3/31/2008

Photo of the week - A Danish Lady, 1910












































Date: 1910 (probably)
Photographer: Atelier Frem [The Frem Studio]
Provenience: Denmark, unknown town

This photo from 1910 shows a woman in her twenties sitting on a stool typical of photo-studios at this time. The background is neutral but the floor is covered in a vividly patterned carpet.

It is not a particularly fancy photo, the woman is neatly dressed, but not in what could be referred to as expensive clothing. This was the clothing of the modern woman of the time, the one that needed to get around, to have free movement of the body but still look the part of an ordinary member of the society. This is not just shown by her robust shoe that is hinted from under the hem of the stripped skirt but also by the fact that she is dressed in this skirt and blouse. This kind of clothing was preferred by women that led active lives since it meant much less need of a corset and they also escaped the popular S-body shape of the time.

This is not a woman lacking financial means, which can be seen at the close up. She is wearing jewellery (and an engagement ring) and the blouse has quite a lot of fancy needlework of a type popular at the time. And her hair is made into a intricate but at the same time simple do.

There is a handwritten text on the back of the photo that reads (in Danish):
Til Erindring om Dagen paa "Oscarsro", Sommeren 1910.
In English that is: In memory of the day at "Oscarsro", The summer of 1910.
("Oscarsro" is in all probability a house owned by someone in the upper middle classes - A name and -ro was a common way to name houses at this time in Denmark). We do not know what happened at Oscarsro that day, but considering the motive and the prominent way the hand with the engagement-ring is shown - that is not a natural way to hold a hand - it might very well have something to do with the engagement, perhaps a photo taken to give to the fiance.

3/30/2008

Hair-do of the week - A Flavian Lady


Portrait bust of a Flavian Lady, circa 90 A.D. - Marble, Roman.
Now on display at the Museo Capitolini, Rome.

Few portraits can so clearly reveal the time and effort Romans could put into such a simple thing as a hair-do - or more exactly it shows that putting a lot of effort into a hair-do is not a new thing. This is of course done for a lady that was not supposed to work with her hair done like this. It is also just as obvious that she was a member of the utmost top of society, where money, slaves and time was not an issue. Who she was more exactly is not known, though.

One of the most striking things with this hair-do is how different it looks from front and back, it was clearly not done to be viewed from just one angle (nor was the bust). The hair was divided and the front of the hair was shaped into long curls that weren't allowed to hang down in a fringe but were built up into a towering creation above the face that makes the head almost twice as high. The back of the head is covered in long braids, that shows very clearly just how long this hair must have been to successfully create this coiffure. These braids were long and slim and many, and curled up at the back of the head so it almost looks like a bird's nest. The ends of these braids were then tucked into the back of the hair to create this almost circular formation.

In short, nothing you put together by yourself when you were in a hurry - but then again it was the hair-do chosen for a portrait in marble, a very enduring material and it is today one of the most famous women portraits from the first century A.D. Choosing a spectacular hair-do was obviously a good choice.

(The first picture is borrowed from here)

3/29/2008

Portrait of the week - Julie, daughter of Elisabeth Vigée-Le Brun

Julie - painted 1786 by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun.

This is a portrait of the daughter to the famous French painter Elisabeth Vigée-Le Brun. She painted both Marie Antoinette and other noble men and women and the French aristocracy before the revolution of 1789 and later many of the Russian aristocracy - when she spent a few years in St Petersburg. But she also did many self-portraits, and a lot of portraits that included her daughter, and only child, Jeanne Julie Louise (1780-1819), and six portraits of just the daughter - including this one.

This picture portrays a just six years old girl, but as was common at this time this is not shown in the clothing that the child is wearing. Her green dress could just as well have been worn by an adult and the white shawl other the chest is typical of the time, at least when it came to day-time wear. It is obvious that this is a child that has no lack of money when it comes to her wardrobe. The portrait is sweet, complete with the rosy cheeks of a typical rococo-woman and the viewer is instantly drawn to the face of Julie, but it's the face shown in the mirror - a mirror that according to the laws of logic should reflect the eyes of the viewer and not the child. But without this mirror we wouldn't see her face - we would not see her expression.

Julie was the great joy and comfort to her mother, she took the daughter to Russia when the Revolution came. But the close bonds between mother and daughter didn't last. When Julie was 20 she announced her intention to marry Gaetan Nigris, a man of whom her mother did not approve. She paid for the daughter's wedding and dowry - but after that the relationship between mother and daughter rapidly evaporate. Both mother and daughter would later return to Paris, in 1805, but lived separate lives - the mother now earning big money from her painting while the daughter lived in poverty, her husband having left her. The mother gave no financial aid to the daughter, stating in her auto-biography that she did not approve of her daughters friends. In 1819 Julie died, possibly from pneumonia.

3/27/2008

Woman of the week - Boudicca



Name: Boudicca/Boudica (formerly also know as Boadicea)
Born: Eastern England, 15-30 A.D. (?)
Dead: England 60 or 61 A.D.
Married to: Prastagus, king of the Iceni
Children: Two daughters (names not known)
Occupation: Queen

She is one of the first Britain women known by name, she is famous for her uprising against the Romans and is mentioned by Tacitus - and we have no idea what she looked like, where she was born or where she died.

Boudicca was married to Prastagus, king of the Iceni tribe in Eastern Britain at a time when the Romans were doing their best to have complete control of the country. They didn't mind having vassal kings though, and Prastagus was one of them. When he died the kingship was passed on to his wife and daughters. It was said that the Romans would respect this decision - and honour Boudicca as the new leader of the Iceni. They did not. Instead the land was annexed by the Romans, Boudicca flogged and her daughters raped. The prize the Romans would pay for these acts were high indeed.

Boudicca saw no reason to accept such a treatment and instead turned to other Celtic tribes in the area to join forces with her to start an uprising against the Romans, who had been present in the country for less than 20 years. It was easy indeed to find support among other tribes, for example the Trinovantes. The Romans were at the moment busy in another part of the country and it was very easy indeed for Boudicca to lead her troops to the city of Camulodunum (present day Colchester). The city was at the time inhabited by Roman troop veterans - and they were an easy prey for the enraged Celts. The city was burnt down - and they took no prisoners.

After this initial success they continued their tour to Londinium (London) and Verulamium (St Albans). These cities were also completely destroyed and those who opposed - or just were in the way - were killed. By now the Romans had started to evacuate people, so the numbers must have decreased somewhat. And the Romans began to grasp that they needed to take this seriously indeed. Under the leadership of the commander Suetonius (not the historian) they forced the Celtic tribes into a battle in an, to us, unknown place with features ill suited for the Celtic battle tactics - lacking much open ground, a difficult place to battle in chariots which was the Celts main feature. And although the Romans were outnumbered they succeeded in defeating Boudicca and her troops.

What happened after this is not know. Tacitus (one of the few sources for this part of British history) claims that Boudicca took poison. Since all things were far from lost for her though, it seems a little odd. Cassius Dio (the other historical source for this period) claims that she fell ill and simply died from some decease. Cassius Dio usually relies heavily on Tacitus, but the fact that he does not do so now is striking.

No matter how she died, she was dead, and without this obviously strong and competent leader the Celtic troops didn't stand a chance against the Romans. And the Romans didn't hesitate to make the Celts pay for their misdeeds. Many were killed and the harvest destroyed - which of course resulted in famine. Things were so bad that even Rome reacted and the governor Suetonius was replaced to someone with a bit more lenient hand.

And her name? Boadicea is probably the result of bad spelling in the Middle Ages when Tacitus' manuscript was copied. Boudicca probably comes from the proto-Celtic word bodika, a feminine adjective meaning victorious.

The statue of Boudicca - and her two daughters - is from 19th century and was commissioned by Prince Albert. It was done by Thomas Thornycroft and stands near Westminster Pier in London.