Saturday, September 21, 2013

Mastery of Design: A Magnificent “Cat’s Eye” and Diamond Ring, 1850

The Victoria & Albert Museum
Made in London in 1850, this curious ring is set with an impressive chrysoberyl (Cat's Eye) with a border of brilliant-cut diamonds in a gold setting. The stone is so large that it is set on double shoulders—one set to support the weight of the stone and one set to fit the finger, though it’s doubtful that the ring was ever worn.

This ring is part of a collection of 154 gems bequeathed to the V&A by the Reverend Chauncy Hare Townshend, a cleric and poet. We’ve looked at the Reverend Townsend’s rings before and they are certainly quite a magnificent collection. Townsend collected an assortment of extraordinary stones which he had mounted as rings. However, they were never intended to be worn. The settings served only to showcase the stones.

Unfolding Pictures: The George III and the Royal Family Fan, 1790

1790--The Poggi Workshop
The Victoria and Albert Museum
King George III was actually quite savvy about Public Relations—before he went mad. This characteristic was not inherited by his son, the Prince of Wales and future King George IV. George III was careful to make sure that the Royal Family was portrayed as happy and cohesive and he ensured this by commissioning works of art which showed his brood engaged in civilized and joyful activities. This fan is part of that effort.

Here, we see a fan with leaves of engraved and hand-colored paper. Ir features carved and pierced ivory sticks and guards. The engraving shows King George III and the Royal Family in attendance at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1788. The scene si framed in a floral decorative border with strips of gilded paper at its edges and the guards are decorated with an urn and flowers. Curiously, the reverse is unadorned.

The leaf is based on a painting by Johann Heinrich Ramberg which was recreated in miniature for the fan. The fan's maker was Antonio Poggi, who worked in London from 1776 to 1799. Poggi is immortalized by the words of the novelist Fanny Burney who described a visit to Poggi’s shop in her diary for March 1781, stating that the fans “are more beautiful than can be imagined. One was bespoke by the Duchess of Devonshire for a present, that was to cost £30.”

Gifts of Grandeur: The Spanish Lion Ring Brooch, 1300-1500

Ring Brooch
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This unusual jewel comes from Spain and dates somewhere between 1300 and 1500.

A masterpiece of gold, ruby, and onyx, the ring is formed of a gold branch which has been naturalistically chased and engraved, and adorned with broad leaves, each of which curls downward into a volute. Between each set of volutes, a ruby has been set.

At the center, an onyx cameo is set, depicting shows a lion mauling another animal. Fun! The case of the roundel is edged with scrolls and open-back rubies. Only the base of the pin remains, but is evidence that the jewel was multifunctional. 

At the Music Hall: The Ratcatcher’s Daughter

The Victoria & Albert Museum
In Westminster not long ago,There lived a Ratcatcher’s Daughter.
She was not born at Westminster,
But on t’other side of the water.
Her father killed rats and she sold sprats,
All round, and over the water,
And the gentlefolks, they all bought sprats,
Of the pretty Ratcatcher’s Daughter. 

She wore no hat upon her head,
Nor cap, nor dandy bonnet,
Her hair of her head it hung down her neck,
Like a bunch of carrots upon it.
When she cried sprats in Westminster,
She had such a sweet loud voice, Sir,
You could hear her all down Parliament Street,
And as far as Charing Cross, Sir, 
The rich and poor both far and near,
In matrimony sought her,
But at friends and foes she cocked her nose,
Did this pretty little Ratcatcher’s daughter.
For there was a man cried "Lily white Sand,"
Who in Cupid’s net had caught her,
And over head and ears in love,
Was the pretty little Ratcatcher’s daughter. 

Now, "Lily white Sand" so ran in her head,
When coming down the Strand, oh,
She forgot that she’d got sprats on her head,
And cried "buy my lily white Sand oh!"
The folks, amazed, all thought her crazed,
All along the Strand, Oh,
To hear a girl with sprats on her head,
Cry, "buy my lily white Sand, oh!" 

The Ratcatcher’s Daughter so ran in his head,
He didn’t know what he was arter,
Instead of crying "Lily white Sand,"
He cried "Do you want any Ratcatcher’s daughter."
His donkey cocked his ears and brayed,
Folks couldn’t tell what he was arter,
To hear a lily white sand man cry,
"Do you want any Ratcatcher’s daughter?" 

Now they both agreed to married be,
Upon next Easter Sunday,
But the Ratcatcher’s daughter had a dream,
That she shouldn’t be alive next Monday,
To buy some sprats, once more she went,
And tumbled into the water,
Went down to the bottom, all covered with mud,
Did the pretty little Ratcatcher’s daughter. 

When Lily white Sand he heard the news,
His eyes ran down with water,
Says he in love I’ll constant prove,
And, blow me if I live long arter,
So he cut his throat with a piece of glass,
And stabbed his donkey arter,
So there was an end of Lily white Sand,
His ass, and the Ratcatcher’s daughter!

The Music Halls were the gathering place of the lower classes. Adventurous aristocrats would sometimes venture to the Music Halls for some tawdry fun. But, for more middle-class and upper-class clientele, song and supper rooms and clubs opened in the 1830s. These more elegant venues served hot food and provided entertainment until the wee small hours of the morning. The clubs were rooms like The Coal Hole, off the Strand in London, and Evans’ Song and Supper Rooms in Covent Garden.

The star of Evans was a singer called Sam Cowell who was most famous for his song, “The Rat Catcher’s Daughter.” This song was so popular that fellow performer Charles Sloman, who was famous for improvising lines, wrote an extra two verses (seen above). 

Painting of the Day: The Portrait of Zoe Ionides, 1881

Zoe Ionides
George Frederick Watts, 1881
The Victoria and Albert Museum
Here we see a half-length, nearly full face portrait of a little girl with her hands hanging by her sides. She wears a red hat, a dark maroon dress, and a fur around her neck. This painting by George Frederick Watts was bequeathed by Constantine Alexander Ionides to the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1900. However, Mr. Ionides stipulated in his will that this, along with nineteen other family portraits, should stay in the family until the death of his wife, Agathonike. Mrs. Ionides died in 1920 when the paintings were received by the V&A.

The portrait shows Zoe Ionides (1877- 1973) who was the seventh of eight children of Constantine Alexander Ionides and his wife, Agathonike. George Frederick Watts, a life-long friend of Constantine, painted over fifty members of the Ionides family over five generations. Watts had studied under the sculptor William Behnes and entered the R.A schools in 1835. He went to Florence until 1847, where he found the patronage of Lady Holland. The painter was determined to devote himself to depicting grand, universal themes such as Faith; Hope; Charity; Love and Life; and Love and Death. However, he is best remembered as a portrait painter.

History’s Runway: The Coromandel Coast Gown, 1780

The Victoria & Albert Museum

Just think for a moment. This gown is two-hundred thirty-one years old. An open dress of Indian cotton chintz fabric from 1780 is painted and block-printed with gold spots. The gown has a fitted back with a raised waist seam at the rear of the bodice.

The front of the boned bodice is pointed and closes centrally by a drawstring which passes through the neckline. The half length sleeves are lined with white cotton. The skirt is constructed from three panels of fabric measuring 45 inches selvedge to selvedge. Cotton ties at the back of the bodice would have secured a bustle.

Designed to be worn over a petticoat of silk or matching chintz fabric, this gown was the height of fashion in the Netherlands in the late Eighteenth Century. 

Sculpture of the Day: A Lion After Landseer, 1874

The Victoria & Albert Museum

Among the most famous public sculptures in Britain are the lions at the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square which were designed by Sir Edwin Landseer. Those celebrated lions have inspired multiple works of art including this handsome paperweight of blue pressed glass.

The lion was created through a new technique of press-molding glass with the aid of a hand-operated machine. This technique—developed originally in the U.S. in the 1820s--made the mid-to-late Nineteenth Century the beginning of true mass production of pressed glass in the U.K..

This beautiful piece heralds from John Derbyshire's Regent Flint Glass Works at Salford, Manchester. The concern was not long-lived, however, during its few years of production it manufactured some of the most sought-after paperweights in Britain. The best known of the collection is this lion. Others which were inspired by Landseer also proved to be big sellers. These included based on the master’s paintings of a greyhound and a collie.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Mastery of Design: A Punch and Judy Charm

The Victoria & Albert Museum

The V&A doesn't tell us much about this beautiful gold charm, except that it, two Chinese puppets and a sizable collection of Punch and Judy memorabilia was bequeathed to the Museum by Tom Howard (1904-1997), the Archivist and Council Member of the British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild.

Otherwise, the charm speaks for itself.  Cast in gold, the jewel depicts our Mr. Punch climbing a (relatively) giant stick.  The provenance and date of creation are unknown.

Friday Fun: The Swingers "Punch and Judy"

To be perfectly honest, I know nothing about this.  Enjoy it.

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 broken when you name it?

And, the answer is...


Excellent answers from everyone today.  Special mention to Matt, Darcy, and Dashwood.  Well done!  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.  

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.

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 386

Chapter 386
The Bouquet

"Your Grace?"  Georgie said sheepishly as he approached Mr. Punch.

"Yes, George?"  Punch smiled.

"Shouldn't we send someone up to Gamilla's room to fetch one of her stockings?"  George blushed.

"Should we?"  Punch raised his eyebrows.

Robert laughed loudly.  "I don't think His Grace is familiar with that custom."

"Oh.  I'm very sorry."  George looked at his shoes.

"No, no!  Tell me.  I like to know things."  Mr. Punch said in a fast effort to avoid further embarrassment for the boy.

Georgie looked at Robert who nodded his permission.

George grinned.  "Well, Your Grace.  I've heard that at weddin's sometimes the men go get one of the bride's stockings.  Seems a shame to steal 'em off the bride..."

"Which has long been part of the custom, Dear Punch."  Robert interjected.  "Long ago, many thought that snatching a bit of the bride's clothing off of her would bring good luck."

"I don't think I like that."  Punch shook his head.

"Well, see, Your Grace, that's why I thought we'd get a stocking what Gamilla wasn't wearing."  George continued excitedly.

"And, and...what are we to do with this hosiery?"  Punch asked.

"We toss it."  George replied.  He then turned beet red and looked down again.

"Toss it?"  Punch giggled.  

"At the bride and groom, Your Grace."  George chuckled.

"Georgie, my lad, I been tryin' to stop throwin' things at folk these days."

Robert guffawed.  "Dear Punch, I believe the intention is that the man who gets the stocking closest to the nose of the groom is the next man to marry."

"Oh."  Punch nodded.  "Well, we already know who the next to marry is--Lord Cleaversworth.  So, it's best to leave Gamilla's hosiery in its place."

George nodded with disappointment.

"There is another tradition which doesn't involve undergarments."  Robert suggested.

"What else are we to throw at 'em?"  Punch winked.

"This actually involves the bride throwing things at us."  Robert laughed.  "Specifically, the women."

"Oh, yes!  She tosses her flowers, yes?"  Punch chirped.

"That's right!"  Georgie exclaimed. 

"The bride will throw her bouquet and the lady who catches the largest portion of it will marry next."  Robert nodded.

"Hmmmm, but still...that's Lady Fallbridge."  Punch smiled.

"Beggin' your pardon, Your Grace, only maybe not.  Maybe the flowers'll tell us somethin' different."  George said hopefully.

"Well, then, George, do you think that's something that the party would enjoy?"  Robert asked.

"I do, Your Lordship."

"Very well, why don't you and your mother ask Gamilla if she'd like to partake in the custom?"  Robert nodded.

"I shall, Sir!"  George exclaimed.  "Thank you!"

Robert and Punch exchanged amused glances as George scurried off to grab his mother by her hand.  They skittered toward Gamilla who was visibly enchanted by the idea. 

"Oh, but Ethel's gone upstairs.  It wouldn't be fair."  Gamilla teased.

"I don't think Ethel'd mind much."  George urged.

"If you say so, young Mr. Pepper."  Gamilla grinned.  

Gerard stood up.  "Ladies, if you'll gather 'round.  Violet, Mrs. Pepper, Maudie..."

"Go on, darling."  Matthew whispered.  "It'll be a lark."

"Matthew, I already know I'm to marry.  I shall let the others go ahead."  Lennie replied.

"You're so sensible.  Just one of the many things about you which I admire."  Matthew replied affectionately.

"Oh, Matthew."  Lennie smiled.

Violet, taking a reluctant Mrs. Pepper by the hand, rushed toward Gamilla.  

"My time for marriage has passed, now."  Mrs. Pepper laughed.

"You never know, Mrs. P."  Violet teased.  

"Maudie!"  Gamilla called out.

"Ethel ain't here."  Maudie said.

"She won't mind."  George called out confidently.

The girls gathered in front of Gamilla.  

"What am I meant to do?"  Gamilla giggled.

"Turn around, Dearie, and throw the bouquet over your shoulder."  Mrs. Pepper shouted.

Gamilla nodded and turned around.  "Get set, ladies.  One, two..."

Without warning she tossed the bouquet into the arms of Violet.

The party-goers howled with laughter and cheers as Violet blushed.

Gerard affectionately elbowed Charles.  "Well, about that?"

Did you miss Chapters 1-385 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square?  If so, you can read them here.  Come back on Monday for Chapter 387.

The Art of Play: Mr. Punch's Gallows, c. 1900

The Victoria and Albert Museum

Anyone familiar with the traditional Punch & Judy shows knows that among Punchinello's many tribulations is a battle with Jack Ketch, the hangman wherein our hero pleads, "Please don't hang me."  Well, the puppet character of Jack Ketch does not hang Mr. Punch; instead, he is hanged by Punch upon his own gallows.

And, here's such a gallows.

This is a property for a Punch and Judy show which was owned, and presumably operated by Will Judge (1882-1960), who was, as I've written before, billed variously as "the Norfolk Comedian" and a "Refined Comedian and Patterer."  Again, this is curious as Judge was famed for his Panto Dame roles, but is not ever recorded as being a Punch and Judy man.  Oddly enough, he had a fully formed set of Punch & Judy puppets and props which were donated to the V&A by Judge's son.