12/22/2008

Pop-culture woman of the week - Rinoa Heartilly

Name: Rinoa Heartilly (リノア・ハーティリー Rinoa Hātirī)
First appearance: Final Fantasy VIII (1999)
Creator: Tetsuya Nomura
Weapon/ability: Blaster edge
Race:
Human
Age:
17 years old

Rinoa is the out-spoken, head-strong, emotional female protagonist of the eighth Final Fantasy game to hit the market. She is the obvious opposite of the male protagonist - Squall Leonhart (a sure sign that love will develop).

She enters the story at the SeeD celebration party, coming to the school were the other main characters get trained for combat - an event she participates in to get a chance to speak to the head-master. She wants to hire some SeeDs to help her with her task of helping out the Timber Owls - a resistance group which she is leading (though not very successfully - and things get even worse once they try to help out).

But in spite of her short-comings in this episode, she is willing to learn and to help were she can, so she tags along for the rest of the adventure - which is not always such a good thing as she gets possessed, and at one time almost get thrown into outer space and has to be saved from time to time.

Rinoa spends most of her time wearing black shorts with a short, blue denim skirt on top of, a halter-neck top and a knitted, long, sleeveless blue duster sweater - with white wings on the back. But the first time Squall meets her she is wearing a light yellow cocktail-dress.

(She is actually the daughter of the woman that Squall's father had a crush on - before he met the woman that would become the mother of his child.)

12/20/2008

Photo of the week - Marie Jensen

Date: 1907
Photographer: Emil Clausen
Sitter: Marie Jensen
Provenience: Copenhagen, Denmark

This is a photo of the Danish woman Marie Jensen, taken in 1907, at a Copenhagen photo-studio. The somewhat unusual shape of the photo is due to it being cut - probably to suit a frame (the most common reason for old photos being 'resized').

The sitter makes a rather simple, but very neat, impression. Her hair is combed up, but not into such big waves as could be popular at this time. Her blouse has a high collar and is decorated with hem-stitching in a quite intricate pattern. She does not wear any visible jewellery.

On the back of the card is written, with a pencil, in Danish "Til min søster Stine fra Marie 1907." [To my sister Stine [probably short for Christine] from Marie 1907.] A later writing adds "Marie Jensen Datter af [daughter of] N.P. Jensen Thisted [a town on the Danish peninsula Jutland], born in 1882.

If anyone should happen to know anything more about this woman I would be very happy to know - so far my research has given no results. For example it could be interesting to know how it is that this photo was taken in Copenhagen when she came from a small town many miles away - if it is, as is most likely, that she had moved to the Danish capital for some reason. She does not seem to be married, at least not at the time of the when the picture was taken, since the second note on the back most likely would have mentioned that - and whoever made that note was not her sister Stine but some third party who knew who she was, but who was not an immediate family.

12/18/2008

Hair-do of the week - French women in 1900


This picture is from the French publication "La Coiffure Francaise Illustrée", from 1900. This Victorian and Edwardian magazine showed the hair-dos done by different French (or perhaps more correctly Parisian) hair-dressers. In this case the creator is Georges Girard - of course working from Paris.

The hair-dos of the late 19th century and early 20th century could be quite intricate. When looking at photos from the time they often come across as much simpler though, all the hair combed up to make a big bun on top of the head, but when the time, money and occasion allowed it things could get much more artistic - with curls and ornaments all over the place (which must have made them quite heavy and cumbersome to wear).

But they all have one thing in common - even with much simpler hair-dos of the time - and that is that they were based on the idea that the hair should be up, as up as it could possibly be, and as little as possible should be hanging down. At the bottom pictures (that shows the same hair-do from different angels) you can see some curls hanging down at the back of the neck, but that is all. It was much more alright for the hair to hang down around the forehead - and the hair-dos were not really made for wearing a hat. Hats were still a must for all proper ladies, so this could be seen as a sure sign that the coiffures shown here were made for either special hats, suitable for the occasion (as in the upper left corner) or made for evening-wear when hats were not present. The more ordinary hair-dos were, on the other hand, perfect for placing a big hat on top of.

12/08/2008

That again

December is always a month when much to do and little time for blogging - and things will not get better this coming week since I will be going to London. But I will return, and so will the posts on this blog.

Take care!

12/07/2008

Portrait of the week - Woman in the green dress (Camille)


This is the painting Woman in the green dress by the painter Claude Monet, done in 1866. It is also known as Camille.

The painting is one of the Monet's earlier works, and the one that would grant him national fame - though the style of the painting has little to do with impressionism and the technique that would make him famous.

The woman is dressed in a dress striped in green and black, with a train and of a rather light fabric - that looks like silk, but considering the financial situation in which it was painted it is not that likely the original was made in that material. Over the dress she is wearing a jacket with fur trimmings. On her head she is wearing a small hat - just as if she was ready to walk out the door at any moment.

The woman is Camille Doncieux, Monet's first wife. She was born in 1847. She met the painter in 1865 and became the artist's mistress and model. She was from a poor background and Monet's father refused to let them get married for just that reason. In 1867 she gave birth to the son Jean. In 1870 the couple got married anyway. In 1877 she gave birth to the couple's second child, the son Michel. But by now Camille's health was deteriorating, and she died in 1879 - just 32 years old. Her husband had probably started a liaison with the woman that was to become his second wife, Alice Hoschedé, before Camille's death.

12/05/2008

Goddess of the week - Sif

Name: Sif
Sphere of influence: Relationships
Location: Scandinavia
Famous portraits: None contemporary

The name Sif means "in-law-relationship" and in all probability her function as a goddess could be found in that name - though it is not entirely clear, she is not that frequent in the Nordic sagas.

The goddess Sif is the wife of the thunder-god Thor in Norse Mythology. With him she has the daughter Thrud (Þrúðr - meaning "strength" and "woman") and from some previous relationship she has the son Ullr ("glory"). The father of that child is unknown, and Thor is referred to as being a step-father - that is all we know on that subject.

Sif is mentioned in both the Poetic Edda (written in the 13th century - but based on elder sources) and the Prose Edda (written in the 13th century by Snorre Sturluson).

Sif's hair is golden - the god Loki cuts it off once when the goddess was sleeping, but he is caught (and threatened) by her husband Thor, and Loki promises to replace her hair, and commissions a net of pure gold to be made for her head. When she put it on it the golden hair got stuck to her head - and replaced her own hair so that she actually had hair made of pure gold.

The talk of her golden hair, and the golden hair being cut, has made some scholars talk about Sif being some kind of fertility goddess - and her hair being a symbol for the growing fields, cut down when ripe. But this is a rather modern theory that has little to do with actual evidence from ancient sources.

The portrait here of Sif is made by Jenny Nyström.

12/02/2008

Women of the week - Sigrid Storråda

Name: Sigrid Storråda
Born: Circa 955(?), Sweden
Died: Circa 1010(?)
Married to: 1. Erik Segersäll
2. Svend Tveskägg (Fork-beard)
Children: At least three sons
Occupation: Queen

To be quite honest, the authenticity of this woman has been disputed, and the jury is still out on whether or not she really existed - but today's historians generally seem to believe there might be some truth to her existence.

Sigrid is mentioned in the Icelandic sagas, but not Adam of Bremen who lived closer in time (but perhaps could not always keep straight the complicated family relations among the Nordic kings) - but how much of what is written there is a historical truth is open for debate.

She is supposed to have been the daughter of a local noble man, Skoglar Toste, but her birth-date is unknown. Somewhere around 975 she married the Swedish king Erik Segersäll (the victorious) and with him she got a couple, or so, children - among them Olof, who would later get the epithet Skötkonung (the meaning of this word is unclear). But Erik was not happy with his wife and divorced her - for unknown reasons, it was obviously not because she could not have children. She would later remarry, this time the king of Denmark Svend Fork-beard, and is supposed to be the mother of Canute the Great.

A couple of legends connected to Sigrid includes one that says that she was engaged to be married to Olav I of Norway. But things came to an end when she told him that she refused to become a Christian. He then hit her and said he refused to marry a heathen. After this she became a bitter enemy of the man and persuaded both her second husband and her son Olof to go to war against Olav - which would eventually end with the death of the Norwegian king. It is unclear if it should be seen as a twist of irony or a sign that the story really can not be true, since her own son was the first Swedish king to become Christian (and remain that till his death). Another story tells about how Sigrid, after being divorced from her first husband, got courted by minor kings - which annoyed her and in the end she had a couple of them killed through burning down the house they were staying in. That kept unwanted suitors away from her - though obviously not Svend.

Her epithet 'Storråda' means the one that makes great plans. In English she is often referred to as 'the Haughty' - based on her actions.

11/30/2008

Fashion of the week - Evening-wear of 1877

This is a picture from the French magazine Journal des Demoiselles, from January 1877, showing the back of two ladies in evening-dresses - and a young girl, also with her back turned to the spectator.

The 1880's had its bustle era, as can be seen here, and so did the 1870's, but there were a few years in between when the bustle was gone - or at least almost so. These dresses are from this period and instead the skirts are very slim and narrow (but note that the bustle is not completely gone from the little girl's dress). Whether there was still a bustle or not on the dress in 1877 was different from gown to gown - a matter of taste and how daring the wearer chose to be. And it is also worth remembering that fashion seldom is very clear-cut, with one day the dresses looking one way and the next day completely different. Instead it is a gradual change.

Some things that really did not change was how to choose accessories for the evening-dress - like it had been twenty years earlier and would be twenty years later there were the long gloves and the fans. The hair and the dresses were adorned with artificial flowers and the dresses of a cut that would mimic the current fashion - and take everything one step further, the trains being longer, the neckline being lower (just like evening-wear is today - though trains are not that common).

What is more enigmatic is the black-dressed girl. It almost looks like she is in mourning - why would she otherwise be dressed in black? A girl in black seems like a strange companion for women in party-clothes - but mixing different kinds of dresses on these fashion plates was quite common so perhaps it is not that surprising, even the subjects seem to be an ill match.

11/28/2008

Pop-culture woman of the week - Haruhi Fujioka

Name: Haruhi Fujioka (藤岡 ハルヒ Fujioka Haruhi)
First appearance: Ouran High School Host Club (manga in 13 volumes - still ongoing - and anime - 26 episodes)
Creator: Bisco Hatori
Weapon/ability: Stubbornness
Race:
Japanese
Age:
16 years old

Haruhi is a student at the very prestigious Ouran High School. She is a commoner, able to go there through a scholarship. By accident she walks in on the Host club - a club kept by six male students at the school to keep the ladies entertained. She breaks an expensive vase, and since there was no way she could repay it she had to work off the debt. Her sex was not viewed as a problem, because they did not know she was a girl. She could not afford to buy the school-uniform so instead she had borrowed clothes from her father - and she had gotten gum in her long hair so she had cut it off. The truth is soon revealed, but she stays on, posing as a boy (something that she had little problem with, being of the opinion that gender makes little difference).

Haruhi is a blunt person, intelligent and a good student, a popular host - and blind to the verge of down-right stupidity when it comes to relationships. There are quite a lot of guys who falls for her, like the successor in a yakuza family Ritsu Kasanoda (who has some serious problems with that when he first thinks that she is a he), the twins Hikaru and Kaoru of the Host club (though it is only Hikaru who actually confesses to her - and he is turned down) and the president of the club, Tamaki Suoh (though he is very slow at realizing that himself - making them a good match in that respect).

Haruhi lost her mother when she was young and lives alone with her cross-dressing father who works in a bar. Their life is very ordinary and the upper-class boys of the Host club is fascinated by that - though it annoys her. She does have one friend form outside of school that shows up in the manga, Mei - the daughter of another cross-dressing man. She has very little problem seeing what Haruhi is feeling - even when she does not know herself.

11/27/2008

Photo of the week - Lady from Vienna 1903

Date: 1903
Photographer: Carl Pietzner
Sitter: Unknown
Provenience: Vienna, Austria

(Please click on the picture to get a better view of it - Blogger does not fully appreciate the unusual form of the photo and that is why the resolution is a little bit off.)

There is no hint on the photo who the sitter is, but the photo is dated, by the photo-studio, to 1903. This is the only photo of the lady in question that I own, but according to the notes from the photo-studio, this is one photo in a set of two (and thereby giving more information than can generally be found at the back of an old photo, when someone who knew the sitter, or the object herself, has failed to make notes).

The photo is taken in Vienna, in the atelier owned by the photographer Carl Pietzner (1853-1927, he died from committing suicide, but until then he had had a very successful photographic business and on the photo you can read both K.u.K. and Kais.u.Kön. [Imperial and Royal] which is to say that he was someone the Austrian royalty went to to have their pictures taken).

The woman has curly hair pinned up in a rather simple hair-do, but that is the only simple thing about her - that and the line of her clothing, she is wearing a blouse and a skirt, clothing items that were generally simpler than the dresses of the time (though that does not seem to be the case this time, which will soon become evident). She wears quite a lot of jewelry - considering that it is day-wear she has on and this is a time when a lot of jewelry was quite uncommon, even when dressed up to go to the photographer. She has ear-rings, a medallion, a bracelet and an engagement ring - but no wedding-band.

Her skirt is simple, but not overly so. It is has extra seams and ribbons - in colour with the skirt, but still clearly visible. But what is really exquisite is her blouse. It has a high collar and sleeves that can only be described as 'special', hanging loose around the cuff that has the same fabric as the collar - both the stripes and something that looks very much to be hemstiching, a quite common way to adorn clothes at the time. But that is not all that is done to the blouse (which must have been quite expensive - though perhaps that should not be surprised since she after all was the customer at a royal photo-studio). Both the upper part of the sleeves and the front of the blouse is adorned with lace in a floral pattern. Still, this must have been an item of everyday wear, you did not attend parties (generally) in a blouse.

Hair-do of the week - English women of 1828


This picture is taken from the English magazine La Belle Assemble, the June issue in 1828. It shows five possible ways for women to have their hair at the time.

The woman in the middle of the picture represents the evening-wear - but the rest is supposedly inspiration for ordinary days (though perhaps not this exaggerated, most women had to be able to perform everyday, practical tasks, even if they had servants).

At parties you were at liberty to have quite fanciful hair-dos, which did what it could to work against laws of gravity and the natural fall of the hair. The hair was then adorned in every possible way - here with pearls and other jewellery - and often flowers and ribbons.

Almost all coiffures at this time, and four out of five in this picture, had the curls that worked as a frame for the face. The curls were thick over the ears and upwards, but seldom reached below. The hair was really meant to be up.

When you were not attending a party the back of the hair was generally kept away from too extravagant stuff. The reason was simple, you were always supposed to be able to put some head-wear over it. It would cause havoc to anything too stylish, and anyway it would be hidden from general view - which was also a good reason to not spend too much time on it. The most important thing was to keep stylish that part you actually showed off.

The head-wear at the time came in a wide variety, like the bonnets that hit it big time with the regency fashion, and turbans that also became big at that time. But this was also a time when the ordinary hats had their revival and could be seen again. It was all a matter of taste and inclinations of the wearer.

11/25/2008

Portrait of the week - The young martyr

This painting is called The Young Martyr, or the Young Christian Martyr, or A Christian Martyr Drowned in the Tiber during the rein of Diocletian, painted by Paul Delaroche in 1855.

Delaroche was a French painter who had a great liking for painting historical motives, for example The execution of lady Jane Grey and The princes in the Tower (he seemed to have a special liking for English motives, despite his nationality). This portrait of young, dead woman is not English, though, but set in Rome, 1700 years ago.

The dark silhouette of a man can be seen against the darkening sky and the sunset, but the main focus is on the dead, young girl. Her hands are bound and her eyes closed - and her features are lit by a halo over the face. She is dressed in light fabrics, totally soaked but still floating.

The persecution of Christians during the rein of Diocletian (reining 284-305) was all to real, and at their height at 303-304 - a time that would bring forth a great set of saints, people executed due to their faith. But even though he was a determind man the persecution was not a great success - Christianity survived after all, without a great slump of numbers of members - and even a great number of non-Christians were against the persecution. The laws prohibiting the Christians to live out their faith would last for another 25 years, but they were not acted on for the most part.

The motif is walking the fine line between being creepy and overly sweet - but perhaps more on the eerie side of things when you take into account that the woman has the same face as Delaroch's wife. She had died in 1845.

The painting can now be found in the Louvre, France.

11/24/2008

Fashion of the week - Ladies in walking dresses, 1883

(Yes, my last three posts, this included, has been in the wrong order - I hope you can forgive me. Sometimes I'm not more than human!)

This is a picture from the French fashion magazine La mode illustrée, printed in 1883, which shows two ladies in walking costumes - even though they are, for some odd reason, in an indoor setting.

These dresses are a part of the bustle-era, the time when the shape of the dresses were rather slim and narrow, except for the upper part of the skirt where the bustle made them wider than any other part of the clothing. This was achieved through both the skirt and its folds and excess fabric, but also through the undergarments that had special support to hold this up - literally. Later on the skirt would be somewhat wider, but they are at this stage still narrow, and could be somewhat hard to walk fast in - but since all proper ladies should walk in a proper pace it was not considered a real problem.

That it is walking costumes shown here is clearly shown by the cut of the upper half of the clothing, they are wearing jackets and head-wear that definitely signifies outdoor-wear. They are also wearing gloves, as any lady venturing outdoors should (well, there and when going out to parties too - as can be seen in one of the earliest chapters of Little Women when two young ladies are going to a party, but only have one proper pair of gloves between them - that scene was set earlier than this, but the habit had not died out).

Goddess of the week - Sekhmet

Name: Sekhmet
Sphere of influence: War and the sun, among others
Location: Egypt
Famous portraits: Too many to count

Sekhmet was a prominent deity in ancient Egypt, originating in Upper Egypt, a female with a lion's head or sometimes even portrayed as a whole lion. She was a fearsome goddess, it was even said that her breath had created the desert.

She was a warrior goddess and very closely linked to the Egyptian Pharaohs, not just in some dynasties but all over the line. She protected the Pharaoh in battle - which of course made her very important. Her name even means (one who is) powerful. She was also an early sun-goddess in her own right. She would later on be identified as a daughter of the sun-god Re, and sometimes be referred to as The eye of Re.

Sekhmet was dressed in red, the colour of blood, and on her head she wore the sun-disc. This association with blood also made her an important goddess for women, and their menstrual cycle. She was also connected with sickness - and their curing. This connection was so great that her name would be used to signify physicians in the Middle Kingdom. Her priests were also considered to be able to give medical care.

Her cult was very important, both in war and peace. At the end of a war a festival was held, to bring the angry goddess to peace and make sure that the killing was over. In peacetime it was just as important to keep her calm and quiet (till she was needed again). This was done through festivals with a lot of participants -both priests and ordinary people. In her temples the cult was also very important, and the priests were supposed to worship a different Sekhmet statue each day of the year (one reason to there being so many preserved statues of her).

Since she was an important goddess during such a long time in Egypt it was inevitable that she would be connected in different ways with different gods and goddesses during the process. The mythology changed after all. Apart from being made daughter of Re, she was also at one point identified with both Hathor and later on Mut. She was also said to have been the mother of Nefertum - and when it became popular to make even couples of all the gods she was said to be the consort of Nefertum's father, Ptah.

Her worship continued into the time of the Greek rulers of Egypt.

11/23/2008

Woman of the week - Elizabeth Gaskell

Name: Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, born Stevenson
Born: 29 September 1810, London, England
Died: 12 November 1865, Holybourne, England
Married to: William Gaskell
Children: Five daughters and one son
Occupation: Writer

Gaskell was a Victorian author of novels dealing mostly with social issues in the industrial northern England - but she is also very well known for her biography on Charlotte Brontë, who was a close, personal friend.

Gaskell was born the youngest child of the civil servant, and former minister, William Stevenson, and his wife Elizabeth, née Holland. She had seven siblings - but only her older brother John and she would survive into adulthood. Her brother went missing in 1828 when travelling to India. Her mother died just three months after the birth of Gaskell and she was sent off to her maternal aunt Hannah Lumb in Knutsford, Cheshire. Gaskell was brought up as an unitarian and would remain one for the rest of her life.

Aged eleven she was sent to boarding-school, in Stratford-upon-Avon, and remained there until 1827. When she finished her education she returned home to her father, who by now was remarried and had two children by his new wife. But his health was failing and he died in 1829. Gaskell continued to live among relatives until she met the unitarian minister William Gaskell (born in 1805), whom she married on the 30 August 1832 in Knutsford. They moved to Manchester where William was made minister of the Cross Street Chapel.

The new surroundings would mean much to Gaskell, working as a minister's wife and taking care of the needing since the poverty was great in the city and social work was an important part of the couple's work-load. Gaskell also gave birth to six children: a still-born daughter (1833), Marianne (1834-1920), Margaret Emily (1837-1913), Florence Elizabeth (1842-1881), William (1844-1845) and Julia Bradford (1846-?). It was after the death of her son she began to write novels - though she had before that written poems (sometimes together with her husband) and short stories. Her first full-length novel was Mary Barton - A tale of Manchester life (1848), which painted a rather grim picture of the living conditions in an industrial town - something she knew quite a lot about first hand. The book was published anonymously, but her identity was soon discovered. Charles Dickens greatly approved of her writing and she became a contributor to his magazine Household words.

Her second novel Ruth (1853), which fought for the rights of unmarried mothers, caused a lot of controversy and she was criticized for her views on the topic. Her later fiction did not take on such hot topics, but could still portray the harsh reality for the poor - though they also showed a more genteel side of her which the public appreciated more. Among these works can be mentioned Cranford (1853) and North and South (1855).

Gaskell met the fellow writer Charlotte Brontë in 1850 and they became very good friends. After Brontë's death in 1855 her father and husband asked Gaskell to write a biography. She did a very thorough job of this, researching quite a lot - but also mixing fact with fiction. When The life of Charlotte Brontë hit the market in 1857 it was a great success (and meant a lot to make Brontë more famous), but Gaskell was soon criticized for it by people who did not like the way they were handled in the book. Brontë's father was not pleased either. The second edition was withdrawn, and it is the third edition that is now the standard text of that book.

Gaskell died in 1865 from heart-failure. She is buried in the graveyard at Knutsford. Her husband survived her until 1884 - and was then buried next to her.

11/20/2008

Pop-culture woman of the week - Gwendolyn

Name: Gwendolyn
First appearance: Odin Sphere (オーディンスフィア Ōdin Sufia), released in 2007.
Creator: George Kamitami
Weapon/ability: Spear and psyphers
Race:
Valkyrie
Age:
Adult

Gwendolyn is one of the five main characters in the video-game 'Odin Sphere'. She is the younger daughter to the demon lord Odin and the one who has to lead the Valkyries in battle after the death of her older sister, Griselda. She is willing to do just anything to gain love and recognition from her father - but he spends most of the time ignoring her, or just using her.

When she tries to do the right thing and prevent the execution of her half-sister Velvet, he ends up putting a spell on her and marry her off to a stranger and enemy to the Valkyries, an ally of the fairies - Oswald, the Shadow Knight.

But even after she is married and has left her home her loyalties are tried on several occasions when her father still expects her to act as his daughter - even when it would mean betraying her husband - and at the same time battle the feelings she starts to develop for Oswald, which in the end results in her taking her spear to save his life when he gives up his will to live and is dragged down to the Netherworld.

Gwendolyn and the characters around her are obviously inspired by Norse mythology - but very, very loosely.

11/19/2008

Photo of week - Danish woman, 1898

Date: December, 1898
Photographer: Joh. Crone
Sitter: Unknown
Provenience: Copenhagen

This is a photo of a young woman - or even possibly a girl. You only see her from the front but it looks like she does not have her hair up, but just braided and hanging down on her back.

Her dress is of a modest cut - high collar and rather small sleeves with little frills, in a way that can only be described as fashionable (as can be seen in this fashion picture of children's clothing from 1899 - especially on the girls to the upper left). The collar seems to be of some sort of printed fabric, which at a first (though admittedly quick) glance looks like lace, but obviously is not. Since lace was quite expensive and it is a whole collar it would probably have been quite out of the question - even if the girl came from a rich home. If she isn't that old it is also possible that it would not have been seen as quite proper for her to wear something like that.

She does not wear any jewellery.

I do not know who the girl is, but the photo is dated on the back to December 1898 - which would seem very likely. The date seems to be written in ink and in a hand typical for the time around 1900.

11/18/2008

Hair-do of the week - Hats, 1811

To the Regency woman what she was wearing on her head was just as - if not more - important as how she had her hair. All proper ladies covered their head when venturing outdoors and any proper married lady always wore something on her head when indoors too.

This is a page from the French fashion magazine Costume Parisienne, from 1811. This was when the Regency fashion era was at it's height, before later fashion trends would start to influence the look. Regency fashion can be said to have lasted from 1793 to circa 1820 and all that time the fashion was accompanied by this form of head-wear.

Hats as we would see them were never worn, hats with brims on all sides of the hat-crown. Instead the thing that everybody wore was the bonnet. The more formal ones, the ones in colour in the picture here, often had the same crown as an "ordinary" hat would have had - made of straw and adorned with ribbons and feathers and plumes. But the brim was made to frame the face and a ribbon was tied under the chin. They were made to protect the wearer from winds, rain and sun.

The other form of bonnet shown here, in white, with less of a sharp shape, are the bonnets supposed to be worn indoors by married women. They were generally of a rather soft material, often adorned with lace and/or ribbons (if only the economy would allow it - if not, a light bonnet would still be worn, but with no trimmings).

To be wearing something on the head was a sure sign of a woman being proper - and the hair was kept to suit the head-wear. This bonnet-fashion would last for the better part of the 19th century, but they would eventually get competition from ordinary hats.

11/17/2008

Portrait of the week - The Cupid Seller

This is the painting The Cupid Seller, made by Joseph-Marie Vien, in 1763. This is a very typical product of the neoclassicism of the 18th century - a movement that will culminate after the French Revolution with every woman wearing dresses reminiscent of the classical sculptures.

In the 1760's the fashion was not yet influenced by neither Ancient Greece nor Imperial Rome, but it was a popular theme in art, sculpture and furniture. This painting is a part of that movement.

The painting shows an interior with a lady sitting down, probably the matrona, and a young woman standing behind her (daughter, servant, friend? it is not clear). Kneeling in front of her is a woman showing some live cupids that she is trying to sell to the seated woman. Cupids were popular in 18th century, adorning both paintings and furniture, though it seldom looked as macabre as it does here.

The matron is clearly meant to be of the upper classes. She is pale and dressed in fine fabrics with bracelets. She looks somewhat indolent, but also interested in the wares presented to her. Her interest is shared by her companion - also dressed nicely with a bracelet. The woman in front of them, the one with the basket, is obviously of more humble origin. Her dress is simpler, her skin is darker - she is obviously a working woman. Her head is wrapped in a shawl and she looks very much like a 18th century peasant woman, if you look beyond the the dress.

Looking at historical paintings gives away a lot about the time it was painted in, and with just changing the clothes the women are wearing you could have a very lifelike portrait of three women from the 1760's.

11/16/2008

Goddess of the week - Eris

Name: Eris (Greek: Ἔρις)
Sphere of influence: Strife
Location: Greece
Famous portraits: She appears on some vase-paintings but not sculptures

This goddess is the personification of strife in classical Greek mythology, and as such her background is a bit shady. Different classical sources give different explanations to her, her background and her personality.

The oldest text to say much about Eris is the Work and Days, by Hesiod. According to him Eris was the daughter of a son of Cronus and her mother was Nyx. Her role was to cause strife among people - which, Hesiod stresses, was not necessarily a bad thing. It made man work harder to be better than his neighbours and generally prevented people from slacking off. Hesiod is less kind on Eris in his other work, Theogony. There he makes a long list of all those terrible children Eris gave life to, including Hysminai (combat), Neikea (quarrel) and Dysomnia (Lawlessness). Who the father was supposed to be is not known.

Homer on the other hand mentions her in the Iliad (book IV) but there calls her the sister of Ares (which would make her the daughter of Zeus and Hera). Some has taken this as a sign that there are two different goddesses, both named Eris and with the same function - to cause discord among men. A more likely explanation is that her lineage was not exactly written in stone - a common thing among lesser gods and goddesses - and might have changed over the years and with different traditions.

Eris is perhaps most famous for causing the Trojan War. She had not been invited to the wedding of Thetis and Peleus and as a revenge she came anyway and threw a golden apple into the crowd. On it she had written 'To the most beautiful' and of course the goddesses started to quarrel who was to recieve it. They decided on letting Paris choose among them, trying to bribe him with different gifts. Aphrodite, offering the fairest woman in the world (Helena), won - but since Helena was already married a war broke out (or so the story goes anyway).

This painting is from some Athenian painted pottery, dated to 575-525 B.C. - and even has the goddess' name written out.

11/12/2008

Woman of the week - Sophie von Knorring

Name: Sophie Margareta von Knorring, born Zelow
Born: 29 September 1797, in Gräfsnäs, Sweden
Died: 13 February 1848, in Skålltorp, Sweden
Married to: Carl Sebastian von Knorring
Children: None
Occupation: Writer

von Knorring was born into the Swedish nobility, her father, Krister Göran Zelow, was a marshal at the Swedish court and her mother, Helena Sofia Gripenstedt, was also of noble blood. She spent her first thirteen years growing up in the country and then her mother took her daughters to Stockholm to give them a better education - and to marry them off.

She married Carl Sebastian von Knorring, a major and later colonel, who was a distant relation to her, in 1820. I can find no indication that the couple had any children. In 1827 she got a severe case of pneumonia that would make her sickly for the rest of her life - and also ended her life when she was far from old.

Her writing began in 1829 when she started a novel to comfort a sister who had been widowed. That book would be published in 1834 as The Cousins (Cousinerna - or Kusinerna as it would be in modern Swedish). The book was published anonymously. She would write another dozen or so novels and essays in her life, the two most famous being The Illusions (Illusionerna - 1836) and The peasant and his landlord (Torparen och hans omgivning, 1843). The last book to be published was A court clerk (En kunglig sekter) which was published posthumously in 1861. It was only the story The fairytale of the princess Rosalinda, that actually had her name on it.

von Knorring was a conservative, she was not a speaker for women's emancipation, but very much an upper-class lady with the common values of such a person. Still, her novels became quite famous for her ability to portray young women in a very believable manner - and her novels also included dialogue in dialect, something that was quite new at the time.

11/11/2008

Fashio of the week - Mourning in 1841


This picture shows the contrived scenes that can be seen in 19th century fashion plates - here a woman in evening-wear, ready for a party, is talking to a lady in mourning clothing (hardly a lady likely to go anywhere near a party). But after all, these pictures were made to show the different aspects of fashion and not real life-situations, so we should not worry too much about it.

The picture is from the French fashion magazine 'Petit Courrier des Dames', dated to 1841, and shows the typical look of the 1840's.

The lady in blue is dressed for an evening out, with a very low neckline, lined with lace and three-quarter sleeves, also with lace. The blue colour of the dress is rather light and the fabric striped. Her hair is carefully curled, in a way that was extremely popular at this time, and adorned with a white ribbon. Her accessories includes, of course, both gloves and a fan, but also a brooch.

The lady sitting down is dressed in mourning clothes - though not full mourning, the first stage after the death of someone close, then she would not have worn the flowers on the veil, nor had the broad, black band on the dress, nor was she supposed to show any skin at all and this lady exposes her wrists. But half mourning, the stage after full mourning in clothing, was still a serious affair. It was always good to wear a little, black veil, a little mantilla also in black lace - and matching black gloves (which here actually look like they also have some lace attached to them). Full mourning was the time to show sorrow - half mourning was a good opportunity to show off the latest fashion, in sombre black.

11/07/2008

Pop-culture woman of the week - Aerith Gainsborough

Name: Aerith Gainsborough (エアリス・ゲインズブール Earisu Geinzubūru)
First appearance: Final Fantasy VII
Creator:
Tetsuya Nomura
Weapon/ability:
Staff and magic

Race:
Cetra
Age:
22

Aerith is the flower-girl that the hero of the game Final Fantasy VII, Cloud Strife, meets when he falls through the roof of the church where she tends to her flowers. She is a friendly, and somewhat flirtatious, young woman who joins the group on their quest to save the world from the madness of Sephiroth. Things will not turn out well for her in doing so.

She is the last of the ancient race of the Cetras, her mother being a Cetra herself and her father, professor Gast, being a human. Her father is killed and mother and daughter is captured by the evil professor Hojo - but they manage to escape. The mother died and Aerith was raised by Elmyra Gainsborough in the city of Midgar. The Turks, the Investigation Sector of the Shin-Ra company, keep an eye on her - but she is actually on quite friendly terms with their boss Tseng and they mostly leave her alone.

Some more back-story to her character is given in the game Crisis Core, set five years prior to the original game, where Aerith gets to know the main character of that game, Zack Fair - who shares some traits with Cloud, which she will note when she later meets Cloud. It is Zack that buys her her trade-mark pink ribbons and also talks her into selling flowers.

For obvious reasons Aerith doesn't partake much in the film Advent Children - which instead deals a lot with the guilt Cloud feels as a result of her death. But there is still an opportunity to show up long enough to ease his suffering, telling him that she does not blame him for her death.

Her name was at first translated into English as Aeris, in the first game, Final Fantasy VII. But the truth is that Aerith is much closer to the original idea of her name (though it was hard to put into Japanese writing - hence the misunderstanding) and the following appearances of her (Final Fantasy VII - Crisis Core and Advent Children) she is more correctly named as Aerith. Her last name should, according to the katakana, be pronounced more as the French singer than the English painter, despite the spelling.

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.