Monday, January 31, 2011

Judge Thumb

Many of us have heard/used the phrase, "rule of thumb."  Some may even know the phrase's notorious origin.  It is yet another phrase, still used today, that we can thank 18th century England for.

Sir Francis Buller at the age of 32 was the youngest justice ever appointed to the King's Bench, a mere six years after he was called to the bar.  You may think this would mean his actions as a  judge to be just and good but that wasn't necessarily the case.  He was known to be bull-headed and impulsive in his judgments.  Justice Buller was most known for his stance on domestic abuse.  Supposedly, he believe there should be a "rule of thumb," that is, a husband could beat his wife, as long as it was with a stick no longer than his thumb.  This rule was never adopted legally.  As silly as the rule sounds now, it sounded just as foolish in 1782.  James Gillray especially thought so and dubbed Justice Buller, "Judge Thumb," making him quite the laughing stock of the justice system.

Ironically, Buller was one of the judges which presided over Mary Eleanor Bowes' extreme case of domestic abuse.  However, Mary's horrid husband, Andrew Stoney's abuse shocked even Judge Thumb who was disgusted by Stoney's actions and threw him into prison.  So although he was a bit medieval in his ideas on domestic felicity, Buller wasn't a complete misogynist!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Yay or Nay? Madame Regnault De Saint-Jean D'Angely

Well Guy Johnson, you broke our streak and ended up with a Nay.  The combination of English and native American clothes was not fashion-forward and, like Robespierre, your day job did not help.  Time for a change of scenery.

Francois Gerad paints Comtesse Regnault de Saint-Jean d'Angely (1798) in her simplistic green empire gown.  Yay or Nay?

[The Louvre]

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Tower

An essential tourist attraction to first-time visitors to London is the Tower of London.  Hoards of people visit to see the city's castle which has a long list of famous prisoners.  The same was true of tourists in the eighteenth century.  The Tower was rarely used to house prisoners and, like today, it housed the crown jewels which were on display for the public.  For a small fee you could view the royal jewels, which seems quite daring in the days before CCTV and bullet-proof glass.  A renewed interest in the medieval period and the Gothic also brought visitors into the Tower.

Something that eighteenth-century visitors did get to enjoy that we no longer do in the present age was the Tower's menagerie.  The Royal Menagerie at the Tower had been there for centuries and had an array of amazing animals through its many monarchs such as elephants, leopards, lions, and even a polar bear.  For the small price of 3 half-pence you could gain admission but if you didn't have that kind of money, a cat or dog would suffice.  Why a cat or dog? Well, what else were the lions going to eat? Yikes; I surely wouldn't be there during feeding time, how traumatizing!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


"Whoever she is, I wish she would mind her own affairs: I don't know what the devil a woman lives for after thirty: she is only in other folks way."

-Lord Merton, in Fanny Burney's Evelina

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Georgiana writes to her mother...

"...The Dss of Portland* has mortify'd me by her humility in saying that tho' Dr Georgiana was a very pretty child she was afraid she has too Cavendish a face to be a handsome woman..."

-Georgiana to Lady Spencer, June 17, 1784

*Georgiana's sister-in-law

Monday, January 24, 2011

Pysche Guides Us from Rococo to NeoClassical

The Myth  
The story of Cupid (or Eros) and Psyche is one of the most romantic from mythology.  The myth tells of a girl so beautiful that men began to abandon the temples of Venus to worship her, sending the goddess into a rage.  She sent her son to Psyche in order to destroy the girl by having her fall in love with a monster, not knowing he would fall in love with her himself. He took the girl to his palace as his wife, only visiting her at night and never allowing her to see him.  When poor Psyche's jealous sisters poisoned her mind with horrors about her husband she glanced upon his sleeping form with the help of an oil lamp which promptly dripped and wounded him, causing him to abandon her, for 'there can be no love where there is no trust.'  She then was forced to go through a series of impossible tasks by Venus in order to reunite with her husband.  It was the final task which Psyche failed; falling into an eternal sleep after peeking at a box of Queen Proserpine's beauty.  By then, Cupid had forgiven his wife and flew down to rescue her and carry her to Olympus to make their marriage official.

The Art
For many generations Psyche's tale was a popular theme in art.  Not only was it an opportunity to paint a beautiful woman, but illustrate a story with a moral.  The eighteenth century arrived with the the Rococo movement; floating fabrics, pastels, and romantic themes.  The myth of Cupid and Psyche was very attractive to Rococo sensibilities.  By the end of the century Neoclassicism had replaced Rococo as the en vogue art style.  Psyche appealed to Neoclassicists for her Classic theme and opportunity to represent the the body in a history painting setting.  By the restrained Victorian age the portrayals of Psyche became increasingly more sensual than those in the previous centuries.

Francois Boucher, The Marriage of Cupid and Psyche, 1744
Charles-Joseph Natoire, Psyche at her Toilette, 1745
Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Psyche showing her Sisters her Gifts from Cupid, 1753
Pompeo Batoni, The Marriage of Cupid and Psyche, 1756
Joshua Reynolds, Cupid and Psyche, 1789
Jean-Pierre Saint-Ours, The Reunion of Cupid and Psyche, 1789
François Gérard, Cupid and Psyche, 1798
Angelica Kauffman, The Legend of Cupid and Psyche, 1800
Benjamin West, Cupid and Psyche, 1808
Pierre-Paul Prud’hon, The Abduction of Psyche, 1808
Jacques-Louis David, Cupid and Psyche, 1817
François-Edouard Picot, Cupid and Psyche, 1817

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Yay or Nay? Guy Johnson

Last week, William Wollaston came very close to breaking our latest run of yays but despite the simplicity of colors in his dress he prevailed with a Yay.  Black and white seemed to bore many so this week I have a selection with slightly more pizazz as far as menswear goes.

Benjamin West paints Guy Johnson (1775) half in his red-coat and half in his Mohawk gear.  Yay or Nay?

[National Gallery, Washington]

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fan Challenge

The language of the fan is something that still enchants us today.  It is also an effective means of communications in a crowded area.  One can only hope the eighteenth century male understood rejection at the hands of a fan better than the twenty-first century male missing body-language queues from the floundering girl at the bar.  Here are some basics for you to practice with.

Touching closed fan to chin- "Your flattery annoys me"
Fanning away from face- "I am not in love with you"
Tapping left cheek- "No"
Tapping right cheek- "Yes"
Twirling in left hand- "We are being watched"
Open wide- "Wait for me"
Open and shut- "You are cruel"
Placing handle on lips- "Kiss me"
Finger on tip of fan- "I wish to speak with you"
In right hand in front of face- "Follow me"

And ladies you must be aware of a fan touching your girlfriend's left ear. That means "I want to be rid of you!" aka "Girls, get me out of here!"

That brings me to the challenge.  This past New Years Eve while I was out celebrating with the masses my eyes fell upon a woman on the dance floor - with a fan! It wasn't even me!  I immediately consulted with Lauren and we agreed, 2011 should be the year we bring the fan back.  We propose that you follow the mysterious NYE lady's good example and start carrying a fan around to all social events; let's start the trend, or rather, bring it back!

Fan Guilds
Souvenirs of Spain has affordable fans in many colors, so you can color coordinate.
WheeWare has fun quirky fans such as this adorable word bubble fan which tells others to "read my fan!"

Are you up to the challenge?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Fan Updates

Last September I had a post on the fan-making business which kept the ivory handed ladies of court supplied with a social essential.  In the comments, the topic of fan-language was brought up and Fabultastic peaked some curiosity by mentioning a book he read quite a while ago.  While joy of joys, he wrote today to tell me he found the book and I am now mourning the fact that I don't speak Portuguese!  Here is the report:
Remember the book I once spoke you about that talk about all the «fan codes»? I finally found it. It is called «O Amor em Portugal no Século XVIII» (Love in Portugal in the 18th Century) by Júlio Dantas. The book was written in 1916 so probably has more of a Romantic view on the subject than actually a real historical document. Nevertheless, much of it is now corroborated by Historians.

The book also talks of a particular type of Portuguese lover than was in fashion at the time: the «freirático» (the nun's lover). In a über catholic country, there were so many nuns that they became the image of the ideal lover. Disguised under a cover of Platonism, a trend was born amongst the royals to have a nun as lover. Even the King, D. João V, had a thing for nuns and soon become known as the «Odivelas' Rooster» (Odivelas had one of the biggest convents). This when to such a degree that, at a certain point, the King had to make an edit recognizing his several illegitimate sons: this was known as the «Meninos de Palhavã» (the Palhavã boys). There are still today, some traditional songs that sing about the «virtues» of those nuns...

I enclose a picture of the book's first edition and you can go to and see all the book and illustrations. Unfortunately, I think that there is not an English version.
Scandalous!  It brings to mind how brothels were often referred to as nunneries.  Thank you for the fabulous history lesson, Fabultastic!  Taking a quick look through the ebook makes me think it is something I would thoroughly enjoy reading.

Tomorrow I will post a crash course in eighteenth century fan language, stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Francisco Goya, The Dog, 1820-23

Monday, January 17, 2011

Children's Clothing

George Romney, Charlotte Bosanquet and Her Five Elder Children, 1795

Harriet's sons' gowns
opened in front
Readers have noted and questioned more than once on this blog about portraits of mothers and their baby sons who are dressed in gowns.  Why were baby boys put in dresses? That is a good question and the answer probably has something to do with changing babies (think of how many onesies newborns go through) and the lack of evolution in children's clothing throughout history.  Boys would remain in their child's gowns until their parents determined them to be at the proper age for breeching, or, wearing big boy clothes.  Not only did this event have a name, it sometimes, in true 18th century fashion, had a celebration that went along with it.  There was always an excuse for a party, whether it be for someone waking up in the morning or for your son wearing pants.  So how does one tell if those painted babies are boys or girls?  Little girls' gowns would fasten in the back like women's gowns and little boys' fastened in the front like a man's jacket. 

8 year-old Isabella of Parma
Both sexes were put in child's stays in order to keep their back straight an encourage good posture.  Once children began walking they would be put in softly boned stays.  Unlike women's stays which could be quite tight, children's would be loosely laced.

In the early part of the century children were dressed as little adults.  Portraits of children had them in fashion that rivaled painted adults in terms of fabulousness.  By the end of the century the idea of little adults wasn't as appealing.  Girls tended to be dressed in simple white gowns and boys would be given skeleton suits, an example of which can be seen on Charlotte Bosanquet's eldest son above. 

Baby-proofing to keep the little ones safe was just as much of an issue in the Age of Reason as it is today.  Not only did children have leading strings to keep them in safe parameters but also pudding hats.  These soft helmets were worn by those crawling and learning to walk so that they wouldn't have pudding heads, that is, bump into something and permanently dent their soft little heads.  Our "toddlers" were the 18th century's "puddling heads," named after the hats they sported.   Sadly, pudding hats weren't stylish enough to make it into formal portraits!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Yay or Nay? William Wollaston

The Yay streak continues! Maria Luisa of Parma managed to come out with a Yay despite the naysayers. But before we overdose on bows and flounce it might be a good idea and switch gears for some clean cuts of menswear.

Thomas Gainsborough paints William Wollaston (1759) void of color.  Yay or Nay?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Super Sculpture

Francesco Queirolo, Il Disinganno, 1752-4, Sansevero Chapel, Naples
Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, Monument for Henri-Claude d'Harcourt, 1774, Notre Dame, Paris
M.C. Wyatt, Monument to Princess Charlotte, 1818, St George's Chapel, Windsor
Louis Francois Roubiliac, Tomb of Sir Joseph and Lady Elizabeth Nightingale, 1761, Westminster Abbey

Antonio Corradini, La Pudicizia (Modesty), 1752, Napels, Sansevero Chapel, Naples

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Proverbs of the Time

A bad penny always turns up.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Devonshire Collection Coming to a Livingroom Near You

Spendthrifts and impulse-buyers, hide your credit cards.  Give them to a more level-headed person, before reading any further.  Have you done that? Good, I will take your word for it.  Ever dream of owning the artwork adorning Georgiana's homes?  Well good luck getting your hands on anything from that priceless collection but thank you to the good people at Chatsworth we now have an option that is almost as good.

Many of the great works of art from the Devonshire Collection are now available to buy as high-quality prints.  The collection spans the centuries and ranges from renaissance sketches to the portraits of many of the people discussed here.  You can check out the small gallery of "Bestsellers" here or the full gallery here which is constantly growing.

For those with more self-control with their wallets, strolling through the online print gallery is like a behind-the-scenes tour of the artwork of Chatsworth, for it contains both work hidden in private quarters and those that crazy artnerds bend their body in all sorts of Matrix-like positions in order capture a small detail of (see photo at left).  I was surprised at the amount of portraits of Hart, some I had seen and some were new to me.  Other familiar faces you may recognize among the portraits are Caroline Lamb, Little G, Lady Spencer, Lady Blanche, Canis, Bess, and others too numerous to count.  Portraits of Georgiana are, not surprisingly, a big feature of the collection.  Personally, I am measuring my a certain wall for the gorgeously-reproduced Cosway portrait of Georgiana.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lambert's Views of Chiswick in the 1740s

William Hogarth and George Lambert, View from the Cascade Terrace, Chiswick House, 1741

George Lambert, Chiswick, View Towards the Inigo Jones Gate, 1742

 George Lambert, View of Chiswick Villa from a Balcony above the Cascade with the Lake, 1742

Monday, January 10, 2011

Girl, I Want to Take you to a Gay Bar

The concept of a gay bar is not what you would call new.  You could easily say that they had been around for quite a while.  Eighteenth-century London was a city of sex.  Gentlemen had to put in little effort to find a prostitute to their liking, whether a woman, man, or even child.  Men searching for the intimate company of other men would find it in molly houses (quite literally meaning gay houses).

Were molly houses gay brothels? Well, I suppose that depends on which molly house you would be going to.  Some of the houses were in fact a place to find a male prostitute and like any other brothel you could be supplied with a room, liquor, or even a delicious meal if you so pleased.  Other molly houses were gathering places for the gay man, the equivalent of a gay bar.  Liquor, dancing, music and drag queens would be found here, as well as a good time.  Additionally, there were several rooms for rent so if things got hot and heavy on the dance floor you could take the romance to a place more private and equally nonjudgmental- for a price of course.  Margaret "Mother" Clap was a notorious molly house procuress, who presumably ran her business out of her own home and did it for the pleasure of the company; a true fag hag.

Many similarities exist between our contemporary and ancestral gay hang-outs.  Just as metropolises now tend to have regions that the gay community make their own so did London.  Moorfields was one of the notable gay haunts of the city, so much so that it had a "Sodomite's Walk."  Like today, many gay men were known to refer to each other as "queens" which I personally find interesting since many female sovereigns existed at the time.  Queenly spats were also not wholly unusual either as Joseph Sellers describes from personal experience:
"As soon as we came in, Gabriel Lawrence (since hang'd for Sodomy) began to scold at Mark Patridge, calling him a vile Dog, a blowing-up Bitch and other ill Names because Partridge had blab'd out something about one Harrington's being concern'd with him in such Practice."
Oh the dramz! Don't you hate when someone has to cause a scene at the bar?

Spats could be the least of problems regulars at molly houses could have.  Sodomy was a very serious offense, punishable by death (as seen above).  Luckily, evidence was needed in order to charge someone with that offense and that could be a tricky task for the law.  Molly houses were prone to raids which famously happened to Mother Clap's house in 1726 leading to her arrest.  Thank goodness today the only raids that gay bars may suffer from would be those used to catch serving minors!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Yay or Nay? Maria Luisa of Parma

Our fashion-experts have a taste for the exotic and like the narrow waist Mary Wortley Montagu sported before the Great Revolution which put Empire gowns into style, earning her a Yay.  Style and comfort is always a winning combination with me! However, comfort might be out of the picture for this week we are traveling back to Spain where grand fashions tend to always have sitters painted in discomfort.

Mariano Salvador Maella paints Maria Luisa of Parma (circa 1780) in a blue and white day gown and large chandelier earrings.  Yay or Nay?

[Bank of Spain]

Friday, January 7, 2011

Tart of the Week: Nancy Dawson

The ongoing trend for celebrities in all ages is to have their great moment of fame and then to be cruelly forgotten, only leaving traces of their celebrity through time.  Such is the case of Nancy Dawson.  Googling the name today will deliver songs, and dances and nursery rhymes such as this one:
  • Nancy Dawson was so fine 
  • She wouldn't get up to serve the swine; 
  • She lies in bed till eight or nine,
  •  So it's Oh, poor Nancy Dawson.

  • And do ye ken* Nancy Dawson, honey? 
  • The wife who sells the barley, honey? 
  • She won't get up to feed her swine, 
  • And do ye ken Nancy Dawson, honey?  
But what do we ken about Nancy Dawson?  What little we do know is a tart-ly tale; certainly not altogether appropriate for children.

Nancy was born around 1728 into a poor situation in life but had aspirations for the stage.  She turned to prostitution for survival and then took up with a traveling puppet company where she learned to dance.  Her natural ability for dance opened up the opportunity to play Columbine, the ballerina in Commedia Dell'Arte and brought Nancy some recognition.  Nancy continued to take different dancing jobs, performing at various coffee houses in Covent Garden.  She was quite the go-go girl of her time.  Her dancing caught the attention of Ned Shuter, a renown comedian and became his mistress.  The relationship opened up more theater opportunities for Nancy.

Nancy was now comfortably situated in Covent Garden taking small acting parts here and there but her big break came in 1759.  In the wildly successful The Beggar's Opera the dancer who would dance to horn pipes in the play was ill and an understudy was needed immediately.  Nancy was given the role and when she pranced onto the stage she brought the house down.  She became such a sensation that she was hired to perform her horn-pipe dances in between the acts of the play.

Songs and poems showered Nancy with praise.  Of course this was 18th century London, so other songs and poems mocked her as well.  The signature song she danced to had the tune of what we know as Pop Goes the Weasel and words were added to immortalize the lady who made the song famous.
  • All the girls in our town, 
  •  black the fair the red the brown,  
  • Who dance and prance it up and down,
  •  There's none like Nancy Dawson!  
  • Her easy mien her step so neat,  
  • She foots she trips she looks so sweet,
  • Her every motion is complete,
  • I die for Nancy Dawson  
Popular sailor songs were song long after Nancy was alive and the Faithless Nancy Dawson was a popular dance which I feel I must have seen in at least one Jane Austen film.

Capitalizing on Nancy's fame were two books which may or may not have been published by her or with her permission; Genuine Memoirs and the appropriately titled, Nancy Dawson's Jests. Although far from a pure woman, Nancy seemed to have a good sense of  humor, a tenacity, and a very fine talent which is what truly made her famous.  After taking a few more rolls as Columbine Nancy retired to a comfortable house in Hampstead where she died in 1767.

*"Ken" is Scottish slang, still used today, meaning "know"

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Harryo's Orthodontic Adventure

Many people get to share the joys of a trip to the orthodontist. Ah yes, poking, prodding, teeth molds making you gag, the whole experience tends to be a joyous affair. But as much as we all enjoy the thrill of a new head gear our excitement couldn't even match that of Harryo when the dentist came to visit her at Hardwick Hall to fix some crooked teeth.

Knowing what we do about the art of dentistry in the eighteenth century you may not be surprised when I say Georgiana wrote as a fretful and concerned mother about her twelve year-old daughter's experience.
"My poor Harryo has had her four front teeth brought over by Mr Bott. The operation lasted 3 hours, and, I am afraid, was dreadful, but she is setting by me tollerably easy and with three very pretty even teeth instead of their standing edgeways ; and besides, there is now perfect room for her eye teeth which before were so close we were afraid she must have had 2 double teeth out to make room. The agony was, I fear, very great. I dar'd not go to her lest I shd destroy her courage. She describes it like the slow pain of drawing out a tooth, continu'd a long while without the crash."
Ouch!  One must wonder what she did in her recovery time to keep herself occupied since movie rental wasn't invented yet.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Fordyce's Sermons to Young Women, Sermon II, Page 28

"We [men] wish for a place in your hearts: why you not wish for one in our's?  But how much are you deceived, my fair friends, if you dream of taking that fort by storm!  When you show a solicitude to please by every decent, gentle, unaffected attraction we are soothed we are subdued we yield ourselves your willing captives.  But if at any time by a forward appearance you betray a confidence in your charms, and by throwing them out upon us all at once you seem resolved as it were to force our admiration..."

Monday, January 3, 2011

Hogarth's The Graham Children

Perhaps William Hogarth's finest portrait would be his 1742 painting, The Graham Children.  The Graham whose children was portrayed was Daniel Graham, the king's personal pharmacist.  As you can probably tell by the children's fine clothing and the fine background, the king's apothecary made a good wage.  Something that also stands out is how beautifully rendered and happy the children are.  Hogarth had a great fondness for children (he was a founder of the Foundling Hospital) and his affections for them shine through in his painting. 

Like Hogarth's satirical pieces, the artist can not help himself and includes symbolism into the work.  Behind the children stands a clock with the bronze figure of Cupid wielding a scythe next to an hourglass which symbolizes death's triumph over love, hinting to viewers that this is a posthumous portrait.  My favorite aspect of the painting is the cat crawling up the chair to get closer to the the pet goldfinch who is quite unsettled by its new visitor.  From far away the feline has the "aww" factor but an up close examination delivers a more frightening perspective.  The cat's expression actually reminds me of of Sir John Tenniel's illustrations of the Cheshire Cat.  The direction of the boy and cat's eyes reflects the opposite plane of the composition in which the baby reaches upward for the cherries in his sister's hand.  The cherries which have somewhat of a scandalous symbolism today were a childhood symbol in Hogarth's time, the "fruit of paradise."

If you have been trying to figure out which of the child sitters had sadly passed at the time of the portrait it would be Baby Thomas which explained why the cherries were just out of his reach.  Hogarth created a fitting sentimental portrait of the Graham children which many would admired. Gone were the stiff child portraits, Hogarth brought a new standard for the sentimental family portrait.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Yay or Nay? Mary Wortley Montagu

Last week we continued our streak of Yays with the Comtesse of Beaufort's white gown and blue robe; simple yet elegant.  This week we shall judge something slightly similar but a little more exotic.

Jean Baptiste Vanmour paints Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (detail, 1717) in her Turkish robes and turban.  Yay or Nay?

[National Portrait Gallery]