8/31/2008

Fashion of the week - Ladies in daywear, 1857

This picture of two ladies and a girl is from the French Magazine Magasin des Demoiselles, from 1857. They are all wearing day wear, or morning dresses - the dresses worn until it was time for the upper classes to change for the evening, something that was done every day and not just for parties and fancy dinners.

The dresses are typical of the time, as can be seen in both other pictures from fashion magazines but also contemporary paintings and portraits. The silhouette was slim, the waist really narrow - and of course exagerated in a picture like this which had as main focus to show the idea of contemporary fashion and not always showed how it would look like in reality. The skirts were really wide and round. The shoulders were not marked, instead the next focus was on the lower part of the sleeves, which were really full. You can see the white sticking out from under the dress-sleeves. This does not mean that these women wore blouses under the dresses, these parts could actually be taken off and were just extra sleeves - which was less bulky and easier to wash.

The dresses of the day were generally speaking darker than the evening wear, here represented by dark blue and dark grey.

The girl is dressed in a mini-version of the others clothing, the waist is narrow - just like grown up, the girls were generally wearing some sort of corset, though most of the time not as tightly laced - and the skirt is wide. Since she is still a little girl the skirt does not go all the way down.

All three wear bonnets over the head that has a hair-do that is really flat and non-intrusive.

8/17/2008

One last trip this season

I am going away (again) - this time to see the wounderful sights of chosen parts of Germany, France and Belgium.

I will be back at the end of August - and I will go back to being a good poster then (without any more going aways for a long time, I promise).

Pop-culture woman of the week - Anne Elliot

Name: Anne Elliot
Appearance: Persuasion (1818 - posthumously published)
Creator: Jane Austen
Weapon/ability: Endurance
Race: English
Age: 27

Anne Elliot is a rather unusual heroine of her time, being somewhat passed her prime - she is after all 27 - and she had lost her one love eight years prior to this story when following the advice by others. She had been persuaded by her good friend Lady Russel, acting in the role of her mother who had passed away earlier, that it would be a good idea to break off with the handsome but penniless Captain Wentworth, then a lieutenant.

When the story begins the Elliots are in a bit of financial trouble with her older sister and father living beyond their means - they are nobility and really try to act the part too which is not doing anything good for their economy and they have to let their home, Kellynch Hall, to settle in Bath. Anne is not interested in going their and first she goes to her married younger sister, a sister who is married to a man who first proposed to Anne but was turned down since she still was in love with her captain.

But as fate, and the book-plot, would have it Anne meets Captain Wentworth again - this time he is still as handsome as ever but he has gained economic status as well and everyone is quite taken with him. Anne knows that she is still in love - and he makes it clear early on that he has no interest in the woman that once turned him down and instead turns his attention to the two younger sisters of Anne's brother-in-law.

The photo is from the film from 1995 by BBC with Amanda Rooth as Anne (Susan Fleetwood as Lady Russel and Ciaran Hinds as Captain Wentworth). The story has also been filmed in 1960 and 1971 (as mini-series) and in 2007.

Photo of the week - Seated woman in white

Date: Around 1900
Photographer: Carl Sonne
Sitter: Unknown
Provenience: Copenhagen, Denmark

Yet another unknown Danish lady appears as photo of the week - but even though we do not know her identity the photograph makes her live on long after her death (whenever that was).

The woman is seated and for once it is a photograph of someone not looking into the camera, but away into an unknown distance - seemingly lost in thoughts and with an absent-minded smile on her face.

Her clothing tells the tale of her being a part of the upper classes around the turn of the last century. Her dress is white (or at least very light, but it is probably white if you consider the fashion of the time), and it is covered with fine embroidery and light lace. It is a summer dress and not a dress made to work in - in any way. Her rather slim waist is accentuated by a waist-band of silk in some colour, though not a very dark one.

Her hair is pinned up in a coiffure that softly encircles her head and is topped with a bow - though surprisingly enough the bow is of a darker colour.

The one thing that is a bit surprising is the fact that she is holding something in her hand, which looks suspiciously much like a handkerchief, rolled up into a little ball. But why anyone would want to have their photo taken with that so close by is beyond me.

Hair-do of the week - Roman woman of 260 AD

This is a Roman portrait bust of a woman dated to circa 260 A.D. It is made of marble and is here shown from front and the side.

The late Roman portrait busts are perhaps not as beautifully made as earlier ones, but it clearly shows the hair-fashion of the third century, which was quite elaborate.

The hair was artificially curled in even waves that was formed around the head to resemble a helmet. But the hair was long and the lower part of the hair was then pinned up to make the big, oblong bun at the back of the head, all the way from the nape up to the top of the head. Around the face there were small curls that serves as a contrast to the rest of the hair.

Who this woman was is not known.

The copyright of these pictures belongs to me - I've taken them myself.

8/13/2008

Portrait of the week - The lace maker


This is a painting called 'The Lace Maker' done by the Russian painter Vasili Andreevich Tropinin in 1823.

This painting is a portrait of an ordinary girl working with lace-making, we have no idea who she is (a common problem when it comes to paintings depicting those who are not high and mighty - or married to those who are).

Her dress is in any case a fine example of clothing of the 1820's - when regency has begun to move on to the more typical fashion of the 19th century with a lower waist and fuller skirts. But this is still when the waist of the dress is closer to the bust than the actual waist on the woman's body - you can not really see the waist itself, but the fall of the skirt reveals this very clearly. Around her shoulders there is a light shawl the cover the décolletage. The dress clearly has a rather low neck-line and it was common practice that during the day have a shawl or something similar to cover up. In the evening this would then be removed since it was thought of as less improper to reveal a lot of skin and cleavage later in the day.

Her hair is made up in a simple way, just gathered in a knot at the back of the head, no curls or anything else fancy - like she would in all probability have her hair any ordinary day when working, and not making it into something special for the occasion of being painted.

Goddess of the week - Sulis

Name: Sulis (Sulis Minerva)
Sphere of influence: Healing
Location: Britain
Famous portraits: This one shown here, from Bath

This is the goddess that gave the city of Bath it's Roman name 'Aqua Sulis'. Much of what we know of her is from Roman times - but she was obviously an important Celtic deity before the Romans came along.

Her name has some connection with the word 'sun' and she is one of the most important Celtic water deities that we know of (though one should remember that there is a lot about Celtic religion we know precious little about). When the Romans encountered her they connected her with their own Minerva - or at least the healing-capacity of her. This makes her sometime called Sulis Minerva.

The mixture between Celtic and Roman when it comes to this goddess is also very obvious in the
cult statue that was made of her. She is a Celtic goddess, but the statue is classical. The head is the only thing that survives of it - it is on display in Bath (and can be seen here above). It is gilded bronze and at one time it even had a helmet, which is now lost.

She was seen mostly as a healing goddess, but at her shrine in Bath has been found tablets with wishes of assistance from devotees that did not always deal with health and she could for example be asked to help in revenging misdeeds done to the person asking for help - sometimes expressed with a very crude language. At the shrine in Bath several gods and goddesses were venerated, both Celtic and Roman - but Sulis was without a doubt the most important one. The Roman temple was built as early as sometime 60-75 AD.

8/12/2008

Woman of the week - Hypatia

Name: Hypatia
Born: Sometime 355-370 AD, Alexandria, Egypt
Dead: Spring 415, Alexandria, Egypt
Married to: None
Children: None
Occupation: Scientist, mathematician and philosopher

Hypatia was the daughter of Theon and just like him she became a mathematician and philosopher - though the heritage after her has more to do with the first rather than the latter. She was connected to the Museum in Alexandria and taught there. She was obviously well-educated and well thought of.

Philosophically she was a Neoplatonist. Her main influence was Plotinus and Iamblichus and in a time with obvious antagonisms between Christians and pagans, she was clearly on the pagan side of the fence - even siding with Orestes, the pagan governor of Alexandria in his opposition of the bishop Cyril (who would later become a saint).

Much of her work dealt with science, she worked together with her father, by herself and with Synesius of Greece. The latter was first her pupil and later her colleague and wrote about her inventing the astrolabe (though there are sources that indicates that it was in fact invented some hundred years before) and the hydroscope (hydrometer). All texts preserved deal with mathematics and astronomy, none with philosophy.

She met a grisly death, due to her being a famous, pagan scholar. The bishop Cyril was so infuriated with her that he induced a Christian mob to go out and kill her - which they did, stripping her of her clothing, beating her and in the end killing her.

The painting is from 1885 and by the artist Charles William Mitchell - picturing Hypatia pleading for her life. No contemporary portrait of her is known.

8/10/2008

Fashion of the week - Coat and eveningwear of 1835

This is a picture from 'Pariser Modeblätter' - a German fashion magazine which showed the latest fashion-trends from Paris, the fashion capital above all others.

Like many of these pictures it shows two dresses of different kinds, in this example an evening-dress (on the right) and a coat (on the left).

Both clothings show the typical profile of the 1830's: big, puffy sleeves, a really narrow waist and big skirts. Gloves were always necessary to wear in polite company when out-doors or at a party, and something on the head (though it is hard to distinguish if the evening-wear actually includes a little bonnet or if it is just some kind of advanced hair-ornament).

The blueish green coat is completed with a broad collar, similar to a cape, covering the shoulders and the upper part of the arms, and a smaller one in white - probably a loose one that could be taken off (to be washed separately). The dress is completed with a shawl, yellow gloves and a bonnet placed on the well-combed hair.

The ball-dress is white - a colour not yet exclusively associated with weddings -with pink ornaments, ribbons and roses. The broad-shoulder silhouette is achieved by sleeves made of lace in layers. The attire is completed by a black ribbon around the neck as a necklace, white gloves that almost reaches the elbow and a fan. The hair is also pinned up in a more elaborate way than in the day-version of dressing standing next to her.

Pop-culture woman of the week - Elizabeth Bennet

Name: Elizabeth Bennet
Appearance: Pride & Prejudice (1813)
Creator: Jane Austen
Weapon/ability: Wit
Race: English
Age: 20

Elizabeth Bennet is the fun-loving and witty heroine of Jane Austen's probably most beloved novel 'Pride & Prejudice'.

Elizabeth is a woman of the gentry in Regency England who lives with her parents and four sisters in a rural community in southern England. Since there is no male heir within the immediate family and due to circumstances that the family can not control her father's property will be inherited by a distant cousin. The only way for the daughters to escape poverty was to marry well - a fact very stressed by their mother.

The story starts when the news gets out that a young man with a large fortune will rent a nearby estate and Mrs. Bennet sees it as a great opportunity to marry off one of her daughters - preferably her oldest one, Jane. Elizabeth is the second oldest and has inherited her fathers wit which makes it hard for her mother to warm up to her and she can not really view Lizzy as being a suitable subject for really great men.

The eligible bachelor, Mr. Bingley, first meets the Bennets at a local dance and is immediately smitten by Jane. With him he has brought his friend Mr. Darcy - who's first impression on Elizabeth was to snub a dance with her suggested by Mr. Bingley (as can be seen in the picture in this post - an illustration done by C.E. Brock for the book at the turn of last century). Though it hardly can be called love at first sight, rather the opposite, due to her sister's involvement with Mr. Bingley they come to cross paths many times - him showing off far too much pride and her showing that a bad first impression of someone can be hard to shake off.

But before Elizabeth can find out who is the right man for her she will encounter both a proposal from the man who is to inherit her father's estate, Mr. Collins, a man she really can not stand (a sentiment shared by her father) and a charming young officer, Mr. Wickham, who can reveal a lot about Mr. Darcy's character since they were friends in younger years. The year that Elizabeth is portrayed in this book is not a altogether easy one for her.

Photo of the week - Three generations, 1917

Date: October 17, 1917
Photographer: Atelier Promenade
Sitter: Unknown
Provenience: Denmark, probably Copenhagen

This is an unusual photo since it depicts three generations of women - family photos were quite common, but just having three women sit together for a portrait was far less common. It is the first one I myself have come across in my haunting for old photos.

We do not know have the names of the sitters so we can not tell for sure that it daughter, mother and grand-mother, but they all look alike and the ages would suit such an assumption. The grand-mother is sitting in the middle of the picture, with one hand resting on a thin book laying on a table - not the most usual of attribute and one can not help but wonder what the book it is. No clue is given, except that it does not look like a novel. The mother is standing on her right side in the usual pose for adult on photos of the time. The youngest, the daughter, is sitting on the arm of the arm-chair in a way that clearly indicates a close familiarity between the two sitting down.

There is a rubber stamp on the back of the card that says "17. OKT. 1917" which of course should be read as October 17, 1917. There is really no reason to assume that this picture was not taken at the time - the clothes confirm the approximate year, and there is really no need to put a date on a photo that is not the correct one (or at least assumed to be the right one). The dresses and hair-dos of the two older ladies are quite conservative and shows none of the showiness that finer clothes of this time could possess. There is no reason to presume that these clothes were not their best or even that they necessarily were that poor, just that they were women who did not follow the latest fashion-trends but chose a more sombre look.

The girl is more typical of the age. She is not grown-up, though you can not see the exact length of her skirt in contrast to her legs (skirts that were long were just for adults, still) you can see the gigantic bow at the back of her head - she was clearly considered too young to have her hair up and big bows were the thing then. Her dress has another big bow and the blouse has a sailor-collar, two other common traits of the dresses of girls in the 1910's.

It is a photo that raises a lot of questions and thoughts - but it is also very sweet.

Hair-do of the week - Modern geisha


For once the hair-do of the week is a modern one (of a kind) and just shown from the behind.

This is not the place to enter into the specifics of the old and traditional ways of the geishas of Japan - though I might do so in a later post.

The geisha hair-do shown here really shows off well the old traditions mixed with new influences. When looking at old, Japanese paintings the women all have thick hair pinned up which forms a rather circular-shaped coiffure.

But the back of the head is also quite a master-piece in the more elaborate hair-dos. The round shapes, typical of the geisha hair-fashion, is preserved here and enhanced in different ways. The hair is generally shaped in a symmetrical way, but the adornments attached to the hair is most typically not. It is also clear that this is a way to do the hair that was meant to be admired from every possible angle and still look intricate and beautiful.

There are generally some sort of adornment close to the forehead, in this case the dangling white and red thing - though they are not always this big (and easy to get in the way). Artificial flowers and fruits are another common topic in the decorations, here in red, green and pink - matched with silver. But there are also very common, not to say essential, to have hair-pins tucked into the hair-do to make it - Japanese hair-pins tend to be rather thick and long and made of wood and so they are in this case too (they can be spotted close to the top of the woman's head).

This is not the way to put up your hair if you want something that will not restrict your ability to move, but apart from that it is really stylish way to live out a tradition several hundreds years old.

8/09/2008

Portrait of the week - A life well spent

A life well spent, painted by Charles West Cope in 1862. The motif is simply a representation of the ideal house-wife of mid-Victorian England's middle-class.

The woman is seen surrounded by her children and knitting socks. Two of the children, a boy and a girl, has her attention and the boy is obviously talking to her and she is listening - but that is not reason enough for her to lay down her work. A good house-wife was always busy, she should never sit with idle hands. This woman is clearly a case of the Victoria ideal of 'the angel of the house'.

The surroundings reveal that it is an affluent home, the children are well dressed, and so is she - but her dress is at the same time simple, not too much frivolity or eye-catching details. Her hair is also simple - pinned up and in a net but more plain than was generally seen in fashion magazines at the time.

The girl sitting in front of her, with her face to the viewer is interesting. She is not listening to the others, she is not doing anything with her hands but holding a book that she is totally absorbed by. Reading was not considered wrong for women, but should not be getting in the way of more important matters, but she is still at an age when it was all right to get lost in this way - she would not have to act like her mother behind her for another ten years or so.

Goddess of the week - Medb

Name: Medb
Sphere of influence: Fertility, death and dominion
Location: Ireland
Famous portraits: None contemporary

Medb is portrayed in many old Irish sagas as a queen, but the truth is she was to begin with an Irish goddess, refitted to suit medieval, Christian taste. Later scholars have done what they can to reconstruct her original role in Irish-Celtic religion. She seems to have been a goddess of sovereignty and no king was to rule in Tara who had not first slept with her. She is said to have bedded at least nine of these mortal kings, including Ferghus – a man with an enormous appetite for women and who needed seven mortal women, or Medb, to feel satisfied. In all of her relationships, Medb was the dominant partner, a suitable role for a goddess.

Medb is clearly linked with fertility, both of land and man – though the more precise way this was viewed by the men and women who actually worshipped her is not known. But she was also linked with death, being directly involved in the death of several Irish heroes: including Cú Chulainn and Ailill, the latter being murdered on Beltaine.

Other signs of her divinity were her ability to shape-shift between an old hag and a fair maiden, her ability to run very fast and to deprive men of their strength by her mere presence at a scene.

The Irish sagas have her killed in the end, but that is perhaps more to be seen as the end of the queen Medb and not the goddess. In a text from the 11th century it is said that she was killed by her nephew since she in her turn had murdered his mother. She was killed by a sling-shot with a bit of cheese.

Her name is connected to the word ‘mead’ and means ‘she who intoxicates’. She is mentioned in several times in the Ulster Cycle. There are no known contemporary portraits, statues or the like of Medb. The picture in this post is from Tara, Ireland, the location so closely linked to her.

8/06/2008

Woman of the week - Edith Södergran

Name: Edith Irerne Södergran
Born: April 4 1892, St Petersburg, Russia
Dead: June 24 1923, Raivola, Finland (now Russia)
Married to: None
Children: None
Occupation: Poet

Södergran was born in a middle class family, living in Russia but with both her parents being Swedish-talking Finns. She had a brother, but he died early on and she was left an only child. Her maternal grandfather bought the family a villa in Raivola and the family moved there when Södergran was just a few months old. After just a few years financial trouble hit the family and the situation was resolved through Södergran's maternal family who was ecnomically well off - Södergran's maternal grandfather passed away leaving them an inheritance.

Södergran went to school in St Petersburg, Petrischule - an all girls school next to the Hermitage. At this time Södergran and her mother lived in St Petersburg when she went to school and just returned to Raivola on school breaks. The father lived separetly from the rest of the family. But she had a hard time making friends and to keep the girl from getting too lonely Södergran's mother adopted a girl, Singa, to keep her company. But Singa had a family of her own and tried to run away from the Södergrans. She was tragically run over by a train doing so - Södergran's mother found the mutilated body.

Södergran went to school there until 1909 - the school not being interrupted by her father's sickness and later death in tuberculosis. It was a turbulent time to be in Russia and poems from this time show interests in political subjects. But she also wrote quite a number of love poems - many directed to her teacher Henri Cottier, who taught French. Södergran learnt a lot of languages: Russian, German, Frech and English - but she was never thaught Swedish which sometimes shows in her writing. The main language used in the school, which had an international set of pupils, was German. In the beginning Södergran wrote poems in German as well as Swedish, but in 1908 she switched completely to Swedish. Why is not entirly clear.

In 1908 Södergran was diagnosed with pneumonia, and a few months later with TB. She was sent to the same sanatorium where her father had been before he died - and she had a very slim chance to survive. She got worse and 1911 the family went to Swizterland, the country most known for it's ability to take care of TB-patients at santatoriums. Södergran actually got betterm and at the same time she had a great opportunity to meet intellectuals from all over Europe which greatly influenced her writing. In 1914 she returned to Finland - and soon got worse again.

Her debut as a published poet was made in 1916 with the book Dikter (Poems). It did not make that much on an impact. None of her published volumes would be a great hit during Södergran's lifetime. Their recognition did not come until much later when she would be seen as one of the first, and finest, modernists of Swedish literature (she wrote everything in Swedish) and she was inspires by Russian futurism as well as French symbolism and German expressionism. Much of her poems deals with her own weak health and the financial trouble brought by the Russian Revoultion which left the family close to destitute.

Before Södergran's death in 1923 she also published the books The September Lyre (1918), The Rose Altar (1919), and Shadow of the Future (1920). She was buried in Raivola in a grave that can not be found today - but a memorial was erected there in 1960. Her mother died in 1939 during the evacuation due to the second world war.