Saturday, February 8, 2014

Mastery of Design: A Pair of French Gemstone Earrings, 1820-1830

The Victoria & Albert Museum
Fashioned of gold filigree with cannetille (thin gold wires) and grainti (bumpy grains of gold) decoration, these earrings are set with emeralds, citrines, sapphires, garnets, rubies, aquamarines, peridots and pearls.

I’ll repeat what I said when I discussed the
matching necklace which accompanies these earrings. I believe that these earrings were made later than the necklace. The necklace was created around 1820—a fact very much reflected in the style of the piece. However, I’m guessing the earrings came about a decade later. There’s something about the workmanship that doesn’t exactly match. However, they’re quite attractive and very nice examples of the style of the early to mid Nineteenth Century. This is the sort of thing that a young Queen Victoria would have worn—or at least admired.

Unusual Artifacts: Queen Victoria’s Costume for the Stuart Ball, 1851

Queen Victoria's Costume for
the Stuart Ball, 1851
Designed by Lemi
Pearls, Silk, Gold Braid, Silver Fringe,
Irish Lace
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty
Queen Elizabeth II
For the Stuart Ball of 1851, Queen Victoria commissioned the Royal Dressmakers to create a truly breathtaking gown for her—drawing inspiration from her court of King Charles II. Though we often tend to remember Victoria as the Dowager Queen, we must remind ourselves that during her marriage, she was a vibrant and vivacious woman with a taste for fine clothes and gems.

Beaded with seed pearls, the silk gown is also adorned with gold braid, silver fringe and lace. The underskirt was a luxurious brocade created in Benares. The lace is of the finest quality—created in Ireland—in a Venetian raised-point needle style. The lace was most likely purchased at The Great Exhibition of 1850.

While the exact makers of the gown are unknown, it is known to have been designed (with much instruction from the Queen) by Eugéne Lemi—a favorite of the Queen. In this magnificent costume, she’s sure to have made the grand entrance that she’d hoped for.

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Images Via The Royal Collection Trust
All Images Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Images Via The Royal Collection Trust
All Images Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Images Via The Royal Collection Trust
All Images Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Images Via The Royal Collection Trust
All Images Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Images Via The Royal Collection Trust
All Images Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Saturday Sumptuousness: The Blakemore Velvet Jacket , 1810

Silk Velvet Jacket with Metallic Braid and Embroidery, 1810
The Victoria & Albert Museum

The sleeve of this exceptional velvet jacket features a very special adornment—a tablet-woven braid made from many colors of silk thread.  The various threads form delicate stripes.  The lower  portion of the sleeve has been embroidered with metal thread across the width to form more complex patterns.   Similar metallic threads adorn the rest of the jacket, however these seem unremarkable when compared with the exquisite majesty of the short length of embroidery which decorates each cuff.

When it was acquired by the Victoria & Albert Museum, this jacket was believed to have been made in North Africa, however further research showed that it was made in Albania.
  This jacket is unusually similar to a jacket and waistcoat which were purchased by the English poet Lord Byron in Tepalene, Albania in 1809.

Made for a man, the jacket is made of red silk velvet with a small round opening for the neck.
  The garment was designed to be worn open at the front as there are no fastenings and no evidence of any ever having been included.

The body of the jacket is lined in red cotton, except for inside the lower portion of the sleeve which is lined with green silk velvet. This bit of green lining would have been visible when the jacket was worn.

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.

History's Runway: The Cooke Silk Gown, 1770-1779

Sack-Back Gown
England, 1770-1779
This and all related images from:
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This green and white satin sack-back gown demonstrates the fashion of 1770-1779 which relied on grounds of subtle colors as a means of showcasing expensive trimmings. Let’s look at the stripes of this gown. While rendered in muted colors, they’re actually quite complex in their creation with darker stripes of olive and brown giving depth to the wider, lighter pattern.

The bodice and sleeves are adorned with some exceptional floral passementerie. Rosettes have been added to the fly fringe (braid). These buds are made of coils of floss silk in shades of white, pink, scarlet, and maroon. The flowers are wired so that they can stand out from the gown. Meanwhile, the fringe is composed of knots of white and light green silk over a cover of deep emerald—creating an overall effect of a vine and stems from which the flowers have sprouted.

Further adornment comes in the form of embroidery of individual sprays of pansies, morning glories, auriculas, carnations, bluebells and roses. The embroidery has been created in chenille thread in order to echo the texture of the floral fly fringe. The stomacher (in this case the fabric front panel between the waist and bosom) is trimmed with a bow and a braid as well as hand-worked eyelets. While the gown was made in Britain between 1770 and 1779, the garment is marked with a tag which reads “Cooke 1786.” 

Her Majesty's Furniture: The Sir Robert Walpole State Bed, 1732

Sir Robert Walpole's State Bed
Designed by William Kent
Located at Houghton Hall, Norfolk

This theatrically-monumental bed was designed by William Kent, the man who was responsible for the complete decoration of the interior of Sir Robert Walpole's new house at Houghton Hall, Norfolk, between about 1725 and 1732. Sir Robert Walpole was the leader of the British government from 1721 to 1742, and is known as Britain's first prime minister.

Though the bed was bequeathed to the V&A long ago, it remains on loan at its original location at Houghton, where visitors may see it in the “Green Velvet Bedchamber”—the room for which it was designed.  Kent delivered the bed between 1731–1732 at an exceptional expense.  The bill for the trimmings, or passementerie, shows us that the London partnership of Walter Turner, Richard Hill and Robert Pitter were paid over £1200 for the braids, rosettes and fringes of silver-gilt thread – an astronomical amount of money in 1732.

The bed takes an architectural form with its four posters.  It is upholstered in green silk velvet which is trimmed with braid, fringe, and embroidery in gilt-metal thread.  The dramatic headboard is defined by an architectural plinth surmounted by a large shell.

Overall, the bed is hung with six curtains of velvet and has a fitted counterpane in velvet, all identically trimmed with passementerie.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: The Martha Edlin Beaded Jewelry Case, 1673

Martha Edlin's Jewelry Case, 1673
The Victoria and Albert Museum

Decorated with beadwork--a fashionable embroidery technique in the Seventeenth Century--in which tiny glass beads were threaded and sewn into a pattern, this jewelry case features a padded central panel which lifts open to reveal a compartment for organizing jewels. It is lined with pink taffeta. On the lid, surrounded by an oval wreath formed by silk-wrapped leaves of parchment, is a cockatrice in a tree, with flowers around, worked in glass beads. Outside the wreath, flowers and a leopard are worked in silks in tent and rococo stitches. On the frame surrounding the lid are birds and flowering plants worked in beads. The corners of the frame rest on four round, hand-turned wooden feet. The underside is wholly lined with marbled paper and the edges and seams are covered with silver braid.

Such a fancy case, especially one with such high-quality glass beads and other materials, could only have been made for a very wealthy household. Furthermore, a cabinet-maker would have been employed to make the structure of the case itself if the estate did not already have a man who was proficient in woodworking.

This case once belonged to one Martha Edlin. Her name and the year (1673) have been embroidered on the case. Clearly, Miss Edlin worked the case herself. Given the value of the case itself, we can see that Martha and her successors handled it with extreme care. For this reason, it remains in near pristine condition over three hundred years later.

Martha Edlin (1660-1725) is a name which has become very familiar to me over the past two years as I’ve studied, in detail collection of the V&A. Several items from Martha’s home are now housed in the museum. Martha worked a series of embroideries during her childhood, including this jewelry case, which were cherished by her descendants and passed through the female line of her family for over three hundred years.

Beyond her obvious skill with embroidery, sadly, we know very little about her life, except for the fact that she was married to a man called Richard Richmond. After Richmond’s death, Martha appears to have been a prosperous widow with a handsome home in Pinner in Greater London. She left the bulk of her estate to her daughters and grandchildren.

Among the other treasures created by Martha Edlin, the V&A owns an embroidered sampler in colored silks which Martha created at the age of eight, and a more complicated piece in white-work and cutwork which she crafted at nine. We have looked at those previously. By 1671, Martha’s eleventh year, she had embroidered the panels of an elaborate casket, and two years later. At thirteen, this beadwork jewelry case.

Curiously, for many years, this case became separated from the other Martha Edlin embroideries (which stayed in her family's possession until their acquisition by the Museum). In the Nineteenth Century, the case was purchased at an auction by an unknown buyer. Then, in 1927, the case was again sent to auction where it was purchased by by Sir Frederick Richmond—an ancestor of Martha’s who donated it to the V&A so that it might, once again, join the other beautiful work created by Miss Edlin. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

Mastery of Design: The Cornflower Aigrette, late Eighteenth Century

From the Hull Grundy Gift
This and all related images from:
The British Museum

I like the word "aigrette."  It's one of those words which I find fun to say.  Furthermore, I like aigrettes since they're often very sparkly and chock-full o' diamonds.  This one's no exception.

I know we've looked at a good many aigrettes before.  This one, however, I think is my favorite of the lot to date.

This aigrette is in the form of a ribbon-tied trembler spray of cornflowers and wheat-ears.  The British Museum was bequeathed this aigrette and a many of its cousins as part of the Hull Grundy gift, and the museum describes the silver and gold, open-back spray set with diamonds as being of particularly "fine workmanship."  

Made in the late Eighteenth or early Nineteenth Century, the piece was possibly made in France, but, shows stylistic elements of English design as well.  The taste for such spray ornaments and jeweled bouquets was particularly strong in both France and England until well after the turn of the Nineteenth Century.  According to the museum, "a very similar aigrette is included in a French design-book issued by Villardi in 1811." The Morocco leather case further suggests French origin.  

The British Museum also states that, "This may be the 'Antique diamond brooch in the form of a harvest bouquet, the wheat ears, leaves and stems pavé-set with cushion-shaped stones, the single flower-head similarly set with a larger diamond at the centre, with case' sold at auction 'By order of the executors'" which was among the pieces taken from the Tuileries by the Empress Eugénie.  An inventory of the Empress' jewels from 1870 declares that there was a "beautiful brilliant brooch formed as a cornflower and a group of foliage."  

Masterpiece of the Day: Fête Champêtre with Italian Comedians, 1720-1730

Fête Champêtre with Italian Comedians
Pater, 1720-1730
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Hello all, my apologies, but we'll have to go one more week without "Mr. Punch's Puzzles."  Once my schedule settles down a bit, we'll return to our normal activities.  In the meantime, let's take a look at another discovery from the Royal Collection with this gorgeous oil on canvas work by Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Pater (1695-1736).  The painting, titled Fête Champêtre with Italian Comedians, was created between 1720 and 1730.

The piece was thought to have belonged to George III or Queen Charlotte, but later research shows that it was more likely purchased by George IV in or before 1806.

This handsome and brilliantly-colored work shows a scene from the Commedia dell'Arte tradition which gave us Mr. Punch.  Here, we see Scaramouche dressed in red.  He's advancing upon the scene from the right under a columned archway, his eyes fixed upon a troupe of actors and actresses who lounge in the shade beneath the trees.  To the right of them, a masked Harlequin is courting a young lady while Pierrot stands in the center of the scene.

Friday Fun: Mr. Punch and Scaramouche

Mr. Punch and Scaramouche
George Cruikshank, 1827
From the George Speaight Punch and Judy Archive
at The Victoria and Albert Museum

In the early Nineteenth Century version of the puppet show, Mr. Scaramouche was Mr. Punch’s neighbor and the original owner of Dog Toby. Punch encounters Dog Toby who bites his “beautiful nose,” and, then, Scaramouche confronts Punch about harassing his terrier. Punch confused Scaramouche by dancing with him, and, then beating him with his cudgel—eventually, taking Dog Toby as his own companion. This video begins just after Punch has had his first meeting with Dog Toby.

Print of the Day: Le Ieu Mestier Devine, early Nineteenth Century

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

Another treasure from the Royal Collection, this engraving, entitled "
Le Ieu Mestier Devine," is the work of Nicholas de Larmessin and was published at the Rue St Jacques à la Pomme d'Or, near St Severin, Paris (publisher) in the early Nineteenth Century.

The piece depicts at Commedia dell'Arte play in which three men fall out from under a cloth which is being held by Arlequin and Scaramouche. The doctor, a stock commedia character, on left, watches with amazement. Below the scene, French verses explain what's happening.

A Recipe for Punch, Chapter 55

Chapter 55

"Lady Fallbridge,"  Violet began gently, "I know you don't want to think of it right at the moment, but, you'd best be thinkin' 'bout what you want to wear for when the earl arrives."

"I know."  Lennie replied, biting down on the nail of her right thumb.  "I...I know."  She shook her head.  "The air in here is so terribly close, isn't it, Violet?"

"Yes, M'Lady."  Violet nodded.  "Shall I open a window?"

"They don't open."  Lennie shook her head.  "None of the windows in these rooms open.  I've tried them all."

"I saw one in the passage was open earlier."  Violet smiled.  "Maybe we should step out."

"It's no use, Violet."  Lennie replied.  "No matter where I go here, it seems that closeness--that oppressive feeling--follows me.  Ever since, ever since this morning."

"I know what you mean, M'Lady."  Violet answered.

"Before I dress, perhaps I should look in on Pun...His Grace, His Lordship and my Aunt Morgana."  Lennie suggested.

"The last I saw Miss Morgana, M'Lady, she was with Gamilla."  Violet said.  "His Grace was in the nursery, and, know what His Lordship was about with Charles and Gerard."

"Yes,"  Lennie responded quietly.  "Surely Lord Colinshire's returned by now.  I should like to know that was resolved."

"How about this, M'Lady, I've got to go fetch the water for your ablutions.  I shall go and see if His Lordship has returned and look in on Miss Morgana and on the nursery for you.  I'll ask His Grace to visit you here while you decide which gown you'd like to wear."

"You're too good to me."  Lennie smiled for the first time in hours.

"Not at all, Miss Lennie."  Violet said.  "Now, you take your time, M'Lady, and look through your gowns and I'll be back as fast as I can."

Violet hurried to the door and rushed out into the passage, leaving Lennie in the room alone.

Lennie sighed.

The last thing thing she really wanted was to pick out a gown.  Furthermore, the idea of Matthew's arrival, though she did miss her fiance, was not one which filled her with excitement--given the earlier events of the day.  How would she explain what had transpired?  He was sure to sense something was amiss.

"Oh, we just happened to find the remains of the mother I never knew in a cupboard in the butler's pantry."  Lennie said aloud.  "How was your journey, Matthew?"

No.  That would not work.

And, how to explain Morgana?  Poor, sweet Morgana.  Matthew was a sensible man with a generous nature, but he tended to be rather staid.  Certainly he accepted Punch's--eccentricities, and he accepted Robert and Punch as a family when most in Society sniggered, and most outside of the upper-classes would see them hanged in a heartbeat.  However, would he wish to be linked to a family with a...

She felt ashamed of herself.  Nonetheless it was the truth.  Morgana was a sideshow curiosity.  Morgana herself knew it.  Still, it felt rather cruel to think it.

"By the way, Matthew, dear.  It seems we have an Auntie.  Here she is.  Her name is Morgana and she's a Lobster Woman."  Lennie said to the room.  "She's been locked in the attics for some reason of which we're not particularly sure at the moment.  Oh, look it's time for tea."

Lennie glanced down at her engagement ring and chuckled a bit.  However Matthew responded would be for the best.  She wasn't really sure if she was ready to be wed anyway.

Coughing, Lennie was reminded of the strong odor in the pantry.  Her rooms were suffocating.  

Recalling that Violet had said that a window in the passage had been opened, she decided to venture out an take in some fresh air--just for a moment.

At first, the cold handle of the door seemed to stick as if locked from the other side, sending a shock of panic through Lennie's hand, but, then, it suddenly, gave way in her hand and the door flung open as though it had been pushed.

"Dreadful place."  Lennie thought to herself as she walked into the passage.

"Ellen..."  A voice seemed to call to her.

She shivered at the sound.  She never liked being called by her given name--for a variety of complicated reasons.  Who would call her "Ellen"?  Neither Punch nor Robert would.  None of the staff would dare.  Furthermore, it was a woman's voice.

Was it Morgana?  

Had Lennie intriduced herself as "Ellen" or "Lennie" at first?  She couldn't remember.  Either way, she would have been sure to make a point of saying she preferred being called "Lennie."

Curious, Lennie followed the sound, certain she'd heard the name called again.

Did you miss Chapters 1-54 of A Recipe for Punch?  If so, you can read them here.  Come back on Monday for Chapter 56.

Painting of the Day: Young Man Playing the Violin, c. 1750

Young Man with Violin
From the "Scaramouche Parlour" at Belvedere House
Andien De Clermont, c. 1750
The Victoria & Albert Museum

If you were a wealthy land owner in Britain in the Eighteenth Century (rather as it is now—anywhere), you wanted the people around you to know just how rich and prosperous you were. Your house, your carriage, your horses, your clothes, your jewels—these were all status symbols. But, the real indicator of wealth was your ability to decorate your house. The more you could spend on your interiors, the better you looked. And, the real icing on the decorating cake was the paintings you displayed in your home. Portraits—sure, they were great. But, the best thing of all was to commission a painting of your family in your home. And, even better—a mural, right there on the wall, forever.

Of course, even mural painting was subject to levels or pretension. If you could get a foreign painter—you were the top dog! Painters from France, Italy and the Netherlands were brought into the stately homes of England to adorn the walls with scenes from mythology, allegorical motifs, fantastic designs and bucolic views—most of which would incorporate the visages of the homeowner and his family.

Here we see one such mural which was carefully removed from its original location. Thankfully, the murals were painted on canvas which had been applied to the walls, conveniently allowing them to be removed two centuries later. This is one of a series of 16 panels which were commissioned by Charles Calvert, 5th Baron Baltimore, in 1742 to decorate the “Scaramouche Parlour” in his house, Belvedere, in Kent. Each of the panels depicted scenes from the Italian Commedia dell'Arte and showcase the knock-about comedy’s most famous characters: Capitano, Arlecchino, Pulcinella (who, as we know, inspired the English Punch), Pedrolino (later Pierrot) and Colombine. 

The mural group is the work of Andien de Clermont (active 1716-1783), a French artist who arrived in Britain in 1716. Clermont was, certainly, the most avant-garde and highly-inventive decorative artist working in Britain during the Rococo period.

This mural sets the scene for the antics of Pulcinella and his friends. An unnamed young man is depicted playing the violin. He stands in profile in the foreground of a landscape with a grand building showing in the background. To his right are two dancing figures. The whole is en-framed by foliage border.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: Scaramouche and Columbine, 1740

Scaramouche and Columbine
Meissen Porcelain Factory
Germany, 1740
The Victoria & Albert Museum

I’ve always enjoyed Meissen porcelain figures and I’m especially fond of the work of one of their chief modelers, Johann Joachim Kändler (1706-1775) who was responsible for a monumental and diverse range of figures.

In my opinion, some of the most attractive of Kändler’s figures were those which he based on the Commedia dell’Arte. These porcelain figurines and groups were made, in many cases, for export to France where, in the Seventeenth Century, the fashion for adoring the dining table with porcelain figures during the dessert course was especially en vogue. This figure group depicts the Commedia dell’Arte characters of Scaramouche and Columbine. Made in 1740, the figures of hard-paste porcelain shows the famed couple embracing. Columbine holds a bird cage, showing how Scaramouche has captured her heart. The pair of lovers is brilliant with enamel colors in blue, red, gray, yellow, turquoise and white.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: Saxe-And-Violins

"Don't touch me.  It's flu season."

Original Image:  Augustus, Duke of Saxe-Gotha-Altenberg (1772-1822), Creator: Attributed to Ludwig Döll (1789-1863) (artist), Creation Date: c. 1822, Materials: Oil on canvas, Acquirer: Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom (1819-61), Provenance: Bequeathed to Prince Albert, by his step Grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Saxe-Gotha and Altenburg in 1848.

Crown Copyright, the Royal Collection.  Image via the Royal Collection Trust and courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

To learn more about the Duke and about his portrait visit the painting's entry in the 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.

Mastery of Design: A Miniature by Augustus Toussaint, 1800

Ivory, Enamel, Watercolor, Gold, Copper, Diamonds
Augustus Touissaint, 1800
The Victoria & Albert Museum

An attractive oval bust-length portrait, this glittering miniature depicts an unidentified English officer. The curators at the V&A suspect that he may be one Captain Richard Lloyd. Like Lloyd, the handsome chap has short fair hair and a distinctive jaw line. He is shown wearing his uniform.

As was the case with most miniatures of the early Nineteenth Century, this portrait is rendered in watercolor on ivory. Set in a frame of gold, blue enamel and diamonds in the form of military flags, the miniature is backed in copper and gold and still retains its original blue leather case.