Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Movie Review: Farinelli

Ah the life of a rock star: the fame, life on the road, the women, and no balls?  Alarming perhaps; but it seems to be the revolving theme of Farinelli (1994), the story of the famous castrato*, known as the best soprano in history. 

The movie opens dramatically with a nude choir boy warning the future Farinelli to not "let them do this to you" and then leaping to his death in church.  Young Farinelli (Stefano Dionisi) is understandably traumatized and begs his father not to be castrated.  Fast forward and adult Farinelli is  pleasing crowds with his soprano voice, instantly making you wonder, what happened in-between?  Did he change his mind, why the change of heart?  Farinelli's singing talents win him fame across Europe so he is constantly on the road performing in ensembles that would make Prince Poppycock swoon.  Always at his side is Farinelli's elder brother, Riccardo (Enrico Lo Verso), a lackluster composer riding on the coattails of his brother's success.  The two brothers share everything, including the endless stream of groupies seeking to be Farinelli's bedfellows.  But it isn't long before Farinelli tires of his brother's manipulation and that's when things get extremely complicated.

Although slow in a couple of sceanes, I really enjoyed Farinelli.  I was fascinated by the relationship the Broschi brothers had with one another and happy that the subtle love story didn't take over the film.  As I mentioned before, the filmmakers wouldn't allow you to forget what Farinelli was lacking although Farinelli himself seemed to be at peace with the idea, a far cry from when he begged his father not to be castrated in the beginning of the film.  Despite that ever so slight flaw, Farinelli was a great movie: a great story, talented actors, and wonderful set design.  I would recommend this movie to both 18th century enthusiasts and music lovers.  Although those who are repelled by subtitles should be aware that this is a French film so there is a certain amount of reading required.  Perhaps my favorite aspect of the movie, though, was the ending which was both satisfying and sweet.

*Castrati were male soprano singers who were castrated before they hit puberty in order to preserve their sweet voices

Monday, November 29, 2010

Turkey Change of Scenery

I hope everyone stateside enjoyed their Thanksgiving dinner and all the leftovers that come with it.  Perhaps you heard that there was a slight change in the holiday this year?  Every year the president pardons some lucky turkeys from appearing on his dinner plate.  For the last few years the turkeys were not only pardoned but got to enjoy their new found freedom in Disneyland.  This year the free trips to Disney are no more and the turkeys will have a more appropriate retirement.

Apple, this year's pardoned turkey, made his new home at George Washington's home, Mount Vernon a few days ago.  Why Washington's former retreat?  Well, Washington did raise turkeys and the historic home still does, although Apple won't be on display since he isn't historically accurate.  Perhaps the most important reason for the change of turkey residencies was that it was George Washington who made Thanksgiving a national holiday so it seems quite appropriate to give a nod to the first president.

This Christmas a camel will be joining Apple at Mount Vernon.  No, he wasn't pardoned.  This camel gets to join the growing zoo at Mount Vernon because Washington once wowed his Christmas guests with a camel.  No wonder everyone is blowing off Disneyland for Mount Vernon, that Washington knows how to entertain!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Yay or Nay? Farinelli

The results are in and the fashion mob has determined Izabela Lubomirska to be over-the-top.  In this case, though, that is a good, thing earning her a Yay.  Well, since we're in the mood for over-the-top let's keep looking, just make sure you look very closely!

Jacopo Amigoni paints Farinelli (ca. 1750-2) in pink pastoral splendor, complete with fabulous lace detail. Yay or Nay?

[National Gallery of Victoria]

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Christmas Card Shopping for the 18th Century Enthusiast

I know we haven't reached the safe point for talking about Christmas yet, but it is still around the time when we start looking for those holiday cards we soon have to begin sending out.  I've been searching for some good 18th century-esque cards and I thought I'd share my findings with you. 

Zazzle has Allegory of December and Joyeux Noel cards for both colonial or French court fans
I've written about the wonderful Elizabeth Ocean before and she has released Christmas cards this year! Gingerbread and Candy canes.
I think this card is a bit over-priced but it's too gorgeous to not put up
Victorian and Albert Museum has this lovely winter silhouette scene card
Simple and elegant Damask cards
Colonial Williamsburg folk Christmas cards
CreationsbyTee has affordable and pretty Marie Antoinette Christmas cards

Have you seen any other good ones? If so let me know because I still haven't picked out my cards yet!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mrs Bennett Receives Word of Lydia's Elopement

Marguerite Gérard, Bad News, Date Unknown
"My poor nerves!"

Monday, November 22, 2010

John Jameson, The Scot Who Makes the Best Irish Whiskey

Guinness isn't the only popular Irish alcohol that been brewed up since the 18th century.  Just as Guinness is synonymous with Irish beer, Jameson is synonymous with Irish whiskey.  The recent ad campaigns in the US have been capitalizing on that legendary Irish nature.  However, John Jameson was Scottish!

Believe it or not, the whiskey business was a second career of John; a mid-life crisis decision of you will.  He was originally a lawyer in Scotland but John had a dream and that dream was to make a delicious whiskey and the place to do that was Dublin. Of course, moving to a city known for its whiskey was jumping headfirst into a competitive field.  Dublin had many distilleries and breweries in the 1780s.  John knew if he wanted to keep his Bow Street distillery he would have to make his product stand out, so he used different ingredients.  It was common for whiskey to be distilled twice in the 18th century, and John opted to distill it thrice for good measure, to this day Jameson still brags about "triple distilling" their whiskey.

Another smart business move was giving the workers good wages; happy workers means happy whiskey.  John knew his workers' names too and was known for giving them creative nicknames and he had no problem having a drink with them after their shift.  In fact, he was known to throw parties at the distillery on a regular basis.  Just imagine, taking the time to set and powder your hair to attend a distillery party!  Yes, it seems that John Jameson was quite the entrepreneur which is why his whiskey is still popular today.  So when you sip on that whiskey today you're tasting an authentic 18th century brew, cheers!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Yay or Nay? Izabela Lubomirska

As Paul said, "Everybody loves vanilla." So true! Madame Henriette came out with a big "Yay!"  Well if everyone likes vanilla perhaps we should stir it up a bit and add color to mix.

Marcello Bacciarelli paints Izabela Lubomirska (1757) in her gown of blues, lace choker, natural feathers, and artfully assembled ermine cloak.  Yay or Nay?

[Museum Palace at Wilanów]

Friday, November 19, 2010

Robert Darnton talks "Blogging in the 18th Century"

When Lauren and I heard that Harvard head librarian and Cultural Historian was giving a lecture on his latest interest titled Blogging in the 18th Century we knew this was an event not to be missed.  When Dr. Darnton opened his address with, "My subject is scandalous," followed by "I hope no one under the age of sixteen is here.." it confirmed we were in the right place. 

Dr. Darnton's argument was that gossip and gossip mongering is "not as trivial as we suppose" and it should be drawn on more in our study of history, especially in times and places where the society thrived on gossip such as 16th century Italy or 18th century France and England.  Not only does petty gossip of the time tell us much about the society  and its interests but it can also reveal some little known facts about historical people which shouldn't be entirely disregarded. 

But perhaps you may be wondering where the title of the lecture came from, because obviously the Duchess of Devonshire isn't sitting at her HP desktop, in the latest hat, spreading gossip via Blogger.  The answer is a very interesting and simple one.  Blogs today, especially celebrity gossip blogs (Darnton cited PerezHilton and Gawker media) deliver their scathing gossip to masses in short paragraphs to keep readers' attention.  The same was true of the newspapers of 18th century England which delivered their printed gossip in the form of short paragraphs or anecdotes, simply stating (hopefully in a witty way) the juicy news on a public figure.  The only thing missing was pictures with coke spots drawn on their noses.  Gathering this gossip was a much simpler task that of the modern paparazzi.  "Paragraph men" would sit in coffee houses listening to all the local gossip and writing down and pieces that felt worthy for the paper.  They would then submit these scraps to the papers and get paid based on factors such as the juiciness of the gossip.  Like bloggers today, there was little pay in the affair.  Also like bloggers today, the threat of plagiarism loomed (Darnton discovered in a gossip biography the minority of the content was original) although there was no mention of whether the plagiarism actually upset its victims like it does today.  Sometimes the anecdote actually cited the source of where gossip came from, so they were essentially repeating the gossip, which reminded us much of retweets (RT) on Twitter; just another means of spreading the scandal!

I've seen Dr. Darnton is due to deliver this lecture at other locations, so if you have the opportunity to hear him speak, don't delay in taking it!  For more on this topic, Dr. Darnton has an article up on the NYR Blog.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mystery Military Man

Jeremiah Meyer, Unknown Sitter, circa 1765-70
Lovely reader, Nicole, submitted a "historical hottie" for us to feast our eyes upon.  Although the passages of time have lost this redcoat's name to us his miniature remains.  Imagine the lucky lady (or perhaps man, you never know with miniatures) who received this handsome memento.  The miniature itself is a beautiful example of the craft.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Proverbs of the Time

A whistling woman and a crowing hen are neither fit for God nor men.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Fitting Employment

The noble Gordon family was tight-knit and therefore tended to be had no problem in speaking candidly with each other.  Dirty jokes were not just for the chop house as many a fine lady would prove. 

During one dinner conversation with friends, young George Gordon was asked the question many brooding teenagers get at their parents' dinner parties: what trade would he like to go into?  Although it is unlikely the question was meant to be taken seriously as George was next in line to be Duke of Gordon, he answered "making garters for ladies' stockings."  While the group chuckled at young Gordon's jocular perversions, his mother piped up with her own jibe, "Ah George! You would soon be above your trade."

No wonder the ladies of fashion were reported to complain, "How dull the town is!  Would to Heaven the Duchess of Gordon were arrived!  We shall have no life, no spirit, till she come!"

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Yay or Nay? Madame Henriette

The fashion brigade gave a furious Nay to George Onslow for his faux pas in the form of wearing horizontal stripes over what cannot be described as a six pack.  Sorry George, your offering of an adorable puppy couldn't even win you any points with this crowd.  I think that means it is time to examine some more classical looks.

Jean-Marc Nattier paints Madame Henriette of France (circa 1749) in the Louis XV version of Vestal Virgin wear.  Yay or Nay?

[Detroit Institute of Art]

Friday, November 12, 2010


Cornelis Troost, Three Governors of the Surgeons' Guild, Amsterdam, 1731

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Field Report from Gainsborough and the Modern Woman

Thomas Gainsborough and the Modern Woman is now open at the Cincinnati Art Museum and I am still mourning the fact that I am at a geographical disadvantage to see this wonderful exhibit.  Luckily I can live vicariously through people who did go see it such as Melanie whose account I would like to share with you: 

I put down a list of paintings that were part of the show and the museums where they usually reside [below]. Some of your more well traveled readers will have seen many of these before. I don't consider myself that well traveled, but have seen almost all of them before. Seeing them together, however, is a different matter! We also had the luck to walk in during a talk the curator was giving to a small group of ladies (donors or friends of the museum I am guessing). I'm not sure I agreed with everything he said about the ladies (he was too ready to write all the ladies involved as being part of the demi-rep class), but it was fun. We especially enjoyed his discussion of Gainsborough's technique and his comparisons of these portraits with some of his other works.

The exhibit space itself was very stark, which really made the portraits stand out. My friend and I thought that the portraits of Viscountess Ligonier and Grace Dalrymple were the most visually striking. I have always had a soft spot for Elizabeth Linley Sheridan, so I enjoyed seeing those portraits again. Part of the exhibit was full length portraits and a smaller portion was half portraits and they were in separate spaces.

There was not a crowd when we went and no need for special tickets or anything, which was nice.  [Melanie added that the exhibition and museum are free but they have suggested donations]  The gift shop did not have a lot of merchandise associated with the show, but I did buy the book associated with it and my friend walked out with a large poster of Ann Ford, so we are not complaining. If I am remembering correctly, they had good blurbs about the portraits by the paintings themselves.

We drove a little under two hours to get there, and I say that trip was more than worth it. I would go a lot further to see these works together.

Melanie even went as far as listing some of the amazing paintings she saw!

Ann Ford (later Mrs. Philip Thicknesse) owned by Cincinnati Museum of Art

Portrait of the Artist's Daughters (Worcester Art Museum)

Penelope, Viscountess Ligonier (Huntington Library)

Portrait of Miss Elizabeth Linley (Philadelphia Museum of Art)

Portrait of Anne, Countess of Chesterfield (Getty, LA)

Mrs. Grace Dalrymple Elliot (Met)

Giovanna Baccelli (Tate)

Mrs. Maria Anne Fitzherbert (Fine Arts Museums of San Fransisco)

Mrs. Siddons (National Gallery, London)

Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan (National Gallery, D.C.)

The Honorable Anne (Batson) Fane (Krannert Art Museum Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) 

Thank you again Melanie; and if anyone else wants to gush about their experience please do!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Scifi Art Deco Rococo Fashion

My history obsession is not limited to the 18th century; the 1920's is a decade that I just can't get enough of, especially in terms of fashion.  So when TCM played the fully restored version of Metropolis this past Sunday, I gleefully tuned in.  In brief, the 1927 silent film is a sci-fi adventure with some amazing imagery and a underlying message.  Parts of the movie that were cut for American audiences were, until recently, thought to be lost forever.  Luckily an original unaltered copy was found in Argentina.

One of these newly re-added scenes, is a short display of Art Deco costumes in all their splendor.  Apparently their vision of future couture was dabbling in fashions of the past (not too far from the truth, no?) and fairy-like outfits.  A certain domino-inspired creation gets the appropriate screen time it deserves (video link here).  One has to admire the sassy backless dress which looks like some of the pannier dresses we've seen on the runway lately.  Perhaps the costume designer was inspired by Pietro Longhi paintings?

Did You Know?

Johan Zoffany, Charles Townley with His Friends in the Townley Library, 1781-3
When Zoffany painted the antique hoarder collector, Charles Townley in his library he wasn't exactly painting realistically.  True Townley's collection of impressive classical antiques was truly his own, but there was no way they all fit in his humble library!  Many of the marbles could be found in various rooms of his house.  Some were so big they couldn't possibly be brought to the upstairs library; Zoffany conveniently shrunk those to fit into the painting.  It's almost a relief all those priceless marbles weren't all in one place; no dogs or children would be allowed in my library if that were the case!

Monday, November 8, 2010

For All the Stampers

I know many crafty people read this blog, and as someone who can never find the time to commit to crafts I will from time to time find myself longingly looking at crafting supplies.  One of the crafts I never got into but admire those that have a knack for it is stamping.  I have been surprised to find very little 18th century-esque stamps while perusing the internet, for it seems like such a great theme for stamping!  Here are some of the available stamps that I have found.

Marie Antoinette- A fabulously themed collection
Beau Monde- Which has familiar fashion plates
Marie Antoinette- Looking a little gloomy as widow, but cool nonetheless
Marie Antoinette- With her personal seal
Heart's Desire- Some Victorian designs but also could work as rococo
Falling in an 18th Century Vortex- That is my own description
Floral Damask
Chandeliers, chandeliers, and chandeliers!
Damask, damask, damask!
Coronets and crowns
Borders, flourishes, and flair

Has anybody made some amazing rococo stamp creations? If so, you should post them in the comments so we can rave over your artistry!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Yay or Nay Colonel George Onslow

Last week we strained in the darkness to see what Magdalena Hess was wearing and when everyone saw it the result was a Nay.  Miss Hess' sister also has a portrait by Fuseli which is even more difficult to see and just as odd.  This week, let's turn to some more rugged clothing with a sitter who is out to prove one can be portly and still be fashionable.

Ralph Earl paints George Onslow (circa 1783) in his hunting gear and cream and brown striped waistcoat and feathered cap.  Yay or Nay?

[Private Collection]

Friday, November 5, 2010

Welcome to the Doll House

Jacob Appel, The doll's house of Petronella Oortman, c. 1710
 At first glance, Jacob Appel's 1710 painting appears to be a cross-section of a busy household.  A maid tends to a child on leading strings in the hallway, men are playing boardgames while a couple talk in a parlor, a woman warms her feet in the kitchen.  Overall, it is a very active painting.  However, there is something a little strange about the house: it has legs. No, it isn't a portrayal of a Russian fairytale, Appel was merely bringing life to a doll house.  He was so determined to show all the amazing details of the house that he chose to incorrectly render the perspective.  The result is a fascinating window into Dutch home-life of the time.

Doll houses weren't meant to be toys for the children; you would find them in the possession of wealthy women.  A hobby to show off to friends, women could accessorize their houses like they could accessorize their closet.   The doll house was more of cabinet, with curtains or windowpanes to draw aside.  From the outside they would look like a regular furniture piece rather than a miniature home as our contemporary tend to. 

Perhaps the best part about the painting is that the actual doll house still exists and is safely housed in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.  The house, or cabinet, is so large, museum visitors use a step stool to examine all those delightful details that Appel was determined to portray.  Because both the painting and house have survived the passage of time we can see the various changes made to the house since the creation of the painting.  You can see them for yourself in person or (the easier option) through a virtual tour of the house thanks to the Rijksmuseum here.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

More Robo-Rococo!

What a coincidence!  There has been so much fuss over the Murakami exhibit at Versailles that it has overshadowed an exhibit that I personally would be more excited to see.  Sciences and Curiosities at the Court of Versailles runs from now to 9 February and displays some of the very automata we were just talking about!  Something I found pretty cool about the exhibit was it contains the Marie Antoinette automaton which will be returning to the palace after a lengthy absence; although, as it is explained in the video, she bought it for the Academy of Science.  Check out the video for the interesting exhibit below:

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Amanda Foreman's New Book, Different Century but Perhaps Just as Interesting

More than ten years after her breakthrough biography, Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire, Amanda Foreman is celebrating the release of her new book this week.

Ever since Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire hit shelves in 1998, Foreman has received rightfully deserved acclaim and has lent her pen to numerous forewords and historical research.  The year 2008 saw her research become transformed into a movie, The Duchess which sent the historian on whirlwind trip of red carpets and press tours.  Somehow, between all these demanding projects Foreman managed to write her meticulously researched new book, A World on Fire: An Epic History of Two Nations Divided which tells the story of Britain's role in the American Civil War from politics to individual Englishmen fighting on either side.

Fans of the colorful Duchess' biography may be confused by the subject matter which is so different from Foreman's first book.  But the answer, I believe, lies in Foreman's background.  When she originally enrolled in Oxford for her PhD, her original dissertation idea, before she became smitten with Georgiana's story, had to do with the abolition of slavery.  Foreman herself has both English and American roots; being born in London, raised in the US and then receiving schooling in both England and the US.  Knowing this, it only seems natural that Foreman would take on this little-known, yet interesting topic.

A World on Fire: An Epic History of Two Nations Divided is out now in the UK and won't make it to the States until next summer.  Tonight is the launch party for the book which is appropriately being held at Winfield House, the residence of the US Ambassador to the Court of St James.  Wouldn't you just love to crash that party?

Guardian: A World on Fire: An Epic History of Two Nations Divided by Amanda Foreman: review
Independant: Amanda Foreman: The queen of historical biography
Telegraph: A World on Fire: An Epic History of Two Nations Divided by Amanda Foreman: review

Hunk Alert: Sir William Napier

SWM, Baronet (eventually), Deputy-lieutenant, looking for a stay at home wife.
Likes: poetry, architecture, outdoor walks, and equestrian sporting

A man knows when it is time to put his bachelor ways aside and settle down.  I haven't many hobbies but I have set my sights on a few things.  The first being rebuilding the family home which burnt down, the second, finding a lady to share it with.

A handsome, well brought up woman is the type I am looking for.  An heiress would naturally be a wonderful choice.  Wouldn't it make you feel better your dowry was going into building your new home? Oh, I suppose you can help decorate it.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Art History Carnival

I must urge you all to Alberti's Window today for the November Art History Carnival.  There you will find a collection of art history-related posts from all over the blogisphere.  I submitted my post about Thomas Gainsborough's famous portrait of Georgiana which I was embarrassed to find was a topic that the gracious Carnival host already covered!  Despite my blunder the post is among a worthy collection of art history articles from bloggers, professional writers, and art lovers.  All you art lovers should grab your masks and join the carnival!

November Issue of the Art History Carnival hosted by Alberti's Window