Saturday, March 8, 2014

Mastery of Design: A Gold and Diamond Bodice Ornament, 1700

Bodice Ornament
Spanish, 1700
Gold, Rose-Cut Diamonds
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Curling acanthus leaves form the basis of the magnificent gold bodice ornament which was held by means of two flat hooks at the top of the bodice. Over the hundred diamonds in substantial gold mounts, offer movement and sparkle to the piece. Five large rose-cut diamonds accent the front of this Spanish ornament.

The work is delicate and intricate with fine engraving on the leaves and the drums which holds the largest diamonds.

This impressive bodice ornament came from the Treasury of the Cathedral of the Virgin of the Pillar, Zaragoza among a group of jewels purchased by the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1870, when the Cathedral, in an effort to fund a building project, auctioned off treasures presented to the shrine of the Virgin.

Figure of the Day: A Fool's Head, the Jet Jester, 1550-1700

Spanish Jet Figure, 1550-1700
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Small figures of jet (a particularly dense type of coal which can be carved and polished) like the one pictured above, especially in Spain, were created to seems to signify that a pilgrim had completed his or her journey, and reached the shrine of St James (the patron Saint of Spain) at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. This was a trek which pilgrims made for well over the course of six hundred years, from the twelfth to the eighteenth century.

Many jet figures like this seem to have been drilled with holes to form beads for rosaries. From the earliest times, medicinal and magical qualities were assigned to jet which could be found in different parts of Europe (as well as North America).

This jet piece, which is larger than most, represents a fool's head and its precise function is uncertain. Perhaps it was the pommel of a jester's stick and may have been used during the “Feasts of Fools” when “the holiest offices and orders were made matters of the lightest jesting.”

The grinning portrait head has stylized tightly-curled hair, a large nose, wrinkled forehead and a ruff-like collar set on a bulbous base, on which are carved three shells. A smooth disc is carved on the back. It was made in Spain between 1550 and 1700.

Drawing of the Day: The Fairy of the Woodland Glades Costume Design, 1945

The Fairy of the Woodland Glades
Costume Design
Oliver Messel, 1946
The Victoria & Albert Museum

The 1946 production of “The Sleeping Beauty” at The Sadler's Wells (now Royal) Ballet is considered the greatest triumph of Britain’s leading theatre designer of the mid-Twentieth Century, Oiliver Messel (1904-1978).

Messel created a feeling of a “real” world for the fantastical production. Instead of focusing on the fairytale elements, Messel depended on visual themes based on the architecture and fashions of Seventeenth to Eighteenth Century English, Spanish and French styles. The clever overall look was one of stepping back in time, but not so otherworldly that the character and action seemed false.

In the production, the good fairies arrive to visit Princess Aurora on the day of her christening. They present her with a variety of gifts. Notable, the character of “The Fairy of the Woodland Glades” offers the little princess the gift of “generosity.”

Here is Messel’s proposed costume for “The Fairy of the Woodland Glades.” This design features a train. We know from photographs of the performance that this is not the costume which was created for the show. Obviously, the design was later rejected. It is noted that Messel decided against this design since he had initially wished for all seven fairies to wear costumes with long trains. The extra fabric proved cumbersome and filled the stage so that the dancers’ movements were hindered.

Still, it’s interesting to see how the production design developed over time.

At the Music Hall: Goodbye Dolly Gray, 1898

I have come to say goodbye, Dolly Gray,
It's no use to ask me why, Dolly Gray,
There's a murmur in the air, you can hear it everywhere,
It's the time to do and dare, Dolly Gray.
So if you hear the sound of feet, Dolly Gray,
Sounding through the village street, Dolly Gray,
It's the tramp of soldiers' true in their uniforms so blue,
I must say goodbye to you, Dolly Gray.
Goodbye Dolly I must leave you, though it breaks my heart to go,
Something tells me I am needed at the front to fight the foe,
See - the boys in blue are marching and I can no longer stay,
Hark - I hear the bugle calling, goodbye Dolly Gray.

Written by Will D. Cobb (lyrics) and Paul Barnes (music), this sentimental ballad became popular in the U.S. in 1898 during the Spanish-American War. Later, it became a favorite in England in 1900 during the Boer War.

A favorite of Sir Noel Coward, the song was used in his stage play, 
Cavalcadeand has, since, been featured on the sound tracks of many films. Enjoy this rendition by Music Hall Queen, Florrie Forde.

Saturday Sparkle: A Spanish Breast Ornament, Seventeenth Century

Breast Ornament
Spain, Portugal
Seventeenth Century
The Victoria & Albert Museum
By the Seventeenth Century, Spanish and Portuguese jewelers were beginning to match, and often rival, the works of the Italian, French and English jewelers whose works had long dominated the growing International market.

This can be seen in this pendant or breast ornament of three parts composed of table-cut diamonds set in scrolling, gold foliated openwork which comes from Spain about 1650-1690.

When originally produced, the ornament consisted solely of the middle section which appears to be a couple of decades earlier than the rest which was added later as styles became more ornate. Some believe that the additional work was made by a Portuguese jeweler who altered the piece after it had been exported. 

Print of the Day: The Devil on Two Sticks, 1836

Costume de Chasseur dans Le Diable Boiteux
d'Aubert et Cie, 1836
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This chromolithograph from 1836 is entitled “Costume de Chasseur dans Le Diable Boiteux” which translates in English to “The Devil on Two Sticks.” It’s a costume design from a ballet in three acts which debuted on June 1, 1836 at the Paris Opera. 

The ballet is based on the novel of the same name by Le Sage and recounts the tale of a Spanish student who assists a demon in escaping from a bottle. His efforts are rewarded by the demon who introduces the student to three lovely women—a dancer, an heiress and a pauper. The Spanish-style dances were a hit with audiences who were mesmerized by the fancy footwork, flicks, twists and flirtatious movement of the dancers.

The print was published by d'Aubert & Cie of Paris. 

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: A Figure by Samson et Cie, c. 1845

Il Capitano
Hard-paste Porcelain Figure by Samson et Cie, Paris, 1845
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This figurine of glazed hard-paste porcelain was produced by the Samson factory in Paris which was founded in 1845 by Edmé Samson. The figure depicts “the Captain,” a character from the Commedia dell'Arte. 
 The Captain, or “Il Capitano,” was among the stock characters of Commedia dell'Arte.  The swaggering character was a satire on the military profession.  The bragging Captain, if he ever really was a Captain, held the post a long time in the past. This obnoxious figure was portrayed as a boastful figure with a rakish moustache and dark beard. The Captain was originally conceived as Italian, however, he was depicted as Spanish during the period of Spanish domination of Italy.

This ceramic figurine of the bearded boaster shows him leaning slightly forward, his left arm in the air at shoulder height with his hand to his chest.
 His right hand is held out to the side at waist height. He wears a large, tan, wide-brimmed hat , a close-fitting white jacket and trousers and has a taupe cape over his shoulders. He wears black shoes with foppish gold buckles and stands on a circular rococo-style swirly-edged base with gilt decoration.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Mastery of Design: The Double-Eye Agate Pendant, Early Seventeenth Century

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

Dating to the early Seventeenth Century, this German pendant of gold, enamel and double-eye agate was first recorded in the Royal Collection in 1872.
On the obverse, an oval cabochon double-eye agate is set in a gold mount with an enamel scrollwork of deep and light blue with white spots.  The double-eye agate set in this frame is not original to the piece.  A later owner of the pendant replaced the original stone which was likely a cameo.  
The pendant was found in a burial site, having been buried at some point after it's creation in the early Seventeenth Century.  It's possible that the original stone or cameo was damaged while being buried or that the original centerpiece was replaced with the double-eye agate as it was intended as an amulet to ward off "The Evil Eye" an to protect against various ailments.  Another later addition to the piece was the small loop at the bottom which would allow the suspension of another drop or pendant or to enable the piece to be sewn into a garment.
The reverse of the piece is likely unchanged from its original pre-burial form.  The back shows a central leaf-shape surrounded by scrolls in opaque dark-blue, light-blue and translucent green and red enamel.  These enamels are very weathered and pitted.  Here, the white spots on the surface aren't intentional decoration, but rather deposits of calcium carbonate which resulted from having been buried in the earth.
Despite its age and having been buried, the piece is in remarkably good condition.  The foil behind the enamels is still intact and the color of the remaining enamel is quite bright and lustrous.  

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

Friday Fun: Professor Mark Poulton Discusses The History of Punch and Judy

The Victoria & Albert Museum

As part of 2012's 350th birthday celebration for Mr. Punch, Punch & Judy Professor Mark Poulton worked with the V&A to discuss the history of our favorite puppet friend.

The video has just become available online, so I thought I'd share part of it with you.

Mr. Punch's Puzzles: The Riddle of the Week

Once, again, Mr. Punch with my help, is offering up a true Victorian riddle. The first person to answer correctly--by posting in the comments--will receive public congratulations.

So, here's this week's riddle. We ask that you don't Google the answer. Mr. Punch would not find that sporting at all. Give it a shot and see what you can come up with. Here we go... No cheating...

What is that which goes with a carriage, comes with a carriage, is of no use to a carriage, and yet the carriage cannot go without it?

And, the answer is...


Which falls somewhere between Darcy's satellite radio, Gene's mother-in-law, and Dashwood's existentialism and closest to Angelo's answer of a horn.  Well done, today.  Come back next week for another of Mr. Punch's Puzzles.

Mr. Punch wants you to always know “the way to do it,” so why not check out our “That’s the way to do it!” products which are available only at our online store.  

Mr. Punch in the Arts: Manet's "Punch," 1874

The Art Institute of Chicago

Celebrated French Impressionist painter Édouard Manet (1832-1883) was even taken with our Mr. Punch--or at least his French counterpart, Polichinelle.  This stone lithograph dating to 1874, entitled "Punch," reproduces Manet's depiction of Policinhelle.

Printed in color from seven stones with scraping, the image looks boldly outward from ivory woven paper.

A Recipe for Punch, Chapter 73

Chapter 73
A Fascinating Combination

"Chum,"  Punch looked up as Robert entered.

Robert smiled with relief.

From the passage, Charles nodded, also showing relief.  He added softly. "I'll go downstairs, Your Lordship, and see how Gerard is faring with...the other matter."

"Thank you,"  Robert replied.

"Who's out there?"  Punch asked.

"Just Charles."  Robert answered, trying not to let his recent panic show.  He picked up Dog Toby and walked into the suite, looking only at Punch as he did.

"I'd planned on gettin' back before you woke."  Punch said sheepishly.  "Clocks ain't been wound in 'ere--probably since I...err...Julian...we...since we left for America.  I knew it was mornin'.  I just didn't 'xpect ya to be awake so soon."

"I had asked Gerard and Charles to wake us a little earlier than usual so that we might have a chance to talk with Lennie before Matthew rose."

"Oh."  Punch sighed.  "I forgot 'bout that."  He looked up apologetically.  "I 'magine you was pretty upset to be awakened and find me not there."

Robert nodded.  "I was a tad alarmed--given what's transpired of late."

"Sorry, Chum.  Truly.  You know I'd never want to be anywhere other than at your side.  Only..."  Punch raised his hands and gesticulated to the room.  He let his hands fall in disgust upon the arms of the old aubergine velvet chair.

"I understand."  Robert inhaled.  "May I?"  He nodded toward a tall-backed chair with gothic cresting, upholstered in tapestry.  "Toby and I would like to join you."

"Yes, do."  Punch nodded eagerly.

"So...these were your rooms?"  Robert looked around.  "They're lovely."

"They were Julian's rooms.  And, yes, they are lovely--to look at, anyway.  This part of the house is among the oldest parts.  He liked the architecture, he did."

"A fascinating combination of styles--Tudor, Gothic, even a bit of the Classical..." he pointed to the pediment above the cavernous fireplace behind Punch.  "Very nicely appointed, too.  Very much Julian's taste--all these dark, rich colors--the purples, the deep colors of gems."

Punch sighed.  "When you don't leave your rooms, you gotta like the way they look.  Yes, these were his rooms.  See that etagere to the left of the bay?  The gilt one?"

"I do."  Robert answered.

"That was my room."  Punch smiled.  "That cabinet."

"Ah...he kept the puppet there."

"Yep, 'til Barbara took it."

"And, and the blue diamond."  Robert nodded.  "The very diamond which bought us Colin's freedom."

"Also brought us together.  S'pose it gave Julian the peace and privacy what he always wanted, too."  Punch looked down.  "I weren't never gonna come into these rooms again.  Now, I been in here twice.  The first time to tell the 'memory' o' the Duchess that she couldn't hurt us.  She was just a memory.  Dead and gone.  The second time, I come here waitin' for her ghost.  I thought she'd be waitin' here--waitin' for her most hated child.  I thought maybe I could drive 'er 'way.  Fight 'er somehow a Mr. Punch ought."


"She didn't come."  Punch laughed.

"I see."

"Done it on purpose, too.  The ol' harridan never once done anythin' what might've been what Julian wanted.  She knew I was waitin' and she knew I'd 'xpect 'er.  She done it to show me she'll always be the one to make the decisions here--dead or not."  Punch continued.

"Perhaps even her spirit knows she can't do battle with you.  She's only preyed upon those she perceives as weaker than she.  You notice, she didn't appear to me, she only trifled with the lock on the gate.  It could be show knows that you're no longer the same.  After all, she was with us in America for a short while before she was killed.  She saw for herself that your Punchinello side had taken over so that Julian might retreat.  You battled her there in life.  Could it be that she finally realized defeat and her spirit or whatever you wish to call it knows better than to face you?"

"No."  Punch shook his head.  "Never once did my mother accept defeat nor did she think another bein' her better.  That weren't her way.  No, no.  Her way was to toy with folk like they was nothin' but pieces o' fluff what she could just puff upon and get 'em to go her way.  Many was the time--in some foul humor--she'd insist Julian come to this very room and wait for her to come so she might mete out her punishment.  He'd sit in this very chair, Chum, he would.  She'd not come.  A day would pass.  He'd dare not move for fear that if he did, if he left, she'd arrive and be even angrier, and the punishment worse.  He's sit, and sit, and sit.  Days would go by.  It was her way o' showin' that she was the authority.  She done the same to be just tonight.  Whether she knows the difference between me or Julian or not, she done the same."

"Yes,"  Robert said gently.  "However, you're not the same.  Furthermore, you have me.  You have Lennie.  You have our friends.  She is no longer the authority.  As you said, she's no longer even alive."

"I was fooled."  Punch replied.  "Tricked back into the same old..."

"No."  Robert disagreed.  

"I thought she'd..."

"No, no."  Robert put his fingers to his lips.

Punch looked confused.

"You made this decision, not to wait for this spirit to come and punish you, but so you could assert your dominance as master of the house.  By sitting here and waiting, you showed that you remain the master of this house.  And, now, but taking my hand and coming with me, you will continue to show that.  No one--ever--shall challenge your authority in your household, Your Grace."

Punch smiled.  "Our authority.  Together, in our household."  He rose from the chair.  "I'd wager Toby wants his breakfast.

Robert set the dog on the floor.  "I imagine so."

"I could so with some myself."  Punch took Robert's hand.

"And, you shall have some.  First, however, we have one other matter which needs our attention."

"A new matter?"  Punch squinted.

"I'm afraid so."

"Bugger."  Punch sighed.

Did you miss Chapters 1-72 of A Recipe for Punch?  If so, you can read them here.  Come back on Monday for Chapter 74.  

Drawing of the Day: Punchinello with Dumpling or Fritter, c. 1796-1770

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, this drawing of pen and brown ink has been accented with a sepia wash.  Beneath this, traces of the original sketch of pencil and black chalk can be seen.  

Dating to about 1796-1770, this is the work of a member of  the Circle of famed Italian artist  Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (Italian, Venice 1696–1770 Madrid).  Entitled "Punchinello with Dumpling or Fritter."  I think that's a lovely idea.

Tiepolo and his followers often depicted Punchinello in various situations, often showing multiple Punchinellos or whole families of them at a time.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: Guardi's "A Punch & Judy Show," 1735

The Frick Collection, New York

From the world famous Frick Collection in New York, we have this sepia ink drawing, dating to 1735, by Italian artist Paolo Guardi.

Though given the anglicized title, "A Punch & Judy Show," the drawing actually depicts a performance of a Pulcinella show--Italian's Italian puppet forebear.

The Frick Collection and Reference Library includes hundreds of important antiques and works of art.  A visit to their web site, and, if in the area to the collections themselves is a must.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: The Congress of Vienna Sausages

"I thought I took up a lot of space."

Image: Charles Robert, Count Nesselrode (1770-1862), Creation Date: 1818 Materials: Oil on canvas, Creator:  Sir Thomas Lawrence (1768-1830), Provenance: Painted for George IV for the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle.

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 Sir Thomas Lawrence's masterpiece and about the Waterloo Chamber, visit the entry for this painting of Count Nesselrode in the online catalog of the Royal Collection Trust.

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 Warriors’ “Bravery” Brooch of Diamonds, 1750

Rose-cut Diamonds Set in Silver
Western Europe, 1750
Given as a trophy.
Victoria & Albert Museum
Extravagant diamond pieces were not reserved exclusively for ladies prior to the Nineteenth Century. Men often wore opulent jewels not only as adornment, but also as symbols of their station. Going into the Nineteenth Century, Royal gentlemen (such as Prince Albert) continued to wear gemstone badges and brooches, but the practice fell out of favor with people not associated with royalty. Pity.

This diamond brooch from 1750 is a good example of a gentleman’s piece of jewelry. Made in Western Europe, the brooch contains dozens of large rose-cut diamonds set in silver. The design is based on military weapons—a canon, pistol, arrows, axe, flag and plumed helmet. Such a piece was given to a man as a symbol of his bravery and as a trophy of battle. He would wear it proudly to remind himself and others of his accomplishments.

Treat of the Week: Meatloaf and Maple Cake


A random ice storm prevented our usual Sunday visit to my parents' house.  Bertie was disappointed that he didn't get to see Grandma and Grandpa.  Even though he got to stay home with his cat, Miss Oscar, he pouted for several hours.

Nonetheless, we were able to spend the evening of Mardi Gras with my parents and we enjoyed a lovely "Fat Tuesday" meal of perfect comfort food.

Meatloaf is truly the epitome of comfort food, especially when joined by a hot, gooey casserole of macaroni and cheese.  

Of course, every boy (or forty year old man) prefers his mother's meatloaf recipe above all others, and I'm not different.  The only difference is that I'm right, and the rest of you are wrong.  Moist and light and filled with carrots and onions, no other can match my mother’s meatloaf.

This gorgeous macaroni and cheese was baked to perfection with just the right crust and creaminess and filled with the flavors of a variety of cheeses from gruyere to cheddar.  Yum!

A side dish of broiled broccoli and cauliflower, seasoned to perfection, and baked with grated Romano and Parmigiano cheeses was an idea accompaniment to this meal.  Some pretzel rolls completed the meal.  

For dessert, we indulged in wee, glazed maple-nut bundt cakes.  Ah, there's nothing as satisfying as being given your own pound cake to devour.  It makes one feel like a giant.  And, don't we all want to feel like a giant sometimes?  I know I do.  This was an especially good way to feel like a giant, too.  Tender with just the right amount of sweetness, these little cakes made each of us feel like a King without the hassle of having to dig around to find a plastic baby. Served up on new, sparkly, polka-dot dishes, we let the good times roll--right into our mouths.

Now, that's the way to spend Mardi Gras.