Friday, June 27, 2014
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Friday, June 20, 2014
This week marks the 199th anniversary of the Duke of Wellington’s victory over Napoleon at Waterloo. As we've mentioned in previous posts, Wellington ended up a much celebrated gentleman, with nations and royalty showering him with gifts and mementos. One of my favorites, however, is said to have come from a very different set of people, the women of England.
The Wellington Monument in Hyde Park, also known as Achilles, was paid for by a ladies subscription amounting to 10,000 pounds sterling and cast from cannons captured at the battles of Salamanca, Vitoria, Toulouse, and Waterloo. Created by popular sculptor Sir Richard Westmacott, the 18-foot bronze statue sits on a plinth of Dartmoor granite to rise a total of 36 feet above the pebbled path near Hyde Park Corner. Even before it was erected in 1822 it was surrounded by controversy.
For one thing, Westmacott must have focused more on his art than the dimensions of its intended location, for when the statue was moved from his studio in Pimlico, Achilles was found to be too big to fit through the gates of Hyde Park! Not to be deterred, the movers merely knocked a hole in the wall to move it through.
For another, critics could not decide whether it was great art or a cheap knockoff. Newspapers and books of the time either praise the fact that the statue resembled one in Rome, where Westmacott had spent some time on his Grand Tour, or scolded the artist for failing to live up to his Roman pretensions. Some deemed the body magnificent; others complained that it didn’t look enough like Achilles (and you would know how?). One critic even lambasted Westmacott for including visible straps holding the shield in place on the statue’s arm.
And then there was the matter of Achilles’ lack of clothing. The statue is said to be the first nude male figure on public view in London. The ladies who had helped raise the subscription had not seen the design and were rather shocked by the anatomically correct statue. Some seemed to feel their reputations damaged by association. A fig leaf was hurriedly placed over the offending section. It remains there to this day, even though it has been chipped off twice.
And if you’re a lady enamored of Greek or Roman statuary, or anything Greek or Roman, I urge you to return next week, when Marissa will be launching her first book for adults, by Jove.
Er, yes. By Jove. No need to raise a subscription. Fig leafs not required.
Monday, June 16, 2014
Friday, June 13, 2014
In April, I waxed poetic about the sailcloth carpets I’d found in Dumbarton House and Carlyle House in the Washington, D.C., area. Frequent commenter QNPoohBear gave me some hints as to where to find more information, and now I admit I’m even more fascinated!
Floorcloths appear to have originated in France, perhaps descending from tapestries and other wall and floor coverings. Quite popular in England and America in the 1700s and early 1800s, they were generally made of woven linen canvas, at lengths of over 100 yards, cut down to the necessary size for a particular room. Through an elaborate stretching and sanding process, artists painted them with heavy paint that might include lead and then varnished them to protect the design. By the 1800s, entire factories were devoted to the process, as seen in this print from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
The resulting cloths might be plain (Thomas Jefferson is said to have had a green one) or they might resemble black-and-white marble tiles, landscape backgrounds, or even fine carpet. Cubes and Greek key patterns were also popular, as was the compass pattern shown abovefrom Carlyle House. From what I’ve been reading, it appears they were most often used in areas where the wood floor needed to be protected, say from spills at the dining room table or in high-traffic areas like entry halls and stairways. My hypothesis going in to this research was that they were most likely used by middle class families as a less expensive floor covering, but it appears that they were used by the wealthy or famous as well, gracing such homes as the Presidential Mansion in America.
While the popularity of floor cloths waned with the invention of linoleum, a number of sites herald the reemergence of the art today for durable, relatively low-cost floor coverings. I ran across a number of sites that offered ones hand-made by artists or even advised you on how to make your own.
I'm game. In fact, I think it might be cool to see one painted to look like a book cover. Anyone else want one?
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Friday, June 6, 2014
What is it about June and weddings? Once held to be the luckiest month in which to marry, it’s still one of the most popular times here in the U.S., with the best venues, caterers, and photographers booked more than a year in advance. And of course weddings are so romantic, the joy of a couple pledging their lives to each other. Sigh.
I’ve written about more than one wedding in my twenty-seven published stories set in early nineteenth century England, from grander affairs in a church to eloping to Gretna Green and being married by a so-called “anvil priest,” otherwise known as a blacksmith. The service in the Book of Common Prayer, the manual for the Church of England, is relatively easy to find online for the time period. Very helpful authors and researchers can provide detail on the wedding breakfast or the wedding gown, as in the lovely post this week by author Katherine Givens.
But now I’m writing about a wedding ceremony in pioneer Seattle, 1866 to be exact. And the details are sketchy to say the least.
Certainly the East Coast magazines were full of advice to new brides. I can find pictures from Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine that look not too different from what we’d expect--yards of white satin with lace trimmings, embroidered bodices, long sheer lace veils that flow from the head to past the hips, orange blossoms in the hair. Godey’s even advises what to include in the trousseau: six trimmed cambric petticoats, four morning wrappers (two cambric, two of wool in a neutral color), plain handkerchiefs embroidered with your initials, a neutral-colored traveling dress finished with heavy silk cord with matching cloak and bonnet, and three silk dresses for morning calls. I can hear my brave pioneer ladies laughing now.
So, how did a lady say “I do” in the early days of Washington Territory? There were two churches in 1866 Seattle, called the brown church and the white church because of the colors they were painted rather than using grander names that signified their denominations. They each had an officiating minister, but the ministers were known for traveling other places to marry folks. There’s an account of the Reverend Daniel Bagley marrying one young couple in his study. At least one pioneer lady recalled marrying in the Occidental Hotel. Vows appear to be a mere “I do” responding to the minister’s list of duties for husband and wife.
Of course, even that can be quite romantic, with the right gentleman at your side!