Not all portraits are portraits

Danish queens
Queen Margrethe, queen Philippa and queen Dagmar

These are three medieval queens from Denmark: Margrete I (1358-1412 - perhaps most famous for founding the Kalmar union. She was the youngest child of Valdemar Atterdag, king of Denmark and married to Håkon VI of Norway, but due to turn of events, Margrete ended up ruling Denmark, Norway and Sweden for quite some time. If we are to be precise, her title never actually was 'queen', but she still embodies much of how we picture a successful medieval queen), Philippa of England (or Philippa of Lancaster; 1394-1430, who married Eric of Pomerania - the successor to Margrete I) and Dagmar of Bohemia (originally Markéta, about 1186-about 1212, and the first wife of Valdemar II).

These three ladies really are depicted as the beautiful and nobles women - but that is not to say any of them looked anything like this. Instead these are 19th century sculptures (Dagmar was made in 1845 and the two others in 1856) by the Danish artist Hermann Wilhelm Bissen and they are a fine example of the love for historical figures but also historical styles at this time - artists went to great length to make things look medieval, perhaps at times making things MORE medieval looking then they were in the Middle Ages. How close or far away these three portraits are might be hard to say - but the faces do perhaps look more like something we would associate with the 19th century more than anything else.

The statues are now on display at Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek.


Empress Joséphine (marble bust)

Victoria and Albert museum - Empress Josephine
Empress Joséphine in an Empire dress
ⓒRebecca Bugge
Marble bust of the French empress Joséphine (Joséphine de Beauharnais - June 23rd 1763 – May 29th 1814; married to Napoleon Bonaparte 1796-1810) dating to c:a 1808. The portrait was done by the sculptor Joseph Chinard and shows the empress with a diadem and a typical regency dress - or more precisely an Empire dress. The 'Empire' has taken its name from the First French Empire and Joséphine was quite an advocate for this fashion style.

The dress has very low neckline, with a border of a classical pattern of anthemion (perhaps better known as honeysuckle) - a very popular Neoclassical motif. Her diadem is quite heavy and echoes the flower theme.


The three sisters

The three sisters

Photo probably dating to the first years of the 1870s. On the back is written:
"Ida, Hilda, Manda
Runsten södra"
which isn't much to go on - but turned out to be enough to identify them completely.

They were three sisters from the small village of Södra Runsten, Runsten parish, Öland, Sweden. They were the daughters of Anders Knutsson (May 25th 1824-November 25th 1895) and his second wife Stina Maria, whom he had married December 7th 1855 - just two months after he had lost his first wife.

The girls are:
oldest, and in the middle of the photo, Hilda Albertina Gustava, born December 16th 1856. She moved to Ljungby, Sweden, December 6th 1879.

middle, and to the left in the photo, Ida Olivia Kristina, born June 3rd 1860. She emigrated to North America August 6th 1887.

youngest of the girls, to the right in the photo, Amanda "Manda" Carolina, born January 14th 1863. She left her home in October 1899, and just like her older sister emigrated to North America. When she left her last name was noted as "Knutsson", meaning she had left the old custom of having her father's name + daughter (in this case it would have been Andersdotter) and adopted the newer (and now prevailing) custom of taking the father's last name and using it as her own.

It is hard to tell exactly how old the girls are in this photo, but I think it most likely dates to before 1874, partly based on their looks and partly based on that they had a brother, Knut Ossian, born December 26th 1873. The brother would eventually take over the farm, after their father's death - and he married Frida Lydia Johansson (born July 23rd 1880) on July 24th 1900 - a year after the last of his sisters had left home for good.

Note the matching dresses and the lace collars (probably removable) and the belt-buckles - and the earrings on Hilda - these girls were probably comparably well off.


Emily Georgiana

Victoria and Albert museum - Burial monument for Emily Georgiana
Emily Georgiana at Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
This is the monument in memory of Emily Georgiana Finch-Hatton, countess of Winchilsea (née Bagot). She was born at Kirby Hall,near Corby, Northamptonshire, England, on the 9th of July 1809. On February the 15th 1837 she married George Finch-Hatton, 10th Earl of Winchilsea and 5th Earl of Nottingham (1791-1858) as his second wife. She died at Haverholme Priory, Lincolnshire, on July the 10th 1848, the day after her 39th birthday.

This monument, honouring her memory, was made by the Scottish artist Lawrence Macdonald, who finished his work in 1850 in Rome. It is made of Carrara marble, and both parts (statue and base) weighs close to 3 tons. It depicts the lady in a very Neo-classical style - inspired by Roman statues it shows the woman draped (in a manner she was most likely never dressed in real life) and reclining on a Antiquity-inspired sofa.

The full text on the base reads:






(You can also find the line: L.MACDONALD.FECIT.ROMA 1850, i.e. "Made in Rome 1850 by L. Macdonald")

As stated here Emily Georgiana was buried at Ewerby church, Lincolnshire - Ewerby being close to the estate of Haverholme Priory. What is perhaps a bit more surprising is that this monument didn't come from that church to the Victoria & Albert Museum, but from the church St. Mary in Eastwell in Kent (now in ruins) - the rector and church wardens of Eastwell donated it to the museum in 1969. How it ended up there is less clear. It is now one of the central pieces in the sculpture hall.

A couple of side notes - the Earl George William (perhaps best known today, if known at all, as having duelled with Wellington) married again in 1849. He died in 1858.

The estate of Haverholme Priory was, as the name suggests, a monastery to begin with - it had been the home for Gilbertine monks, but it was dissolved by Henry VIII. The place was in the Finch-Hatton family for several generations before it was sold in the 1920's to a rich American woman. She had the place dismantled to ship it over to the US and to have it rebuilt there(!). But before the work was finalized she died in a train accident. The shipping of the stones from England never took place after this, instead it was used in the docks of Liverpool where the cargo had been waiting to be shipped at the time of the accidents. All that remains now of Haverholme Priory are some ruins.


The elegant snowball fight

The snowball fight

Date: Late 19th century or early 20th century
Sitters: Unknown
Provenience: Öland, Sweden

A rather unusual CDV depicting two ladies dressed for winter - engaged in a snowball fight! The picture is from rural Sweden and shows them in a garden, dressed in skirts and jackets suitable for the winter and quite fashionable. The ensembles are matching and if you look closely at the clothes you can see trimmings (most notable on the darker clad woman). They are probably quite well off - one of the signs are the little hats they are wearing - poorer women at this time would most likely not have owned something like that, they used shawls instead. The fur scarves they are wearing also hint at some money.

And yet they are involved in a snowball fight! It is not just for show either - note the white in the face and on the jacket on the lighter dressed woman, that's not a damage on the photo but snow! No wonder she doesn't look quite happy...


Fashion from January 1845

1845 - January

Date: January 1845
Originally published in: Stockholms mode-journal
Description: A gentleman and four women (and three women busts, or what to call them)

The magazine (translated from Swedish), describes the clothes as (from left to right - but for some reason there is no description of the third woman):
Man in a sleeveless, blue coat, with velvet collar and lined with velvet too. Underneath he is wearing a tail coat with a low collar and wide lapels. To this he is wearing a white, very long piqué vest with gold buttons and a small, standing collar, and a black neck-scarf. The trousers are somewhat close-fitting. 
The woman next to him is wearing a velvet bonnet, with a back made of atlas silk in the same colour as the bonnet. The inside of the bonnet is also lined with atlas. The striped gown is made of green silk taffeta. . Over this is worn a light green cashmere wool coat with narrow ribbons of black velvet and big buttons.
The seated woman is dressed in a bonnet made of silk decorated with flowers. She is wearing a blue silk coat and underneath that a plain, light cashmere wool dress.
[The woman next to her is wearing a bonnet and a blue dress under a lace-trimmed purple coat.]
The woman looking in the mirror is wearing a Spanish mantilla (or as the magazine likes its fashion terms in French: mantille) in black with a hood (in the Swedish text it was called kapuchon - a take on the French termn 'capuchon', nowadays the Swedish word is spelled 'kapuschong'). To this she is wearing a mustard coloured silk dress. 

Note that compared to just a few years later (see here) the different coats and styles have not been given any names.


The V&A wedding dress

Victoria and Albert museum - Wedding-dress
Front of the dress
One of the highlights of the Victoria and Albert Museum fashion exhibition must be this little dress. (Little as in made for someone rather short, by today's standard, I hasten to add.)

It is made of white cotton muslin with a flowery wool embroidery at the bottom of the skirt, silk satin collar and wadded rouleaux in the front. It was made sometime around 1830 by an unknown person and worn by an equally unknown person - it was probably made in either France or Britain. It is very typical of its time with the big balloon sleeves and slim waste - the fashion had made some drastic changes in the last ten years. This is the total opposite of the Regency fashion.

It must also be noted that the museum labels this as a probable wedding-dress, but nobody knows for sure. It is based much on the amount of work gone into this dress, it must have been made for a special occasion. Wedding dresses in the 19th century could very well be white, but not necessarily (many women would just wear their Sunday best, or take into account to have a wedding dress made that could very well be worn afterwards too) and it didn't become really popular until the wedding of queen Victoria in 1840 when she chose to wear white - some ten years after this dress was made.

Victoria and Albert Museum - Wedding-dress
Side of the dress
The side of the dress is by far the least flattering for the wearer - the big sleeves hide the slim waste and making the whole thing rather look like a balloon.
Victoria and Albert Museum - Wedding-dress
Back of the dress
The back shot clearly reveals a dress made to be seen both from front and back. The V-shaped collar from the front is in the back given a totally different shape - while the floral pattern at the bottom of the skirt remains the same both from the front and the back.

Victoria and Albert museum - Wedding-dress
Dress in different light (due to different camera)


The Bather

Victoria and Albert museum - The Bather
Photo taken by me - All rights reserved

This is the marble sculpture The Bather, made by Albert Toft in 1915. It was on display at Victoria and Albert Museum in London when I caught it on camera - but it is actually a piece belonging to Tate Gallery, that was given the piece by The Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest.

The motif is a woman taking her clothes off (with more clothes off than on) before stepping into a bath (which we are to imagine - in the same way we are to imagine her underwear since the piece of clothing we can see is a dress, and a dress would normally be worn with something beneath it. Let's call it artistic license). 

Throughout the 19th century naked women in marble was a popular theme, and this piece could very well be seen as a continuation of that tradition. But this piece is somewhat more realistic than a lot of the other sculptures you may see, which come across as rounded and sweet versions of ancient sculptures, often with a mythological theme - it was generally viewed as more appropriate to have a naked Venus in your sculpture gallery than a naked portrait of your wife. But this figure, The Bather, comes across as a real woman, she is not a goddess shedding her clothes for a dip, she is a normal English woman doing just that. 


Review - The Diary of Murasaki Shikibu

Murasaki Shikibu is mainly known for her The tale of Genji, but she has made another important contribution to the literary heritage of old Japan, and that is her diary, or nikki as they are called in Japanese. A nikki is a collection of reflections and describtions of events, but not perhaps in a way a modern diary-writer would understand the task. Fair enough, this is written a little over a thousand years ago, conventions on writing change over time.

This diary is written in the first years of the 11th century, in a period called Heian. She is recently widowed and has a place at the imperial court, and the first part (and the end) is a description of life in the imperial household. The diary begins when the second consort of emperor Ichijo, Shoshi, was expected to give  birth to her first child, and then revolvs around this, the rituals surrounding birth and newly borns, but also court life as such. The second part of the book has the shape of a letter, both telling of Murasaki's thoughts on life (which come across as rather gloomy) and her opinions on other courtiers.

The main focus is descriptions. She describes rituals, people, nature and clothes. Everything is very beautiful and to the point in a way any modern writer could take notes from. But this is an old text and to a modern reader that can present a problem, you have to know quite a bit to be able to fully appreciate the text. That is why I would recommend any reader to sit down with a version with extensive footnotes. It might sound a bit boring, but it really isn't, and if you don't you will soon see the problems: not only are the officialls mentioned only by their titles and in a way that hints very little of who they were, but even the colours of the ladies in waiting's  robes are described in ways unknown to most modern readers (not to mention non-Japanese), and let's face it, most of us know precious little about rituals and their shape and meaning in Heian Japan.

All in all a beautiful read and an important document!

More about her can be found here!


Mary Curzon and style

Mary Curzon
Mary Curzon, who deserves a blog post in herself (and I might get around to that) was an American heiress who married George Curzon who was to become Viceroy of India at the end of the 19th century. At the moment I'm reading Nigel Nicolson's biography on her (Mary Curzon) and his description of her and her wardrobe when she was to become Vicereine is worth quoting in spite of its length (page 138 in the Futura paperback edition from 1978) to give a flair of the exotic, and what was expected of a woman in the late Victorian and Edwardian period:

"She took immense pains with her trousseau, knowing that she must match the magnificent jewels, uniforms, turbans and saris of her host and hostess, and how much importance an oriental people attach to outward appearance. She must be ultra-feminine when the men were ultra-masculine. She must not give offence by adopting the Indian style, but pay tribute to it by discreet reminders that she knew what it was. She had special materials woven in India to her design; embroidered Parisian clothes with Indian motifs; bought costume jewellery in Calcutta bazaars. Many of her clothes survive in the costume-museum of Bath, a few displayed on dummies in the exhibition-hall, the remainder carefully stored in the original trunks in which she brought them back from India. There, seventy years later, I was allowed to unfold and handle them. They were still in perfect condition. Evening dresses, garden-party dresses, trains, morning gowns; silks, satins and brocades; padded, boned and upholstered. She had a taste for slithering materials which changed colour as she walked, or crisp ones which rustled (sound has gone out of modern clothes, to their loss), and for lace edgings which would have dirtied withing an hour had she not taken great care. Almost every dress was made by Worth in Paris, and  on most were stitched Indian designs of flowers, or whorls following the skirt-hem or caressing the neckline, strengthening the flowing silk or satin with encrusted dragons or insects unknown to entomology. She preferred glowing colours, rich reds and purples, imperial colours, but pink was her favourite. In the daytime the dresses were loose and flowing, or tightly waisted. In the evening, her splendid shoulders emerged candlelike from the tight socket of her gown. Her beauty complimented  the material and jewels, her wearing them the designer, and all combined to satisfy her desire, her obligation, to be the loveliest."