4/08/2008

Hair-do of the week - Friederike of Prussia



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

Now at display at Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany

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

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

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

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

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

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