. Germany’s Meissen was the first factory to make porcelain figures for the dessert table, thereby setting the conventions which would be followed by rival manufacturers for decades to come.

In a wealthy Eighteenth Century household, the dessert course was the one on which the greatest expense was lavished. The delicacies served and the fine porcelain which accompanied the course was considered one of the greatest reflections of the wealth and taste and social standing of the host.

This richly decorated figure group is an excellent example of the style which prevailed. It depicts a seated woman in an elaborate gown. She’s drinking coffee with a pug dog seated on her lap. A servant attends her. The depiction of coffee, a pug and an African servant meant to convey exotic associations and luxuries not afforded in most English homes. In England, in the Eighteenth Century, only about 10,000 Africans were estimated to have been part of the population. Sadly, most of these individuals worked as unpaid domestic staff.

This group was modeled by Johann Joachim Kändler (1706 -1775) for Meissen between 1737 and 1740 and was created expressly for export to Britain.

Painting of the Day: Jeune fille Portant un Chien, Sous-Bois 1840

The Victoria & Albert Museum

Known in the U.K. as “Girl with Dogs,” the proper title of this painting is Jeune fille Portant un Chien, Sous-Bois. This masterpiece comes from the hand of Narcisse-Virgile Diaz de la Peña (1807-1876), a French painter of Spanish birth. De la Peña first worked as a porcelain painter in 1825, but shortly after trained under the artist François Souchon (1787-1857). As time passed, he began exhibiting, with much acclaim, landscapes and genre scenes at the Paris Salon from 1831 to 1859. By the end of his life, he was celebrated by a new generation of artists who were about to form the Impressionist movement.

This painting demonstrates the look of Diaz de la Peña's early works. A young lady is depicted in a woody landscape with dogs. The artist’s favored pastel palette juxtaposes his strong emphasis on the rendering of light. His characteristic broken brushwork and interest in naturalism—soon to become the hallmark of the Barbizon school—is immediately apparent.

Of note, this painting was part of the collection amassed by the Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend, who bequeathed this canvas among many others as well as his important collection of gems to the V&A in 1868.

Punch’s Cousin, Chapter 433

Big Ollie lived up to his name. Everything about the man was large from his size to his smell. Barbara Allen wondered what was wrong with him. Surely he had some sort of infirmity like the sad, freakish man that she had once seen at the Fallbridge Summer Festival. She recalled shrieking when she saw that poor creature in the ruddy tent that warm day ten years earlier. Violet, the maid who had snuck young Lady Barbara from Fallbridge Hall that afternoon, made Barbara promise not to tell the Duchess that they’d visited the freak show.

Barbara studied Big Ollie as he lumbered throughout the backroom of his cluttered, dusty shop. His cranium was enormous—truly, hideously enormous—with a jaw that was so large it appeared to roll up at the sides in a bony ridge that looked at once hard and soft—like a blanket crammed into a too-full trunk. This thick ridge met his meaty neck sharply, dissolving into a carpet of bright red blemishes and beige hair that looked as sharp as a leather punch.

The man’s body was equally queer. His legs were bent in a peculiar manner, and strangely short given his immense height. So, where did the height come from? His enormous feet which curled up at the ends like a jester’s shoes? No. His trunk—massive and thick and hanging with loose pendulous meat was nearly three times the size of that of a normal man. Barbara glanced quickly at Charles who sat nervously at her side and then returned her gaze to Big Ollie—comparing the sizes of the two men.

“So,” Big Ollie roared. “You say you got this all legal-like.” He held the monumental, shimmering blue diamond between his thumb and middle finger. This was because, for some reason unknown to Barbara (and one she didn’t wish to discover) his index finger was missing. In his bizarre hand—as big as a loaf of bread and shaped as such—the diamond looked quite small.

“I did,” Barbara nodded.

“You didn’t steal it?” Ollie grunted. “I don’t trade in stolen goods.”

Charles coughed, looking around the dilapidated shop which, despite its apparent disrepair, was filled to the rafters with items which clearly had come from the finest homes and families.

“I got all this legal.” Ollie snapped, catching Charles expression.

“I have no doubt.” Charles nodded.

“How ‘bout you tell me how ya got it, then?” Ollie snarled.

“I’ve already told you.” Barbara replied calmly.

“Tell me again!”

“I am Barbara, Lady Fallbridge. This stone was part of a collection amassed by my late father, Sir Colin Molliner. Upon his death, the stone came to me.”

“And, here you sit, dressed in rags, dirt on your pretty face and you tell me you’re a fine English lady?” Ollie laughed his gargantuan body rippling so much that the shop seemed to sway.

“I’ve fallen on hard times. What do few realize is that titled people very often suffer from monetary…troubles.”

“So, you come to New Orleans? To do what?”

“I came here to seek my fortune so that I might return to Fallbridge Hall one day and resume my rightful position.” Barbara lied.

“Is that so?” Ollie smiled.

“Yes.” Barbara nodded.

“What of your brother?” Ollie grinned broadly, the ridge of his jaw grating against the piles of blemishes on his neck.

“My brother?” Barbara asked, trying not to show her hand.

“Come on, whore.” Ollie roared again. “I know who you are. All of New Orleans is abuzz with the tales of the mad Duke of Fallbridge. The fool thinks he’s a puppet! And your lady mother was killed here by Iolanthe Evangeline—your former employer. You come here, you loose harlot with your lies and expect big Ollie to give you my gold for this stone that you stole! I know you stole it! And, I know this ain’t the first time. You little bitch, don’t ever try to fool Big Ollie! I already seen this stone once! You know a fair flame-haired witch name of Ulrika?”

Ollie waited for Barbara’s response.

“I know you do!” Big Ollie spat. “So, you maybe want to tell Big Ollie the truth?”

“Come, Barbara,” Charles rose bravely. “We need not suffer this brute.” He turned to Ollie. “Please, hand over our property.”

Without even moving his trunk, Ollie extended one loaf of a hand and pushed Charles back into his chair.

“Nobody’s goin’ nowhere. Not ‘til Big Ollie’s satisfied.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-432? If so, you can read them here.

Unusual Artifacts: A Silk Textile, 1370-1430

The Victoria & Albert Museum

I’m always amazed when textiles survive, but especially when they last almost seven hundred years. Here we see a fragment of a piece of silk textile which is one of a group of silks made in the late Fourteenth or early Fifteenth Century which incorporate animals and birds as motifs. These depictions of fauna are adorned with stylized, luxurious foliage, pomegranates, palmettes and lotus blossoms. An evident Chinese influence dominates the designs. The textiles have been attributed to the work of weavers in Venice which served as an important center for trade in textiles between Europe and the East.

The predominant imagery here is that of the hunt with scenes of swans, ducks, eagles, falcons and dogs. Hunting was the favored leisure activity of the wealthy and elite (actually, in Britain, it still is). A curious detail is that the dog in the scene is wearing a collar.

This silk was reproduced in the Nineteenth Century for St Fagan's Castle from Wardle and Co., New Bond Street in 1884. The reproduction took the form of a cotton velvet, and, it still hangs in St Fagan's Castle.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: The Fox and Dog Plate, 1753

The Victoria & Albert Museum

This plate of soft-paste porcelain is cleverly painted with enamels and molded in relief with a scene from Aesop's fable of “The Fox, the Dog and the Cock.” Such a dish was made for decorative purposes (or perhaps, remotely as a plate for light desserts or cheese) as opposed to practical use. The fabled scene is shown against an enameled landscape with a river and mountains. The decorative rim is molded with lush design of shell ornament and painted with floral accents.

This was made in Chelsea, England between 1753-1755 and was most likely modeled by Nicholas Sprimont and painted by J.H. O’Neale. These attributions are not entirely certain, but can be deduced by examples of similar ceramics that bear the marks of these celebrated gentlemen.

Another clue is the shape of the plate itself. The plate mirrors the forms of metalwork and silver plates of the era, particularly those of the silversmith Nicholas Sprimont--the proprietor of the Chelsea factory.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mastery of Design: The Froment-Meurice Coral Bacchus, 1854

This and all related images from:
The Victoria & Albert Museum

We've looked at several pieces by the Nineteenth Century French jewelers Froment -Meurice.  This piece in coral, gold, silver, pearls and a shimmering rose-cut diamond is one of the most exceptional. 

 Coral has long been valued, used as a jewel since antiquity and believed to be an amulet which could protect against the evil eye.  For the latter reason, it was was often worn by children or used in rosaries.

Froment-Meurice, like other jewelers of the era, looked back at historical designs.  This piece is a perfect example of that mentality.  This pendant  with a coral cameo depicting Bacchus has a sculpted gold frame decorated with winged mermaids and hung with pearls and diamond sparks.  It was probably one of the last sets of jewelry to be sold by the Paris jeweler François-Désiré Froment-Meurice before his death in 1855

History's Runway: A Velvet Mantle, c. 1840

The Victoria & Albert Museum

The ensemble shown here perfectly demonstrates the fashionable style of about 1840 with a fuller skirt hanging separate from the bodice with its ‘bishop’-style sleeves and off-the-shoulder neckline. This style was inspired by portraiture of the mid to late Seventeenth Century.   The finishing touch for this ensemble and many like  it is an appliquéd velvet mantle embroidered with flowers.

This mantle of a deep wine colored velvet is  demonstrative of the type of cloak fashionable in the 1840s.  A full-length cloak, it is gathered onto a circular yoke, over which hangs a a rounded collar with a deep, dramatic point at the back. Slits allow for the arms and the hem is curved up at each side seam.

The neck is stitched and adorned with a matching cord with taselled ends to fasten at the front. Tassels and rosettes trim the vents at the arm seams and the point of the collar. Each of the edges are bound with pink, wine, white and green satin rouleaux as well as satin stitch embroidery in silk in shades of green, pink and yellow in a rose design. The collar is further adorned with a trail of buds as full roses cascade at the hem and arm slits.  Lined in rose silk, this opulent cloak was made professionally in France.

Painting of the Day: The Oyster Meal

The Victoria & Albert Museum

You may feel that this scene of seduction in which a young woman, seated at a table covered with a Turkish blanket, is familiar. She is offered a meal of oysters and white wine by an older man standing beside her, and she already holds a glass of wine and an oyster, and looks slightly flushed in her fur-trimmed cape and a silk white dress. A curtained bed--the symbol of the man's scheme--is depicted behind them.

This is one of several versions of this scene by Frans van Mieris (1635-1681) who was trained by Abraham Toorenvliet (ca. 1620-1692) and by Gerrit Dou (1613-1675), one of the most eminent Rembrandt's pupils in Leyden. Van Mieris was known for small scale genre painting with exquisite refinement and his skill in representing all sorts of textures: such as the fur-trimmed cape and a white silk dress as well as the sparkles of light reflecting in the jar, the tin plate and the glass.

Her Majesty's Furniture: The Wines and Beers Sideboard, 1859

The Victoria & Albert Museum

The renowned designer William Burges showed this amazing sideboard at the International Exhibition of 1862 (South Kensington, London). The Victoria & Albert Museum purchased it at the 1862 exhibition for the cost of £40.

The sideboard was praised in 1862 for its painted decoration of jolly scenes well-suited for the cabinet's use in storing and serving drinks.  The scene depicts a fanciful  battle between wines and beers, in which Continental wines, represented by Sir Bacchus, fight with British beers, represented by Sir John Barleycorn.  Lady warriors personify Pale Ale, Scotch Ale, Hock and Champagne.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 432

The tavern on Bourbon Street was thick with smoke and the scent of men. Through the lattice-work screen, Odo could see the white laborers in their tattered clothes, heavy with the stench of the river. Their faces were ruddy from wind and drink and their voices rose into a muddy din of laughter and hidden agony. Odo grinned at the sight of the plump women who milled about, sitting on the men’s laps, tousling their sweaty hair and cooing in their filthy ears.

On the other side of the screen, the scene was more subdued. Odo settled in, groaning against the harsh rough wood of a bench. On his side of the screen, free black men, quadroons, octoroons, and slaves who had managed a morning’s break sat in comparative quiet, talking softly, hunched over flasks and mugs. Women milled around there, too, some dark as night, some deceptively light.

One of them approached him—a girl he knew. She forced a smile, and the effort smoothed the pock marks on her umber-colored face. “Heya, Odo.”

“Amber,” Odo nodded.

“What you doin’ in here this early?” Amber asked. “Ain’t like Mr. Cage to let ya go.”

“He don’t know.” Odo muttered.

“You want some company, love?” The girl asked though she clearly did not want to keep Odo company.

“Sure,” Odo moved further down the bench.

Amber sat next to him, her back clicking as she sat though she did not register any discomfort.

“I saw you lookin’?” Amber teased. “You gotta be careful lookin’ through the screen or you’ll get your eyes poked.”

“Jus’ lookin’.” Odo grunted.

“Lookin’ for someone particular?” Amber asked.


“Can I help ya, honey?”

“I’m lookin’ for a man and a woman.”

“What for, honey?” Amber winked.

“None ya.” Odo frowned.

“How am I ‘sposed to help ya, Odo, if I don’t know?”

“Jus’ a man and a woman. An Italian man, but he talks like an Englishman, and an English woman with dark hair. She sometimes wears a piece—a blonde piece.”

“Oh, I know them.”

“You do?”

“They was just in here—on the other side, talkin’ to Big Ollie. They was all bent over somethin’ wrapped in a rag.”

“What was it?”

“Dunno.” Amber shrugged. “Ain’t my business. I know when to keep to myself. It’s somethin’ you should learn, too, little yellow Odo.”

“Shut up.” Odo growled. “When they leave?”

“Dunno, honey. Don’t you worry ‘bout that none. You just let me help ya feel better.”

“You seen the Ogress lately?” Odo said, ignoring her.

“Iolanthe Evangeline?” Amber laughed. “Why she come in here, huh? This ain’t the kind of place for Iolanthe.”

“Not in here—anywhere?”

“Saw her on Royal a couple days ago. Then, on Chartres. Yeah. This mornin’. She was in an awful hurry. All done up in gloves and feathers.”


“Yeah, maybe she was goin’ to see Marie Laveau. I done heard they set aside their differences.”

Odo scratched his head nervously. “I gotta go.”

“But, you ain’t even had no drink yet,” Amber cooed.

“Listen, think real hard. When did the Italian man and the lady leave?”

“Maybe half an hour ago.” Amber shrugged.

“Which way they go?”

“I don’t know, Odo,” Amber said with considerable frustration. “I know better than to get my eyes poked. They left with Big Ollie. You want to know more, go find him.”

“I will,” Odo grinned. He grabbed Amber by the shoulders and kissed her. “Thanks.”

Amber slapped his face and spat, “Go on, get out of here!”

Odo scrambled off of the bench and rushed for the door, his face stinging. He didn’t care about the pain. He was off to see Big Ollie and hoped that the giant would not remember the last time they had met.

Did you miss Chapters 1-431?  If so you can read them here.  

Unusual Artifacts: The Parker Wine Fountain, 1719

The Victoria & Albert Museum

This famous piece of Britannia standard silver is most unusual.  A fountain with lid and tap, it takes the form of a baroque urn. The lid is surmounted by a crest in the form of a lion's head, further decorated with bands of gadrooned ornament and palmette and shell motifs in the style of the early Eighteenth Century.

 The urn gracefully bows  out from the rim and is also gadrooned as flanking  lion's masks grasp the handles in their jaws.  The sides  of the urn are decorated with an applied coat of arms and supporters (that of Thomas Parker, 1st Earl Macclesfield), each surmounted by an earl's coronet. The tap depicts a dolphin's head and a handle in the form of a baroque bow is set beneath the applied coat of arms.

Hallmarked 1719, this is the work of Anthony Nelme who designed this masterpiece as part of a grand and colossal set of silver devoted only to serving wine--including also a massive cistern and cooler meant to rest on the floor by the sideboard holding the fountain.

Now, you might think that this fountain was meant to issue forth wine.  Its use, however, was to pour water used to rinse glasses between uses.  A footman would take a used glass, rinse it, fill it with wine cooled in the cooler and offer the glass to a new guest.