Saturday, May 17, 2014

Mastery of Design: Badge of the Order of the Golden Fleece, c. 1810

Badge of the Order of the Golden Fleece
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Created around 1810, this garter badge of gold, silver, opals and yellow and white diamonds was acquired by our ol' pal Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom (1819-61).  Queen Victoria had the badge made for Albert as a gift for his birthday in 1841.

I've written about many orders and badges and garters and garter stars over the years, but this one, which I just happened to stumble upon this past weekend, is particularly smashing and sumptuous.

I'm sure Prince Albert wore it with great pride.

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Our friends at the Royal Collection were especially kind in providing some backstory for this lovely badge.  I'm told that this was the first foreign order received by Prince Albert following his marriage to Queen Victoria.  While Albert had received foreign orders before, they were awarded by his German relatives, and Queen Victoria knew that such gifts could not continue since they would be construed by the public as political gestures.  Knowing that the population was already a little distrustful of her German prince bridegroom, Victoria concocted other ways of keeping her young hubby happy, bestowing orders upon him which she had prearranged.  Honors that typically would have been bestowed upon the Sovereign, Victoria arranged to be given to her consort.  First of all, she was a Queen, and female monarchs often weren't given such honors, so Albert could accept them on her behalf.  It was a good idea, both politically and socially...and personally.

Sometimes, however, an honor was offered which was somewhat problematic.  When a particular state offered an order to the Queen, and, thereafter Prince Albert, it was typically assumed that this would be rewarded with some offer on the part of the Crown to that state.  So, when the offer of the Golden Fleece to the Prince in 1841 by the Regency government of Spain, on behalf of the 11-year-old Queen Isabella II, the Queen approached the acceptance of the honor with much cautious negotiation.  

Finally, it was agreed that the Prince would accept the Order and would be invested by the Duke of Wellington, who acted as young Isabella’s proxy in his position as a Grandee of Spain and a Knight of the Golden Fleece. 

The Queen wrote to (Uncle) King Leopold, describing the ceremony which took place on April 27, 1841:

Albert has rec’d the Golden Fleece; … he was invested by the Duke of Wellington, whom the Regency had charged as Grandee of Spain and having the Order, to present it to him. The old Duke and Alva [the Spanish Ambassador] … were delighted at this, & the old Duke … appeared in a new Spanish Uniform made for the occasion.

This badge of the Order of the Golden Fleece was quite a visual departure from previous badges associated with the honor.  Those were originally adorned with the Order's symbol,
a ram’s fleece - an allusion to the Burgundian wool trade as well as to the Golden Fleece of Greek mythology - hanging from a shower of sparks from a flint being struck by a briquette.

The Prince's Spanish Honors
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
In Prince Albert's badge, opals take the form of the briquette and flint.  It's possible that the badge was adapted from an earlier piece.  The sparks are set with brilliant-cut diamonds.  And, it's possible that this was a badge which had been sold to Rundell, Bridge & Co. in 1830, described in their accounts as a "Golden Fleece in brilliants."

Opals were the Prince's favorite gemstone, and, so, this badge was the one which he wore most often (of the foreign honors he received).  The opal badge can be seen in his portrait by Winterhalter of 1842 and in photographs by Fenton.  I would like to note, however, that Winterhalter seems to have confused the opal badge and another of the Spanish Honors, using the ruby sparks from another honor in place of the brilliant-cut diamonds which flank the opal badge.

The badge is displayed with Prince Albert's other Spanish honors in the Royal Collection.

Winterhalter's portrait of the Prince, 1842, showing the "mashup" of two badges at Albert's throat.
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

The Home Beautiful: A Dinner Party, 1725

A Dinner Party
Marcellus Laroon, the Younger
French, 1725
First recorded in The Royal Collection, 1818,
but probably purchased by King George I earlier.
Crown Copyright
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Elegance and opulence weren’t just the stuff of our Victorian and Edwardian forebears. No. In fact, many a historical figure from many a century was known to “glitz it up” quite often. In this 1725 painting by French painter Marcellus Laroon, the Younger, we see the conclusion of a posh dinner party. Many have conjectured as to the identities of the subjects, but I think that’s irrelevant. What is important is the representation of the antics of an upper class household.

The dinner guests have retired from the main dining room after consuming a meal which probably consisted of a lot of peculiarly stuffed birds, gammon and organ meats. They’ve moved on to the fashionable “Banquet House.” It was in the banquet house that ladies and gentlemen enjoyed sweets, wine and succulent cheeses. Take a look at the background. It would appear that one of the gardeners is trying to convince a servant to slip him a little wine. It’s just a lovely, fun painting and it makes me smile.

During this time period, the French often complained of the blandness of the English, stating that “in England one can hardly tell the servants from the masters” because they considered British fashions to be too reserved. I see nothing at all reserved about this scene. Considering we presently live in a world in which people wear shorts to the opera, I think this scene is all sorts of opulent.

Gifts of Grandeur: A Chased Gold and Bloodstone Snuff Box, 1740

Snuff Box
French, 1740
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Here, we see a pannier-shaped gold snuffbox which is really very fantastic. It is chased with birds, flowers, animals, shells, fruiting vines and baskets of grapes and other fruit and surmounted by a carved bloodstone. As a nifty little surprise, the interior of the lid is embellished with a polychrome miniature of a Bacchanalian festival. The miniature shows Bacchus, god of wine, surrounded by putti picking and eating an abundance of grapes. The pannier-shape of the box mimics the containers used to hold the grapes at the harvest.

Painting of the Day: “Comical Dogs” by Edwin Landseer, 1836

Comical Dogs
Sir Edwin Landseer, 1836
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Known for his depictions of animals, especially dogs, Sir Edwin Landseer was Queen Victoria’s first choice to paint official portraits of her many beloved pets. Landseer also enjoyed painting dogs in allegorical and even humorous circumstances. Take this painting entitled “Comical Dogs” for example. Painted in oil on a wooden panel, the painting shows a scene of two dogs, one wearing a white bonnet who appears to be smoking a pipe as he sits back on his hind legs with both front paws extended, while the other dog wears a woman’s Scottish tam on his head. The wire-haired terrier in the Scottish bonnet has in his possession a ram's horn snuff container.

Terriers were a favorite subject of Landseer’s. One critic observed that Landseer, “gives them all the intelligence of the canine nature but never plays with the falsehood of a fanciful or humanised expression.”

Mastery of Design: The Shepherds and Goats Signet Ring, 200-100 BC

Intaglio Ring
Italy, 200-100 B.C.
The Victoria & Albert Museum

A vertically-positioned oval intaglio of brown-hued carnelian is the centerpiece of this ancient ring which nicely demonstrates the mastery of early Roman gem carving.

It’s thought that this ring was meant to represent a shepherd. The conclusion makes sense since it depicts a young man with a goat which, I’m guessing, represents his flock. It’s hard to carve a whole flock of goats onto a ring. Don’t let the fact that the young man is nude bother you.

Others suggest that since the fellow has no clothes on, he could be the god Mercury. I don’t know if I’d want to be a shepherd with no pants. So, Mercury is a good guess, too, especially since Mercury’s attribute is often a ram and he does tend to be shown wearing the sort of broad-brimmed hat favored by farmers and travelers.

Either way, the goat’s not too happy. Maybe he doesn’t like the pan flute. Goats probably don’t care for pipe music.

The ring was made in Italy circa 200-100 BC. Of course, it ended up in the collection of the Reverend Chauncy Hare Townshend (1798-1868), who preferred collecting jewelry to being a clergyman. I agree with him wholeheartedly.

Sculpture of the Day: The Dacre Ram, 1507-1525

Click Image to Enlarge

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

The Dacre Beasts are a group of figures which were made as heraldic ornaments to represent one of the most powerful families of Sixteenth Century Northern England. The group consists of a griffin, a bull, a dolphin (which looks rather like an angry trout) and a ram.

The wealth and power of the Dacre family (of Naworth Castle, Brampton, Cumbria) was expanded in 1317 when a member of the influential and land-rich de Multon family married a Dacre family. The marriage resulted in a union of two enormous plots of land and strengthened the Dacre’s hold on Northern England. The figure of the ram, seen holding a banner, represents the de Multon family ( originally spelled 'Mouton,' the name is French for “sheep,” and, hence the ram). The banner is emblazoned with the family coat of arms.

The Dacre Beasts, commissioned by Lord Thomas Dacre (1467-1525) were crafted by unnamed local craftsmen from, as the story goes, a single, large oak grown on the family estate. The figures were painted and gilded and adorned with mounts of tinned copper. The group was restored in 1844 after being rescued from a major fire at Naworth Castle. Testing of the pigment shows that they’ve been repainted several times over the centuries. It’s likely that these are the only recorded surviving original heraldic beasts of an English Renaissance noble family. 

Object of the Day: McElree's Wine of Cardui

Click on image for barnyard fun.

Each month of 1887, McElree’s Wine of Cardui issued a new trade card which featured a handy calendar as well as an attractive comic scene based on that month’s zodiac sign. Here’s one from my collection. This one was, obviously, for March of 1887 and it depicts the antics of Aries the Ram who seems to have upset the pastime of a gentleman artist. I’m sure that these cards did their job perfectly. They fit right into the Victorian mindset of collecting and offered the sort of endearing and bright imagery which was en vogue.

But, what is McElree’s Wine of Cardui? Let’s see if the reverse of the card has anything to tell us.

First of all, it reminds us that the April card will be out soon. And, then, it tells us a story. An insulting and condescending story of womanhood with loaded words such as the aforementioned “Womanhood,” “Period” and “Peculiar,” AND “Derangement.”

Our April Card will be ready on the 1st of the month. Call on
Your druggist for it.


     A wealthy planter in Georgia had two
daughters aged respectively 13 and 16 years.
the oldest became afflicted when passing to the
period of womanhood with serious derangements
peculiar to her sex. At first no attention was
paid to it, but when several months had passed
with no appearance of the usual signs, her
mother became alarmed. Physicians were sum-
moned, all the usual remedies were used and
everything that money and kind friends could
do, was done for her. A cough set in, her lungs
became involved and at the age of 19 years this
dearly loved daughter died.
     Closely following her death, the other
daughter became afflicted with precisely the
same symptoms as those of her elder sister at
her age. She suffered severe pains at the usual
time each month but nearly all external signs
were absent. After this had continued several
months with no improvement, the parents saw
no hope for their only remaining child. By
chance a pamphlet published by the Chatta-
nooga Medicine Company, of Chattanooga,
Tenn., fell into their hands. In it they read of
wonderful cures performed by McElree’s Wine
of Cardui or Woman’s Relief. They at once
sent for six bottles of the Wine, which they ad-
ministered to their daughter as directed. Great
was their joy when a decided improvement was
noticeable before a half dozen doses had been
taken, and in three months they reported a
complete cure. 
The young lady’s life was saved,
and she enjoys excent health.
     This wonderful new remedy is FOR SALE BY 
GEO. K. HOPKINS & Co., St. Louis, Mo. 

AH, what fun! Aries the ram! And, death by menses! Or lack thereof. Or something. Now, clearly, I’m not a woman, but if I were, I don’t think I’d want my “friends” to be doing anything about my “ladies’ days.” What exactly were these “kind friends” doing? No. Don’t think about it. And…well, what the hell? What’s going on in that second paragraph? And…and…”excent” isn’t a word! I…I… 

And, what was the calendar used for, then?  It all started off so pleasantly, and...

Oh…Aries the Ram. I don’t know.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Gifts of Grandeur: The Fabergé Star Bangle, 1908-1913

Bangle of gold, a star sapphire and ruby
c. 1908
The Victoria & Albert Museum

In 1882, Fabergé showed archaeological-style jewelry at the Pan-Russian Industrial Exhibition in Moscow.   The display was a triumph and visitors to the Exhibition were vocal in their adoration of these pieces, which were based on the Greek jewelry in the Hermitage.

Among the most celebrated of the pieces on display was this bangle bracelet of gold which is set, at the terminals, with a large pale star sapphire and a vivid star ruby.  The stones, both natural, display a white star, due to refraction, when held up to the light.

Her Majesty, Queen Mary, consort of King George V, was a great fan of this style of bracelet and amassed many similar pieces in her monumental collection of jewels.  

The Art of Play: Make Your Own Punch & Judy, 20th C.

Punch and Judy Cut-Out Theatre and Puppets
The George Speaight Archive
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This is by no means antique, nor even vintage.  In fact, it was made in the late Twentieth Century.  Produced by Phil Spellacy Puppets, Ltd. of Leeds, this cut-out set gives everyone a chance to stage their own Punch and Judy Show.  The set consists of cut-out paper puppets, assembly instructions, rods and split pins.
It is marked:

“Conforms to BS 5665 / PUNCH and JUDY / A beautifully designed set of puppet figures for children / to cut-out and colour - recommended age range / 7 years and above / *contains small parts which may be hazardous for / children under 3 years of age.”

'CONTENTS / Ten different card cut-out and / colour characters plus instructions / Control sticks and fasteners for / swivel joints / Mini-history and book list for further study / Script - a non-violent, non-sexist / version / PUPPET CHARACTERS FEATURED / Punch and Judy Set No.1 / Baby and Joey Set No. 2 / Doctor and Crocodile Set No. 3 / Toby and Ghost Set No. 4 / Policewoman and Jailor Set No.5 / Plus / Card cut-out Theatre Proscenium / Set No. 6 / '

In the late Twentieth Century as the world grew uglier and people looked for scapegoats, Mr. Punch and his antics came under fire by groups who called the centuries-old tradition, “violent” and “sexist.”  Of course, we know that it was no such thing as anyone who was familiar with the tradition knows that Judy gives as good as she gets and that the “violence” is clearly meant as a parody to urge others NOT to act that way.  While we are more sensible about these things now, in the 1990s this set made sure to note that it contained a “non-sexist” and “non-violent” script for the impression youngsters who would play with this for a few moments before playing a video game where they could steal cars and beat-up hookers or watch a TV show filled with sexual humor and innuendo.  Sure, Mr. Punch was the problem.  Always blame the puppets, right?

By the way, I realize we didn't have a "Treat of the Week" post this week.  I actually have a special treat for this past week, and we'll be taking a look at that next week as part of a two-day "Treat" extravaganza.  

Friday Fun: Mr. Punch’s Russian Cousin, Petrushka

An antique "Petrushka"

Mr. Punch has cousins all over the world who look and act quite a bit like him. His Russian counterpart is called “Petrushka” (meaning Parsley). Dressed in red with a jester’s painted face, Petrushka has a long nose like Mr. Punch and a very similar “swazzle”-created voice. 

Petrushka also relies on slapstick comedy, but the stories take a slightly different approach than the adventures of Mr. Punch. Petrushka stories focus on his military service, his medical treatment and his training of a horse.

Thanks to Chris van der Craats (Australia’s “Professor Whatsit”), we get this fascinating glimpse at this Russian puppet cousin to our Mr. Punch. 

Sculpture of the Day: A French Plaque Depicting Polichinelle, c. 1850

Polichinelle Plaque
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This late Nineteenth Century, French, cast-iron plaque is molded in relief with a depiction of a Polichinelle or Punch show taking place in a traditional "fit-up."

Polichinelle is seen in the proscenium opening going about his typical business of smacking an adversary with a stick.  An unusual portrayal, Polichinelle is shown as a rod puppet hanging in front of the booth suspended by a rod from his head.  By this point in puppet history, Punch, Polichinelle and Guignol were usually glove puppets, not marionettes or rod puppets.  

His hump is hollowed out, likely as a receptacle for wax tapers or spills.

A Recipe for Punch will Continue on Monday

Good day, all.

It's been another day that's turned out to be busier than I expected.  So, I beg your indulgence.  A Recipe for Punch will continue the next chapter on Monday.

Thanks you for your patience!

Print of the Day: Der Narresneider, 18th C

Der NarresneiderPrint, 18th Century
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection 
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

This peculiar print is of unknown origin, but likely dates to the end of the Eighteenth Century. Since the myriad writing incorporated into the image is in Dutch and German, we can guess at its place of origin.

The image shows a man being treated by a doctor. That’s not so strange. What is strange is that he’s tied to the wall and the doctor is about to cut off his ear. Hmmm… Furthermore, the doctor has the face of Mr. Punch. Luckily for the patient, Dr. Punchinello has been distracted by a woman who seems to indicate that she has a bump on her head.

Since my German is quite bad and my Dutch is even worse, and, I can’t really make out what the text says, I’ll just let you decide what’s happening here.

The print is part of the Royal Collection.

Object of the Day: Mr. Punch and Pretty Polly Scraps

Click on image to climb inside those comfy wooden shoes, too.
Not really.  But, you'll get a bigger image.  

I found these two tucked into a pile of trade cards. They, I think, were once a part of a trade card themselves, but, now, they’re best called scraps. So, who have we here? Well, certainly the chap is Mr. Punch or, more accurately a child dressed as Mr. Punch. Who’s his companion? A girl, rather uncomfortably dressed in a Commedia dell’Arte-inspired costume. Sure, they could be Pulcinella and Columbine, but I prefer to think of them as Punch and Pretty Polly. 

Now, as children dressed in Venetian Carnival costume tend to do, they’re standing in wooden shoes and toasting one another with champagne. Yeah, I don’t know. It’s a sort of multi-cultural mishmash. It’s a little bit Dutch, a little Italian, a little French—and, typically American. 

So, what’s this all about? On the reverse—when you put the two shoes side by side—you seem the remnants of an old ink stamp, torn away by being glued into an album. It seems these two little folks were once part of a trade card advertising for a Newark, new Jersey-based toy shop. 

And, that explains a lot.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: Bad News Go 'Way

"I'm guessing that's not water."

Image:  A Laughing Bravo with a Bass Viol and a Glass, Creator: Hendrick ter Bruggen (Deventer 1588?-Utrecht 1629), Creation Date: Signed and dated 1625, Materials: Oil on canvas, Acquirer: Charles I, King of Great Britain (1600-49), when King of Great Britain (1625-49), Provenance: Acquired by Charles I, returned to the Royal Collection by Sir Peter Lely.

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 work by Hendrick ter Bruggen, 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.

Gifts of Grandeur: A Unique Talc Miniature, c. 1750

Miniature with Talc
Holland, 1750
The Victoria & Albert Museum

We’ve looked at many portrait miniatures over the past few years, but this one—dating to about 1750—is quite special. It’s the sort of portrait that is called a “Talc.” These unusual images were quite a popular amusement which developed around 1650. Talcs, miniature oil paintings, often came in leather cases with an accompanying set of shaped slivers of mica (a mineral known at the time as talc). 

Upon these sheets of the transparent mineral, costume details would be painted so that these could be overlaid upon the portrait as sort of formal, flat dress-up dolls. Some portraits came with up to twenty different “talcs” allowing for numerous costume changes. This one depicts a woman wearing a pink dress with handsome jewelry. The portrait came with twenty different talks of new costumes. It was made in Holland by an unknown artist. The talcs could be inserted into the hinged glass lid of the locket in which the painting has been set.

Drawing of the Day: Five Grotesque Heads, 1646

Five Grotesque Heads
Wenceslaus Hollar
England, 1646
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection 
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Born in Prague, Bohemian etcher Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677) spent much of his life in England. There, he attracted the attention of wealthy patrons and noblemen, including Thomas Howard 21st Earl of Arundel and the Royal Court. During the English Civil War, his income naturally suffered, but he created some of the most gripping records of the war.

This study by Hollar shows his penchant for the theatrical and grotesque. Created in 1646, the original drawing for the published etching depicts of five men. An older man who is clean-shaven is crowned with a wreath of oak leaves. Another man has his head tilted back and opens his mouth in a horrid yawn. A bald man is seen in the lower background. On the right, a laughing man is depicted and the composition is balanced by the profile of a man with a headband.

This sort of grotesquerie was quite in vogue in the early Seventeenth Century. Grotesque figures were the subjects of many a medium from porcelain to architecture. Hollar shows us his masterful hand and ability to show both motion and emotion while also satiating the taste for the horrible which was prevalent in arts of the era.

Bertie's Pet-itations: Future -- Not So Tense

Here's Bertie's weekly opportunity to share his ideas for creating our new "Beautiful Age."  Bertie's advice, I'm sure, can be applied to many different areas of our lives.

And, so, I happily hand the computer over to him.

Bertie says:

There's always something new to smell, and something good to eat.  So, I don't see any reason not to look forward to everything!