10/31/2008

Photo of the week - Lady with cape


Date: 1860's
Photographer: Chr. Neuhaus
Sitter: Unknown
Provenience: Copenhagen

As a commenter to this post was kind enough to point out, Chr. Neuhaus was really Christian Neuhaus and he had a photo-studio in Copenhagen from 1862 to 1894. That means that this photo cannot be older than 1862 - but that is quite old that too.

Who the sitter was is unknown - there is no helpful writing at the back of the photo, no date, nothing but the name of the studio and the price that I paid when I bought it. The lady is middle-aged, turning old - her face has started to get a bit shrunken and her hands are wrinkled. It is hard to tell if she looks mean or not. Her piercing gaze should, however, not be over-estimated. Someone has, with a steady hand, actually painted the pupils with black ink to make them more distinguished.

The lady in question must be someone from quite a wealthy background. This was long before going to the photograph was something for everybody, this was when it still was for the upper classes. And even if that was not the case her appearance clearly states her circumstances. Her weddingring is rather broad and she has ear-rings - at a time when jewellery was not at all that common, not even in photos. Her dress is mostly hidden by her cape, but the cape has a broad trimming made of lace. The collar is also trimmed with lace - and this at a time when lace was something really expensive. She wears a cap, suitable for a married woman, trimmed with both lace, frills and ribbons.

She might be unknown to us - but 140 or so years ago she was someone.

Hair-do of the week - Lute-player in 1610


This is a detail from the painting "The Lute Player", done circa 1610 by the Italian painter Orazio Lomi Gentileschi. It shows a young girl, holding a lute - with her back mostly turned to the viewer, which gives a good glimpse of her hair-do.

This is at the same time as Elizabeth I of England and the women around her could show off very contrived coiffures with artificial curls and a general air of unnaturalness about it. This Italian girl shows nothing of that. Instead, her hair is really simple and natural - and it shows that when we talk about "17th century fashion" or "typical hair around 1600" we have to be very aware of that it differed quite a lot. It was due to where people lived, how they did it, what circles they moved in - and what part of fashion influenced them. There were not just ONE type of fashion going around. There were several.

She has long, blond hair that has been braided and the braids are then pinned up in big loops, leaving her back free. Her hair is parted at the top of her head and she has no bangs. It is a simple hair-do that you could do yourself, that did not require a maid - and hardly even a mirror (good mirrors did not exist at this time). It is a hair-do that peasant-girls could have had - but this is hardly a peasant-girl. No peasant-girl would sit down with a lute, for that you needed to be at least a part of the middle class (and if it was not to paint a religious motif this was long before the 18th and 19th centuries habit of going to the country to paint rustic motives of peasant girls 'au naturell' so to speak).

10/29/2008

Portrait of the week - Lady with squirrel and starling

This portrait is by Hans Holbein the younger, circa 1527, and it is generally referred to as "Lady with squirrel and starling" since it is a portrait of a lady with a squirrel and starling. The starling is in the background, just like the leaves there and not that much of an eye-catcher.

The squirrel is another matter. It sits in the lady's arms, obviously chained in some manner, and the lady is holding the chain. This was a time when people kept pets that we would consider right out strange - but then again, the difference between having a squirrel and a bunny might not be that great. It is after all a matter of habit.

The lady herself is somewhat of a mystery. As late as 2004 it was suggested that she would be Mrs. Anne Lovell - which would fit with the date of the painting and the squirrel was a common symbol for the Lovell family and was used in other depictions. Holbein often had animals depicted in his portraits.

The lady, Anne Lovell or someone else, is dressed in a rather sombre dress. It is black, or possible dark blue - it is a bit hard to tell just from pictures of the painting, but in any case it is not mourning clothes. Over her shoulders she wears a white shawl, probably of linen, and over the hair she is wearing a white cap. The form is one that reminds you very much of the typical Tudor-cap, with the angles at the back of the head - but the thick structure is not quite so common. Is it perhaps something for winter-wear?

In 1992 the painting was bought by the National Gallery in London.

10/28/2008

Goddess of the week - Ereshkigal

Name: Ereshkigal
Sphere of influence: The Underworld
Location: Mesopotamia
Famous portraits: The portrait on the left is quite famous - but it is not a hundred percent certain that is a portrait of Ereshkigal.

Ereshkigal was the goddess of the land of the dead for Sumerians and Akkadian, Irkalla. She is described as dark and terrifying - befitting her role. She is the daughter of Anu and sister of Ishtar.

She appears in the texts of Ishtar's descent to the Underworld - one of the more famous Mesopotamian texts there is - but also in another that describe her meeting with the plague-god Nergal.

There are different versions of this story, but the main theme is that Nergal comes to her domain and a mutual attraction arises. When he has to leave her realm she gets really upset and threatens to let the dead return to earth and the living if Nergal is not returned to her. He comes back and rules Irkalla together with the goddess - in some later versions he just takes her as his wife and rules himself.

As a goddess of the dead she received offerings made to the dead. Her main shrine was located to Cuthah.

10/26/2008

Woman of the week - Elizabeth Báthory

Name: Elizabeth (Erzsébet) Báthory
Born: 1560, Nyirbátor, Hungary
Died: Before 21 August 1614, Čachtice, today's Slovakia
Married to: Baron Ferenc Nádasdy (1555-1604)
Children: András (unknown dates)
Pál (1593 or 1597-1633 or 1650)
Anna (ca 1585-1625)
Katalin (ca 1594-?)
Miklós(unknown dates)
Orsolya (unknown dates)
Occupation: Baroness and murderer

Báthory is one of those women were fact is hard to separate from fiction. She lived a long time ago, in a time when information that was not partial was hard to come by, and her actions have made people's imagination run wild. I cannot vouch for everything being true, just that it is likely - it is hard to do anything else.

She came from a noble lineage, both her parents were Báthorys and her mother was the sister of a king of Poland. Aged 13 she was married to the five years older baron Ferenc Nádasy. She moved to his castle in Čachtice, that is located in today's Slovakia. There she gave birth to their children and took care of the usual business that would befell a noble-woman of the times. Her husband were gone a lot of the time, fighting in the Thirteen Years War (against the Ottoman empire) as a chief commander of the Hungarian troops and that meant that Báthory was left in charge of the castle and the villages connected to it. In that she differed little from other noble-women of the time. Her husband died in 1604 - probably due to injuries sustained in battle.

What is perhaps less common of noble ladies of the time is to accuse them of murder and sadism. Nobles who were their own law at their own estates, but there was a limit to how much you were allowed to get away with - and it is obvious that Báthory crossed that line. It took almost a ten years of talk for the authorities to start looking into the matter, in 1610 the Holy Roman Emperor Matthias decided on investigating the matter and after some months Bárthory and four of her servants were arrested. Matthias wanted her dead after reports of dead and dying and badly tortured girls having been found at her castle - but György Thurzó, Palatine of Hungary, who investigated the matter, persuaded him to leave her be - she came from a very influential family. She would never appear in court and she never got a proper sentence. But she would spend the last four years of her life in house-arrest in her castle, in a set of rooms behind a wall so she could not escape.

What is known of her atrocities come from the testimonies of her four servants, who were all tried and convicted for taking part in the crimes. According to them, and other witnesses that were heard, the crimes had started early on when Bárthory wanted girls from the local villages brought to her and she had the girls badly beaten and tortured and eventually killed. But since she was a noble and they were just daughters of peasants she could get away with it. Things escalated and she went after daughters of the lower gentry that came to her to learn the way of the nobles and the authorities could no longer look the other way. The exact number of victims are unknown - her servants talked about around 50 (at least during their time of service) and others of hundreds upon hundreds. We do not know if there is any truth in the number of 600+ that are sometimes mentioned - nor if she ever bathed in the blood of her victims, thinking it would stop her ageing, nor if she took part in Satanic rites.

She was found dead on the 21 August 1614, but found with several plates of untouched food so the exact date of her death is not known.

10/24/2008

Fashion of the week - The yukata

Japan is a country with a lot of old traditions still preserved in today's society. This is also true for the different types of kimonos that are in existence. Unlike what some might think there are different types of kimonos, with different names, different meanings and different purposes - worn by both men and women. This is the yukata (浴衣), perhaps the most common and simple version of the kimonos.

The name is really a abbreviation of yukatabira, which means bath underclothing. The origin of the garment can be traced back to at least the Heian era (794-1185) when noble women wore yukata, made of linen, after taking baths. It is still a favourite garment when visiting Japanese inns and spas for recreation.

Today the yukata is first and foremost the informal kimono of the summer. It had a big revival in the 1990's and the popularity still stands. Girls and women are wearing it as casual wear, and to festivals (a very popular theme in shoujo-manga - manga for girls). They are made out of light cotton and can be worn with an ordinary sash, like on the picture, and not just the much more complicated obi - which means that it is possible for a woman to put it on herself.

The yukatas are available in almost any pattern, but there are general rules that most people adhere to. The younger the wearer the more bold both patterns and colours. Grown-up women generally have a much more sober ones, in dark colours with geometrical patterns, children can have really daring fabrics and young girls often have a floral pattern and softer colours.

10/23/2008

Pop-culture woman of the week - Ophelia

Name: Ophelia
First appearance:
Hamlet (ca 1600)

Creator:
William Shakespeare
Weapon/ability:
None

Race:
Human
Age:
Old enough to marry

Ophelia is a character in the play Hamlet, and apart from Hamlet probably the most well-known character in the cast. She is the daughter of the adjunct Polonius and also the sister of Laertes. She is also the love interest of prince Hamlet himself. But it comes at a great cost.

Early on Ophelia is warned that it might not be such a good idea to fall in love with Hamlet, he will inherit the throne of Denmark and is not free to marry whoever he likes. Ophelia might run around in the royal castle as freely as any, but she is hardly noble enough to be a royal bride. The exact nature of her relationship with the prince is hard to discern. The original play does not give any clear evidence of whether they have actually had a sexual relationship or not and it is left to the viewers interpretations. The relationship is very rocky, much due to Hamlet and his bouts of madness (real or acted – they are clearly discomforting for Ophelia who don’t know what to make of it).

At one moment he tells her to go to a nunnery (a play on words since it does not only mean a convent, but is also slang for brothel) and Ophelia has plenty of opportunity to wonder over the sanity of the man she loves. But things will get worse – when her father is killed by Hamlet himself. She then completely looses it and sings songs about women being used and abandoned by their lovers and hands out flowers to the other characters.

The next time Ophelia is mentioned in the play is when queen Gertrude speaks of Ophelia’s death. The girl was said to have climbed up in a willow-tree and when the branch broke she fell into a brook and drowned there – not having the mental capacity to save herself. But the exact circumstances of her death are a bit mysterious. If she had died that way it would have been an accident but at her funeral she is not given the proper ceremony, a clear indication that she had committed suicide.

Ophelia is a popular figure in art, especially among the pre-Raphaelites, especially the scene of her drowning. Who played the role back in the time of Shakespeare’s own time is not known – but it was in all probability a boy since they generally played the roles of women back then, it was never women who played the roles of women in any case. The play has also been filmed several times and among others the role has been played by Jean Simmons and Helena Bonham-Carter.

10/21/2008

Photo of the week - Alma, 1916

Date: 1916
Photographer: Staffan Sjöberg
Sitter: Alma
Provenience: Sweden

It is always nice when a photo has both a name and a date written on it, something that will reveal at least something about the sitter - even though it is mot much. The name of the photographer is written right under the portrait, in very fine print - the first name is Staffan and the last name is Sjöberg (but there is something in between that is impossible to read even when looking at the picture in close-up). But Sjöberg is a name only in existence in Sweden which makes it obvious that it is a Swedish photo.

Who the sitter is is of course hard to tell, more than that she was called Alma and that she went to take her photo in 1916 (even though there was a war going on then, much went on as usual too - and neither did Sweden participate in it to begin with).

Her hat is typical of the time, broad and with a lot of flowers, artificial flowers, to top it off. She wears a light, perhaps white, blouse, with a small collar and a medallion in the front. She wears a necklace, with a metal heart, and ear-rings with pearls. She is quite fancy - and she smiles, showing her teeth (in a way that was very unusal at the time - most people had bad teeth and were not eager to show them).

10/20/2008

Hair-do of the week - Hats and heads, 1910

These are some hats advertised in an American magazine in 1910. Ads can be quite informative when it comes to be subject of what was worn by 'ordinary' people. They were not just meant to be inspirational - like many of the fashion magazines - these were meant to sell actual products to actual people, and this is what the available models looked like.

The greatest difference between these hats and those in fashion-magazines of the time (and on pictures of fancy people) is the size of the hat. The time between the death of queen Victoria and the first world war was the time of the ridiculously big hats. These are much less so, and the reason is of course that it is not very practical to have a hat that looks like that, if you have work to do, a household to look after you still want to have a hat on your head (any proper lady had her head covered when venturing outdoors), but it is a must that it does not get in the way.

The ad shows a whole range of hats, also stating material and price. For example is the corduroy hat just 79 cents, while the hat in genuine beaver is $2.49. You could also get a hat in 'cotton beaver' $1.29 as a cheaper alternative. The more fancy hats, with bows and feathers could be anything from under $2, simpler models even less, to close to $3. This ad was clearly aimed at a rather broad audience - made up of people who would not go to a millinery shop, mostly due to lack of funds.

Portrait of the week - Saint Agnes

Saint Agnes, painted by Domenico Zamperi (also known as Domenichino) in 1620.

This is a portrait full of symbolism. Some of the more obvious are the halo at the saint's head and the crown given to her by the putto (the chubby baby with wings, in plural 'putti'). That is the crown of martyrdom handed to the young girl. At her feet is another putto, holding on to a lamb. Lamb is agnus in Latin and often shown as her symbol - it both reminds of her name and the lamb of God, all wrapped into one neat package. The palm-leaf, also held by the flying putto, is another sign of martyrdom, and of martyrs overcoming death.

The dress Saint Agnes is wearing is not the fashion of 1620 but how people in the 1620's imagined that people living in antiquity might be clothed. It was important to show that this was not a modern lady - but it was also important to show that she is a really important figure and therefor she is adorned in the style of royals. Note that her mantle is lined with ermine, something that was usually reserved just for royalty.

Saint Agnes is one of the popular saints, and has been so both in the East and the West. Her legend (written in the fifth century) tells that she died sometime around 305, at the tender age of thirteen. She had taken a vow of chastity to please the Lord and refused to marry - for this she was executed by having her throat cut. Later on this legend got expanded and included how she was put in a brothel so that she could be raped and her chastity thereby taken from her (a common theme in female saints' legends - and it always back-fired). But a man who saw her naked went blind on the spot.

Her fest-day is on 21 January and in Rome lambs whose wool are used to make the archbishops' pallia are blessed.

10/17/2008

Goddess of the week - Clíodna

Name: Clíodna
Sphere of influence: Realm of the dead
Location: Ireland
Famous portraits: None

Clíodna is said to be the daughter of Gebanh, the last druid of Ireland, and one of the Tuatha te Danann. Sometimes it is said that her sisters were Aife and Edain. At one time she fell in love with a man, Caoímhin of the curling locks, and ran away from the other gods and into the world of the living. This could not be forgiven or over-looked so they sent a big wave after her and she was drowned. After that her place was in the realm of the dead, the Otherworld, looking after things there.

That was not a sad place, but rather a happy place where there was feasting and beauty, music and happiness. She was even known to lure people into the Otherworld - people that was never heard of again. But she was also a guardian goddess of the O'Keefes and had a strong connection to the sea and the waves - there was a saying that every ninth wave were an incarnation of the goddess and therefore much more powerful. She is also known as the Fairy-queen of Munster.

She was known as very beautiful and she could shape-shift into a bird. She was also known to have three birds and their song could sooth sick people so that they could wake up refreshed and healed.

10/16/2008

Woman of the week - Queen Christina of Sweden

Name: Christina (Kristina) Augusta
after her abdication sometimes known as countess Dohna
Born: 18 December 1626, Stockholm, Sweden
Dead: 19 April 1689, Rome, Italy
Married to: None
Occupation: Queen

Christina was born as the third daughter of Gustav II Adolf of Sweden and Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg - the two earlier were dead at Christina's birth. The couple never had a son so Christina was raised as the heir to the throne, in spite of her sex. This got even more important after 1632 when her father died. She was of course too young to rule but she was brought up strictly as an heir to a throne should be and was taught a myriad of things, all the way from bookly wisdom to riding and fencing. The family situation at home was rather disheartening for the child-queen. Her mother was close to the edge of insanity after the loss of her husband (which included postponing the funeral well over a year) and did not wish to leave her only child in the hands of others - while the king before his death had ordered that Christina was to be brought up not by her mother but by her aunt, Catharina of Pfalz. So she was until Catharina passed away when Christina was 12.

In 1644 Christina ascended the throne and she would rule for ten years. She did so with mixed results. She clearly had a knack for political negotiations, Sweden was a European super-power at the time, and she continued to work for it to remain as such, negotiating peace with the arch-enemy Denmark with good terms for Sweden and such. Her knack for economical questions was less impressive though. She cared little for the financial angle of things, she loved to give titles and land to people she thought was deserving - and there were far more of them than the state finances really could cover. The country was hurrying towards bankruptcy. Christina showed little interest in that and instead spent her time devouring all knowledge she would come across, she was genuinely interested in both science and the arts - and even invited the philosopher Descartes to stay with her in Stockholm (he got a pneumonia and died there).

Another aspect she took no interest in was marriage and getting an heir. Her whole life she would be opposed to the thought of marrying someone. Instead she chose her cousin, who would later become Karl X, as her heir and she raised the question of abdicating. She would take the final step, after having talked about it for some years, in 1654. One of the reasons was a change in religion, she wanted to be a Catholic, but that was probably not the only reason - she was not all that interested in taking on the role of a typical woman of the time, something that most people expected of her (queen or not), the country had clear financial problems and she took a greater interest in other things than ruling. In her autobiography she stated that 'women should not reign' - but it is not clear if this was because she thought women unsuited for the task or if she did not think the world would give them a fair chance.

After the abdication she left Sweden, taking with her some of her most priced possessions, and she stayed in Brussels where she converted to Catholicism. Not officially though, out of fear of loosing the money the Swedish state was to pay her for her up-keep. The following year she went to Rome, and stayed there under great jubilation and on great terms with the pope. She was not good with her money though and she continued on to France where she was a guest to Louis XIV. She had to leave the country after the execution of a servant of hers that had betrayed her plans on going for the throne of Naples - she had the legal right to execute a servant, but it was still viewed as a murder by the French and she returned to Rome.

She tried to return to Sweden and the throne after the death of Karl X in 1660, but she was not welcomed back and she would stay in Rome in intellectual pursuits. She died in 1689 and her sole heir was Cardinal Decio Azzolino, who, according to the surviving correspondence, she had a platonic love for. Little else is known about her love-life, if she was attracted to both men and women, or if the love she expressed for women were more in line with how women generally expressed themselves back then. The truth is that we do not know.

Christina was buried in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, and there is also a monument in her honour - that even when it was newly made was famous for being hidious.

10/15/2008

Fashion of the week - Evening wear, 1823


This is an evening-dress from the English fashion magazine La Belle Assemble - a magazine which obviously took it's name to sound more French, since everyone knows that France is the place to go to get the latest fashion (or at least Paris).

The evening-wear clearly shows the transition from the regency era fashion to the phase that followed. It is to early to be Victorian, but it is not impossible to imagine the skirt growing even bigger in just a decade or two.

The regency elements that still can be spotted is most obviously the high waist. It is not just below the bosom, but still well above where most women naturally have their waist. Another element still left is the pillar-like silhouette. The skirt is getting bigger, that is true, but it still rather narrow, like it had been for the last 30 years. The turban-like head-wear, the one with all the plumes, is also a detail that had been popular for quite some time.

But there are also elements that really are not regency. The most obvious being the colour. Bright purple was not a colour that was popular earlier on. The classical regency dress had a very light colour, but even when darker colours started to creep into the wardrobe it was generally in the day-wear and the light colours (and white of course) stayed in the evening-wear. So is not the case here. The trimming, pompoms and all that is still kept white though - light colours were never far away from evening-wear (and continued to be popular with evening-wear throughout the 19th century).

The lady also wears the typical attributes to evening-wear, apart from the head-wear, there is also the long, white gloves - a lady would never dream of going to a ball without gloves; and note that she wears a bracelet, over the glove - and a small fan and a shawl.

10/14/2008

Pop-culture woman of the week - Purim

Name: Purim
First appearance: Secret of Mana (聖剣伝説2 or Seiken densetsu Tsū)
Creator: Koichi Ishii
Weapon/ability: Magic (mostly healing)
Race: Human
Age: Old enough to marry

Purim is the female lead character in the Super Nintendo game Secret of Mana. She hangs around with the two other, male characters: Randi och Popoi.

Purim's father is the servant to the king of Pandora and she is in love with the head of the royal guards, Dyluck. In short this is not a game where the leading lady spends the whole game chasing after the male lead. She enters the game running away from home when her father has decided that it is about time for her to marry - and she is not interested, she just wants Dyluck.

She meets Randi who is close to become a goblin dinner, but she runs away from him without having told him her name. Their paths cross again and she joins the party - for which the player is eternally grateful since she possesses healing spells and is generally handy. She is a good fighter and a good comrade, but when it comes to her love-life she really has no luck. Dyluck is kidnapped by the witch Elinee and handed over to the big, bad boss Thanathos who does his best to take control of Dyluck's body. Dyluck ends up dying to do what he can to save the world.

Then it is up Purim and her two friends to do the rest of the world-saving.

10/13/2008

Photo of the week - Woman in white

Date: 1911
Photographer: Unknown
Sitter: Unknown
Provenience: Probably Denmark

On this lovely photo of a woman dressed in a white, or at least very pale, dress is written the year 1911 - which fits well with both clothing and hair - and a name I can not read. The first letter is obviously an I (or possibly a J) but apart from that it is a mystery. The photo has been cut, in all probability to fit in a frame, so it is no longer possible to figure out where the photo is taken. But I found it in Copenhagen so there is a good chance it is Danish (though you can never be sure - photos were sent all over the world to friends and family).

The woman is wearing an evening gown in a light and bright material, accentuated by both tassels and beads. The dress is somewhat shapeless around the figure, but that was popular at the time, the era after the Victorians and before the first world war - when it comes to fashion also known as La Belle Époque.

In a time when many who went to the photographer did not wear any jewelery at all, or maybe just a ring, she can show off quite a few. She has a bracelet of some twined metal, a small necklace hanging on a thin chain and earrings. Her hair is long, kept flat on the skull and made into thick buns at the sides of the head. She also has a small fringe, slightly curled.

Hair-do of the week - Girl in 1716

There is actually a boy present in this picture, but let's just ignore him and focus on the girl. This is a head-study from 1716, showing a French girl who is probably not that old but a teenager (though that is a termed that would have meant nothing at the time).

The female hair-dos of the rococo are very, very flat - an interesting contrast to the rather voluminous dresses of the time. The hair was not cut short, but it was not that long either. It was kept flat on the head, not a lot of curls and waves, just very simple. The back of the head was often adorned in some way, with a ribbon, a little cap or something else that was light and frilly - in this drawing it is actually quite hard to see what that would be. It is obviously a study of the same girl (with the same coiffure) from different angles, but the back is kept somewhat sketchy. The focus is obviously the face and how that is perceived and the hair is just a frame to the face with no particular interest in itself. Considering how the hair was generally shaped at the time it is easy to imagine that was not just the view of artists studying young girls.

The boy is interesting as a contrast, he actually seems to have more hair than the girl - something that is not very common in era, except this one (well, you might include the baroque in that statement too).

Portrait of the week - Mary Magdalene and Madeleine de Bourgogne


This is a portrait of Mary Magdalene with, in all probability, Madeleine de Bourgogne, painted by Jean Hey (also called 'Maître de Moulins) circa 1490-1495, that is just at the transition from the late Middle Ages to the Renaissance.

More about Mary Magdalene can be read here. Madeleine de Bourgone was not a saint though. She was on the more shady side of the nobility - she was the natural daughter of Philip the Good (Philippe le Bon), that is a daughter he had with a mistress. Phillipe was the duke of Burgundy and he had quite a few children with different women. We know next to nothing about Madeleine, not when she was born or when she died. We do know that she married in 1486 to Bompar Seigneur de l'Aage, Baron d'Ales.

That she is married, and wealthy is very obvious from this portrait, showing the lady in a velvet gown of the latest fashion, adorned with gold and pearls, and trimmed with ermine - a sign of royalty. Ermine were for those at the top of the social hierarchy, not just any rich noble that happened to fancy it. Her hair is covered as any good wife would do. Her forehead is bare, though, because a high forehead was all the latest craze at the time.

The saint is marked by the halo at the back of her head. Her clothing is much more fancy than that of Madeleine, with bright colours - green, red and orange. She also wears quite a lot of jewelery - and she also has her hair completely covered and clearly plucked eye-brows. This was not a fashion that was too fond of showing hair of any kind.

Goddess of the week - Hestia

Name: Hestia (Ἑστία)
Sphere of influence: The hearth
Location: Greece
Famous portraits: None - she was rarely shown in pictures and made into sculptures, though it did happen.

Hestia was a goddess of the hearth in ancient Greek religion. She was supposed to be the daughter of Kronos and Rhea, though the stories differ on the point of whether she was the oldest or youngest of their children. She never did have the distinction of many other of the Greek gods and was just a minor deity, in spite of her role. The hearth was very important to the classical Greek household - the source of warmth, where they did their cooking and an offering place for libations (pouring liquids as an offer to the gods).

The hearth is connected to the household, and so was Hestia. She is even said, in Plato's Phaedo, to have stayed away from the gods' processions, bound as she was to the hearth. Of course she was then neither a part of the scandalous stories of the gods. Several of the gods still wanted to have her as their bride, but she remained a virgin, unmarried of course.

But she still was very important to the Greeks in her own way. In the Platonic polis (Plato's version of the ideal order of the world) the acropolis has a sanctuary to Hestia, next to Zeus and Athena, showing the importance of the hearth in the Platonic mind - as Vesta in the Roman religion, who had a significance that Hestia never had in the Greek world. Vesta and Hestia were both goddesses of the hearth - but they were not the same goddess and must be kept apart.

10/07/2008

Woman of the week - Idina Sackville

Name: Myra Idina Sackville
Born: 26 February 1893, in Bexhill-on-sea, England
Dead: 5 November 1955, Mombasa, Kenya
Married to: 1) David Euan Wallace in 1913 - divorced in 1919
2) Charles Gordon in 1919 - divorced in 1923
3) Josslyn Hay in 1923 - divorced in 1929
4) Donald Haldeman in 1930 - divorced in 1938
5) Vincent Soltau in 1939 - divorced in 1945
Children:
David John Wallace (1914-1944)
Gerard Euan Wallace (1915-1943)
Diana Denyse Hay (1926-1978)
Occupation: Farmer

Idina is a woman that in many ways gives a face to the sinful ways of the roaring 20's - living a life that can only be referred to as scandalous.

She was the eldest child of Gilbert Sackville, 8th Earl de la Warr and Muriel Brassey. Later came the sister Avice, called Avie, (1897-1985) and brother Herbrand, called Buck, (1900-1976). Idina's father was of old English nobility, but her mother came from a middle class family that had made a lot of money. The couple was a part of the highest nobility, and so were their children. her father was notoriously unfaithful and eventually moved in with a cancan dancer. Muriel chose to divorce him - being unfaithful was common, leaving the family was quite another matter. This happened in 1902 and the children came to live with their very politically active mother.

In spite of this blemish Idina could be presented at court and join the debutantes, looking for a suitable husband. She would catch the eye of one of Britain's most eligible bachelors, David Euan Wallace and they married in 1913. They had two sons, David and Gerard, and everything should have wonderful. But there was the small matter of the First World War, and their inability to stay faithful. They were brought up in a culture that saw no problems with liaisons of this kind but it still meant the end to their marriage. At the end of the war Euan returned from France where he had been stationed, but the marriage collapsed when he showed no interest in his wife and turned to other women. Idina saw no reason to wait for her husband to leave (like her mother had). She left him, their children (that she would not see again till they were both grown up men) and their home. She married Charles Gordon as soon as she could, a man who happened to be available for the job at the right time and they moved to Kenya, the place that would henceforth be her home.

The second marriage soon fell apart. Idina had a great sexual appetite and had a hard time, not to say it was impossible for her, being with just one man - and in this case it was not even one she cared that much about to begin with. But she stayed in Africa, being a part of the 'Happy Valley Crowd' which the press had labelled her and her friends - people who spent far too much time partying, sleeping around and taking drugs. At the same time Idina worked hard on her farm (though the press did not report that). Idina was known to be not a great beauty but very charming and a great hostess and companion.

Her third marriage, to Josslyn, Joss, Hay, 22nd Earl of Erroll, in 1923, had better chances of succeeding. Neither expected fidelity and they both liked to party. They had the daughter Diana, always called Dinan (who was sent to live with Avie in England when she was 12 to get a proper education - she would not meet her mother till she was an adult, married and had a child of her own). But Joss still left her for another woman.

Idina would move on from that in her constant search for her happy life. She married Donald Haldeman, which turned out to be a bit of a mistake - he was not prone to take lightly on infidelity and he threatened, several times, to shoot her lovers. The marriage ended in yet another divorce.

Idina's last marriage was to Vincent Soltau - it was the last time Idina would marry, and after that she took her maiden name back and once more became Idina Sackville. Life had been pretty good to Idina between the two world wars, though her family life was not the best she had her friends and her farm and her parties and her lovers. With the second world war, age and general decline this dwindled. Several of her friends passed away, through suicide, drugs and so on. Joss, still a part of the same crowd, was murdered. Idina also met both her sons, but even though they had some fun together, they were never reunited as a proper family, and they both died in the war.

Idina herself died in 1955, only 62 years old, from cancer. By her side was her last lover James, Jimmy, Bird. Her brother flew down to bury her, next to her son Gerard. Her rather outrageous behaviour would make her known as 'The Bolter' in novels by Nancy Mitford, and her great granddaughter, Frances Osborne, would write her biography with that name - it came out earlier this year.

10/05/2008

Fashion of the week - Coats from 1787

Fashion plates were a really big thing in 19th century Europe, but it did not start there. The phenomenon was firmly rooted in the 18th century - a time when magazines were spreading like wildfire fashion was also a part of the repertoire, giving the growing middle class good ideas on what to wear the coming season. France was a leading country of fashion at the time, and so was there magazines with bright pictures of how the clothing was supposed to look like.

This example is from 1787 and the Magasin des modes (Magazine of fashion) and shows three examples of out-wear. The lady on the right is by far the most clothed, with a long coat, a thick scarf and a big hat that covers what is left of her. She seems to be ready to face both rain and snow. She is wearing a big muff too, something that the other two also have - but in their cases it seems to be close to the only thing to protect them from the weather, and at the same time it must be remembered that muffs were only worn in the winter. We have to suspect some artistic freedom here, taken by the drawer - to show off more of their clothes and not cover everything up.

The lady in the middle wears a dress over another one, the one beneeth can only be seen at the front of the skirt, in a way that was very common at the time. But it is definently a winter-dress, longsleeved and rather thick. The lady to the left is wearing a dress that does not show any dress underneath, and instead she wears a jacket over it, a jacket that does not give the impression of being very warm at all. But she still wears a muff to show that it is winter.

10/04/2008

Pop-culture woman of the week - Emma Woodhouse

Name: Emma Woodhouse
First appearance: Emma (1816)
Creator: Jane Austen
Weapon/ability: Match-making
Race: Human
Age: 20

Emma is the heroine of whom her creator said that she, the author, would be the only one to like her. She was not altogether right, there are plenty of readers through the years that has taken Emma to their hearts - but there are also many who really dislike her.

These different feelings are perhaps not that strange when dealing with a character of this type. Emma is somewhat spoiled, rich, rather full of herself and has a tendency to meddle in things she really ought to stay out of. She thinks she is great at match-making, after the marriage of her governess, miss Taylor (now Mrs. Weston).

This marriage is the starting-point of the novel. Emma, who lives alone with her father (her mother is dead and her sister is married and lives in London while they live in the small town of Highbury), is by now too old to have a new governess to keep her company. So to make up for it she takes the orphan Harriet Smith under her wings and tries to help her in the world - preferably through match-making. Her first try is with the vicar, Mr. Elton, who is really attentive to the girls - but everything back-fires when it is discovered that he has not interest what so ever in Harriet but is instead aiming at the wealthy heiress Emma, herself. Emma is disgusted by the idea and turns him down.

This book is a comedy and though it deals a lot with match-making and liasons it is not really a romantic story. Emma goes through most of the novel totally uniterested in anything romantic, the thought of marrying herself is far from her mind - she has her own money and therefore sees no need to have a man in her life. Eventually she will mature enough to realize that sometimes it is best not to meddle in other's affairs and comes to understand something about the nature of romantic feelings.

The story has been filmed several times. Two versions, and very different from eachother, worth mentioning are: Emma from 1996 by Miramax, with Gwyneth Paltrow as the lead, and Emma from the same year with Kate Beckinsale as the lead - made by A&E. The film Cluless (from 1995) is based on the same story, but set in modern day Beverly Hills.

The picture above is from C.E. Brooks illustrations to the book and shows Emma (the dark-haried) and Mrs. Elton (the lady the vicar eventually marries after having been snubbed by Emma).

10/03/2008

Photo of the week - 'Mummy'

Date: 1890's
Photographer: Wilbur Portraits
Sitter: 'Mummy'
Provenience: Third Avenue, New York

I am the proud holder of two old albums with photos of friends and family. Many of them are unknown to me, and the albums have no information on names or relationships. But they are still very nice pictures, and this is one of them.

Most of the photos are from Sweden, since they were owned by my paternal grandmother's paternal grandfather, who lived there. But some are of those relatives that went over to America to make a new life there - a common theme in Sweden in the late 1800-hundreds. This is one of these photos.

This is clearly a portrait of someone who wants to show the world that she is successful in her new home. The hair is curled and pinned up in a little bun on top of the head in a fashion that would not have suited when working hard in the old country. The clothes are even more flashy - perhaps even a little bit over the top. The collar is broad with a very bold pattern, a pattern that is echoed on the blouse, a blouse with a high collar and a bow in the neck. This was not how people were dressed back home in poor old Sweden at the time.

Both the hair-do and the broad, very broad you might even say, sleeves makes it very clear that this photo was taken in 1890's - though a closer date can not be determined. Nor can it be determined who the sitter is, more than that she must be one of the Swedish emigrants of the time. But it is one of the few photos in the batch that has some writing on it - on the back it is written 'mamma' (Swedish for 'mummy'). However, it is not known who wrote that.

The slight oval that can be seen around the motif is clearly the traces of the portrait once being set in a photo-frame before being put into this album where it is now.

Hair-do of the week - The crown of St Margret

This is not exactly a 'how you had your hair'-post, but it is without a doubt true that sometimes your coiffure was accentuated by some kind of ornament - a veil, a hood, a hat or, as in this case, a crown. These were just as important for how your head was perceived (if not more so) than how you had your hair.

This crown comes from the tomb of St. Margret of Hungary who died in 1270. She was the daughter of king Bela IV of Hungary - which made her a princess. She did not live at court though, but instead in a convent. Just aged 3 she was sent to a Dominican convent and when she was 12 she moved to a newly opened convent of the same order in Budapest. Her father eventually wanted her to leave the convent to marry, he even got a papal dispensation for her - but she refused. She continued her godly life and was renowned for it even in her own lifetime. She was beatified just six years after her death - and made formal saint in 1934.

The crown is clearly a sign of her status as a royal princess and not of that as a nun. Nuns did not usually get buried with crowns. This crown was made of silver and then gilded. It is not round but made out of eight pieces that are put together in an octagonal shape. Each piece is then decorated with colourful stones and pieces of metal shaped like leaves. It is a rather fanciful head-wear - really suitable for a royal princess to wear on her hair-do.

10/02/2008

Portrait of the week - Mary Magdalene

This painting portraying a sleeping Mary Magdalene was done by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (perhaps better known as just Caravaggio), sometime around 1595 in Italy.

Mary Magdalene, from the Bible, is a woman that it has been said quite a lot about - but the facts from the actual scripture are somewhat less vivid. She is mentioned in all four gospels. Jesus meets her and frees her of seven demons that had given her some form of physical problem. It is also stated on all four gospels that Mary was present at the crucifixion of Jesus. She was also one of the women that went to the tomb on Easter Day to find it empty and according to John Mary Magdalene was the first person to whom Jesus showed himself after his resurrection.

Many of the intellectuals of the Christian church have tried to interpret her and somewhat change her role from that originally stated in the Bible. In the early church Mary Magdalene was distinctly separated from Mary of Bethany and an unnamed women who's sins Jesus absolved after anointing him with oil. It was the pope Gregory I (the Great) who clearly identified Mary with these two other women, thereby making Mary Magdalene a woman of sin who was saved by Jesus and led from her wicked ways to a good Christian life. The theme of the repentant sinner became very popular in Western Europe - but modern scholars do not agree with this view since there is no scriptural evidence to back it up.

Another legend makes Mary Magdalene the apostle of Provence and that she spent her last 30 years in a cavern - and yet another legend makes her the wife of the apostle John. But these are just popular legends that never has been supported by the church.

The view of Mary Magdalene as the sinful woman can be clearly seen in this portrait. Her hair is loose, as is her rich garment - she is a woman with far too much money and not very much in the way of decency. A decent, unmarried woman would not appear in this fashion. Another tell tale sign of her lack of moral is the jewelery that is laying next to her on the floor. Normal women would of course not dream of having expensive stuff laying around in such a manner. And next to it is the jug with oil, ready to anoint the feet of Christ.

10/01/2008

Goddess of the week - Sequana

Name: Sequana
Sphere of influence: The River Seine - healing
Location: France
Famous portraits: The one to the left here in this article

Sequana was a local Celtic goddess connected to the river Seine, and more specifically its source in Burgundy, the Châtillon Plateau near Dijon. A shrine dedicated to the river-goddess was erected in the second or first century B.C., and the Romans would later build a more impressive and monumental temple at the same place in her honour.

Sequana is for once a goddess that we have a statue of that is done by the people that worshiped her. As can be seen in this image she was portrayed as a young woman in draped clothing. The diadem on her head shows her high status. She is standing in a boat in the form of a duck - a clear connection with her role as a river-goddess.

As in many other cases to be river-goddess meant that you were strongly connected to a role as healer (see also for example Sulis). This is clearly shown at Sequana's shrine, where masses of votive-gifts have been found. These gifts can be split into two groups: images of body-parts and limbs, and portraits of pilgrims that came to the shrine to pray for help. The images of the body-parts could be made of either stone or wood and could be anything from internal organs to limbs, heads, and even whole bodies. These were offered in the hope of cure. A common theme was problems with the eyes and it is reasonable to believe that Sequana was thought to be especially good at healing such sufferings. The portraits offered to her of pilgrims show people in simple clothing and it is probable that she was a goddess that the general population turned to with their problems. At her shrine there was also a lot of coins and jewellery - probably offered as a thank you to the goddess.