Wednesday, July 30, 2014

If I could turn back tie-um...

Time is the longest distance between two places.
Tennessee Williams

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

Time has not been my friend of late.

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

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

Time permitting.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

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

Piedmont, Italy
The Victoria & Albert Museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cabinet and Stand
The Royal Collection

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

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

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

Antique Image of the Day: Florence Fisher, 1872

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Building of the Week: Florence Cathedral, Italy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Object of the Day: A Trade Card for Florence Knitting Silk

Click image to enlarge.

Established in the 1830s in Massachusetts, the Florence Knitting Mills were a division of the Nonotuck Silk Company. The company was known to produce a number of instructional books which were meant to explain how to use their knitting silk to create articles of clothing.

Like most companies of the time, the Florence Knitting Mills produced trade cards--just like the one pictured above--and, like most American cards, there’s nothing printed on the reverse. The obverse simply shows an attractive image with the company’s slogan: “FLORENCE, THE SOFT FINISH, PEERLESS KNITTING SILK.” Pictured is a bespectacled woman who appears to be making a red glove. Meanwhile, her cat (soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur) has stolen some of her Florence Knitting Silk—presumably from the inset picture of the product—to use for his own feline purposes. 

I'd place this as having been printed around 1885.

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: Princess Albertina in a Can

"You are a really bad hostess."

Image: Princess Elizabeth Albertina, Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1713-61),Creator: Allan Ramsay (1713-84) (artist), Creation Date: c.1769, Materials: Oil on canvas, Acquirer: Queen Charlotte, consort of George III, King of the United Kingdom (1744-1818), when, Queen Consort (1761-1818), Provenance: Probably painted for Queen Charlotte.

Crown Copyright, The Royal Collection via The Royal Collection Trust.  The original image is courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
To learn more about this gorgeous masterpiece, visit its official entry in the online catalog of The Royal Collection.

You, too, could have a cup of tea with Bertie. Or, you could wear his picture proudly. Visit our 
online store to see our range of Gratuitous Bertie Dog products.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Mastery of Design: An Enamel, Pearl and Diamond Bracelet, 1875

Enamel, Pearls and Diamonds
French, 1875
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Today’s sparkly thing is a bracelet of translucent and plique-à-jour enamel in gold openwork, set with pearls and rose-cut diamonds.

It is the work of the renowned Parisian jeweler Frédéric Boucheron (1830-1902) and one of his team of fine designers and craftsmen--Charles Riffault. Riffault revived the technique of translucent or un-backed cloisonne enameling. Boucheron had exclusive rights to Riffault’s process and the firm who exhibited the technique at the International Exhiibtions of1867 and 1878.

Painting of the Day: The Misers, 1548-1551

The Misers
A Follower of Marinus can Reymerswaele
c. 1550
Acquired by Queen Anne
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Historians believe that Queen Anne (the second daughter of King James II) added this handsome and strange painting to the Royal Collection. The scene was painted between 1548 and 1551 by an unknown student artist who is believed to have been a follower of Marinus van Reymerswaele (c. 1490/95-c. 1567). Painted on board, the painting also mimics a 1440 work by Jan van Eyck which depicted a banker in conference with his client. While this painting by van Eyck is believed lost, it is credited as having launched a genre of works which showed businessmen in Fifteenth Century dress engaged in money matters. Of the sixty variations of the scene, most of them are composed in a style which hints at a strong Dutch influence. Most of these compositions can trace their stylistic roots to the works of van Eyck. Still, others are clearly inspired by the paintings of van Reymerswaele and, also, another Dutch master Quinten Massys.

Let’s take a closer look at this piece which is entitled, “The Misers.” This follower of van Reymerswael has taken great pains to show the nature of the men. Their faces are masks of avarice and greed and their claw-like hands nod at the common conception of those involved in the changing of money. The scene is meant to be amusing and the visages of the men purposefully lean toward caricature. Despite the piles of coins in front of them, we’re reminded that this wealth will not aid them for long. The brevity of life is suggested by the candle which burns near them—it is almost spent, just as their lives are. 

What I find most interesting about this work is that the ledger on the table has been inscribed in French, indicating that this piece was likely a copy by a student—commissioned by a French patron who much admired the original by van Reymerswaele.

History's Runway: A Silk and Velvet Sack-Back Gown and Petticoat, 1774-1890

Sack-Back Gown
Made in Scotland, 1774-1775
Altered between 1880 and 1890
The Victoria & Albert Museum

As we know, a sack-back gown, the predominant style of women’s fashions of the Eighteenth Century, is created from a single piece of fabric pleated and stitched at the back of the neck, creating an open front. The style evolved from a sort of loose negligee which was worn privately. By the 1770s, the fashion had become a more formal type of dress meant to be worn in public at important events, the opera, the theatre and at stylish dinner parties.

What sets this sack-back apart is the use of velvet. At the time, these gowns were made of woven fabrics which were printed after the weaving process. Here, the textile of silk has been combined with velvet—a technique unique to France--which created a fabric with vertical bands of ivory and pink silk alternating with stripes of floral chiné velvet. Records with the dress report that the textile cost a shocking 36 shillings a yard. The gown and petticoat are constructed of about 17 yards. Today, the fabric alone would have cost approximately £2,200—over $3400 U.S. 

While the fabric was imported from France, the gown itself was constructed in Scotland. The original garment was made between 1774 and 1775. Alterations were made to the gown between 1880 and 1890 when it was used as a costume for fancy dress parties. The ensemble was, for many years, part of the Castle Howard Costume Collection before being sold by Sotheby’s to the V&A. 

Sculpture of the Day: The Sense of Smell, c. 1752

The Sense of Smell
Derby Porcelain Factory

Modeled by Agostino Carlini (1713-1790) for the Derby Porcelain Factory between 1752 and 1755, this figure group of soft-paste porcelain is gilded and painted with enamels. The group comes from a series which depicted the senses. This one represents the sense of smell and depicts a woman holding a nosegay. She looks away from a curiously-bald child on a stool. The child is reaching for a flower to add to those already clipped. 

Precious Time: Queen Victoria's Rock Crystal, Diamond and Ruby Clock, 1900

Michael Perchin
c. 1900
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Images Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Created by Fabergé workmaster Mikhail Evlampievich Perkhin (1860-1903) around 1900, this desk clock of carved rock crystal is mounted with gold, silver-gilt, enamel, rose diamonds and rubies.  It was p
resented to Queen Victoria by Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna, her granddaughter,  in 1900.

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection

Her Majesty had a fondness for her Tsarina granddaughter.  According to the Royal Collection, "On receipt of the news of the death of Tsar Alexander III, on 1 November 1894, the Queen wrote of the new Tsar and Tsarina in her journal:

‘What a terrible load of responsibility & anxiety has been laid upon the poor Children! I had hoped and trusted they would have many years of comparative quiet & happiness before ascending this thorny throne.'"
The Queen was thrilled with this gift from the young Tsarina and appreciated its unusual, noting its difference from the majority of Fabergé’s clocks in her collection.  The others are in the form of gold strut clocks, enameled in a wide variety of colors and set with gemstones in gold. 

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
This clock, however, is crafted predominantly of rock crystal which has been engraved with trophies incorporating torches and a quiver as well as musical attributes. The rock crystal lobed panels are divided by four mounted gold arrows set with rubies and diamonds. 

White enamel forms the dial which is  surrounded by a bezel of green enamelled laurel with diamond-set ribbon ties. 

Upon the death of Queen Victoria, the clock was given to the future King George V who kept it on his desk until his own death.

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection

Figure of the Day: Fanny Kemble, 1840

Fanny Kemble
Staffordshire, 1840
The Victoria & Albert Museum

As I’ve mentioned before, the earliest Staffordshire earthenware flatbacks depicted Queen Victoria. The popularity of these Royal portraits gave rise to portraits of notable public figures, often celebrated entertainers and actors.

This Staffordshire flatback depicts the actress Fanny Kemble and is based on an 1829 engraving by Richard J. Lane, after a drawing by Sir Thomas Lawrence. Frances “Fanny” Anne Kemble (1809-1893) was the daughter of the famed actors Maria and Charles Kemble and one of the long acting dynasty which had dominated the British stage since the late Eighteenth Century. 

Fanny made her debut on stage at the age of nineteen as “Juliet” at the Covent Garden Theatre. She found fame both in England and in the U.S. where she was married to a Philadelphia businessman.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: Pendant in the Form of a Non-Working Watch, 18th Century

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

This circular pendant is designed to look like a watch. Made by a now unknown Eighteenth-Century jeweler, the bezel is bordered by rubies spaced with white enamel spheres which simulate pearls. The obverse shows a false clock face set of gold and enamel behind glass. The reverse is adorned with a foliate pattern of green and gilt enamel. From the Collection of Lady Carnarvon, the pendant was given to the Royal Collection, I’d say, sometime in the 1930s.

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

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: "Adelaide, Adelaide, Ever-Lovin' Adelaide"

"Read me the part about the Nathan Detroit."

Image: Portrait of Maria Adelaide of France in Turkish-Style Clothes, Etienne Liotard (artist), 1753,

This painting entered the Uffizi collection in 1932. An inscription on the back of the painting identifies the subject as Maria Adelaide, daughter of Louis XV and sister of Luisa Elisabetta, Duchess of Parma. Liotard (Venice, 1702 - Venice, 1789), a portrait artist of Swiss origin who trained in France, lived in Constantinople and in Vienna. He often represented his subjects in exotic costumes. Copyright, The Uffizi Gallery, Florence Italy.

You, too, could have a cup of tea with Bertie. Or, you could wear his picture proudly. Visit our 
online store to see our range of Gratuitous Bertie Dog products.

Gifts of Grandeur: The Hull Grundy Garnet Aigrette, c. 1770

This and all related images from The British Museum

With its trembler bird which would have quivered as the wearer of this jewel walked, this aigrette of rich garnets set in gilt silver would have been the height of fashion in the mid Seventeenth Century when it was made.  

Another jewel from the Hull Grundy Gift to The British Museum, this aigrette is one of three similar pieces in the collection.

Click Image to Enlarge

The Home Beautiful: The Chelsea Turkish Table Figure, 1755

Chelsea Porcelain Factory, 1755
The Victoria & Albert Museum

In the Eighteenth Century, in response to the popular dessert table figure groups made in France and Germany, Britain’s Chelsea Factory began making their own sets of porcelain figures designed to be brought out with the dessert course during a stylish meal in a wealthy household.

In Britain, in 1755, when this figure and its companions were made, porcelains depicting people in Turkish dress were highly fashionable.   The Meissen factory in Germany was the first to make porcelain figures of Turks. Those figures were quickly copied by the English porcelain factories in Staffordshire and Chelsea. The Chelsea porcelain factory copied the figure pictured here from a Meissen example modelled by Johann Friedrich Eberlein (1695-1749) in 1746.  This figure was part of a group meant for a dessert table.

Horace Walpole wrote of this decorative phenomenon in 1753 that displays of sugar plums and other confectionery had “long given way to harlequins, gondoliers, Turks, Chinese, and sheperdesses of Saxon china.”

This set is unique in that it wasn't just purely decorative, but useful.  The shell-shaped dishes attached to each figure would have served to hold candies, nuts or small pastries.