Saturday, February 11, 2012

Mastery of Design: The Chrysoberyl Flower Brooch

Brooch of Chrysoberyl and Topaz
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Made between 1700 and 1800, this brooch in the shape of an eight-petal flower is comprised of light yellow chrysoberyls and delicate pink topazes set in silver.  The stones were mined in Brazil for export to Britain.

Such a brooch would have been given as a wedding or engagement gift—typically from the groom to his bride.    

History's Runway: The Elizabeth King Wedding Gown, 1941

Wedding gown of drapery silk, 1941
This and all related images from:
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This stunning wedding gown from 1941 was worn by Miss Elizabeth King when she married Rowland Absalom on September 6 at a church in Hyde Park Square, London. The gown is unique in that it isn’t white.  While this may seem strange to us today, it’s a perfect example of the spirit of the Second World War when many brides opted for colorful, rather than white, gowns during that time of strict rationing when fabric choices were limited. Brides were forced to use whatever fabric they could find and some dresses were even made out of parachute silk.

Elizabeth, we’re told,  wanted a traditional style of dress and found a beautiful satin curtain material of yellow flowers with green stems (in 1941, rationing did not yet extend to furnishing fabrics).  Miss King commissioned Ella Dolling, a Court dressmaker of Portland Street, London, to fashion it into this lovely gown.  For luck, a horseshoe of blue ribbon was sewn into the dress.

In the fashion of the period, the dress features fitted sleeves which are slightly puffed at the shoulder, a sweetheart neckline and long stiff skirt. Elizabeth, whose ancestor bequeathed the gown to the V&A, stated that she “opted for a prayer book instead of a bouquet” and artificial flowers on her head, although Rowland did wear a carnation in his buttonhole.  This is notable inasmuch as Elizabeth King was a well-known London florist. 

Later, the sleeves of the dress were removed so that the new Mrs. Absalom could wear the dress as an evening gown afterwards; they have now been re-attached to the dress.

Antique Image of the Day: Minnie Palmer as Tina in My Sweetheart at the Strand Theatre, 1883

Theatrical Photograph of Minnie Palmer, 1883
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This photograph from 1883 shows actress Minnie Palmer as the character of Tina in the play “My Sweetheart: which was performed at the Strand Theatre in London.

As photography was relatively new at the time, most actors and actresses had studio photographs taken for the sake of publicity.  They would pose either in everyday dress or theatrical costume, for “cartes de visite,” and later “cabinet cards” which would be traded amongst fashionable people, not only raising awareness of whatever show they were in, but also helping to establish their celebrity.   

This photo is part of the celebrated collection of antique photography amassed by Guy Little who donated this exceptional lot to the V&A.    

At the Music Hall: Let Me Call You Sweetheart, 1910

I am dreaming Dear of you, day by day
Dreaming when the skies are blue, When they're gray;
When the silv'ry moonlight gleams, Still I wander on in dreams,
In a land of love, it seems, Just with you.

Let me call you "Sweetheart," I'm in love with you.
Let me hear you whisper that you love me too.
Keep the love-light glowing in your eyes so true.
Let me call you "Sweetheart," I'm in love with you.

Longing for you all the while, More and more;
Longing for the sunny smile, I adore;
Birds are singing far and near, Roses blooming ev'rywhere
You, alone, my heart can cheer; You, just you.

Let me call you "Sweetheart," I'm in love with you.
Let me hear you whisper that you love me too.
Keep the love-light glowing in your eyes so true.
Let me call you "Sweetheart," I'm in love with you.

"Let Me Call You Sweetheart,”  published in 1910,  features music by Leo Friedman and lyrics by Beth Slater Whitson.  It was first recorded by The Peerless Quartet and has been a popular, sentimental favorite ever since. 

Notably, the girl who modeled for the original sheet music (seen here) is thought to have been Virginia Rappe, who is most famous for being at the center of the 1921 Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle scandal.

Classic cartoon scariness and the Merman to follow...

Punch’s Cousin, Chapter 460

Just what is your quarrel with us?”  Adrienne hissed at Ulrika as she shivered on the deck of the ship—shielding her son from the cold wind by holding him close to her body.

“Really, I don’t have a specific quarrel with either one of you.”  Ulrika shrugged.  “Not directly.”  She smiled.  “To be sure, I don’t like either of you.  You’re troublesome—your sort.”

“Our sort?”  Cecil frowned.

“Well, yes.  Really, your kind—you go about trying to make everything better and getting into places you don’t belong because you want to do ‘what’s correct.’  You really should learn to keep to your own affairs.  But, no.  You’ve had to get in my way.”

“You fault us for getting involved in matters which don’t concern us?”  Cecil growled.  “Look at you!  What does any of this have to do with you?”

“Quite a lot.”  Ulrika sighed.  “I had a very clear and simple arrangement with Miss Allen.  My cousin, Agnes, was to bring with her a young English woman to be my maid.  But, Miss Allen didn’t keep her word.”

“She never intended to stay your maid.  She had already promised her services to Iolanthe Evangeline!”  Adrienne spat.  “If you’ve learned anything, Ulrika, surely it’s that Iolanthe is not one to be trifled with.  You were fooled!  Barbara only used you to gain access to this country.  She had other plans with Iolanthe from the start—including the sale of her child.  You became involved on your own!”

“No.”  Ulrika snarled.  “I did not.”

“Yes, you did.”  Cecil roared.  “You discovered who Barbara was and connived to get her inheritance.  Furthermore, you stole the diamond from her, making matters worse with Iolanthe.  And, then—just for your own amusement—you insinuated yourself into all manner of dramas which have nothing to do with you!”

“I did what I needed to do.”  Ulrika retored.

“I have grown so weary of all of this!”  Adrienne shouted.  “You and Iolanthe and Marie—all of you who are so convinced of your rightness in all things, and yet, you never see that through your stubbornness, you’re only making everyone suffer—even yourself.  Still, you’ll never accept the fact that you’re just as culpable, and the rest of us must pay the price for your own pride, foolishness and greed.”

“Suddenly, the whore is a philosopher?”  Ulrika grinned.

“Don’t speak to my wife that way!”  Cecil growled.  “Now, listen, you’ve bothered us long enough.  Just as we’re about to escape all of this…this…evil, you wander onto this ship to make us suffer all the more. I won’t have it!  So, you’ve gotten us out of our cabin and onto the deck.  What is it that you want?  Why are we out here?”

Ulrika smiled.  “You will see.”

“You don’t even know, do you?”  Cecil snapped.

“What?”  Ulrika narrowed her eyes.

“You don’t know.”  Cecil laughed.  “You’re following someone else’s orders.  This is all sport to you!  Some sort of game!”

“Of course, I know!”  Ulrika argued, but as she did, her eyes fluttered as she realized that she did not, in fact, know why she’s brought the Halifaxes to the deck.  She had so enjoyed terrifying them and asserting her control that she had forgotten why she was even doing it.

“This will continue no longer.”  Cecil said firmly.  He reached for his wife, putting his arm around her waist.  “Come with me, my dear.  Let’s go where it’s warm.”

“No!”  Ulrika stepped forward.

Cecil shook his head.  “I’m not afraid of you, Ulrika.  We’re too close to our salvation.  There’s nothing you can do.  I don’t even blame you.  Frankly, you’re just cruel.  You’re cruel because you enjoy it.  You can’t help yourself.  But, for as cruel as you are, you’re powerless.  You can’t harm us.  I won’t let you threaten my family anymore.  I’ve been in error.  I’ve listened to you—all of you who would have us believe that you have some sort of power over us.  But, you have none.  None.”

“You question my power?”  Ulrika shouted.

“Not only yours.”  Cecil grinned—pointing to a noisy scene behind Ulrika.
Ulrika spun around to see Giovanni—still struggling in vain against Peter who carried him on deck.

“Now, you better stop wrigglin’,”  Peter joked.  “Or even though I was tol’ not to, I might jus’ drop you in the sea.”

“Giovanni!”  Ulrika shouted.  Her lover looked up, catching sight of her and quickly looking away in shame.

“It seems that your lot has lost your effectiveness.”  Adrienne chuckled.

“Really?”  Ulrika snarled.  She rushed forward and tried to grab Fuller from Adrienne’s arms.

Instinctively, Adrienne kicked her right leg forward—her foot landing violently against Ulrika’s shins.

Ulrika squealed.  Furiously, she charged at Adrienne, almost knocking her over, and pinning her against the ship’s rail.

Cecil spun around, grabbing Ulrika by the waist.

“I’ll push her over the side!”  Ulrika howled.  “Both her and your child!”

Did you miss Chapters 1-459?  If so, you can read them hereCome back on Monday, February 13, 2012 for Chapter 461 of Punch’s Cousin.  

Valentine of the Day: I Thought What Higher Happiness, c. 1840

I wander’d by the green-wood side,
Array’d in all its verdant pride,
And mark’d the gay birds happy hours
Of love amid their fragrant bowers.

I thought what higher happiness
Than theirs our leisure hours might bless,
In those sweet shades, almost divine,
If we were wed, dear Valentine.

Printed and published by J. Wrigley of Manchester, this Valentine card depicting a couple in a flower garden in front of a church dates between 1840 and 1880.  The above verse accompanies the image.

This card was bequeathed to the V&A along with others from the collection of Guy Tristram Little who amassed a fine assortment of lithograph cards which have been hand-colored with watercolor and feature the very-Victorian attributes of paper lace and fabric appliqué.  

Valentine Card
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: Miniature of Venetia Stanley, Lady Digby, c. 1615

Tho', happy Muse, thou know my Digby well,
Yet read him in these lines: He doth excell
In honour, courtesie, and all the parts
Court can call hers, or Man could call his Arts.
Hee's prudent, valiant, just, and temperate;
In him all vertue is beheld in State:
And he is built like some imperiall roome
For that to dwell in, and be still at home.

An Epigram to my Muse, the Lady Digby, on her Husband, Sir Kenelme Digby.
--Ben Jonson, 1635

Venetia Stanley
Peter Oliver, 1615-1633
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This miniature of watercolor on vellum, set into a case of ivory and tortoiseshell, is one of a group of early Seventeenth Century portraits, evidently of the same young woman--traditionally identified as Venetia Stanley, Lady Digby.

Now, who is this Venetia Stanley that she should inspire so many artists.  Venetia Stanley was the childhood sweetheart of Sir Kenelm Digby (a philosopher, scientist, adventurer and leader of the Catholic Church in Britain who later converted to Anglicanism after becoming associated with the Privy Council of King Charles I).  Venetia was considered to be of rare beauty and great intellect. She was also rumored to be a courtesan and the concubine of the Earl of Dorset (as well as the mother of several of his illegitimate children).

Given the latter bit of Venetia’s reputation, Digby's mother opposed her son’s relationship with Venetia, stating that such a woman was not a suitable match for her boy.  Sir Kenelm’s mother insisted that her son go abroad in 1620, stating that he should continue his studies, but hoping that he’d meet a more acceptable young woman.

And, then, came to pass a kerfuffle of Shakespearean proportions.  While abroad, Sir Kenelm, in 1623, met Maria de Medici who fell madly in love with her.  Unable to shake thoughts of the lovely Venetia, Sir Kenelm rebuffed de Medici—never a good idea.  And, so, soon news of Sir Kenelm’s early death flooded home—sending Venetia into hysterics and contributing to her ongoing condition of persistent, nagging headaches.

While Venetia medicated herself with “viper-wine” (a concoction of wine and snake venom) to treat her headaches, Sir Kenelm—who was not dead at all—was on his way home.  The couple was reunited in 1625 and married in secret.

Reverse of the miniature case.
So, you’d think that after such a soapy trial, the couple would have been happily married.  Right?  Nope.  Digby, who truly did love Venetia, just couldn’t remain faithful.  And, it’s thought that Venetia couldn’t change her ways and continues to share her affections with others in court.  Nonetheless, they remained married until Venetia’s mysterious death in 1633.

Surely you didn’t think that Venetia would have had a run-0f-the-mill death.  No.  On April 30, 1633, Venetia went to bed—alone.  Digby who was up to other things decided to sleep in a different room.  When Venetia’s maid went to awaken her the next morning, she found her mistress dead.

More rumors.  Did Digby murder his wife in a fit of jealousy?  Did he kill her because she was preventing his relationship with another woman?  Did one of her other male friends take her life?  The woman was in good health—except for those headaches.  Perhaps she had one too many sips of “viper-wine.”  Did she kill herself because of Digby’s cruelty or because she was in love with another man?

Curious for 1633, an autopsy was performed before Venetia’s burial.  Hoping to find the cause of her death, Venetia’s doctor opened her skull and found her brain atrophied. She had, “little brain at all.”  And, so, it was concluded that all those years of headaches had led up to some sort of hemorrhage.  But, still, the rumors persisted.

Nonetheless, Digby mourned deeply.  Despite his philandering, he did love the woman.  His loss met with the sympathy of his peers and was a source of inspiration for countless artists and poets,  including Ben Jonson.

A host of paintings and miniatures were produced, adding to the already large number of representations of Venetia.  Let’s study this image.  The miniature shows Venetia as a young woman.  Yet, there is some debate about when it was painted.  We know it to be the work of Peter Oliver (1589-1647).  The style of the painting matches Oliver’s later work—soft brushstrokes and a lack of adherence to linear planes.  Yet, Venetia is clearly young and dressed in the style of about 1615.  Could this have been a posthumous. idealized tribute or was it painted from life?  We’ll never know.  So, we’ll say this was painted between 1615 and 1633.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Mastery of Design: The Dame Joan Evans Emerald Pendant, c. 1700

Pendant of silver, parcel gilt, emeralds, rubies and diamonds.
Eighteenth Century, German.
From the collection of Dame Joan Evans.
The Victoria & Albert Museum

I selected this pendant for today because something about it made me think of Mr. Punch. I think perhaps it’s the shape of the central cabochon emerald. A setting of silver and silver gilt, it is set with emeralds of assorted shapes and cuts, rubies and rose- and table-cut diamonds. The back is engraved with an intricate foliate pattern.

The central emerald is most likely later addition, replacing a different stone which may have been damaged. The pendant was made in Germany around 1700.

Antique Image of the Day: Punch and the Devil

Mr. Punch and the Devil
Print of unknown origins
George Speaight Punch and Judy Archive
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This engraving is something of a mystery. Nothing is known about its origins and it could date anywhere between the Seventeenth to Nineteenth Centuries. The work of an unknown artist and publisher, the print has been hand-colored with watercolors and, at a later date, mounted on card.

The image depicts a decidedly human-looking Mr. Punch as he defeats the Devil (who is quite grotesque and ferocious) by literally kicking his posterior. Long a part of the Punch & Judy mythology, Punch’s triumph over the Devil has frequently been portrayed in art, however, few depictions are as jubilantly realistic.

Unusual Artifacts: A Slide of Punch and Joey the Clown

Magic Lantern Slide
Theobald & Co., Nineteenth Century
The George Speaight Punch & Judy Archive
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Here’s another hand-colored glass Magic Lantern slide, number nine of a set of twelve, by Theobald & Co. depicting Mr. Punch and Joey the Clown.

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

Hullo! here’s my friend the clown. What cheer, Joey, what a mouth you have got to be sure. Don’t open it any wider, or I might fall down and hurt myself.

Joey: Oh, Mr. Punch, you’re in for it. They say you’ve killed your baby. I saw the beadle coming down the street.

Punch: Oh dear, oh dear, whatever shall I do. I say, Joey, you go and tell him I’m not at home, say I’m ill, say I’m busy, say anything, but keep him off.

The set was made in England in the late Nineteenth Century.

Print of the Day: The Keneley Punch and Judy

Print, Twentieth Century
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This print depicting overlapping images of Punch and Judy is a Twentieth Century piece by one G.E. Keneley. Oddly enough, I have not been able to find any further information about the artist. He (or she) has shown a charming hand in capturing the spirit of our Mr. Punch and his wife in a contemporary way.

This print is part of the George Speaight Punch & Judy Collection.

Punch’s Cousin, Chapter 459

Toss ‘im in the sea!” Punch cried with wild elation, clapping his hands exuberantly.
“As you say,” Pete nodded, carrying Giovanni toward the cabin door.

“Wait!” Robert shouted.

“Aw,” Punch frowned.

“There’s no need to throw him in the ocean.” Robert replied excitedly. “If you would, please, just carry him out.”

“Ain’t no trouble to throw him in the sea, Sir.” Pete smiled as Giovanni continued to wriggle in his arms.

Mr. Punch looked at Robert and sighed. “Nah, me chum’s got the right idea. Ain’t good to kill a fella even if he is a rotter like this one.”

“Unhand me!” Giovanni screamed.

Pete was unfazed. “I’ll come back and check on ya when I’m through with him, Sir.” With that, he carried Giovanni out of the cabin, followed by his friends.

Robert, with trembling hands, hurried into the adjoining cabin to look in on Colin who, somehow, managed to stay asleep through the chaos.

“Chum?” Punch chirped, following Robert. “If that bloke were in here, you gotta wonder if Ulrika or any o’ them others is botherin’ our friends.”

“True.” Robert nodded nervously. “How’d that man know to come up here? He said Marjani sent him. That means…”

“Yes, Sir.” Marjani interrupted as she came into the cabin followed by Columbia and Gamilla.

“What’s all this about?” Robert asked.

“Odo.” Gamilla replied. “He done found us.”

“So, both Odo and Giovanni…”

“Yes, Sir.” Marjani replied. “I done tol’ Pete to come up here and see if you gentleman was all right.”

“Who is this Pete?” Punch asked.

“Just a kind man who came to our rescue—along with his friends.” Marjani said.

“Thank God for him.” Robert sighed.

“Only this means that if Odo and the Italian man are onboard, them others is near, too.” Punch grumbled.

“Yes, Sir.” Gamilla said.

“We’ve got to see about Cecil and Adrienne.” Robert gasped.

“And, Gerry and Charles.” Punch added.

“Marjani?” Robert began.

Before he could finish, Marjani nodded. “That’s why we come up. We’ll watch Colin while you look in on the others.”

“I’ll go to Gerry and Charles.” Robert said.

“And, I’ll go to Cecil, Adrienne and Fuller.” Punch nodded, heading for the cabin door.

“Marjani,” Robert interjected. “Pete said that he would return here after dispatching Giovanni…”

“I’ll send him to Mr. Halifax’s cabin and some of his friends below to the valets’.” Marjani answered.

“Thank you.” Robert smiled.

“Let’s go, Chum!” Punch urged.

The two of them raced from the cabin, headed for their respective destinations.

Just as he was about to reach Cecil and Adrienne’s cabin, Punch gasped as he nearly walked into Barbara Allen who lurked in the corridor.

“Brother dear, how is my son?” Barbara grinned.

“You, too?” Punch moaned. “Who else you got on this ship?”

“No need to worry.” Barbara smiled. “Believe it or not, I’m actually on your side. I want you to depart for home.”

“Then, why are you here?” Punch growled.

“Revenge,” Barbara chuckled. “But, curiously not against you and your butcher companion.”

“Against whom, then?” Punch asked. “Charles—for leavin’ ya?”

“No.” Barbara shook her head. “I don’t blame him.”

“Then, what’s this all ‘bout?”

“Ulrika, Giovanni, and Marie.” Barbara answered.

“You want to make them suffer, so you brought them on this ship to harass me chums?”

“Yes,” Barbara nodded. “Don’t worry, you little lunatic. You and your friends are in no danger.”

“Why should I believe ya?” Punch shouted.

“No reason except that it’s true.” Barbara shrugged. “Now, you’d best get in there.” She pointed to Cecil’s cabin. “Before Ulrika gets ahead of herself.”

Punch’s eyes widened.

“Go on,” Barbara smiled. “Just bring her out to me.”

“Barbara, you gotta tell me what you’re doin’.” Punch snorted.

“All in good time.” Barbara winked.

Unsure of what to do, Punch opened the cabin door and darted in. Once inside, he shrieked.

Racing out into the corridor again, he shouted. “They ain’t in there! All of ‘em gone—the baby, too!”

“What?” Barbara squinted—her confusion clearly genuine.

“What about that don’t you understand?” Punch groaned in exasperation.

“That’s not what I planned!” Barbara began to panic.

“Why couldn’t you just leave us alone?” Punch yelled.

“We’ve got to find them.” Barbara took her brother’s arm.

Punch shook her hand off of his elbow.

“I ain’t goin’ nowhere with you!”

“Julian, you must trust me.” Barbara pleaded. “It’s imperative that you do!”

Did you miss Chapters 1-458? If so, you can read them here.

Valentine of the Day: May Our Affections Repose into Joy, c. 1840

May our affections repose into joy
And disappointment ne’er our hopes destroy.

The above motto graces this Valentine card of watercolor over lithography, paper lace, and fabrix appliqué. The card was made between 1840 and 1880 and it was donated to the V&A in 1953 along with other cards collected by Guy Tristram Little.

The work of an unknown artist and publisher, the card depicts a couple embracing in a garden of irises.

Valentine Card, 1840-80
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: The "Munched Tobacco" Punch and Judy

Hand-colored Etching, Nineteenth Century.
Ink Inscription, 1956.
The George Speaight Punch & Judy Archive
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Well, it’s Friday, and you know what that means—Punch and Judy stuff.

I like this particular image from a late Nineteenth Century British Print and wish that I could see the reverse of the piece. You see, the image features two motto-like jokes which will forever be unanswered.

The illustration shows Judy (left) and Punch (right).

Under Judy, the text reads: “If the ruins of the Tower of London could speak, what King and Rebel would they name?”

And, under Mr. Punch: “If a piece of munched tobacco could speak, what old English poet would it name?”

Since we don’t have access to the original answers, I’ll let you decide what they should be.  Feel free to post your guesses in the comments section. 

The print is of black ink on paper, loosely washed with watercolor. Mr. Punch and his lovely bride are depicted in a jubilant dance with a glass of wine and tankard of ale.

Above them, written in ink is a personal message—perhaps to George Speaight who amassed the V&A’s exceptional collection of Punch and Judy ephemera. I can’t quite make it out, but I think it reads, “Amazing times. Happy New Year. Alfred Kirby, 1956” and may be a message to the collector when the print was given as a gift, almost one hundred years after it was made.

The curators of the V&A have felt it necessary to note, “Punch is shown to have extreme, exaggerated form of kyphosis and sternal protrusion.” Meaning that our Mr. Punch has a wicked hunchback and big ol’ belly. Well, duh. That’s what makes him Mr. Punch. Curiously, no mention is made of Old Red Nose’s large proboscis and chin nor his wife’s similar facial characteristics. I guess that’s, “normal.”

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: A Tail of You, Bertie

"Let me guess. Little Red Riding Hood? Am I supposed to be the wolf? Because I'm not that interested."

Image: Dolly Varden, William Powell Frith, 1842, The Victoria and Albert Museum.

Don't forget our "Gratuitous Bertie Dog" Designs, available only in our online store

History's Runway: The Pierre Cardin Heart Dress, 1960

Dress, Pierre Cardin, 1960
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Designer Pierre Cardin made this dress to be worn by a young girl of around four years old. The design was specifically to be sold for the American luxury department store, Neiman Marcus in the 1960s. With a simple palette of cream with a red stylized heart and border, this geometric dress is immediately recognizable as a Cardin design.

This sleeveless garment has hand stitched appliqué detail around the bottom of the dress joining the heart-shaped motif in the center of the bottom portion of the dress. The fully-lined dress is constructed with one front panel and two back panels which fasten from the back of the neck down to the waist.

The labels read, “Pierre Cardin/Made in France expressly for Neiman-Marcus.”

Unfolding Pictures: The Heart and Crown Marriage Fan, 1700

Marriage Fan
Germany?, 1700
The Victoria & Albert Museum

In the Eighteenth Century, one of the most popular marriage gifts for brides was a hand fan which a bride could carry at her weddings. These fans often depicted the ceremonies of betrothal and marriage.

This fan from about 1700 with a painted lead of hearts and a crown is the earliest marriage fan in the V&A’s collection. Two hearts surmounted by a gold crown represented the “coronation” of the union of two lovers. The style of the time is evident in the Baroque swags and roses surrounding the central scene. The fan’s origins are uncertain, but it is thought to have been made in a provincial workshop, possibly in Germany, rather than one of the fan-painting studios in Paris, London or Amsterdam.

With ivory sticks and a vellum leaf, such a fan would have been an expensive gift for a bride, so we can deduce that this was made for a young lady from a somewhat affluent family.

Gifts of Grandeur: The Opal Heart, 1875

Brooch of opal, demantoid garnet and diamonds, c. 1875
The Victoria & Albert Museum

A symbol of love, this heart-shaped brooch would have been a suitable gift of affection. In the mid-Nineteenth Century, such symbols were considered appropriate gifts during a courtship. Jewels in the shape of hearts, cupids, flowers, hands, anchors, knots, birds, or musical instruments each had special meanings, but ultimately conveyed a romantic interest, just as they do today.

This lovely piece is crafted in gold with opal, tsavorite or green demantoid garnets and diamonds. It’s provenance is unknown, but it has been speculated as having been made in the U.S. or, possible, Central Europe.

Punch’s Cousin, Chapter 458

Silence?” Robert grunted stiffly at Giovanni as the man swaggered around the Duke’s cabin aboard the ship. “It’s not like you to be so quiet? Could it be that you’re actually thinking about something?”

Giovanni grinned and sat on Punch’s bed.

Mr. Punch straightened his back and narrowed his eyes at Giovanni, affecting his best imitation of Julian’s voice.

“Suddenly, you’re borrowing your behavior from Mr. Dickens?” Punch asked, his dialect a perfect reproduction of Julian’s soft, mannered speech and pronunciation. “What am I to believe? Am I now Ebenezer Scrooge and you the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come? How very literary, we are. But, isn’t this tactic a tad passé? Such theatrics owe more to ten years ago than they do 1853.”

Robert looked curiously at Mr. Punch, for a moment, thinking that Julian had reemerged from the depths of their shared psyche. Still, despite Punch’s excellent affectation, he was not fooled—concluding that Mr. Punch had hoped that a more formal, aristocratic behavior would somehow intimidate the man who seemed to take such delight in menacing them.

Still, Giovanni said nothing.

“At some point,” Mr. Punch continued, still acting as the Duke, “you’re going to have to speak. I’m not a reader of minds, and, truly, you’ll find that this will reach a more expedient and satisfactory conclusion if you only communicate what it is exactly that you want.”

Giovanni just grinned.

“Have you come to murder us?” Punch asked. “If so, you’d best get on with it. You’ll find that the threat of death does not faze me. I’ve been so close to death lo these many years that I’m too familiar with it to fear it. In my heart, I have already died a thousand times. When my life does pass, I shall great the Reaper as an old friend and embrace him. So, your silent threats have no effect on me.”

Again, Giovanni was silent.

“Well, at least our unwelcomed guest is comfortable.” Mr. Punch sighed—a bit of his own voice creeping into his speech. He corrected himself quickly.

“What is it that you want?” Punch continued. “You have already stated that you’ve not come for the child. That’s all the better since you’ll never get him. So, what is it? Money? Gold? I’ve little else to offer. I have no authority to speak of. No power. I’m not involved with politics and my association with the Crown is purely a personal one with underpinnings of business. If you think I can secure an audience with Her Majesty for you, you’re mistaken. All I have is money and property. If any of it would please you, just say so and I’ll offer it to you so that we may have some peace. In fact, there’s a fine case of jewels just in that wardrobe. You’re welcome to it, if only it would hasten your departure.”

“Why does he speak this way?” Giovanni said finally, looking at Robert.

“How else should he speak?” Robert replied.

“Like himself.” Giovanni growled, his accent thick. “Now he talks as a proper man. Where is his comic voice like a ruffian?”

“You should be more concerned with your own speech,” Robert sighed.

“Coo!” Punch yelped, casting aside his pantomime of the Duke. He shook his head. “I’m gonna have to hit him on the head, Chum. Can we fit ‘im through the window there? Push ‘im right into the sea, we will. The sea monsters will feed on his blood.”

“No.” Robert mumbled. “We can’t fit him through the porthole. And, you won’t be striking him. I’ve already injured this man once; let me finish what I started.”

“You both speak of killing me, yet, you don’t know why I’m here?” Giovanni laughed. “That seems uneven, yes?”

“No.” Punch scrunched up his nose, or, to be more accurate, Julian’s nose. “You killed me pa, you did. As far as I can see, you earned a beatin’.”

“Would the two of you please sit?” Giovanni asked. “I simply wish to propose something which might benefit all of us.”

“You’ve had a chance to do so.” Robert hissed. “And, yet, you tried to intimidate us with your damned silence. Now you must answer for it!”

Before Robert could say or do anything more, the cabin door burst open and Pete—the man who had protected Marjani, Columbia and Gamilla below-decks, lumbered into the room, towering over all of them. He was followed by three of the other men who had assisted him below.

“Here!” Punch gasped.

“Marjani sent me.” Pete nodded.

“What?” Robert shook his head.

“You the Duke?” Pete asked Robert.

“No.” Robert replied, startled.

“He?” Pete pointed to Punch.

“Yes.” Robert nodded.

“Who dat?” Pete asked.

“An intruder.” Robert responded.

“He’s bad, yeah?” Pete asked.

“Yes.” Robert nodded again.

“Fine.” Pete staggered over to Giovanni, picking up by his armpits and raising him off of the bed.

Giovanni wriggled, but could not break Pete’s grip.

“Where you fellas want him?” Pete smiled.

Did you miss Chapters 1-457? If so, you can read them here.

Valentine of the Day: On Life's Sea, In Love's Boat, 1840-80

On Life’s sea
In Love’s boat
Ever with thee I
Could Float.

So reads this printed, hand-watercolored valentine which was made between 1840 and 1880 of card, paper-lace, fabrix appliqué. The work of an unknown artist and publisher, the card was bequeathed with other greeting cards to the V&A by Guy Tristram Little.

The scene of two lovers in the sort of gondola used for romantic boat rides in decorative lakes in parks is set off by two fabric-applied flaming hearts.

Card of watercolor, fabric and paperlace.
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: Part of an Uncut Sheet of Playing Cards, 1490-1500

An Uncut Sheet of Playing Cards, 1490-1500
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Here’s a very rare item. We see a large sheet printed sheet of uncut playing cards dating to the late Fifteenth Century. The sheet includes three images (one partial) of the Knave (Jack) of Diamonds and three images (also, one partial) of the Knaves of Hearts.

Due to the exorbitant cost of printing in the Fifteenth Century (an issue which persists to this day), it was more cost-effective for playing-card makers to print several cards in black and white on one sheet of paper, color them through a stencil and then cut the sheet into the individual cards, than it would have been to print and color cards individually. Isn’t it interesting how, after five hundred years, the design of playing cards is essentially unchanged?

The knaves depicted wear fashionable, aristocratic, motley costume, in red, yellow and green. The Knave of Hearts is particularly smart in leggings and a codpiece, a short doublet with long, square-ended false sleeves over close-fitting sleeves and a hat with a feather. The Knave of Diamonds wears a longer doublet with long, square-ended sleeves and a hat with a feather. The Knave of Hearts holds a dog on a leash and carries a staff while the Knave of Diamonds carries a weapon with a banner.

The cards, printed in Lyon, France, are signed by Gilles Savouré, Gilles (possibly the woodcutter). Other marks include, “G: Cartier/G. S. C /H.H./P.30.” These were purchased with funds from the bequest of Captain H.B. Murray (1843-1910), from a sale of the collection of Henry Ralph Mowbray Howard at Sotheby's on the 25th of February 1920. The catalog from the sale states:

“German and Other Woodcuts of the XVTH Century

All, with the exception of the first, are coloured in the manner usually employed in the embellishment of the separately issued relief-cuts on wood or metal of this early period. In nearly every case the impressions now offered for sale are believed to be the only ones known and as such they are recorded in Schreiber's 'Manuel de l'Amateur de la Gravure sur Bois et sur Metal au XVe Siecle'. The sizes given include the border, when such exists, although in many instances such border is a line of colour added by hand.'

The sheet had been preserved in a 16th century binding to Le Trésor de l'Ame, published in Geneva: L. Cruse, 1494.”


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Mastery of Design: The Lion Segreant Diamond Brooch, 1750

Pendant Slide
Cordoba, Spain, 1750
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Marked with a symbol of a lion segreant, meaning a winged lion with both forelegs raised, this slide and pendant of gold, table-cut and rose-cut diamonds was made in Cordoba Spain. The slide takes the form of a bow with two foliated segments below, the lowest a cross.

Figure of the Day: Samson and the Lion, 1860

Samson and the Lion
Staffordshire Group, circa 1860
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Painted with enamel colors, this Staffordshire figure group of a lion tamer may depict Samson forcing open the jaws of a lion. Made circa 1860, this molded lead-glazed earthenware flat-back was just one of many popular scenes produced by the Staffordshire factory.

The Home Beautiful: The Haschka Grand Piano, 1815-20

Piano with Scene of Samson and the Lion
Vienna, 1815-20
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Around 1800, Viennese pianos were among the most prized—celebrated for their delicate tone and ease of playing. These pianos were often outfitted, as this one is, with a number of pedals which were designed to create special musical effects such as drums and bells. This example was made between 1815 and 1820 by Georg Haschka (1772-1828)—proprietor of a small workshop in Vienna. Interestingly, this piano was owned by Sir William Quiller Orchardson R.A. (1832-1910), an eminent Scottish painter, who depicted it in his painting, “A Tender Chord.”

The instrument is housed in a pinewood case which is veneered with mahogany on the outside and satinwood on the inside. It features gilt highlighting and ormolu mounts and pedals as well as a painted lid and name-board which illustrates a scene of Samson and the Lion.

The piano is marked, “Georg Haschka in Wien George Hashka in Vienna.”

Sculpture of the Day: The Stevens Lion, 1852

Bronze lion after Stevens, 1852
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This bronze figure of a seated lion is copied from a model made by British sculptor Alfred George Stevens (1817-1875) around 1852 for the seated lions he cast for the tops of the newel posts outside of London's British Museum.

According to one critic of the day, “the number of imitations of this lion by other artists is their sincerest tribute; and technically it is equally a triumph for Stevens in the small number (20) of pieces which are necessary in the mould for casting it.”

The lions are no longer in position outside the British Museum. Some were removed in 1896 to railings outside the Charles Holden wing of the Law Society building in Chancery Lane. Others were placed on the railings which surround the Wellington monument in St Paul's Cathedral, London. This transfer took place between 1892 and 1912, when the tomb was removed from the Consistory Chapel in St Paul's.

Punch’s Cousin, Chapter 457

“Who dat?” A man next to Gamilla whispered as Odo approached. “He done made dat little girl cry.” He pointed to Columbia.

“He’s someone we hoped to get way from.” Gamilla answered.

The man rose to his feet and waved to his companions—a group of six, large, muscled African men. They, too, stood—in unison and stood in front of Marjani, Gamilla and Columbia.

Odo’s eyes widened.

“What you want, little man?” The leader of the group bellowed at Odo.

“I got business wit’ these women.” Odo answered, clearly shaken.

The large man looked over his shoulder. “He got business wit’ you, Miss?” He asked Gamilla.

“No.” Gamilla replied firmly.

“Lady says ‘no.’” The man growled.

Odo took a deep breath and puffed out his chest. “This don’t concern you, Friend.”

“My name’s Pete,” The man smiled, “and I think it do. What’s more, I ain’t your friend. These are my friends.” He pointed to the men on either side of him who formed a wall in front of Marjani, Columbia and Gamilla. “And, my friends think this concerns me, too.”

“Jus’ let me by,” Odo whimpered.

“Should we let him pass, boys?” Pete grinned.

“Nah,” his friends answered in unison.

“Dey say ‘no’ and the ladies say ‘no.’ So, I’m guessin’ that the answer is ‘no.’”

“I got a message for ‘em from an important lady.” Odo trembled.

“That so?” Pete asked.

“From Marie Laveau.” Odo continued.

Marjani began to shake. Pete could sense her discomfort.

“You wanna tell me what it is?” Pete asked. “I’ll tell the ladies.”

“I don’t wanna talk to you.” Odo replied.

“You’re gonna.” Pete laughed.

“Jus’ let me pass,” Odo pleaded.

“Go on and try.” Pete smirked.

Odo rushed forward. With one hand, Pete stopped him by wrapping his giant fingers around Odo’s little face, knocking him backward.

Odo squealed.

“Wanna try ‘gain?” Pete guffawed.

Odo scampered out of the large cabin and into the ship’s corridor, breathing heavily as he raced to the stairs.

“Thank you, Pete.” Marjani replied.

“You’re a nice man,” Columbia smiled, wrapping her little arms around Pete’s legs.

“Aw.” Pete stuttered. “Ain’t she a nice little thing?” He smiled at Marjani and Columbia. “What you two nice ladies wanna go get wrapped up wit’ a woman like Marie Laveau for?”

“She got a quarrel with the men we work for.” Gamilla replied.

“That ain’t good.” Pete said. “Is it, boys?”

His friends shook their heads.

“If Odo—that’s his name,” Marjani began, “is here, that means them others is, too. I got a feelin’ our folk is in trouble.”

“You like these folk?” Pete asked.

“Very much.” Marjani nodded. “Best white folk I ever met.”

“For true,” Gamilla agreed.

“Uncle Punch?” Columbia chirped. “Is that man gonna hurt Uncle Punch?”

“You call a white man, ‘Uncle?’” Pete tilted his head at Columbia.

“Sure.” Columbia nodded. “He’s a nice man and plays games with me. He got a dog and a puppet and he sings me songs.”

“Dat true?” Pete asked.

“It is.” Marjani nodded.

“A white man takes time to play with this girl and treat her nice?”

“Yes.” Marjani smiled. “He’s a very generous man. A nobleman from England, but kind and gentle and sweet. They all are. There’s a doctor. He’s a fine man. And, the doctor’s brother and brother’s wife. She treats us like we’re equal. They got babies. Two of ‘em. And there’s two servant men—white men, one from England, one from Italy. All good souls.”

“Gerard—he’s the doctor’s man. He’s…” Gamilla started.

“You like this fella special?” Pete winked.

“Maybe.” Gamilla looked at her shoes.

“Well, then,” Pete nodded. “We can’t let no bad folk bother your friends. Can we, boys?”

Pete’s comrades shook their heads.

“You gonna help us?” Columbia asked.

“We sure are, little woman.” Pete grinned. “We sure are.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-456? If so, you can read them here.

Valentine of the Day: Your Carte de Visite, 1870

Your Carte de Visite
Comic Valentine Greeting Card, c. 1870, English
The Victoria & Albert Museum

The carte de visite was a type of small photograph which was first developed by Louis Dodero, but was patented in Paris, France by the famed photographer André Adolphe Eugène Disdéri in 1854. Each photograph was the size of a calling card, and such photograph cards were traded among friends and visitors. These popular items gave rise to the publication and collection of photographs of celebrities and prominent people. Special albums for the collecting of these cards were produced and could be found in almost any Victorian parlor. By the 1870s, cartes de visite were replaced in popularity by larger cabinet cards.

This Valentine which dates to about 1870 is entitled "Your Carte de Visite." It features an image of a scruffy, terrier which, frankly, I initially mistook as a lion. However, having lived with a terrier for many years, I can tell you, that they exhibit lion-like tendencies, so the mistake is a natural one.

One of two almost identical cards stored at the V&A, this is the work of an unknown artist and publisher.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: The Sicilian Lion Ring, 1100-1200

Gold Ring
Sicily, 1100-1200
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Large in size, this ancient ring was made for a man with a motif of a lion passant (a lion in profile facing to the right), a theme which was often used in heraldry. In this case, the lion symbol may possibly indicate a particular family's arms, but is most likely purely decorative.

This gold ring is cast and chased with shaped shoulders decorated with an interlace pattern. The flat rectangular bezel into which the lion is set is decorated with incising. It was made in Sicily between 1100 and 1200.

During this era (as now), rings were often exchanged as gifts, or bequeathed to friends and relatives. If a ring did not fit the new owner, the custom was to wear it on a ribbon around the neck, or secured to the finger by a ribbon tied around the wrist.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Mastery of Design: The Townshend Red Spinel, 1840

Red Spinel in an exceptional mount of gold and European-cut diamonds, 1840.
Part of the Townshend Collection at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

I like natural spinels. They’re rather difficult to come by, but when you finally see when, you’re immediately struck by the beautiful fire they exhibit and the wide range of colors (or lack thereof) in which they come. Red spinels were once known as “balas rubies,” “spinel rubies” and then “ruby spinels,” and they have been frequently linked with or confused with rubies despite their substantially different chemical makeup.

This ring, set with a fine red spinel framed by a border of European-cut diamonds in a gold mount, forms part of the celebrated collection of 154 gems bequeathed to the V&A by the Reverend Chauncy Hare Townshend, a cleric and poet. The ring was made c. 1840 purely for the purpose of displaying this exceptional stone.