Portrait of the week - Adelaide Brownlow

Adelaide, countess Brownlow, by Frederic Leighton, 1879.

This portrait of the English countess is not very typical of the time and shows different influences than those inspiring most artists at the time.

One of the main points of interest is the dress worn by the lady which has little (or more exactly nothing) to do with the fashion of the day. It is long and flowing, but without the corseted waist or hoop-skirts underneath. That is no wonder, but Adelaide and her husband were member of the cultural salon 'The Souls'.

The Souls was established when the Home Rule meant that many existing social forums mostly were used to discus Gladstone and politics and for those who saw little amusement in that (or at least wanted to do other things besides that) they had somewhere to turn to. Many of the members, like the Brownlows, were aristocrats interested in the aesthetic movement at the time.

It is this liking for this cultural phenomenon that can be most clearly seen in this portrait. One of the key elements of the aesthetic movemebt was to turn away from the ugly of the day and return to the beauty, away from the Victorian society and with a lot of heritage from the Romantic era. This was done with choosing a dramatic, and not very modern, back-drop to the lady herself, as well as her dress. It is a dress that seems to have more to do with a Renaissance dress. It was not something worn by everyone, but members of this movement actually chose this kind of clothing over what was considered 'normal'. It was worn because it was considered more appealing to the eye - and to the body and it continued to influence fashion (or certain parts of it) all the way to the turn of the century.

The picture is now to be found at the staircase at Belton House, England.


Goddess of the week - Nyx

Name: Nyx
Location: Greece
Sphere of influence: The Night
Famous portraits: None

This Greek goddess was one of the more important figures of Greek mythology, even though she does not appear very frequently in the myths. She is one of the earliest gods, being the daughter of Chaos (according to Hesiod's Theogony) or (according to the Hellenistic Orphic hymns) even being the first principle of this world. She was so fearsome that not even Zeus dared approach her - when he was on the hunt for one of her children who had helped his wife Hera in a way that he did not approve of.

Apart from being a fearsome old goddess she was also a mother - to quite a few number of children, with some different fathers, including her brother Erebus, the god of darkness and shadow (and some she even got by herself). They include: Eris (Strife), Hemera (Day - though she might be Nyx's sister, the stories are not quite clear on this), Hypnos (Sleep) and Thanatos (Death).

We do not know that much about her cult, but the writer Pausanias states that she had an oracle at Megara and there was a statue of her at the temple of Artemis at Ephesus.

The Romans called her Nox (Latin for night).

There are not really any known ancient portraits or statues of Nyx from antiquity, that we know of at least. The picture at this entry was done in 1883 by the French painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau.


Woman of the week - Godiva

Name: Godiva (latinised form of the Saxon Godgifu - God's gift)
Born: Unknown - impossible to even guess.
Dead: After 1066 and before 1086.
Married to: Leofric, earl of Mercia
Children: Possibly Ælfgar.
Occupation: Noble woman and landowner.

Lady Godiva is mostly known to people today as a figure in an old tale. The people under her husband's rule were so oppressed by taxes that she wanted to do something to help them and right her husband's wrong. He told her that he would listen to her if she rode naked through the city of Coventry (that was a part of his land-holdings). She was serious in her will to help so she took him literally and did just that - dressed only in her long hair (and after posting a decree that everyone was supposed to stay inside and not look at her). After she had done this her husband relents and agrees to take away the taxes.

The oldest version of this story that is know is from the 13th century, but it quotes an earlier, lost story. The very well-known addition about the Peeping Tom (a man who didn't listen and tried to watch the lady's ride but was struck blind by God) is not known prior to the 17th century.

But lady Godiva is an actual, real person. But it is hard to find much information about persons from the 11th century, even when it comes to nobles, so the outline of her life is rather sketchy. It is possible that Godiva was married before she was married to Leofric, but if that was not the case it is also possible they married early she was the mother of the earl's only known child Ælfgar. She, along with her husband, were great benefactors of religious houses, for example founding a Benedictine monastery in Coventry, and they were commemorated as benefactors of the convents at for example Chester and Evesham. She is mentioned in Florence of Worcester (from 1118) with great respect due to her good work for the church - but this text says nothing about her riding around to reduce takes; let alone doing so naked.

Leofric died in 1057 and left her a wealthy widow and landowner. She is mentioned in the Domesday book as being the only major female landholder after the Norman conquest. But at the time of the writing of the manuscript (in 1086) she had died and the land passed on to others. When this happened more precisely is not known. The matter of where she is buried is also a matter of debate. The Evesham Chronicle claims that she was buried there in the church of the Holy Trinity, which is no longer standing. But it is actually much more likely she was buried in Coventry where her husband was.

Lady Godiva appears in several pictures, mostly from the 19th century - like the one at this entry, painted by John Collier in c. 1898.

Other pop-cultural references worth mentioning is the chocolatier Godiva, and the pop-song written by the duo Peter & Gordon called Lady Godiva.


Fashion of the week - The Delineator, 1921

This is a picture from the American magazine The Delineator (a fashion magazine published from 1873 to 1937 when it was merged into another magazine: Pictorial Review). It shows three women of the latest fashion. The clothing is fancy, but it is everyday wear - for the rich and idle. But it should be noted that the clothes of the less well to do had at this time (post World War I) started to closer mimic that of the more well to do, even when it came to ordinary day-wear, and pictures like this served as an inspiration for the 'ordinary' woman.

The clothes shows the transition from the 1910's to the flapper fashion of 1920's very clearly. The lack of silhouette that to many is the clearest sign of the 20's fashion was in fact already a reality during the Great War. The clothes became much simpler than they had been during 'The belle Epoque' at the turn of the century. That is not to say that all things like lace and beads disappeared from fashion, but compared to earlier times things were very different now. Simpler, more restrained.

At this time, 1921, the waist is starting to slowly move towards the hips, away from the waist of the body and the dress did nothing to enhance the figure but instead hang almost like a sack on the human frame. The thing that mostly reveals the fashion of the 1910's still prelevant as late as this is the hats. They have broad brims that shaded the whole face and that would just a couple of years later be replaced by much smaller ones.


Popculture woman of the week - Judy Abbott

Name: Judy (really Jerusha) Abbott
Appearance: Daddy-long-legs (1912) and Dear Enemy
Creator: Jean Webster
Weapon/ability: Her pen
Race: American
Age: College-girl
Judy is an orphan girl that has lived all her life in an orphanage. She has no idea of who her parents were, or even what her real name is - the caretaker of the orphanage chose her name, taking Jerusha from a tomb-stone (and Judy later confesses she really hates it) and Abbott from the phone-book ('you can find it on the first page'). But she is in luck, she is unusually talented when it comes to writing and one of the trustees of the orphanage wants to sponsor her going to college so she can become a real writer. In return she has to write to him regularly - but she must not know his true identity, or even his real name. And off she goes.

She has seen the man once, or the back of him, and him looking like a giant daddy-long-legs - which induces her to give him that nickname and in her letters starting to call him by that name. The story then follows her four years at college, the ordinary life of female colleges students, and also her own personal struggle to fit in and never reveal her background. She finds some true friends there and works hard to reach her goals - but there is also some time for romance. And everything is reported back to Daddy-long-legs (or Mr. Smith as she is supposed to call him, but can't. As she puts it herself in her first letter to him: "...how can you be respectful to a person who wishes to be called John Smith? Why couldn't you have picked out a name with a little personality? I might as well write letters to Dear Hitching-Post or Dear Clothes-Prop.")

The story has been filmed several times, the earliest (from 1919) has Mary Pickford as Judy, and there are two others, one from 1931 and one from 1955 with Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron in the lead roles (but they do a great job at ripping the original story to shreds, including changing her name to Julie Andre and having her live in France!). Lately there has been two Asian productions: the Korean Kidari ajeossi from 2005 and the Japanese anime series Watashi no ashinaga ojisan from 1990, the later following the original story perhaps a tad bit more closely than the former

Tip of the day

If you are interested in old clothes and like to see the originals there is a great place to see a lot of clothes from the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries.

Look here!

Do not feel intimidated by the Italian if that is not a language you understand, the pictures talk well enough for themselves anyway. There are plenty of examples with big and clear pictures and most dresses and such like has pictures from different angles so that you really see what it looks like.


Photo of the week - Consuelo Vanderbilt, 1899

Date: 1899
Photographer: Lafayette studios
Sitter: Consuelo, duchess of Marlborough (born Vanderbilt)
Provenience: London, England

This is another example of the photos taken by the famous photography studio Lafayette (for another example see this earlier post). And the sitter is just as famous as the studio, she being the American heiress and English duchess Consuelo Vanderbilt (more on her can be seen here).

The Lafayette studios mostly took pictures of people visiting the royal court, but they also had time to take pictures of people in more ordinary circumstances, as can be clearly seen in this photo. A duchess is hardly an ordinary person and her appearance is not that of a common woman, but she is dressed in day-wear and she was supposed to be able to walk away from the photo shoot without having to change her clothing.

Her dress is the latest fashion of 1899, with the narrow skirt that widens into a train, decorated with lace. Lace is something that is all other this dress, lace was very popular at this time, and good lace was very expensive so it was a good way to show off your social status (and that you had the money). The arms of the dress are very narrow and not quite so 'legs of mutton' as they would have been a few years earlier, when they would have made the arms look almost deformed with their great widths at the upper part of the arm and the narrowness of the lower part.

At the top of her head rests a hat on top of the curly hair that has been built up to add quite a lot to her height. The hat itself has a whole bouquet of artificial flowers decorating it, making it even higher - and possibly a bit hard to wear, but it is after all the time of the hat pin - a needle of about 1-2 decimeters with a nicely decorated head that was stuck into the hat and the hair (but preferably with some kind of care since it could really hurt if it went into the skin as well, it was a sharp thing after all).


Hair-do of the week - Mrs. János Matta, 1860

This is a detail of a painting is done by the Hungarian painter Miklós Barabás in 1860. It is now to be viewed in Déri Museum, Debrecen, Hungary, together with the portrait of her husband, Mr. János Matta from the same year.

This portrait clearly shows both her clearly influenced the Hungarian upper classes were of the European fashion of the time, and just as clearly it shows how the hair-dos of the time looked like.

The hair-style had not changed much since the 1850's, the hair lay flat on the top of the head and parted in the middle. It was then shaped into a frame to the face. In this example the hair closest to the face is hanging down like a curtain, and over most the ears. The next part of the hair is parted away from the hair closest to the face and twirled or braided into a thick shape that makes the head all the more round, the ideal shape of the female head at the time.

Since it is a painted portrait it is of course impossible to say too much about the back of the head. What is visible is the fact that the hair is adorned by a couple of pink or light red roses and there is some kind of lace fastened to the hair-do, either as a ribbon or as some kind of veil.

The lady herself is more enigmatic than her hairstyle. All that I have been able to find out about her is the obvious: that she was married to Mr. János Matta and that she was, in all probability Hungarian - at least that is where she lived and her husband was.


Taking a break

Due to life and general - and traveling more specifically - this blog has been on a hiatus for a short while now and will continue to do so until the 25th of May.

Welcome back then!


Portrait of the week - Katharina von Mecklenburg

Katharina von Mecklenburg, by Lucas Cranach the elder, 1514.

This portrait is very typical of the painting style of Cranach and of the German Renaissance. The dress is brightly coloured in red and yellow and gold. The arms are slit to show the white linen beneath it. The waist is laced and around her neck are chains of gold. Her fingers are adorned with rings with precious stones. Her hat is a barrette with white plumes.

This is a dress of a noble woman, that you can tell without knowing anything else about her - which we do, though. This is the latest fashion of the time, portrayed to really state the economic and social situation of its wearer.

The lady in question is Katharina of Mecklenburg, the daughter of the duke of Mecklenburg. She was born in 1487 and married Henry the Pious (Heinrich der Fromme) of Saxony in 1512, at the not so tender age of 25 - the husband being fifteen years her senior. But neither was married before this match. The had six children, four sons and two daughters. One of the sons died at the age of eleven, but all the other reached adulthood - another rare feat at the time.

Henry was at the time of the marriage in charge of the areas of Wolkenstein and Freiberg, he was the younger brother to the duke of Saxony, and the duke had two sons himself. There was no reason to suspect that they would inherit the duchy.

This was also the time of the Reformation, and Katharina turned to Luther but her husband did not follow her example, at least not officially - probably much due to his older brother being a fervent Catholic. But he eventually overcame this fear and in 1536 Freiburg officially became Lutheran. By 1539 the Duke of Saxony, Henry's older brother, had lost both his son and according to the laws that made Henry heir presumptive. The brother did not approve of it, because of the difference in religious views and he did not want Saxony to turn Lutheran. But the Duke died before he could do anything about it and Henry and Katharina could take up residence in Dresden.

Henry died just two years later but Katharina would live for another twenty years, mostly residing in the castle of Wolkenstein. She died in 1561 in Torgau.


Goddess of the week - Gefjon

Name: Gefjon
Location: Primarily the island of Zealand (Sjælland), Denmark
Sphere of influence: Fertility
Famous statues/portraits: None

She has sometimes been identified with the goddess Freyja, though we do not know; but she is a fertility goddess too.

She is one of the Asynjur in Norse mythology and her name comes from the Old Norse geð fiá, which means chaste. The problem is that what is known about Gefjon comes from a few different stories, and they do not really match. In the Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson she is stated to be a virgin who receives virgins after their death. But in the Older Edda she is accused by Loki of having 'laid her legs around a man', that is had a sexual relationship with him. Odin tells him to keep quite because Gefjon is powerful and not to be angered.

Modern scholars are now more prone to see her as a fertility goddess, connected with ritual plowing in the spring. The most famous legend about Gefjon comes from this, and also tells why Zealand was connected to the goddess so strongly. The story is preserved in the Yngliga saga and the Gylfaginning. In short the story is that an unknown woman came to king Gylfi that resided in what is now a part of Sweden. She proved to know magic and to thank her for this the king granted her as much land as she could plow in a single day and night. The woman was of course Gefjon and she took four oxes and set out to work. The oxes were the four sons she had by a giant. The earth she plowed up became the island of Zealand.


Woman of the week - Katharina von Bora

Name: Katharina von Bora
Born: January 29, 1499, in Lippendorf, Germany
Dead: December 20, 1552, in Torgau, Germany
Married to: Martin Luther, in 1525
Children: Six, three boys and three girls
Occupation: Nun/housewife

Katharina von Bora came to be known as the ideal wife to in a Lutheran household, capable and caring, not too shy and very loving of both husband and children.

But her road in life was not supposed to take such a turn. Katharina was from a family of impoverished, but still, noble Saxons. At the remarriage of her father after the death of her mother Katharina was placed in a Benedictine convent at Brenna, just aged 5. There everything went according to plan and she was taught all a good nun was supposed to learn. She was later transferred to the Cistercian convent of Marienthron in Nimbchen where her paternal aunt Magdalene was a nun and her maternal aunt Margarete von Haugwitz was mother superior. Here she took the veil and became a real nun.

But it was not a life that suited Katharina very well. She and some other nuns heard about Martin Luther and his teachings and they obviously liked them because they contacted him and begged his help to get out of the convent. At Easter in 1523 a merchant came to the convent and he smuggled the twelve nuns out of the convent and to Wittenberg, the heart of the Lutheran Reformation. Here Luther did what he could to help the former nuns and established them in some way or other and managed to get most of them married. This did not include Katharina who instead went to live with city clerk Philipp Reichenbach and his family. Later she moved in to the household of Lucas Cranach the Elder.

This situation continued for two years, and during the time she was surrounded by suitors. She got two offers of marriage, one from Hieronymus Baumgartner, a student from the university (but who had to withdraw when his parents did not approve of the marriage) and one from the pastor Kaspar Glatz, who was turned down by Katharina. Instead she ended up marrying Luther.

On June 13 1525, Katharina von Bora was betrothed to Martin Luther in the Black Cloister at Wittenberg - the witnesses included Lucas Cranach and his wife Barbara. On the 27 the same month they went through a marriage ceremony and they took up residence at the Black Cloister which had been emptied of its earlier inhabitants due to the Reformation.

Katharina soon proved to be an excellent house-wife according to all accounts - including Luther's own. At the time of the marriage when she had been 26 he was 42, but he seemed to find little regret with his choice of a new kind of life. They had six children: Johannes (Hans), 1526-1575, Elisabeth, 1527-1528, Magdalena, 1529-1542, Martin, 1531-1565, Paul, 1533-1593, and Margarethe, 1534-1570. She also had a miscarriage in 1539. She took care of the household, including a brewery and raised and sold cattle. She also had to take care of the student they had as boarders and at times even turned the house into a hospital at times of widespread diseases.

In 1546 Luther died and left Katharina in a tight spot. He had made her his only heir - but that was against the law at the time and she was left with no means to support herself or her family. But the elector of Saxony, Johann Frederick I, helped her get at least a part of the inheritance and she could continue life at the Cloister - though she and the children had to leave it for a time due to the Smalkadian war. When they returned the property was badly damaged but she got financial aid from Johan Fredrick I and the princes of Anhalt. She remained there until 1552 when plague and famine forced her to leave Wittenberg.

She then traveled to Torgau where she got into a road accident near the city gates. She broke a pelvic bone and later contracted pneumonia - which ultimately resulted in her death. She was buried in the Saint Mary's church in Torgau and not together with her husband who was buried in Wittenberg.

The portrait above from 1526 is painted by Lucas Cranach the older - who also made a famous portrait of her husband a couple of years later.


Fashion of the week - English dress, ca 1793

This authentic dress from somewhere in the range of 1793 to 1797 says more about the fashion of the 18th century than the fashion that was just around the bend and would rein undisputed at the turn of the century and into the 19th century.

The dress is English, and it should not surprise anyone that it is not French. Despite the revolution of 1789 much of the fashion was still dictated from France and it was in France in 1793 that the fashion took a distinctive new turn with loose hanging fabrics and high waist.

Already in 1794 the fashion had reached London, but that is not the same as to say that everyone in England was wearing the new fashion - even if you had the money to buy new, stylish clothes which must have been the case with the woman that commissioned this dress.

The fabric is cotton, and a prime example of the fascination of the time with printed fabrics, now readily available for more common people and not just the absolute top of society.

This dress is a form of the very popular robe a l'Anglaise (lit. English dress) which had been very popular in fashion circles since the early 1780's. It is recognized by not having the big petticoats and hoops of earlier fashions making the skirts silhouette much slimmer. The skirt is open in the front allowing the petticoat to be seen as a part of the dress.

The dress seems to have quite an exposing décolletage, but that was because you were not supposed to wear the dress just like this but with a fichu or a tiny shawl rapped around that part of the body, most commonly white, which made the whole thing much more proper.

Pop-culture woman of the week - Ce'Nedra

Name: Ce'Nedra
Appearance: First time in the Belgariad
Creator: David Eddings
Weapon/ability: Bad temper
Race: Human/dryad
Age: In the beginning she is 15

The strong-willed and not very mature princess in the Belgariad, written by David Eddings. She is the daughter of emperor Ran Borune XXIII of Tolnedra and the dryad Ce'Vanne, making herself half-dryad which makes her stature small and her aging very slow. Her most prominent feature is her red curls which she has in abundance and her short temper - being raised as a princess has made her a rather spoilt person.

As all Tolnedran princesses she is destined to be sent to the kingdom of Riva to offer herself to the king as a bride - though there is no king on the throne at the moment (and has not been so for generations). Ce'Nedra has no intention of doing so and runs away - straight to the arms of the party that is the main focus of the story.

This party includes the young Garion who in turn will be revealed to be the heir to the Rivan throne and thereby the king that Ce'Nedra will have to make an offer to on her 16th birthday. And since the prophecy says it will happen, it does - no matter how much she doesn't want it to. Not that she doesn't learn to care for and like him, but she is not someone who is easily forced into anything.

She later becomes his bride, the queen of Riva and the mother of Geran and Beladaran - and it is hinted that they will have more children later on.


Photo of the week - Christine Jensen and Anna Pedersen

Date: 1905-1910
Photographer: Th. Ellemo
Sitters: Christine Jensen and Anna Pedersen
Provenience: Thisted, Denmark

It was by pure chance I found both these pictures in the same set. They were in a big pile of old photos and not even close to each other. But I did and I am glad that is the case. It is a charming set of pictures of two friends in the late teens or early twenties.

They are both dressed in the fashion for ordinary young women of the 1900's. They are both wearing skirt and blouse - it is less evident if you just look at the first picture that the woman in brighter colours has that too, but when you look at the second it becomes evident. The woman to the left has broidery on the blouse (best seen on the second photo) and the clasp on her belt is very art nouveau. The cross around her neck is big and a bit more crude to the form. The woman to the right is dressed in lighter colours, with a high collar and also a cross as necklace. She is also wearing a chain around the waist that is linked to a watch that is tucked into the folds of the blouse.

Their hair has been pinned up, the hair of the woman to the right seems to be a bit more fashinable - just as her dress seems to be. It is, however, impossible to determine if that has to do with different economical situation or just a difference of taste.

According to the hand-written message on the back of the first photo are the sitters Christine Jensen, married Berthelsen, born in 1887 and Anna Pedersen, born in 1888 and dead in 1919. It is however not possible to determine who is who and which one of these ladies died just 31 years old.

Hair-do of the week - Marie de France, 1381

This marble bust was made in circa 1381 by Jean de Liège and portrays Marie de France (1327-1341) as a part of a tomb effigy which was (partly) destroyed during the French Revolution at Île-de-France, Saint-Denis, Abbey Church of Saint-Denis, Chapel of Notre-Dame-la-Blanche

We have no reason to believe that this is any way resembling the woman who had died forty years prior to the making of this portrait of her, just 14 years old. It is in the same way no reason to believe that this hair-do was not the fashion of 1380's and not the 1340's. In the Middle Ages there was no longing for making things look old and outdated. This is mostly evident in the paintings of the Virgin Mary who is always portrayed as a noble lady in the latest fashion. If you made a memorial portrait of a dead French princess there was really no need to make her look anything but contemporary.

The hair-dos of this time were rather simple, even if you were a princess. The hair was combed and fitted close to the head, with a parting at the middle of the head. It was then gathered in two thick braids at the back of the head. Braids is extremely common during the Middle Ages, be you noble or peasant. These were then pulled forward and fastened at the tiara she is wearing and by doing so create a frame for the face. The tiara is now just a band, but the holes suggest that there at some time had been some kind of metal and/or jewellery fastened there making it resemble a real tiara. It was a simple hair-do, but one befitting royalty. Originally the head was resting on a cushion - but that is now destroyed.

Not much is known of this princess, apart from when she lived and died. She was the daughter of Charles IV of France, known as the fair, and his third wife Jeanne d'Évreux and she had one younger sister, Blanche, and no brothers.