4/30/2008

Portrait of the week - Young girl in a green dress


This portrait, painted by Tamara de Lempicka, is know both as 'Portrait of a young girl in a green dress' and as 'Young girl with gloves'. It was painted somewhere around 1929.

Lempicka's pictures captured the spirit of the 'Jazz Age' quite exquisitely and this is one of the most famous of them. This is a prime example of the art of the Art Deco period and the end of the roaring 20's - right before the Great Depression.

The girl is dressed in day-wear to be outside - shown by the big hat and the gloves. The frilly, green dress is all over the place and reveals quite a lot of her body, and it hard to say if that is due to a hard wind or if it is an artistic touch to add more life to the motif.

Tamara de Lempicka was born as Tamara Gorska in Poland in 1898. She moved with her husband to Russia, but left at the outbreak at the Revolution and went to study art in Paris. She soon made a name of herself and her way of painting became famous. She mainly did portraits, erotic nude studies - and still lifes of calla lilies. It was all very popular during the 1920's and 1930's. At the outbreak of World War II she moved with her (second) husband to the US where she had a quite successful decade as a painter, and as a figure of gossip - much due to her love affairs with both men and women. But by the 1950's the world was loosing interest in her art. She died in 1980. By then her art work had been revalued and was once again starting to get appreciated.

4/28/2008

Goddess of the week - Tanfana

Name: Tanfana/Tamfana/Tan
Location: Western Germany or The Netherlands
Sphere of influence: The moon/motherhood
Famous statues/portraits: None

Tan is probably the Germanic name of the goddess and Tanfana/Tamfana is the Latinized version of the same.

The historical sources for the veneration of this goddess is rather scarce, like many other cases from this time and place. She is mentioned very briefly indeed by Tacitus in his Annales (Book 1). She was the main-goddess for the Marsi tribe and they had a temple erected to her honour between the rivers of Ems and Lippe. When the Romans attacked the tribe, and did what they could to annihilate it, they burnt the temple down.

This means that we do not know much about her, but according to later folklore (which can be a dangerous things and therefore should be used with caution) she was at the beginning a goddess of the moon who married and then became a mother goddess.

Her main feast was in the autumn, either on September 27 or October 28, when huts made of leaves were erected and it was forbidden to draw arms. It was either connected with the Celtic celebration of Samhain, or the autumnal equinox.

Woman of the week - Bonnie Parker

Name: Bonnie Elizabeth Parker
Born: October 1, 1910, Rowena, Texas
Dead: May 23, 1934, Bienville Parish, Louisiana
Married to: Roy Thornton
Children: None
Occupation: Criminal

Bonnie Parker is most famous as the female half of the pairing 'Bonnie and Clyde' that committed a whole series of serious crimes in the US during the depression of the early 1930's.

Bonnie Parker was born into a world of poverty right from the start. Her father passed away when she was just four and her mother moved herself and the three children to West Dallas. In spite of having the odds against her, Bonnie was actually quite good in school. She was an honour roll student at the high school and excelled in creative writing.

This all came to nothing and instead she married Roy Thornton on September 25, 1926 - which means she was not even 16 at the time. The marriage did not last long, by 1929 they had separated - but they were never formally divorced and she was still wearing her wedding-ring at her death. When she met Clyde her husband was in prison for murder.

Clyde Barrow (born in 1909) met Bonnie in 1930 - according to legend while she was working as a waitress, but that is probably not true - probably through friends and coincidence. Soon after that he was sent to jail for burglary. He escaped, using a gun that Bonnie had smuggled to him, but he was recaptured. He was paroled in 1932 and returned to Bonnie. That was the beginning of a tour in crime that would go down in the history-books.

It was actually not just the two of them, but it was a gang (The Barrow gang), that among others included Clyde's brother. But in less than a year all the other members of the gang had been apprehended and the couple continued on their own. And the list of crimes they were suspected of having committed grew longer. According to the FBI Clyde "was suspected of murdering two police officers at Joplin, Missouri, and kidnaping a man and a woman in rural Louisiana. He released them near Waldo, Texas. Numerous sightings followed, linking this pair with bank robberies and automobile thefts. Clyde allegedly murdered a man at Hillsboro, Texas; committed robberies at Lufkin and Dallas, Texas; murdered one sheriff and wounded another at Stringtown, Oklahoma; kidnaped a deputy at Carlsbad, New Mexico; stole an automobile at Victoria, Texas; attempted to murder a deputy at Wharton, Texas; committed murder and robbery at Abilene and Sherman, Texas; committed murder at Dallas, Texas; abducted a sheriff and the chief of police at Wellington, Texas; and committed murder at Joplin and Columbia, Missouri.".

The list of Bonnie's crime was shorter, there is for example no proof of her ever having killed anyone. But that did not mean she was not in every way an accomplice who did everything she could to help her man. And she paid the price for it. They were ambushed on a desolated road in Louisiana by a group of policemen without any prior warning and gunned down. They both died on the spot.

The photo of Bonnie Parker comes from a role of film found by the police at one of the locations the gang had stayed at - and contained almost all of the famous pictures of the two of them.

4/26/2008

Fashion of the week - Lady in coat, 1843

This is a print from the French fashion magazine Petit Courrier des Dames, issued in November 1843. It shows a Parisian lady in a checkered dress and coat and bonnet.

The silhouette of the 1840's was still rather slim compared to how it would look like just ten years later and this is enhanced by the cloak the woman is wearing.

You can see very little of the red dress she is wearing, apart from it having long sleeves - this is not evening wear but day-wear and then the dresses had long sleeves and did not show off any more skin than absolutely necessary.

The light yellow coat with light blue lining and tassels and ribbons but with no arms is very typical of the time. Note that this is the November issue so you were supposed to wear this in the winter-time too, and not just during summer.

The whole ensemble is finished off with a black little bonnet with plumes. Bonnets were the most common type of head-wear at this time, a time when you were supposed to wear something on your head at any given time you were outdoors. This bonnet-fashion gives a good illustration to why the hair-dos looked like they did at this time. The bonnet made it necessary to have the hair very flat, but since they opened up around the face there was plenty of room for curls and ringlets there.

The magazine Petit Courrier des Dames was being published in Paris, and was considered to have some of the finest prints of fashion at the time. It was first published in 1821 and had weekly issues until 1865.

Pop-culture woman of the week - Tohru Honda

Name: Tohru Honda (本田 透)
Appearance: Fruits Basket, manga in 23 volumes. Also in the anime based on the series.
Creator: Natsuki Takaya
Weapon/ability: Love/house-keeping
Race: Human
Appearance: 16-18 year old Japanese high-school student

Tohru Honda lives by herself in a tent after the death of her mother in a car-accident, she has a grand-father but does not want to intrude too much on him and the rest of the family who views this kind-hearted and genuinely nice girl as highly suspicious - much due to her mother being a gang-member in her youth.

Tohru is so far from being a gang-member as you could possibly get. And she is determined to not let the hard times get in the way of her going to high school which she had promised her mother to do. But destiny throws her in the path of the Sohma family. There is the writer Shigure who lives with his two younger relatives Yuki and Kyo (both of them the same age as Tohru herself) and none of them are any good at housekeeping. To solve the problem for everyone Tohru moves in and gets food and a roof over her head if she takes care of the household.

The big problem for the Sohma family, though, is not their lack of being able to cook a decent meal or how to move a vacuum-cleaner, but that they are cursed. At chosen moments they turn into animals - Shigure the dog, Yuki the rat and Kyo the cat. But Tohru is not afraid of them, instead she chooses to stay on, genuinely caring for them - and the rest of the family - and they soon learn to care for her too.

To Shigure she is the girl that can finely put an end to the curse of the family (though he does not know how), to Yuki she becomes the caring mother he never had (his own having literally given him away to be a plaything to the master of the family which has emotionally scared him severely) and to Kyo she is the girl he falls in love with.

The manga has reached it's conclusion in Japan, but is still being released in the US, there they have reached volume 19.

4/25/2008

Photo of the week - Lady Salisbury-Trelawny and her daughters, 1900

Date: 1900
Photographer: Lafayette
Provenience: London, England

This lovely photo of Lady Salisbury-Trelawny and her daughters Dolores and Rebecca is not to commemorate a daughterly double-wedding but a picture taken in remembrance of their presentation at court. When being presented at court you were supposed to look like a bride at the time and that is exactly what the two younger women are doing - they are even wearing veils and bouquets of flowers; Rebecca is still holding hers but Dolores' is placed on her train.

Their mother does not like she is going to be married, but she is dressed up as if she were going to a fancy party. These functions were important for the mothers too. And even the photo-studio looks formal. The backdrop does not show anything else but a painted try at looking like a castle. This was a very common choice for these pictures and can be seen in many of them.

All of these factors makes the photo rather special. This was not the way that even nobles normally dressed - but at the same time it was the height of fashion and a must to study if this time is something that interests you.

To be presented to the queen or king, as it would be later, was still an important thing for the nobles of England, they were supposed to dress with all the splendour they could muster - and most of them chose to turn to Lafayette photo-studios to take a picture of them all dressed up. The photo-studio's origin was Irish, but they had caught the attentions of the royals and by now they had a studio on New Bond street. If you were someone you were supposed to have your photo taken there - and that was true for both nobles and actresses.

For once this photo is not from my own collection but the public archives of Lafayette.

Hair-do of the week - Lady of the Chamber, 1625


This portrait was painted in 1625 by Peter Paul Rubens. It shows the lady of the chamber to Infanta Isabella. We do not know her name, but she is in all probability a good example of how women of a certain status would have looked like on the European continent at this time - an unruly time in the it's history.

The clothing of the baroque was not a simple affair. If you had the money you were supposed to spend it on your looks and on your wardrobe. But the hair was simple.

It is as if the hair-dos was not supposed to compete with the clothing - this lady does not wear things that are so spectacular, but it is still true. Her hair is just combed back, showing off the forehead, with a few stray curls around the temples which almost looks like an accident, like it was not meant to be like that but has been the result of a few hours of wear. In all probability it was meant to look like that though. It is a rather formal portrait and it would not be unheard of at the time.

Her hair must be pinned up in some way, but the view of the lady makes it impossible to say much about it. The only thing that reveals anything about how her hair is made is the narrow braid that can be seen at the back of the top of her head. It is in all probability the top of how the hair was pinned up at the back that we get a hint of here, but we can not be absolutely sure. In the same way as we can not be absolutely sure of anything else about this woman.

4/22/2008

Portrait of the week - Elsie Palmer




This painting is yet another by John Singer Sargent (for more examples of his work featured here go to here). This one was done in 1889-1890 and shows miss Elsie Palmer. She was at this time about 17 years old.

The portrait is very typical Sargent and was one of the paintings that would make him more popular on the English market - American himself. The portraits pulls off being both beautiful and almost scary at the same time, a rare thing indeed.

It is really a rather simple and straightforward picture of a teenage girl, but there is something about the way she is portrayed that makes her more than a pretty face, maybe because she is not painted as very much of a beauty with eyes that seems to be almost sunk into the face and the straight hair that has the same colour as the back-ground and almost makes her become one with it. There is not even a charming little smile for the onlooker. The girl is dead serious.

She is dressed in high-collard white dress with long sleeves and a white belt at the waist. She also has a grey shawl laying next to her, making it almost hard to determine if this is the portrait of a girl going to a party or a convalescent.

Miss Elsie Palmer was born in 1873 as the daughter to a wealthy American from Colorado who had moved to England with his family. She later married the British novelist Leo Myer (born in 1881 and who committed suicide in 1944), a fringe member of the Bloomsbury Group. She died in 1955.

The painting is currently at display at Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.

Goddess of the week - Bellona

Name: Bellona
Location: Rome
Sphere of influence: War
Famous statues/portraits: None

Bellona is of the oldest Roman gods. Her name is derived from the Latin bellum ('war') and that was what she was all about. She has sometimes been identified with the Greek goddess Enyo, but they are two different persons who developed without influence from each other. Bellona is too old to be nothing but a copy from Greece.

In the battlefield she accompanied the god Mars, sometimes portrayed as his wife, sometimes as his sister and sometimes even as his daughter. The goddess could be of Etruscan origin and her connection to Mars seems to date back to this time. She was portrayed with a helmet on her head and in the hand she held a torch and a spear.

Her temple at Rome stood in the Campus Martius, outside the city's gates near the Circus Flaminius and the temple of Apollo. There the senate met to discuss going to war at this place - and thrust a spear to declare the start of the war.

Her festival was held on June 3.

This portrait of Bellona was painted by Rembrandt in 1633 and is currently at display at
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

4/20/2008

Woman of the week - Murasaki Shikibu

Later portrait of Murasaki
Name: "Murasaki Shikibu" 
Born: Kyoto, Japan, around 973
Dead: Kyoto, Japan, probably around 1014 or 1025
Married: Yes
Children: a daughter, Daini no Sanmi
Occupation: Courtier and writer

Murasaki Shikibu (紫式部) was not the real name of this woman, born as a member of the important Fujiwara family. Murasaki (meaning purple wisteria blossom) was a nickname given to her at court and came from her most famous literal work. Shikibu refers to the title her father had, being a Shikibu-shō. We do not know for certain what she was called, her surname was Fujiwara and some scholars has postulated her first name to be Takako.

Murasaki's life was different from that lived by most Japanese women at the time. Her mother passed away when she was quite young so she was raised by her father who must have seen a gifted child in his daughter since he gave her an education far beyond what was common at the time. Instead of just learning the fine arts she was for example taught Chinese - which was not considered proper for a woman to learn. Her father lamented that his bright child was born a woman.

In her early twenties she was married to a distant relative and they had a daughter. But the husband, name unknown, passed away in 1001 and Murasaki was summoned to court for she was well known for her intellect and they thought she would make a good maid of honour. She spent more than a decade at the royal court in Kyoto - though she did not approve of the lewd life many acted out there.

This was also the place where she finished the work that make her name in the history, The Tale of Genji - considered to be one of the first modern 'novels' - which about the son of an emperor and his career, much centered around his good looks. But it is a intricate story that has about 400 different characters. The story ends in the middle of a sentence and it has been debated if this was intentional or not. The truth is that we do not know.

Murasaki also wrote a diary (known, not surprisingly as Murasaki Shikibu's diary) about life at court and she also left 128 poems she had written. All of this was published posthumously.

We do not know much about Murasaki's later life. It has been suggested that she either died in 1014 or 1025.

There are many later portraits of Murasaki, like the one by Harunobu Suzuki shown here, it was painted aroun 1767. She is also shown on the 2000 Yen note.

Fashion of the week - Court-dress, c. 1795

This English print from the time 1794-1795, shows the look of the dresses supposed to be worn when visiting the court, like when you were attending parties held by the king, George III and those around him.

The dress might look odd to us, but it has to do with the fact that is a cross-over between to very different types of fashion - the one from before the French Revolution of 1789 and the one after.

This is before the full regency fashion has struck, the fashion we associate with the turn to the 19th century, with Jane Austen and Lord Byron. It is instead a cross-over with the fashion of the time of the Revolution, where the financial strains had made it a must to have a rather more restrained wardrobe than earlier during the 18th century. The thing is that the fashion that is most frequently connected with this time, the high waisted, thing dresses inspired by the antique sculptures did not come into fashion until 1793 and this was just a short while after and since the court-dress was a very formal dress that was not changed very easily it remained a bit out of date. The fashion in the years 1789-1793 looked very much like it had done just before the revolution - Paris had been the capital of fashion, and there was no time and no money now to spend on developing a new fashion at that time.

That means that the upper part of this dress will look very much like a dress did in around 1790. The skirt is, on the other hand, a completely different matter. The court dress really did not look like the fashion in the streets at the time, and it was mostly due to the big skirt. To see skirts like that in the ordinary fashion you have to turn to the 1750's and 60's when really fancy dresses could have skirts like that. And for some reason it stuck and got formalized so that all court dresses were supposed to look like that, long after it had left the ordinary fashion.

This odd part of English fashion history can be seen later than this, but it looked even more odd when the regency-fashion had struck big time and this gigantic skirt began right under the bust of the woman.

4/16/2008

Pop-culture woman of the week - Sophie Hatter

Name: Sophie Hatter
Appearance: Howl's moving castle and Castle in the air, both written by Diana Wynne Jones, and Howl's moving castle, a film by Hayao Miyazaki
Creator: Diana Wynne Jones (writer)
Weapon/ability: Can talk things to life
Race: Human
Appearance: 18-year-old going on 80.

Sophie is the oldest of three sisters and lives a boring life as a hat-maker. She has already determined that her life is everything but exciting, that nothing will ever happen to her and that she might as well give up any thoughts on adventure or excitment in her life. She hides away in the hat-shop and when she for once sneaks out to visit her younger sister, who works in a bakery, she is almost scared to death - even though she runs into a handsome young man who offers to buy her a drink (which she of course turns down).

But life takes an unexpected turn when the witch of the Waste decides that she really doesn't care for this young girl and turns her into an old hag. Sophie realizes that it is impossible for her to stay on and she is forced on the road to seek her fortune (or at least a life). After a while she comes to a castle which moves around in the hills close to her home-town. She of course knows what it is, it belongs to a dreadful wizard, named Howl, that eats the heart of young women. But since she is now an old woman she is not afraid but enters - and enters a bargain with the wizard's fire demon who promises to break her curse if she in turn can set him free.

The wizard Howl very soon turns out to not be quite the monster he was supposed to be, but he is a very sloppy and lazy young man so Sophie convinces him to let her stay on as the cleaning lady.

The picture is from the film with the same name, the main-characters are much the same as the original story though some changes has been made to the story - including the dressing of Howl in a uniform.

4/15/2008

Photo of the week - Lady from Vienna, 1906




Date:
July 8th, 1906
Photographer: Strauss & Co
Provenience: Vienna, Austria

This is a photo of a woman somewhere in the mid 30's, early 40's, wearing modern clothes of a more practical type. She has a white blouse with a stiff collar of the type similar to what men were wearing at the time. The flirting with male clothing is continued with the neck-tie she is also wearing, complete with a tie-pin. The more feminine touche is achieved with the flowery pattern on the neck-tie.

To this she is wearing a practical, long skirt of a dark colour, but also here the more practical, male mode of dressing is inspiring - you can see a thin chain hanging at her waist, that is the chain to a pocket watch.

Despite the fashion at the time of having out-door settings for your photo this is striving to the opposite direction, stressing the indoor feel of the picture. The woman is sitting in an ornamented arm-chair with a high back, you can see a carpet on the floor, the background is totally neutral and she has a magazine in her lap. the woman is not reading it, but she is posed as she just has been talked into directing her attention from the article in front of her to the camera, and the viewer, instead.

On the photo is written a date, 8 / VII 06 (which of course is to be read as the 8th of July 1906), and above that a word that I have not been able to decipher. It could be a name or a word of some kind (considering the origin of the photo it is in all probability in German if that is the case).

Most old photos you buy can be found close to the place the photo was taken, but this is not really true for this one - it was taken in Vienna, and I found it in a flea-market in Berlin (but it was not so far off, of course, as the picture I bought in Copenhagen which was taken in Baku!).

4/14/2008

Hair-do of the week - Italian woman, 1480-1489


This whole picture is a prime example of the Italian Renaissance. It is shown both in the technique in painting and the motive itself.

This is not one of the Madonnas of the Middle Ages, this is a contemporary young lady who is a prime example of the fashion of the time. And her hair is a master-piece in itself.

Her hair is long, and very thick, a must to make this work. She has a fringe that is parted at the forehead. In the 15th century it was very popular to show off a lot of forehead. Her long fringe is hanging as a curtain around her face while the main part of the hair being gathered in a thick bundle on her back, tied together with a brown ribbon. Another part of her hair is caught in what is probably one braid - though you cannot be sure. It is long but rather thin. It is adorned with a great amount of pearls and is a significant contrast to her lack of regular jewellery. The hair was obviously a part of the dress, just in the same way as a heavy necklace would have been. On the top of her head there are four pearls, bigger than the ones in the braid. It looks almost like a crown or tiara.

We do not know who the sitter for this portrait is. We can figure out that she is Italian, and being obviously rich it is probable she is from one of many princely families of the peninsula - and she is in all probability unmarried.

4/13/2008

Portait of the week - Madame X (Virginie Amélie Gautreau)


Madame X, painted by John Sargent, exhibited in Paris at the salon in 1884.

This portrait of the Parisian beauty caused an uproar at the art exhibition of 1884, and to us this portrait looks strikingly modern.
The portrait was originally named Portrait de Mme ***, but it was changed after the salon by the artist himself. That is not to say that the portrait was anonymous from the start, it was well known who the sitter for this portrait was, Madame Pierre Gautreau, who was a well-known face in the finer circles of Paris in the 1880's.

Sargent had met the lady in question at the beginning of the 80's and was determined to paint a portrait of this famous beauty - originally from New Orleans, Louisiana (born there in 1859) but she had moved to Paris twenty years prior to meeting the artist, with her mother after the death of her father in the American Civil War.

She might be a beauty, but she was not easy to paint and to quote a letter to his friend Vernon Lee in 1883: In a few days I shall be back in Paris, tackling my other 'envoi,' the Portrait of a Great Beauty. Do you object to people who are 'fardeés' to the extent of being uniform lavender or blotting-paper colour all over? If so you would not care for my sitter; but she has the most beautiful lines, and if the lavender or chlorate of potash-lozenge colour be pretty in itself I should be more than pleased. Followed by: 'Your letter has just reached me still in this country house struggling with the unpaintable beauty and hopeless laziness of Madame Gaureau.'

And when the painting was finished it did not bestow much happiness on the painter either. The Parisians did not like it at all. It showed off far too much bare skin, it was far too suggestive, far too alluring. To us now it might not look as daring, our modern eyes are more used to naked skin. But it has also to do with the alteration Sargent did of the painting - after the exhibition. Originally one of the shoulder straps had slided down from the shoulder and down on the arm, giving the illusion of the dress almost being close to falling off. That was not approved of.

Madam Gautreau was reported to not approve of the painting, nor did her family, and it was taken away after the exhibition by the artist himself - and was tucked away in his studio for many years.

Obviously Mme Gautreau got over it since she in 1891 sat for another portrait by another artist that clearly tried to evoke the pose of the lady and her dress, like this, but the result was hardly as memorable. And the times were changing too. It came a time when people started to view the painting as somewhat less revolting. And now it is displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York - and can been seen as one of Sargent's finest works, very classical and beautiful and still very modern.

Madame Gautreau died in 1915.

Goddess of the week - Toyotama

Name: Toyotama
Location: Japan
Sphere of influence: The sea (as the daughter of the Sea God)
Famous statues/portraits: None

Toyotama or Toyotama-hime (hime meaning princess) is a figure from Japanese mythology. She is also know under the name Otohime, and her name is spelled 豊玉姫 in Japanese.

Toyotama was the daughter of the sea-god
Ryūjin, which means dragon-god. When his palace was visited by the hunter prince Hikohohodemi no Mikoto, searching for a fishing hook that belonged to his brother and which the prince had lost, the goddess became interested in him and a marriage took place. The prince liked life in a beautiful palace at the bottom of the sea and stayed there for three years with his lovely wide. But he became home-sick and decided to return to land.

When they were ashore it was time for Toyotama to give birth to their child, and instructed her husband that he absolutely could not watch her while giving birth. Which he of course did. It turned out that she gave birth in the shape of a dragon - perhaps not so surprising since she was the daughter of the dragon god. But it meant the end to the marriage and Toyotama took off, leaving her husband to take care of the child, Ugayafukiaezu, but she sent her sister to help him out. The sister and the nephew eventually got married and they became the parents of the man most famous under his posthumous name: Jimmu-Tenno - the first emperor of Japan.

4/11/2008

Woman of the week - Aspasia

Name: Aspasia
Born: Miletus, a Ionian colony in Asia Minor, date unknown
Dead: Probably Athens, date unknown
Married to: None, but mistress (?) to Pericles
Children: Pericles the younger
Occupation: courtesan (?)

Most facts about this woman is unknown, or legends that has an unknown foundation in reality. She is famous for being the the woman living with the Athenian states-man Pericles. 

Aspasia came from Miletus to Athens in 450 B.C. where she lived as a metic, or resident alien. To be one of the Athenians you had to have Athenian parents. We do not know how she met Pericles, one of the most famous Athenian states-men - or much else about her for that matter. It is believed that she became Pericles mistress in the early 440's and we know the couple had a son, Pericles the younger - who later became a general and was executed after the battle of Arginusae. And we know that Aspasia was alive at the death of Pericles in 429 B.C.

The general assumption, based on later sources, has been that the couple was not married, but later scholars have sometimes questioned this. If she really was from Miletus and therefore not a citizen this would have been likely, given the fact that Athenian citizens couldn't (legally) marry women who were not citizens. But it can also be a step in defaming Aspasia by making her less important, less of a good Athenian woman. And it would serve as a suitable joke on Pericles, the man who was behind the laws that prohibited Athenians from marrying people from other cities (even including other Greek states).

Most of what is known of Aspasia comes from later sources, many aimed at criticizing Pericles, and that makes it hard to determine what is really true about her life, and what was written as rhetoric arguments. She is pictured as everything from the perfect wife to a harlot having a brothel in her own home, as a sophist that taught rhetoric to and a woman who used her beauty to trap unsuspecting men. 

And the reality is that we do not know what really is the truth about her. 

Other things we do not know is when she died since the historical sources (as scarce as they are to start with) loose sight of her with the death of Pericles. There are some that claim that she later became the mistress of another Athenian statesman, Lysicles, and that she gave birth to children in that relationship - but we do not know for sure.

The bust of Aspasia is a Roman copy in marble, based on a Greek original from Hellenistic times - that is, this picture really shows nothing of what she looked like, and is more of an image of an idea of who Aspasia was. 

4/10/2008

Fashion of the week - Evening wear, 1827


This picture is from the English ladies magazine La Belle Assemble, dated to 1827. The name of the magazine of course wants to invoke thoughts of the Parisian fashion and not of London - where it was published.

This picture shows to ladies wearing evening dresses, one labeled 'ball dress' and the other 'opera dress'. This does not imply that you were supposed to wear a special dress when you were going to the opera, though, just that the cloak the woman is wearing is an opera-cloak. The dress worn underneath is very much an evening-dress in a model similar to the other one on the picture.

At the beginning of the 1820's the regency silhouette was still very much present in the fashion with a waistline just under the bust and a narrow skirt. But by now we are seeing a very decisive move away from that towards the more typical 19th century style dress. The waist has moved down to where the waist normally can be found on ordinary women, at the same time as the skirt is getting wider, though not as a wide it would become in later decades.

The return of the proper waist also meant the return of the proper corset. Very few women could ever actually achieve a waist of the kind seen in this picture - this is after all a drawing of an ideal, but that didn't stop people from trying their best to do it.

The light colours of the dresses could be thought of as a heritage from the light colours of regency fashion - but in reality it is not. By now the day-wear was much darker, it just was a fashion that evening wear at this stage should be in lighter colours - and it was even quite possible to have them in white (this was before it was customary to reserve this colour to the blushing brides).

The difference between these two dresses is without a doubt that one of them was meant to see complete with out door-apparel while the other one was meant to be seen without. That is why the opera cloak was a specially made article of clothing, it was not just any ordinary coat - thought without a doubt people who were a little less well off still had to be satisfied with that - and the hat was a show-piece too. The ball-gown was just accompanied by a shawl, so thin that it is hardly noticeable.

4/09/2008

Pop-culture woman of the week - Yuna


Name: Yuna
Appearance: The video-games Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2
Creator: Tetsuya Nomura (character designer)
Occupation: Summoner/ sphere hunter
Weapon: Stave and magic/pistols et a.
Race: Half-human, half Al-Bhed
Clothing: The main inspiration for Yuna's clothes in FFX was the kimono-style of Okinawa, Japan. To make the dress more flowing when she does her sending (helping the passing of souls to the far-plane where they belong which much resemblance a dance) she has the long sleeves of a furisode - the most formal model of kimono worn by unmarried women in Japan.
In the FFX-2 game, her clothes go through a radical change and she goes from the formal looking kimono-styled dress to a pink top and minimal shorts.

Final Fantasy X is based around the story of a young man, Tidus, being swept ashore in a strange land where he meets Yuna and her guardians who are taking her on a pilgrimage around the world of Spira where they live. This is because of the monster Sin that is doing it's best to cause havoc for the inhabitants and the summoners (there are more around than just Yuna) must do what they can to stop it. It is not until later that Tidus begins to understand just how big a sacrifice Yuna is willing to make to bring peace to her home, even if it will only last for a short while. He is determined to find out some way to stop the inevitable to happen - much fueled by a growing love for her, feelings that she returns as much as she can.

Final Fantasy X-2 is a continuation, with a few of the characters from the original game and some new ones. Sin is destroyed and Yuna can continue her life - but without Tidus - and she travels around Spira searching for spheres (object with films on them) since she found one with a recording of someone who looked very much like Tidus and she is very much hoping for him to return to her. Somehow.

She goes from being a overly serious girl in the first game to be someone with a lot more spunk, but she remains sweet and caring.


Photo of the week - Agnes Nielsen


Date: 1880's
Sitter: Agnes Nielsen
Photographer: Chr. Neuhaus
Provenience: Copenhagen, Denmark

According to the handwritten text at the back of the photo the sitter is Agnes Nielsen, aged 8 years - and a later note states that her married surname was Berlin. That is all that is known about this young girl.

Like children from the better classes were prone to do at this time, at least at formal occasions, she wears clothing that is a copy of adult wear of the time. There is no date on this photo, but her dress suggests a date somewhere in the 1880's. The only really obvious difference between her and a more grown up person is that she is obviously not wearing a corset. That does not mean that she doesn't wear some sort of stays though.

It looks like the dress she is wearing could be black and in that case she would be in mourning, though it would be impossible to say who had passed away. But since it's an old black-and-white photo it is really impossible to say for sure and it might just be that she is wearing a dress in some dark colour, and then it could be just some sort of choice directed by taste and the prevailing fashion (preferring certain colours some years and other colours other years is not something new).

The girl looks serious and her hair being pulled back in a straight braid with no loose curls or ringlets makes her look even more so. That she is not smiling is not something to wonder about though, it was the way you were supposed to look like when someone took a photo of you. It was a serious affair and not something you did very often - and most people had bad teeth that made it even more important not to show them off with a thoughtless smile. The setting is very much the typical photo-studio of the time too with the painted back-drop and the kind of natural looking fence that she is leaning against. At this time very few people could pose on photos taken outside, but it was very popular to pretend.

We really do not know anything particular about the social status of Agnes, but we can deduce from her clothing that the family must be at least somewhat good off, it's not clothes meant to work in she is wearing and it even has a lot of lace on it. She is also wearing a necklace, it is impossible to tell what it's made of, more than that it is not some kind of metal by the look of it. Her parents were probably not wealthy, but rich enough to dress their daughter nicely and take her to the photographer.

4/08/2008

Hair-do of the week - Friederike of Prussia



Portrait-bust of Friederike, duchess of Mecklenburg, princess of Preussen through marriage - 1795, by Johann Gottfried Schadow, ceramic, German.

Now at display at Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany

This is a portrait-bust of a German princess that clearly shows the classical ideals that had been present in Europe ever since the rediscovery of Pompeii and which had had a hey-day in the fashion since 1793, much due to the French Revolution.

This hair-do has very little to do with the complicated and heavy hair-styles that had dominated a good part of the 18th century, hair-styles that took ages to make and required that the wearer moved around as little as possible - that is, a hair fashion only suitable for the really idle and rich. By now that had changed. There is no way there was any possibility of this young woman being thought of as meant to do a lot of manual labour. She was not supposed to work at all, but she still wore her hair in this simple fashion.

The draping of her clothes reveals an effort to make this bust look old, but her face is modern and there is nothing that makes this hair-do look anything but contemporary. The hair is fastened at the back of the head and curls are left to frame her face - that is something that will be a common feature in hairstyles throughout the next century. And around her head there is a little ribbon, tied into a small bow at the top of her head, a ribbon which doesn't seem to fill any real function apart from being pretty (though that is not something to underestimate when it comes to fashion).

A short biographical note on Friederike:
She was born in 1778 and died in 1841, and both events took place in Hannover. By that time she had been married three times and had had 10 children (seven of the children were still alive when she died). Her first marriage had been to prince Friederich Ludwig, heir to the Prussian throne, in 1793. By 1796, at the age of 18, she was left a widow with three children, after an unhappy marriage (him having prefered his mistresses and rumours about her having affairs with others as well). She met the seventh son of the English king, George III, in 1797 and the two were secretely engaged, but the prince's mother wouldn't allow the match and the engagement was disolved - leaving the 19-year-old abandoned - and pregnant. But she managed to stay clear of any scandal with marrying another, this time the prince Friederich Wilhelm zu Solms-Brauenfels, who knew of her condition but accepted the child as his.

The second marriage was not a happy one either, the husband being too fond of drinking and in the end that made him lose his post in the military and with that their main income. The situation became so strained that even her father, the duke of Mecklenburg, said it would be best if she got a divorce. Especially since a new suitor had entered the stage, this time the fifth son of George III: Ernest Augustus, later king of Hanover. Before Friederike had had time to divorce her husband had died and the marriage could take place. The English queen didn't want to allow this match either but her son chose not to listen to her and married Friederike anyway, in 1815. The queen was not present and adviced that the couple would stay on the Continent and not return to England.

4/07/2008

Portrait of the week - Sibylle of Cleve as betrothed


Portrait of the princess Sibylle of Cleve as betrothed by Lucas Cranach der Ältere, 1526

One of two pictures, the other being this one, showing the husband to be, Johann Friedrich I of Saxony (1503-1554).

This German princess' full name was Sibylle von Jülich-Kleve-Berg. She was born on January 17th 1512 in Düsseldorf and she died on February 21th 1554, just a week prior to the passing of her husband. To the English public she is mostly known as the sister to the English queen Anne of Cleve.

Cranach painted this portrait of the young bride, she is just 14, in a style both typical of him and the German Renaissance. This was long before a bride was supposed to wear white when coming up to the altar, but she was supposed to look her absolute best. Of particular interest is the golden rows around her neckline. That is not lacing on the dress but rows of golden chains. Her family was wealthy, no doubt about it.

The garland in her hair shows that this really is a betrothal/wedding portrait and that her hair is hanging loose around her shows that she is still a virgin. Compare that to this picture, showing her in 1531 when she was clearly more grown up. She still wears heavy chains around her neck, but her head is covered so you can see nothing of her hair. By then she was a mother of two. The marriage took place in 1527, the year after the picture was painted.

We do not know much about the married life of the couple, whether it was happy or unhappy and it really is a question that is not that interesting. It was political marriage but there is no reason to think it didn't turn out well. And Sibylle was a forceful lady and even defended the city of Wittenberg when the German emperor lay siege of the town in1547 - her husband had been taken prisoner and was in Worms (this was the time of the Reformation and unruly times in Germany). The husband chose to give up his rule of Saxony, which spared him from a death-sentence, but probably also the lives of his wife and children (they had four sons) and the city itself. Johann Friedrich was imprisoned for life and communicated with Sibylle and their children through letters.

When the man who had taken the throne in Johann Friedrich's place attacked the emperor Johann Friedrich was released and could be reunited with his family, in 1552, and take control over the rule of Saxony again.

4/05/2008

Goddess of the week - Vesta

Name: Vesta
Location: Rome
Sphere of influence: Home and hearth
Famous statues/portraits: None

Vesta is a very Roman goddess, the safe-keeper of homes and families and a virgin who was not connected with other gods in any relationship drama.

Very little is known about Vesta. There are no great myths about her, there are actually none that has survived to our time. We do not know how she was supposed to look like, her personality or very much else about her. She has sometimes been seen as analogous to the Greek goddess Hestia, but the resemblance apart from being goddesses of the hearth is very slight. And the Vesta cult is too old to have been influenced from Greece.

Her cult was based around the sacred fire, and offerings could be made in the homes by throwing things into the fire. She was particularly venereated by women as the household was considered their sphere.

Her most famous temple, located at the Forum Romanum, Rome, was said to be have been founded by the ancient Roman king Numa and it was also he who, according to legend, founded the pristesshood of the vestals. The temple contained the sacred fire, a fire that was never to go out since that would mean a great catastrophy for Rome, but also a wooden statue of Palas Athena that Aeneas, also according to legend, had brought with him from Troy. The premisses also contained important, stately documents like public treaties and imperial wills. It continued to be used as a city altar, with the fire burning, until emperor Theodosius ordered it to be extinguished and the vestals banned, in about 395 A.D.

The Vestals were one of the few full-time orders of priesthood that existed in Rome. The Vestals were, of course, all women and they were supposed to be chaste. They were taken from the highest families in the city - it was a great honour, and they were sworn to 30 years of chastity. The first ten years were spent in training before becoming full-fledged Vestals. They all lived in a house close to the Temple of Vesta and their main purpose was to look after the fire so it didn't go out (or burn the building down, which archaeological evidence has shown actually happened). They were supervised by the Pontifex Maximus.

(That title is still present in today's Rome, it's the pope that has it - though that is not a task he still carries out.)

The Vestals was a group of women that had rights that few other women in Rome had. They had been emancipated from their father, but had no husband in his place. They were also allowed to travel in a carriage in Rome - which was forbidden for the rest of the population - and they had some of the best places at the Colosseum (where women otherwise were placed far away from the centre of the action), and they were generally held in great respect. After their 30 years of service they were free to marry - and many did so since though they were old (by Roman standards) they were quite wealthy and looked up to.

A Vestal that didn't obey the rules were punished the hard way with being buried alive at Campus Sceleris. This is what supposedly happened to Rhea Silvia, the mother of Romulus and Remus, who was a vestal virgin seduced by the god Mars.

The main festivities of the Vesta cult were one on March the 1st when a new fire was lit and the Vestalia, which was a festival celebrated on the 7th to 15th of June every year. It was then that the Roman women could go to the temple to make apporopriate sacrifices.

4/04/2008

Woman of the week - Consuelo Vanderbilt


Name: Consuelo Vanderbilt
Born: New York, March 2, 1877
Dead: Southampton, Long Island, December 6, 1964
Married to 1: Charles Spencer-Churchill, 9th Duke of Marlborough, on November 6, 1895
Divorced: In 1921 (they separated in 1906)
Married to 2: Jacques Balsan, pilot, on July 4th, 1921
Children: John Albert William Spencer-Churchill, Marquess of Blandford (later 10th Duke of Marlborough) and Lord Ivor Spencer-Churchill
Occupation: Heiress

Consuelo Vanderbilt had two things, she was rich and she was beautiful - and she had a mother that was sure to make the most of it - and it was very close to ending in total disaster. She was one of those wealthy American heiresses that married into the British aristocracy and had a hard time adjusting to that.

The Vanderbilts were wealthy, from rail-roads, and they new how to spend money. The house that Consuelo lived in with her parents even contained a replica of the ball-room at Verseille. Nothing was missing in the girl's life as she grew up - at least when it came to things she needed. She was, like many other girls in a similar situation, educated at home by a governess and that was considered quite enough for her. Her goal in life was after all not to be an academic but someone's wife.

Consuelo was very well known for her beauty (and her money) so there was no lack in suitors - but she was not a girl to be easily pleased. Her mother, Alva Erskin Smith, had some strong ideas on what would be a suitable match for her daughter, like Prince Franz Joseph of Battenberg. This was a match that did not interest the daughter, she disliked him from the start and could not be persuaded to change her mind. When the Duke of Marlborough approached with the same purpose Consuleo was not impressed. She was actually engaged to another man, Winthrop Rutherford, and was not easy to presuade.

But her mother was not one to give up and she wanted her daughter to marry well. She didn't stop at either threatening to kill her fiance or saying that she was herself terminally ill which at last made the daughter relent and agree to the marriage - but the daughter spent the night prior to the wedding locked up, just to make sure she would not do anything stupid. The wedding took place at Saint Thomas Church, New York, in one of the most elaborate cermonies to take place at that day and age. The bride was crying and the groom recieved $2.5 million (approximately $75 million today) in railroad stock as a marriage settlement - money needed sorely needed for the upkeep of his Blenheim Castle. Then the newly-wed were shipped off to England.

It was not a successful marriage. The couple were not happy, both having to give up other love-interests, and both finidng new ones while they were still married. But she did what she was supposed to do. She gave birth to two sons and acted as hostess at the castle, sat for portraits of the happy family and did what was expected of her. The charade lasted till 1906 when the couple separated and she moved to London.

There she continued to be popular among the finer circles, but she also took a deep interest in social well-fare. Among other things she opened a home for wives of first time offenders sent to prison to help and support them and also worked with trying to improve the working-conditions for women in sweated industries, including minimum-wages. She was also a member of the London County Council, for a less well-to-do area, 1917-1919.

Despite the separation from the Duke she continued to be on good footing with parts of the Churchill family, including Winston Churchill, a cousin of the duke. And not even her mother objected to the couple's divorce - seeing that the marriage really had done no one any good.

In 1921 she married the French Jacques Balsan, an aviation pioneer, and she moved to France where she stayed till the end of the Second World War. She had then been awarded the Legion of Honour for her charity work which included founding a children's hospital and Paris, and, when the war broke out, taking the children to the safety of the south of France. After that the couple moved to the US.

In 1953 her autobiography The Glitter and the Gold (ghost-written by Stuart Preston) she tells very vividly about her life - but perhaps not always totally honest in every detail. A reviewer from The New York Times called it 'an ideal epitaph of the age of elegance'. Balsan died in 1956 after 35 good years together - he was then 88.

Consuelo herself died in 1964 - long after the end of an era that she so much came to represent. She was buried in St Martin's church, Bladon, Oxfordshire, England, close to her youngest son and in the same church as Sir Winston Churchill

4/01/2008

Fashion of the week - Evening dress, 1910

This photo shows an evening dress worn by the English actress Kitty Gordon (1878-1974) in December 1910. It is an exquisite example of the evening wear of the Belle Époque. As the name suggests it's a fashion that took it's form in France, Paris being the fashion capital of the world (as it still is - but back in those days with less competition from other places such as Milan and New York).

The Belle Époque started around 1890-1895 when the bustle disappeared from the female silhouette, and it lasted to the beginning of World War I - an event that was more than just the end of a certain fashion. What marked this fashion from the start was how the skirts fitted very neatly over the woman's hips and thighs, and in the day-wear it became common with leg-of-mutton-sleeves that put further emphasis on the shoulder part of the silhouette and it could even appear on evening-wear. But at the end of the era, like in the photo shown here, it did so less frequently. At the same time there was less emphasis put on the waist and it was usually just marked with a thin sash or belt - as can be seen on this picture.

Other important features of this time in fashion is S-silhouette and the thing they had for laces and sheer materials. The S-shape came from the form of the corset worn to these dresses (they were often long to keep all parts of the body in check - it was after all not just the waist that needed to be thin but also the hips and thighs) and the emphasis at the same time put on the bosom, the ideal woman being slim and voluptuous at the same time. This meant that the dresses were designed to push the decoltage forward and to press the stomach backwards which gave women a look that almost made them resemble ducks (a fact that didn't escape the sketchers of humor and satire at the time).

Both the shape of the dresses and the materials used in creating them made this fashion suitable only for the very rich and idle - more so than many other forms of fashion. Having such a fashion is of course not a new thing, but even so during the 19th century it was possible for the somewhat less well to do to have dresses clearly inspired by the more wealthy classes. It is perhaps no wonder that it is at this time many women turned to a simpler form of fashion, the skirt and blouse, that didn't require a need to be quite as careful and quite as still, that didn't require a corset (or at least one that allowed more movement) and that was cheaper.

But to return to the evening dress shown here, it was of course not a garment meant for everyday use, it was meant to be eye-catching and dazzling and no matter what lay behind it all it is beautiful to look at.