Saturday, April 12, 2014

Mastery of Design: The Jane Morris Topaz Brooch, 1820-30

Topaz Brooch
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This topaz brooch originally belonged to Mrs. Jane Morris (“Janey, as she was known”), the wife of the artist, designer and socialist William Morris.  Janey was often painted by the artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti (with whom, it is thought, that she shared a romantic entanglement).  Many of the gorgeous jewels which lined Janey’s jewel box were actually given to her by Rossetti--including this topaz brooch which was bequeathed to the V&A by her daughter, Miss  May Morris in 1938.

This topaz brooch in a gold filigree frame was made in Europe between 1820 and 1830.

Print of the Day: A Poster for Coffee by Cappiello, 1924

Poster for Cafe Martin
Leonetto Cappiello, 1924
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This handsome poster for a particular brand of coffee was created by Leonetto Cappiello (1875-1942).
  From 1903, Leonetto Cappiello began producing fantastical creatures in his posters which would become associated with the product being advertised and, thus, became an early form of mascot.

Cappiello became associated with a style of drawing figures which appeared to be leaping or dancing out of their plain backgrounds towards the spectator. Some of his designs were used repeatedly for decades.

This particular example dates to 1924.

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

The Victoria & Albert Museum

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

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

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

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

Unusual Artifacts: A Miniature Vinaigrette, 1800

Miniature Vinaigrette
The Victoria and Albert Museum

Here we have a miniature vinaigrette which is designed to resemble a coffee table (in gold) with a coffee service of six coffee cups with saucers and spoons, a sugar bowl with spooon and a coffee pot (in parcel gilt) attached to the top. The wee table featues cabriole legs and a hinged top.

If you’re not familiar with the term, “vinaigrettes” were boxes designed to hold scented sponges. These were used by both men and women to prevent inevitable fainting fits and counteract the myroad unpleasant smells inherent to life in the city.

When the Victoria & Albert Musem acquired this miniature vinaigrette it contained a card from the donor which offered the following story:

This vinaigrette was the property of Princess Charlotte (daughter of George IV) who died in 1817. An ancestor of mine, name probably Wyatt, was librarian to the above King and saved the vinaigrette when the princess threw it into the fire in a fit of temper. I cannot verify this account but I think it probably correct.

According to the V&A, research indicates that there never was a royal librarian with the name of Wyatt. However, the architect James Wyatt and his son Matthew Cotes Wyatt were frequent visitors to the palaces during this period.

I imagine that Princess Charlotte—throughout her short, unhappy life—had many reasons to throw a variety of objects into the fire. So, I like to think that this story is true. 

The Home Beautiful: The Sèvres Elephant Coffee Pot, 1862

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

I don’t care for coffee, but, I would drink coffee were it poured from the trunk of this elephant. Here, we see a stunning coffee pot and cover in the form of the head of an elephant. It is constructed of porcelain with pâte-sur-pâte (when layers of relief adornment are applied to an unfired porcelain piece by applying white slip with a brush) decoration and gilt.

When this coffee pot was made in 1862, Britain was finding elephants quite fashionable. You see, the second half of the Nineteenth Century saw a series of international exhibitions of displaying fine and decorative arts from across the globe. This served to introduce new themes to the decorative arts. Exotic animals, especially those from India, were especially popular in Britain.

This jolly, but, slightly menacing, elephant was displayed at the London 1862 International Exhibition by the French manufacturer, Sèvres, who described it as “A Coffee Pot Of 'Oriental' inspiration.” The elephant was created by the designer and decorator Marc Louis Solon—known for his imagination and whimsy. This piece allowed Solon to showcase his sense of humor and artistic expertise. 

To Serve and Project: The Bow Porcelain Coffee Pot, 1760

Coffee Pot
Bow Porcelain Factory, 1760
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This ornate pot was for intended for making and serving coffee. In the Eighteenth Century, when this coffee pot was made, coffee was usually drunk with milk, and often sweetened with sugar. At the time, Britain was importing approximately 3,000,000 lbs of coffee beans per annum, and nearly two-thirds of that came from plantations in the West Indies with the remainder from Arabia.

Coffee pots very similar to this one were made at the Niderviller faïence factory in Lorraine on the edge of eastern France. This example, from c. 1760, was made in at the Bow Porcelain Factory, London. Both the Bow and Niderviller pieces were possibly copied from an original pot which was made at the Italian Doccia porcelain factory near Florence.

The Bow factory use a porcelain making technique which strengthened the material with bone ash, making it suitable for tea- and table-wares. Bow was primarily concerned with utilitarian wares, but every so often, they’d create a special luxury piece like this one.

The pot is baluster shaped and it is modeled with a Rococo scroll and shell motif. The piece has been painted with exotic birds; with scrolls picked out in puce, blue and gilding.

Object of the Day: A Trade Card for Lion Coffee

If you click on the image, maybe you'll see your face in a dish.
But, it's highly doubtful.  My guess is you'll see a larger version of the picture.  

In 1880, when a little girl turned eight, she was forced to look at her reflection in a dish which was partly hidden beneath a piece of bark and a rose.

Okay, I’m kidding.

This is, however, a solid example of an 1880s stock trade card. I say “solid” because there’s nothing extraordinary about it. The chromolithography is quite nice, the colors are vivid, the printing is excellent and the illustrator did a competent job. When I was sorting through that lot of card which I recently purchased (and, remember—I warned you—there are about two hundred more awaiting you), I came upon this one and said, “Oh, that’s pleasant.” And, that’s just what it is. Pleasant. There are no disproportionately large animals. There are no children wearing flowers as hats, there are no grotesque faces, nor vegetable-bodied ladies. It’s just a nice, pretty picture. It was meant to be that, and that’s what it is. And, I’m sure, that’s why it was selected from a catalog as an advertisement. It’s a nonthreatening image which is wholly representative of the tastes of the time (especially in America). It’s got the minty green and pink which was the rage in the North Eastern U.S. in the 1880s and, it’s a picture of an innocent child—they liked nothing better. Heck, it’s even got flowers and laciness and a lovely tactile quality from the fine embossing.

But, what does it sell? We can’t really tell from the front. Let’s see what the reverse says.

If you want a Handsome Picture Card of which this is a fair sample
     Buy a Package of 

It is composed of a
successful combination of 


 Is never sold in Bulk
      A Beautiful Picture Card
                    in every package. 

It is roasted with the greatest care but is not ground

Manufactured by the
                          TOLEDO OHIO 

Oh, I see. They blew their budget on the font. It’s certainly indicative of the era, but, still, a rather odd font choice, considering it was to be printed on an embossed card. And, again, I say, “How pleasant.”

Click to see the fonty goodness.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Mastery of Design: The Naples Sun Pendant, 1830-1860

The Victoria & Albert Museum

The jewels made by the master artists of the south of Italy are vastly different from that of the north of the country. This pendant is an excellent example of the exuberance of Neapolitan jewelers who favored very fine yellow gold-work. The filigree, overlaid with shapes cut out of red sheet gold, and small plaques of enamel is designed as stylized rays of the sun.

Intended as a wedding gift, this pendant has gold marks which show that it was made in the south of Italy in the first half of the Nineteenth Century. It was purchased by the Victoria & Albert Museum as part of the Castellani Collection of Italian Peasant Jewelry at the International Exhibition, Paris, 1867.

Treat of the Week: Surprise Turkey Edition

No one expects a turkey dinner on a random Sunday at the start of Spring.  But, that's just what Bertie and I found at my parents' house this past weekend when we were greeted by the enticing aroma of roasting turkey.

I must say, it was a very nice surprise--all laid out on a vintage table cloth in brilliant, floral tones.

Instead of being a redo of Thanksgiving, my mother had made this a true Springtime feast.

The dressing was a lighter version of the sausage dressing we enjoy at Thanksgiving which was brightened up with fresh Spring corn, cut straight off the cob.  Served with fresh asparagus with nuts, this was a celebration of rejuvenation and thanks for new beginnings.

For dessert, we continued the celebration with a lovely, crumb-topped pear coffee cake, full of cinnamon and pear goodness.  A dollop of whipped cream infused with Eau de Vie (a fruit-flavored liqueur) was the perfect companion.

Antique Image of the Day: La Famiglia di Pulcinella

Famiglia di Pulcinella
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Not much is known about this engraving entitled “Famiglia di Pulcinella” (Family of Pulcinella) which depicts, fittingly, a group of multigenerational figures clad in the costume of Pulcinella. The work of an unknown publisher from the 18th to 19th century, I’d guess pretty safely that this originated in Italy. It is now part of the George Speaight Punch & Judy Collection at the V&A.

The engraving depicts a family of eleven adults and children dressed as Pulcinellas, drinking and eating on a table and on the floor. I love it!

Mr. Punch in the Arts: A Punch and Judy Show in Naples

A Punch & Judy Show in Naples
G. Torino
Late Eighteenth Century
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Of course we know that our Mr. Punch has Italian roots and is descended from the black-masked Commedia dell’ Arte character Pulcinella. By the time Pulcinella had become a marionette—far easier to control than a pesky actor—and traveled to the U.K. his name had become Punchinella and, later, Punch as he took the form of a glove puppet.

But, Pulcinella and his ancestor haven’t been apart. By the early Nineteenth Century, as travel abroad became quite fashionable for high society Londoners, Punch went along with them. Once returned to Italy, Punch—courtesy of his intrepid professors—began to perform on the streets of Italy as he did in London. Sometimes, a professor would join forces with a Pulcinella performer and the two puppets would enjoy a brief reunion.

Such a scene is depicted in this late Eighteenth Century hand-colored lithograph signed G. Torino which is entitled “A Punch & Judy Show in Naples.” Here, we see Mr. Punch in his red costume alongside his ancestor, the white-robed Pulcinella. I’m sure it was a joyful reunion indeed. 

A Recipe for Punch, Chapter 91

Chapter 91
Silence Me

"The only way out o' this cavern, Miss," George shook his head, "is the way the brung us in, and that's closed up tight."  He squinted further down the tunnel.  "Unless we wanna walk further into the darkness--to 'Miss Charlotte's.'"  He paused.  "Beggin' your pardon, Miss, but, you're sure that's what you heard 'em say?"

"Yes."  Morgana replied.  "The bailiff--Causer--he spoke of 'Lottie's' place and many a 'merry night sneakin' past the whole prim lot under their sleepin' noses.'  W...whatever that could mean."  She sighed.  "I take it that...that this is a tunnel which will lead us to the establishment of this Charlotte or Lottie or whatever she's called."

"She's a dollymop, Miss Morgana."  William interrupted.  He blushed.  "Excuse me, please, for my coarseness."

"Oh, William, I heard worse in the traveling show."  Morgana answered.

Georgie tightened the blanket around his nude body.  "Miss, do you feel well enough to walk?"

"I n...never feel well enough to walk."  Morgana answered.  "However, I will walk."

"What's to say that this toffer is going to let us in when we go bangin' on the trapdoor to her bawdy house?"  William exclaimed, letting his blanket slip a little.

Morgana snapped her pincers at him again, and he blushed, covering himself.

"Well, we can't likely stay here and wait to be flayed alive, can we, William?"  Georgie barked.

"What's the difference?"  William replied.  "The three-penny-upright at the other end of the tunnel is a bosom friend of Causer and Hargrave, and it seems the vicar and Jackson, so why would she give us sanctuary?  By now, she likely knows we're in here and to not let us out."

"Georgie,"  Morgana interjected calmly.  "You were there, yes?"

"Yes, Miss."  George answered shyly.  "With Fred and Gregory last night."

"What other inhabitants has"

"Women, best I recall.  I don't really know.  I was...I was drunk.  I didn't do nothin', Miss.  They'd gotten me drunk.  I passed out."

"I'm not judging you, George."  Morgana smiled.  "I only wish to know our chances. would be this Lottie who would greet us or some more...sympathetic soul."

"I couldn't say."  Georgie shrugged.

"We're doomed."  William wailed.

"Hush,"  George said quickly.

"But, we are, mate."  William continued.  "Look at us...we're all greased..."

"No, I mean, I hear something..."  George whispered.  "I think someone's comin'."

"Quickly boys, act...act as if you're still groggy."  Morgana leaned against one of the dirty walls.

"It's too late for that, Morgana."  Ivy Blessum hissed as the filthy trapdoor grated open and she descended into the cavern on the rickety make-shift ladder.  "There's nothing down here to cushion the sound of these young voices."

"Ivy..."  Morgana let out a sigh.  "Let...Let these young men go.  Th...this...this doesn't concern them.  I c...c...can discern why you and your comrades want me, but..."

"Shut your gob, monster."  Ivy growled.  "Now's not the time to be noble.  Don't you know?  It doesn't suit you?"

"You can't speak to Miss Morgana that way!"  George stepped forward.

"Miss Morgana?"  Ivy laughed.  "Two days in a fine bed and she's a lady?  For all her life she was a curiosity, for a time after--my pet.  Now, she's Miss Morgana?  You'd do well to be quiet, lad.  You know nothing of what you say."

"You will not silence me."  George walked toward Ivy.

"I will."  Ivy smiled, withdrawing a long knife from the pocket of her apron.

"I...I...Ivy!"  Morgana screamed.  "Stop!"

From Ivy's right side, William leapt forward in an attempt to grab the knife from her hand.

He toppled frail woman to the ground.

"You fool!"  Ivy screamed.

"Run!"  William shouted.

Ivy, however, was not keen on being defeated.  Feeble and brittle though she was, she reached out with a bony hand and wrapped her fingers around Williams ankle, causing him to fall.  She used his strength to pull herself up, and, towering over him, thrust the knife into his exposed chest.

Morgana and George stood, frozen in terror as William's blood mixed with the earth.

Did you miss Chapters 1-90 of A Recipe for Punch?  If so, you can read them here.  Come back on Monday for Chapter 92.

Friday Fun: A Pulcinella Show in Covent Garden

At this year’s May Fayre in Covent Garden, people from all over the world gathered to celebrate Mr. Punch’s 35oth birthday, so it was only natural that among the human revelers, some of Punch’s puppet cousins would be in attendance. Since Mr. Punch is a descendant of Pulcinella, I’m glad to know that the black-masked puppet made an appearance at Punch’s birthday festivities. 

Here’s a Pulcinella show from the event as performed by Phillipe Saumont, Irene Vecchia and Gianluca Di Matteo. 

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: Il Carnevale in Roma, 18th C.

Il Carnavale in Roma
Eighteenth Century
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Entitled “Il Carnevale in Roma,” this engraving was published by an unknown company sometime in the Eighteenth Century. 

The scene depicts a group of people dressed for a mask ball during carnival. From left to right there are two figures with who have donned costume horses’ heads, another figure wears a turkey head, there’s a clown, a Pulcinella--on a monkey--and two more masqueraders.

I must confess, I was tickled when reading the V&A's description of this piece.  They state that the Pulcinella is riding a "monkey."  Now, I know it was a typo and they meant "donkey," but I rather like the idea of a Pulcinella riding a monkey.  It seems like something one would do.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: Poseurs

"There are a LOT of arms and legs here.  I can't tell if they add up."

Image:  Frederick Prince of Wales (1707-1751) and Princess Amelia (1711-1786) (?), Creator: Martin Maingaud (active 1692-c. 1725) (artist), Creation Date: c.1720, Materials: Oil on canvas, Provenance: Presumably commissioned by George II or Queen Caroline; first recorded at Kensington Palace in 1818.

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 unusual masterpiece , visit the entry for this painting 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.

Masterpiece of the Week: The Birds and Ferns Potpourri Vase, 1820

The Victoria & Albert Museum

Made purely for the sake of satisfying the senses, this cylindrical vase of square form, features a tapering neck, spreading foot and gilded handles in the form of grotesque animal heads. The central section of the vase is painted with a tree on which sits an exotic bird and a parrot above an abundance of roses and other flowers in blue, yellow, brown, orange, pink and black enamels. The background, in its entirety, undulates with an abstracted painted fern pattern in mauve.

The base is pierced with three circular holes and the lid—which is surmounted by the figure of a gilt, seated greyhound--is pierced with eight circular holes. These openings allowed scent to escape from the potpourri with which this vessel was filled.

These beautiful container was made in Longport, England, c. 1820 by Davenport & Co. who specialized in bone china which was gilt and painted in brilliant enamel colors. It is marked “DAVENPORT, LONGPORT.”