My posting will take a break for a week - hope to see you all after that!


Fashion of the week - Evening wear, 1888

This is an example of evening dresses from the American fashion journal 'Peterson's Magazine' published in 1888. The month it was published is not know, it was a monthly periodical. Three of the dresses are most clearly ball gowns, but the other two are in all probability that too. The reason for assuming this is the long train on the dress, furthest to the left in a way that would never be found on day wear. And though it was quite common to mix day and evening wear on fashion plates at this time it would not be done with four dresses of one kind and just one of another – which makes it safe to presume that the purple dress is evening wear to, in spite of the high collar and everything being all covered up.

The dresses show the typical thing of 19th century evening wear, big skirts that cover everything and décolletages that shows almost everything and more (without being considered indecent). Everyone has the hair piled up in a little bun on top of the head – long hair was the thing for every decent woman, and of course pinned up when you are old enough, but when looking at these ladies it is hard to imagine that the hair would be very long when let down. They all have long gloves and fans, a must for every proper lady. But it is interesting to note the lack of jewelry. It is only one of the ladies who wears a necklace, and this was considered to picture ladies at the top of society – it was the top of society that dictated how the fashion should be.


Pop-culture woman of the week - Mizuki Ashiya

Name: Mizuki Ashiya (芦屋 瑞希)
Appearance: Hana-Kimi, manga in 23 volumes
Creator: Hisaya Nakajo
Weapon/ability: Fast runner
Race: Japanese
Age: 15 at the beginning of the manga

Mizuki is Japanese, but she and her family moved to California when she was very young and she grew up there. While she grew up there she kept track of the Japanese high jumper Izumi Sano, he is the same age as her and he shows great promise to turn into something great. Mizuki is a great fan of his and decided it would be a good idea to enter the same school as her idol – problem number one being that it is in Japan, problem number two being that it is an all boys’ school, Osaka Gakuen. But Mizuki is determined to do it, she persuades her parents that it would be a good idea to let her go to Japan and once there she cuts her hair and acts like a boy (her family not knowing anything about the last part).

Mizuki is very American in her ways that somewhat collides with the more formal ways of the Japanese, her initial tries to befriend Izumi makes people think she has a crush on him – when she thinks she is just acting normal. But she is not deterred. She tries her best to fit in and make friends. Mizuki ends up sharing a room with Izumi, but she has very little trouble there with keeping her gender hidden – since he does everything he can to keep away from discovering it. This is of course no coincidence; he knows she is a girl since he found out when he had to carry her once soon after her arrival at the school.

Izumi knows of her being a girl, but he does not tell her – afraid that it will make her leave the school, and the school doctor, Doctor Umeda, knows of it too and that she is aware of. She turns to him to ask for help and support, he is reluctant to give it but in the end he is an endless support to her (he and his sister who helps out with getting Mizuki things she needs but which would be hard to come buy if posing as a boy).

Initially Mizuki is actually not in love with Izumi and just admires him greatly – but since they live together, he is a really nice (and good-looking) guy and it is a shōjo manga, she of course develops more romantic feelings towards him too.

The original name of the manga is Hanazakari no Kimitachi e, which means ‘For you in full blossom’. The story has been turned into a drama for television in both Taiwan and Japan, but for once there is no anime based on the story.


Photo of the week - Agnes Ward, viscountess of Bangor

Date: 1911
Photographer: Lafayette
Sitter: Agnes, countess of Bangor
Provenience: London, England

The countess of Bangor was born as Agnes Elizabeth Hamilton, daughter of Dacre Archdale Hamilton and Helen Nugent, in 1878 in Cornacassa, County Monaghan, Ireland. On 5th January 1905 she married Lt.-Cl. Maxwell Richard Crosbie Ward. In November the same year their first child, a son named Edward Henry Harold, was born. He was later followed by three girls, Mary Helen Kathleen (1909), Helen Elizabeth (1912) and Margaret Bertha (1914).

On 23 February Agnes father-in-law, the 5th vicomt of Bangor, died and he was succeeded by his son. At the same time Agnes became viscountess. The photo here shows her in the the formal attire of the viscoutess, how she was supposed to be dressed when visiting the court. Considering the date of the photo, 1911, it seems likely that this photo has some connection with her being presented at court as the new viscountess of Bangor.

The dress she wears is of highest fashion, as would be appropriate of someone of the highest ranks of society. But over that she is wearing a velvet coat with white fur trimming that was the formal wear of a high ranking noble person at the time. The same is true of the crown she is wearing - crowns were not only worn by royalty, but how they could look was strictly formalized. There was marked differences of the crowns worn by different ranks of nobles and withing the ranks they looked the same. This kind of clothing was meant to be worn at court and really not at other occasions.

Agnes became a widow in 1950, and was succeded by her daughter-in-law Leila Mary Heaton, her son's third wife, as viscountess. Her son divorced his wife in 1951 but was remarried the same year - with wife number four. Agnes died on 12th of May, 1972.


Hair-do of the week - The Lace-maker

This is the painting 'The Lace-maker' by the Dutch artist Jan Vermeer, dated to 1669-1670. It shows the lace-maker bent over her work which gives a clear view of her hair-do, which is both simple and intricate at the same time.

The Dutch women of the 17th century usually wore some kind of veil over their hair when they were married and the obvious lack of it in this picture makes it plausible that this is an unmarried woman – and that gives a much clearer view of her hair.

She had long hair, but all of it was used in creating the coiffure. The hair was divided into three parts, and was kept this way quite firmly – it was not a hair-do that included any loose ends or curls. The bang was parted at the middle of the forehead and then fell in two thick curls on both side of her face. It is obvious that the lower part of the curls is somehow kept from falling into her face which would have hindered her in her work. How this is done is not possible to see in the painting. The second part of the hair, the hair at the top of the head is slick, kept close to the head. The last part of the hair was gathered in a braid, or braids, that was formed into a circle at the back of the head and pinned there to stay firmly in place.

This was the time of the baroque, the most voluptuous and over-worked art-forms ever to be witnessed in western Europe – but it did not include women’s hair-dos.


Portrait of the week - Lady with the Rose (Charlotte Louise Burckhardt)

This painting was done in 1882 by John Singer Sargent. The lady in question was Charlotte Louise Burckhardt who, along with the rest of her family, featured on many of Sargent’s paintings, while he was working in Paris. The painting was dedicated to Mrs. Burckhardt and exhibited at the Salon of 1882 with the title ‘Mlle ***’. Henry James, the author, considered it one of Sargent’s best.

When Charlotte sat, or more exactly stood, for this portrait she was about 20 years old, being born in 1862. It has been proposed that both the choice of colouring and the pose of the lady were inspired by the Spanish painter
Velázquez, whose work Sargent had seen a few years earlier. Having heard that it is easy to believe it when viewing the painting. The figure of the woman is impressive and the dark dress, of the latest cut of course, is very dramatic. It is somewhat in contrast with the more prosaic look in the woman’s face when showing the rose to the viewer.

Scholars studying Sargent suspects that the two had a love affair at the time of the painting. They did not end up together though; instead Charlotte married an Englishman called Alfred Roger Ackerley in 1889. She became ill just a couple of years later, probably from tuberculosis. She died in 1892, just 30 years old.

The painting was donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, by Mrs. Valerie B. Hadden in 1932. Valerie was Charlotte’s sister.


The Norns

Name: Urd (Urðr, 'Fate'), Verdandi (Verðandi, 'Necessity') and Skuld (Skuld, 'Being')
Location: Scandinavia
Sphere of influence: Fate
Famous portraits: None contemporary

These three goddesses were part of the dísir, a group of female deities in Norse mythology in Scandinavia before Christianity - not all of them known by name. It is not known how far back this belief goes, and if it was always these three. Some view Urd as the real goddess of fate and the others as additions.

They were said to live in a hall at the roots of the tree of life, Yggdrasil, close to the well of Wyrd (UrðarbUrðarbrunnrted.

According to the belief systems of the Scandinavians each person had a fate created at one's birth and in which the Norns were very active. The Norns twined the threads of life, of one's fate. Their doings shaped what happened to the person, and when you died. There was no going away from the Norns and that makes it easy to have a rather gloomy view of them. We do not know much of how they were viewed by the ancient Scandinavians - apart from how they were described in for example the Poetic Edda.

They had however other things too, for example they were thought to assist at the birth of children and that each person had his or her own Norn (though not the famous ones then).

The cult of the Norns are a strictly Scandinavian thing, but there are many other European traditions of similar ideas. The English name is Weird or Wyrd sister (weird as in derived from the name Urd and not from the word for 'odd').

There are no known, contemporary pictures of the Norns. The painting here is from the national romanticism of the 19th century. Why Verdandi is painted with wings is not known - it has nothing to do with the mythology in any case.

There is a Japanese manga that uses the Norns called 'Ah, my goddess' about the three of them living in today's world. But due to how Japanese is spelled Verdandi is renamed as Belldandy.


Woman of the week - Cecila Vasa

Name: Cecilia Vasa
Born: November 6, 1540, Stockholm, Sweden
Dead: January 27, 1627, Brussels
Married to: Christoph, Marquess of Baden-Rodemachern, in 1564
Children: Edward (1565-1600)
Occupation: Royalty

Cecilia was born to the Swedish king Gustav I and his second wife Margareta Eriksdotter (often referred to as Leijonhuvud, 'Lion's head', though that is a bit of a anachronism) as their third child.

Cecilia was a rather wild person, according to most sources, living beyond her means and doing what she pleased, without taking to account the consequences.

When her elder sister Katarina was married in 1559 the girl fell in love with the brother-in-law John of Ostfriesland. Due to the political situation a marriage was out of the question, there were problems enough for Katarina who was greatly disliked by her mother-in-law and who would not travel to her new home for over eighteen months (but who gave birth to a daughter in the meantime). This did not stop Cecilia from having an affair with John. He was spotted when he was climbing into the princess's chamber and caught by Cecilia's brother Erik (the future Erik XIV, the one who married Karin Månsdotter). The king went berserk and according to the sources beat his daughter up quite badly. John was imprisoned for a while.

The only thing the king could do with his badly behaving daughter - princesses were not supposed to have liaisons - was to marry her off to someone. There was a time likely she would be married to the Polish count Johan Tenczynski, but it all came to nothing. Instead she settled at Arboga, Sweden, and called herself 'countess of Arboga'. In the end she was married to Christoph, Marquess of Baden-Rodemachern (1537-1575) in 1564. She had a son, born in London while she was there to help with the negotiations of a match between her brother Erik and Elizabeth I - which, of course, came to nothing.

In 1570 she became a Catholic, her father had made Sweden a protestant country, but her mother was a Catholic. This did not make her very popular, especially not within her own family - which also had to deal with her constant asking for more money. In 1575 she was widowed and in 1579 she left Sweden for good and settled down in Brussels.

There were plenty of rumours about the extravagant princess here too. These included that she was supposed to run a brothel and she herself worked there as the main attraction. This statement must be viewed in the light of her being a Catholic and it was common to spread false statements about people of the 'wrong' belief and the story that her son would have entered said brothel and pulled her out in her hair should perhaps be taken with a big pinch of salt.

She died in Brussels, but where she is buried is not certain. It has been stated that she is buried in Rodemachern, Germany, beneath the altar. No tomb-stone has been found but the church has been renovated several times since then and a lost tomb-stone would not be odd. Later family members are buried there too - but it could also be due to that fact that she is believed to be found there.

Fashion of the week - Morning dresses, 1839

From World of fashion, 1839. The words under the picture says 'The Last & Newest Fashions 1839 Morning Dresses'.

World of fashion is one of many journals with fashion tips for the ladies in the 19th century. Considering the language and the time it is most likely an English magazine (and not American).

These day-dresses, or morning-dresses - it is more of a distinction of words than of difference in clothing, clearly shows the ideals of the upper classes in the 1830's. Long gone is the high waisted, unlaced silhouette found earlier in the century. The colours are bright and fancy, the waist really slim and the skirts really wide. It would be hard for any living woman to be as slim as seen in this picture, this was after all an ideal, but many did as much as they could to get as close as possible to it. The wide skirts accentuated the thinness of the waist even more. This was not dresses meant to be worn while working.

One thing worth noting with the fashion of this time is the low neck-line of the dresses. It would always be all right during the 19th century to show off a lot of skin around neck and chest in an almost remarkable way considering how everything was covered up at the time. But here the dresses show off comparatively much skin during the day too - if you do not count the yellow creation, but that being a coat should really not be taken into consideration. Perhaps the dresses of the 1830's were not as Victorian as we would like to imagine. Just ten years later things would be much more covered up - at least during the day.

Pop-culture woman of the week - Madame Bovary

Name: Emma Bovary
Appearance: Madame Bovary (1857)
Creator: Gustave Flaubert
Weapon/ability: None
Race: French
Age: Young adult at the beginning of the novel

Please note that spoilers for the book is included.

Madame Bovary is the story of an ill-suited match and what will happen if you are to prone to give into romantic longing - which of course will end badly for you.

Emma Bovary, nee Rouault, is the daughter of a farmer but has gotten a good education from a convent and likes to read a lot. She is seen by her husband-to-be, a doctor named Charles Bovary, when her father had broken a led and he was immediately attracted to her. But he is married.

The wife dies and as soon as suitable for a man to look for a new wife he proposes to Emma and is accepted. Marriage to a kind but somewhat dull provincial doctor was perhaps not exactly what Emma had in mind when she fantasized about her life. The difference between dream and reality becomes more glaring to her after they attend a ball given by a marquis and she gets a taste of a fancier life. Life becomes unbearably boring to her. Her husband senses that something is amiss and moves to a new, bigger town hoping that it will improve her spirits. It does not. Neither does becoming a mother. Instead she falls in love with a young law student, Léon Dupuis, who shares her longing for a finer life. Emma manages to stay away from doing anything stupid and acts as the loving wife while Léon departs for Paris.

But Emma catches the eye of a local landowner, Rodolphe Boulanger, who would not mind having an affair with the beautiful Emma. And Emma is easy to persuade. Her husband suspects nothing while she has a three years long relationship with the handsome and rich man who gives her a taste of the fancy life she yearns for. She becomes more and more reckless and in the end wants to elope with her lover - which he has no interest in and on the very eve of their supposed elopement she is given a letter where he ends thing. Emma is deeply shocked.

To get Emma in better spirits her husband takes her to the opera, which is disastrous in every way. She gets a taste for romance and excess and luxury again - and she meets Léon, who is now working nearby. A new love-affair begins. Emma is at first very much in love, but soon becomes bored, especially with Léon not being as domineering as her old lover. And Léon gets tired with Emma soon too. To sooth her longing for a better life she goes shopping and runs into massive debt.

In the end she can not pay and Emma is desperate to find a solution. None of her lovers, nor anyone else, is willing to help her. In the end she takes her life with arsenic - in one of the more horrific death scenes in classical literature. Her husband is crushed by her death and spends almost all his time trying to preserver her memory. Not even a love-letter from her first lover can shake is belief in her and he dies a broken man. The daughter is sent off to be raised by distant relatives.

The story has been filmed several times, the picture in this entry is from the 1991 version directed by Claude Chabrol - which got nominated to an Oscars for best costume design (the price went to Bugsy)


Photo of the week - Woman with child

Date: Late 1860's or early 1870's
Photographer: Harald Paetz
Sitter: Unknown
Provenience: Copenhagen, Denmark

This is one of the oldest photos in my private collection. There is no date on it, but the dress of the woman clearly reveals that it should be dated to the late 1860's or the early 1870's. There is clearly a bustle at the back of the dress, but the skirt is still wide in a way that would have been out of the question 10-20 years later. At the same time, this picture is taken in Denmark which was not the fashion capital of Europe and a couple of years margin must therefore be allowed when dating.

If the child is a boy or a girl is impossible to say from this picture. Children at such an early age back then were dressed the same, in dresses, regardless of sex - it was a practicality, less spoiled clothes and less laundry.

That it is an old photo is also obvious from the firm - but still loving - grip the mother has of her child. The time of exposure when taking a picture was longer than it is now, and it can still be an effort to get un-blurry pictures of young children. This time it had succeeded.

The dress the woman is wearing is obviously of the more expensive kind and since this is before running off to the photographer to get your picture taken was a common thing that (almost) everyone did it is safe to assume that this is a members of a wealthy family. The dress has a lot of lace and the bows and ribbons of the bustle is clearly of moire. That was not worn by everyone.

There is no way of finding out anything more biographical about this woman and child, but a few words should be said about the photographer. He was the royal photographer in town and he also took pictures of actors and other prominent people - and he took the pictures to illustrate a book by H.C. Andersen, the writer of children's stories. It is still available as a facsimile.

On Sophie Hatter again

I wrote about the book-character Sophie Hatter here. Now the author, Diane Wynne Jones, has just published a new book that has Sophie in it - not as the main character but as an important person all the same.

The book is called House of many ways - and if you read Howl's moving castle it is a must to read this one too.

Hair-do of the week - Jacqueline, 1503

This is a portrait of a French girl named Jacqueline, painted in 1503. Both the style of her dress and her hair-do makes you associate with grown-ups, but in reality she is just a child.

She is, of course, unmarried (to marry off children happened, but it was not that common) and has therefore no real reason to cover her hair. But it was the most common thing to do if you were a proper lady and married which made the married women somewhat dictate the fashion of the time when it came to head-wear. The result of that is obvious when looking at this girl who has the hair up and most of it covered up.

It is impossible to say if her hair is naturally curly or if it was curled. When viewing pictures from this time it is obvious that it was some kind of ideal with at least slightly curly hair and there are more than one picture of the virgin Mary with curly hair.

That this is someone from the top of society goes without saying. This also means that the girl is dressed in the latest fashion. Her lite cap is decorated with pearls, obviously to match the rest of the dress. The dress and the cap is a matching set, the back of the cap has the same pattern as the sleeves of her dress and the pearls can be seen at the cuffs. It is a dress that all in all must have cost a fortune - and it was all bestowed upon a child. A child dressed up to look like an adult woman.


Portrait of the week - Lady with a fan

Lady with a fan, by Jules-Charles Aviat (1898)
Currently at Gavin Graham Gallery, London.

Both the hair-do and the dress of this dark-haired lady is typical of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The hair is gathered into a bun-like shape at the top pf the head. Perhaps not the most elegant of coiffures, but very typical - no doubt about that.

The late 19th century had a special love for frilly things in light colours. Even grown-ups could be dressed up in lace-covered white dresses that we perhaps would more associate with children. Here the dress is completed with a pink sash.

The model of the dress on the other hand is clearly meant for an adult. This is most obvious by the slim waist that must have taken a corset to achieve (corsets were very common at the time, but not worn by everyone all the time).

It is also obviously a summer-dress, both obvious by the colour and the shape of the dress. It is not so complicated in form and pattern as the more prestigious dresses of the time - and we have no reason to suspect that the unknown lady on this picture is of anything but good (and wealthy) family.

Goddess of the week - Ningal

Name: Ningal
Location: Sumer
Sphere of influence: Goddess of reed/the moon
Famous portraits: The one shown here is one of the few (probable) portraits of the goddess

Ningal was daughter of Enki, god of sweet waters and crafts, and Ninikuga, goddess of reeds and marches. She herself caught the attention of Nanna the moon-god and became his wife. They were the parents of Utu and Inanna - and according to some texts Ishkur. She was goddess of reed and through her connection with Nanna she became viewed as a moon-goddess too.

Ningal was an important deity in Ur, especially during the third dynasty (2112-1950 BC). It was during that time the temple E-karzida was built in her honour.

The worship of Ningal were later adopted by Ugarit/Caanan where her named was transformed to Nikkal-wa-lb, or just Nikkal. Later still she was to be worshiped by the Phoenicians too. By then she was identified as a goddess of orchards, but still married to the moon-god.

The portrait of the Ningal seen in this post has been thought to represent the goddess, but we do not know for sure. It is made of alabaster.

There is a Marvel Comics character named after and loosely based on Ningal. In the series she is not a goddess but a demon. She was created by Gardner Fox and Ernie Chua and first appeared in 1973.


Woman of the week - Christine de Pizan

Name: Christine de Pizan
Born: circa 1364, Venice Italy
Dead: circa 1434, France (possibly at Poissy)
Married to: Etienne du Castel
Children: Three: one daughter, one son and one of unknown sex (who probably died at a young age)
Occupation: Writer

Christine was of Italian origin, daughter of a doctor who when she was five got an appointment with the king of France, Charles V. He took the whole family with him and the Christine never left France after that.

Christine got an upper class-upbringing at the French court. Exactly how she was educated we do not know, but it included a lot of book-reading in a way that was not common for ladies at that time. In all probability she studied Latin, philosophy, literature and science.

But Christine lived in many ways just as was expected of her. At 15 she got married to the courtier Etienne du Castel, they got three children and all things point to the marriage having been quite a happy one. It was all the more devastating for Christine to loose her husband when she was just 25 - he died of an epidemic when away on business-travels. Almost at the same time her father had died and she was left to support not just herself and her children but also her mother. Her husband had left many debts for his young widow to take care of, and she was to spend the next 14 years dealing with law-suits to get her husband's unpaid salary. It was now she entered upon the career that would make her famous, that of a writer.

Christine became quite successful from early on with her writing. She wrote poems and ballads that was widely popular in the courtly circles and she produced some 300 ballads during the next 20 years.

Her most famous work is not a ballad, but The book of the city of ladies (1405), written as much of a response to the contemporary view on noble women in the literature of the time as being nothing more than slutty temptresses, for example in Romance of the Rose. The point of the book is to show a good number of women, perhaps not noble by blood but definitely by heart, who has done good deeds and who have nothing in common with the general view of women in literature at the time. She wrote a sequel, The treasure of the city of ladies, that dealt with the proper women for women to act and behave to counteract misogyny and to use the female virtues for good.

In 1418 Christine retired to a convent in Poissy. The only text that is known which she wrote between then and her death is a poem in honour of Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc) who she admired much.


Fashion of the week - English coats, 1860

Three walking-costumes from Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine, November 1860. This is of course an English picture, showing English fashion - but it differed little from the latest from Paris at the time. The text over the title of magazine states that this sketch was designed and executed for this magazine. This is not so strange as it might seem. This was not a time when designers could make their dresses, take photos of them and spread to the world. Instead the power was left in the hands of artists to capture what was modern at the time and tell through magazines of this kind. But to come up with original ideas was sometimes hard and it is not unknown of artists who copied others works. This should not be the case now.

The picture in itself presents few surprises. The dresses has the typical form of the late 1850's and early 1860's and the coats are made to fit a wearer in the hostile climate of an English winter, being of the long and sturdy kind. The blue dress in the middle is more to show how a dress beneath such a coat could look like - it was not expected of a proper English woman to walk outdoors in the wintermonths with nothing more than that. But she still has the gloves and bonnet that was expected if you were to venture outdoors. The bonnets look very much like the ones you would wear the rest of the year and not very special for the season.


Pop-culture woman of the week - Princess Garnet

Name: Garnet til Alexandros XVII, nickname 'Dagger' and 'Sarah'
Appearance: Final Fantasy IX (2000)
Creator: Yoshitaka Amano (original character designer)
Weapon/ability: Staff and racket/Summons and white magic
Race: Summoner
Age: 16 years

With the release of Final Fantasy IX the game creators aimed at combining the new technique with the concept of the old Final Fantasy games - and the somewhat 'chibi-esque' quality of the characters of the game, i.e. their comparatively big heads, can be attributed to this.

In this game the princess Garnet is the female lead and like many women before her in this game-series she is a magician who can control white magic, magic which is not meant to hurt but to cure and help, and fights, rather badly, with a rod. She is dressed, for the most of the game, in a yellow jump-suit and a white shirt. Her hair is long and dark. When she enters the game she is wearing a white cloak, an in-joke as it is the attire of the white mages in earlier games of the series.

Garnet lives with her mother queen Brahne in Alexandria, a mother she used to get along with, but her mother has started to act strange and Garnet is desperate to get away so that she can get to her uncle, the king of Lindblum. But before she has a chance to get away she gets kidnapped - by the hero of the story, Zidane, who has entered Alexandria with his gang Tantalus, disguised as actors. As this is kind of suits her plans she goes along with it and manages to go to Lindblum.

Garnet, or Dagger, as she opts to call herself now that she is away from home, realizes that she has to do something to figure out what is wrong with her mother and to stop her. Her mother on the other hand will stop at nothing, including extracting the eidelons that her daughter has in her body - eidelons being powerful, magical creatures. But Garnet in her turn learns more about her true self, and how to wield powerful magic to safe both herself and the world in general. In the end she grows considerably as a person and is ready to take on the responsibility of a grown-up as the next ruler of Alexandria.

The first picture of Garnet is the concept art of Yoshitaka Amano - including a sword which is something she never uses in the game. The second picture is one of Garnet from the actual game.

Photo of the week - Lady with muff

Date: circa 1910
Photographer: Marius Cristensen
Sitter: Unknown
Provenience: Copenhagen, Denmark

Nothing is known about the lady posing for this picture, but the photo itself reveals a few good details about the lady in question and the setting of the picture.

It is a studio-picture from Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark and the photo uses the newer spelling of the city: København, instead of the older form Kjöbenhavn. That alone tells us that the photo is from this side of 1900. The clothing the woman is wearing tells the rest.

The lady is wearing a dark, velvet jacket, hat, gloves and a muff - she is dressed to go out. She has on one of those long and slim skirts that was the big craze around 1910, made to accentuate the female figure, and really hard to walk in. The jacket gives her the typical post-Victorian, pre-World War I silhouette, the S-shape (it is more easily seen in women dressed in dresses, but is very prominent here too).
That she is a lady of the higher classes goes without saying, the skirt could belong to most women at the time - and when you went to get your photo taken you wore your best clothes after all - but not the jacket. A velvet jacket was not something owned by everyone. The motif is actually a sure sign in itself too. Taking a photo of yourself, with or without the rest of the family, was something most people did by now. It was popular to give photos of yourself to friends and family, to send them to people far away and so on. But it was not necessarily cheap and most people could not do it that often. That meant that when you did do it, it was serious business and you put your best clothes on. There was really no point in showing yourself in the same clothes as you had when you walked down the street any other day, you went for your Sunday best. And you never wore out-door wear on the photo since that would hide the clothes that very likely had cost you more than your coat.

This is a lady who plans to take more than one photo, one who can afford it and therefore has the opportunity to choose to show herself off in this manner too.

Anyone interested in fashion-history must be grateful.

Hair-do of the week - Bathing women, 1921

Bathing at the sea-side (or lake-side, or river-side or whatever happens to be near) is not a new invention. Our mental image of men and women in skimpy clothes, revealing more than they hide is not something new for the post WWII-era. People has done it for hundreds of years - though they did wear more clothes earlier on, that is true.

Bringing the camera to take vacation-pictures is also an old phenomenon, as can be seen in this picture from the shores of the Potomac river in the US. The photo is dated to 1921.

The woman of the left shows the most common head-fashion when bathing in older times - you wore a cap over it. They were not like modern ones that are meant to keep the hair dry since they were made of fabric that got just as wet as the rest of the outfit. There were many good reasons for women back in the old days to wear these little caps, in spite of the wetness. The most obvious one is that long hair was still common and it was the best way to keep it out of the way. But it was also a time when most women wore something on their head when they are out, it was the proper way to dress like a lady in the broader sense of the term.

The woman on the right is more unusual. She is not wearing a cap (though we of course don't know if she did not do that when she was actually bathing) and her long hair is flowing freely around her body. It is the 1920's, the decade of the short, boyish hair on women, but we are just at the beginning - and it is best to remember that not everyone cut everything off. When not bathing her hair must have been pinned up because grown women did not usually have their hair loose, not even in the roaring 20's.


Portrait of the week - Morning toilette

The morning toilette, by Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin, circa 1740.

This painting shows a woman and a girl getting ready in front of a mirror. The title of the painting tells of it being morning and the painters nationality reveals that the ladies in all probability were French. Chardin lived in Paris and rarely left the city.

As always Paris was the center of the fashionable world and the dresses worn by the ladies are a typical example of this. The girl is dressed just like the grown up, as was common among children, especially of the upper-classes.

They are both getting dressed to go out, most clearly perhaps revealed by the little muff the girl is holding in her hand. They are also both wearing jackets over the dresses. The shape of the dresses are on the other hand hard to decipher, you can tell that the general shape of them is of a kind common in the middle of the 18th century.

The painting can now be found at Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden.


Goddess of the week - Mazu

Name: Mazu (媽祖)
Location: China - and other parts of south-east Asia
Sphere of influence: The sea and sailors
Famous portraits: She is a popular goddess and there are many portraits and statues of her.

According to legend, Mazu was born as Lín Mòniáng (林默娘) in 960 on Meizhou Island, Fujian Province, China - an island where a large part of the inhabitants was (and still is) fishermen. She did not cry when she was born and was therefore given her name which means 'Silent girl'.

There are many legends that connect her with the sea. She was said to have been an excellent swimmer, once she learnt the art which she only did when she was 15. The most famous legend tells of how there is a terrible storm out at sea. She either falls asleep and dreams of her father and brothers out at sea, or falls into a trance (the story is told both ways). In this state she meets her father and brothers and tries to hold them up to keep them from drowning. But her mother walks in on her and fearing her daughter's life might be in danger she tries to wake the girl up. She tries to comfort her mother, thereby losing the grip of her father. Later the brothers return to tell of how they were miraculously saved - but the father drowned.

There are two different versions of her death. According to one, and the most common, she died aged 28. She said good-bye to her family and walked up a mountain never to return and instead turned into a goddess. According to another version she died when she was 16 - she went out swimming looking for her lost father but was overcome by fatigue and drowned.

She quickly became a popular goddess, worshipped for her courage at helping those in need out at sea. She is often shown wearing red clothing, clothes she is supposed to have worn out on the beach to let the fishermen and sailors have a fair chance of seeing her and be able to return to safety. She sits on a throne. He worship spread from the original area to all of coastal China, and with the migrations during the 19th and 20th century it was spread to Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam and other places where Chinese seafarers settled down. She is still very popular and if you see to number of temples she is most popular in Taiwan where she has over 800 temples (some just for her and others shared with other deities.


Woman of the week - Anne Brontë

Name: Anne Brontë
Born: January 17 1820, Thornton, Yorkshire, England
Dead: May 28 1849, Scarborough, England
Married to: None
Children: None
Occupation: Governess and writer

"Anne, dear gentle Anne was quite different in appearance from the others, and she was her aunt's favourite. Her hair was a very pretty light brown, and fell on her neck in graceful curls. She had lovely violet-blue eyes, fine pencilled eyebrows and a clear almost transparent complexion. She still pursued her studies and especially her sewing, under the surveillance of her aunt." - A friend of the family about the 13 years old Anne.

"...a gentle, quiet, rather subdued person, by no means pretty, yet of a pleasing appearance. Her manner was curiously expressive of a wish for protection and encouragement, a kind of constant appeal which invited sympathy." - Her publisher, remembering her many years after her death.

Anne Brontë is the less famous sister of Charlotte and Emily, and a writer in her own right. She was the youngest of the three sisters, and the youngest of the six siblings in the family (that had five girls and one boy - Branwell). The mother died just a year later and the father remained unmarried for the rest of his life. A maternal aunt moved in with the family and took care of the house-hold. Anne shared a room with her and seems to have been the one of the siblings that was closest to her.

The father, the reverend Patrick Brontë, sent the four oldest girl to a boarding school where the two oldest died of consumption. Charlotte and Emily was immediately brought home and they and Anne were educated at home in the following years. At home they learnt both how to run a household and music and drawing, but also about literature and read a lot in their father's quite extensive library. The four remaining Brontë-children all had vivid imagination and built up a fantasy-world that they wrote stories about, first the kingdom of Angria and in 1831 Anne and Emily began their own, Gondal. By now the two sisters were growing closer, and it was even more marked when Charlotte left them for a new boarding-school, Roe Head School.

That school would see the other two sisters later on too - Emily for just a few months in 1835 before homesickness made her literally ill and she had to be sent home and then Anne. The family could afford the school since Charlotte worked there as a teacher and her pay mostly went to the sister's tuition fee. Anne stayed on for two years, making few friends but working hard - she had to get the education needed to go out and work after school. She left the school in December in 1837 when she became seriously ill with gastritis.

In 1839 she got her first teaching position, with the Ingham family at Blake Hall. This was a very trying experience for Anne and she was fired from her position after a year. She would later relate her experiences in her book Agnes Grey. But already in 1840 she got a new position, with the Robinsons at Thorp Green (also to appear in the aforementioned book). At first that position did not suit her either, but she had few options and was determined to do the best of the situation. In the end her staying with the family was quite a success, her employers liked her a great deal and the girls she was in charged of would be her friends for the rest of her life - despite later events. Anne stayed 5 years with the family and went home only a couple of times a year. She also accompanied them around on their travels in England and among other places she went with them to Scarborough, a place she fell in love with. There was talk about the Brontë-sister starting their own school at Thornton, but the plans never led to anything.

In 1843 their brother Branwell took the position as the teacher of the Robinsons's only son. But the arrangement did not work out very well with Branwell entering into an affair with the lady of the house. Anne resigned her position in June 1845 and though she never gave a reason for this it is generally believed it was due to her finding out about her brother's affair. Branwell would subsequently be dismissed under less elegant forms when Mr. Robinson found out about the affair. But Anne remained in good grace with the family despite everything.

In 1845 all three sisters were at home and without employment and they decided to publish a book of poems, under male pen names (Anne's being Acton Bell and the sisters' Currer and Ellis) with their own money, using an inheritance from their aunt who had passed away in 1842. The book sold close to nothing, but Anne managed to sell a few other poems to a few magazines. She also started writing her first book, Agnes Grey, which relied heavily on her experiences as a governess. It was sent to a publisher with Emily's Wuthering Heights and Charlotte's The Professor. The Professor got rejected but the other two got a deal. But it would take a long time for the publisher to get them to print and Jane Eyre was by then published and the success of that book made the other two finally appear in print, in 1847. All the book sold really well.

Anne's second book was The Tennant of Wildfell Hall, published in 1848, which was an immediate success and sold out in 6 weeks. A second edition appeared soon after, with a preface of the author who met with the criticism of writing about an abusive husband, drinking and other forms of lewd behaviour - and a woman who had to break both convention and the law to protect both herself and her son (one of the critics being Charlotte).

"When we have to do with vice and vicious characters, I maintain it is better to depict them as they really are than as they would wish to appear. To represent a bad thing in its least offensive light, is doubtless the most agreeable course for a writer of fiction to pursue; but is it the most honest, or the safest? Is it better to reveal the snares and pitfalls of life to the young and thoughtless traveller, or to cover them with branches and flowers? O Reader! if there were less of this delicate concealment of facts–this whispering 'Peace, peace', when there is no peace, there would be less of sin and misery to the young of both sexes who are left to wring their bitter knowledge from experience."

But the end for three of the four Brontë siblings was approaching. In September 1848 Branwell died, from drinking and possibly tuberculosis. In December 1848 Emily also died, from tuberculosis after an ill-treated cold she got at her brother's funeral. Anne was never a very strong person and the loss of her beloved sister really broke her down. She was diagnosed with consumption and though she did everything she could she grew worse. She and Charlotte traveled to Scarborough with the hope of that improving her health. It did not and instead she died there in May 1849. She was buried there.

And her books had a hard time surviving too, though neither lacked talent they were very unlike those of her sisters which they were always compared with. Charlotte also saw to it that The tenant of Wildfell Hall was not reprinted during her lifetime - she really disliked that book, probably much due to the suspicion of the male antagonist being based on her beloved brother Branwell. It is not until modern times that she has been once again begun to be seen as a writer in her own right - not just interesting as a sister of the other two - and more socially radical than either.