7/26/2009

Pop-culture woman of the week: Leda

Leda and the swan

Name: Leda (Λήδα)
First appearance: Greek mythology
Creator: Some Greek
Weapon/ability: Child-bearing
Race: Aetolian (Greek)
Age: Lived a normal lifespan

Leda was probably the daughter of the Aetolian king Thestius (Θέστιος) – as usual the Greek mythology is not completely clear on who is related to who, and how. Thestius was (probably, of course) a son of the god Ares and the human woman Epicaste (Ἐπικάστη), thus making Leda herself partly divine. Her mother was Eurythemis. She was the sister of Iphicles, one of the Argonauts – a band of heroes who accompanied Jason on his hunt for the golden fleece, Althaea, Eurypylus, Evippus, Hypermnestra, and Plexippus.

Leda was married to the Spartan king Tyndareus (Τυνδαρεύς – or sometimes Tyndareos Τυνδάρεως), but it was not that which was to make her famous. Instead it was the illicit meeting she had with a bird. The god Zeus got infatuated with the Spartan queen, and to satisfy his lust he turned himself into a swan and then seduced, or raped, her. The same night she slept with her husband – and the result was four children.

A common idea is that the queen laid two eggs, as a memory of the encounter. Who was in which egg differs between different sources, but it is generally believed that Helena and both or one of the twin-brothers Castor and Pollux were the children of Zeus. If it was just one of the brothers, it is generally believed to be Pollux who was the partly divine one. And in some earlier stories it seems like both brothers were mortal. On the other hand it has never been any debate on the second daughter, Clytemnestra, being mortal and the daughter of the Spartan king.

But Leda also had three other daughters by her husband, Thestius: Philonoe, Phoebe, and Timandra.

What happened to the Spartan queen later in life, the myths are less helpful with. But there are plenty of stories around her children, from the Iliad and such onwards.

Leda and the swan has been a motif in art, since ancient times – continuing into our own. The mosaic here can be found in the British Museum, it is Roman and dates to the later part of the second century A.D.

6/16/2009

Photo of the week - Olga

Date: 1900's
Photographer: B. Bolling
Sitter: Olga
Provenience: Vetlanda (Hvetlanda, with old spelling), Sweden.

This is a photo from the time when everybody went to the photographer, when everybody was handing out their photos to friends and family - and now you can find these pictures in the old photo-albums, not knowing anything about the person there. If you are lucky you have a name, something written down by somebody who knew who the sitter was. In this case all which is known of her is her first name: Olga - written on the front of the photo.

But more can be deducted if the photo is closely studied. The photo-studio was situated in a rural area of Sweden, and this is very likely a rural girl. Her dress is up to date, it has obviously meant quite a bit of work - and she is just as obviously not from the upper classes of the world. Her chequered blouse (you can see a hint of a dark skirt too, so it is certainly not a dress) is trimmed with lace, which makes it unlikely she was poor, but the fabric is a bit stiff and so is the lace. She is obviously dressed in fine clothes (you did that when you went to the photographer back then), but it is not the clothes of someone who could afford to buy whatever they liked - this is a time when flimsy materials were quite in vogue.

The only jewellery Olga is wearing is a brooch at the collar, it is small and rather simple - far from the daring, flowing styles of the art nouveau which were popular at this time. Her hair-do is just as simple, her hair is just pinned up in a homely fashion - still it is quite modern for the time, and looks quite beautiful that way.

After all, beauty is not just a matter of money.

6/13/2009

Fashion of the week - Ladies dressed for a visit, 1874

This picture was published in the French Journal des Demoiselles in 1874.

For once this fashion print does not show an odd mix of dresses for different occasions, but rather chooses to show different models of the same type of the dress - that is the dress for visits. This kind of dress was meant to be worn when leaving the house in the daytime to go and visit others, or doing other stuff in the daytime which meant you wanted to look your best

Of course this was not a luxury afforded by everyone, most women did not have a spare change of clothes for when they were going to call on others, but the fashion magazines did not have that kind of woman as their main audience either. For them the important reader was the well-to-do woman (often the kind with a well-to-do father or husband), and they could very well be persuaded they needed something like this.

The difference between these dresses and normal day-wear is, of course, that these are more fashionable, more over the top. There are trains, ruffles and mixes of different fabrics - light and dark and chequered and plain. Even the girl, wearing similar clothes (but with a shorter skirt, since she, after all, is not grown up), has different fabrics in her dress. At the same time you would not mistake these dresses for evening-wear. The colours are too sombre, the cut too modest for that - and you would not have had long sleeves. This was for showing off - in the daytime, which could be just as important, even though it might be more common with smaller gatherings then, than later at night. After all, a lady should always look her best.

5/04/2009

Religious woman of the week - Catherine of Alexandria

Name: Catherine of Alexandria
Function: Saint
Sphere of influence: Philosophers, students, preachers, libraries, and a lot of other things
Place of origin: Alexandria, Egypt

The actual existence of the person Catherine of Alexandria is debated. There does not exist any hagiography dated to any time near when she was supposed to have lived (late 3rd century-early 4th century), all mentions of her and her legend are from several centuries later. It has been suggested that she was created as a counterpart to the pagan Hypatia, also from Alexandria, and also a highly intelligent woman who debated with scholars and learned men, and who also suffered a gruesome death – but whose existence is not questioned.

According to legend Catherine was a good Christian girl, who was greatly upset with the Roman emperor Maxentius and his persecutions of Christians. To prove that she was right and he was wrong she entered a debate on the greatness of the Christian faith with a whole group of wise, but pagan, men. Of course she converted each and every one of them – and the wife of Maxentius, the empress Valeria Maximilla. The emperor did not like that and put Catherine in prison, but she still continued to convert people there, people who came to visit her. Then it was ordered she was to be put to death with a wheel – but the wheel splintered, and in the end she was beheaded.

Her importance grew after her death. She was regarded as one of “fourteen holy helpers”, that is the fourteen saints who could give the most help from heaven. And according to one legend, an angel carried her body to mount Sinai, where the emperor Justinian built a church and a monastery in her honour. The monastery still exists. But because of the nature of her legend, and the questionability of its reliability, the Catholic church chose in 1969 to remove her fest from the list of feasts to be universally celebrated by the church – but she remained an officially recognized Catholic saint (just as she is a saint in the eastern orthodox church). In 2002 her feast was kind of restored, the church saying it was “optional” to celebrate it. The feast day is 25 November, except in Russia where it is on the 24th.

Catherine’s attribute is first and foremost the wheel, preferably broken, which she is often to be recognized by. But other attributes are books, a bridal veil and ring, or a crown at her feet. The painting at the top of this post is made by Raphael, from about 1507, and is one of the many famous paintings of the saint.

4/30/2009

Woman of the week - Fanny Elssler

Name: Franziska, Fanny, Elssler (also spelled Elßler)
Born: 23 June 1810, Gumendorf outside Vienna, Austria
Died: 27 November 1884, Vienna, Austria
Married to: None.
Children: Franz (died in 1873)
Therese (1833-1870)
Occupation: Dancer

Fanny Elssler was one of the most famous ballerinas of the 19th century. She was the daughter of Johann Florian Elssler, who worked as copyist for the Kapellmeister Joseph Haydn. He was to eventually become a valet to the famous composer (and was present at his death). Fanny was trained in ballet from an early age and made her début before the age of seven. She was often performing with her two years older sister Therese (1808-1878). The older sister was to be overshadowed by the success of Fanny, but they continued to perform together – Therese finally leaving the stage when she had gathered quite a fortune and could look forward to a comfortable life, though in the end she chose to marry, at the age of 42 she became the wife of Adalbert Prinz von Preussen, the youngest brother of king Friedrich Wilhelm III.

The beginning of the great success for Fanny Elssler came at her performance in Berlin 1830 – with her sister. This was to mark the beginning of international travels and performances in Europe and the US. One of her most famous performances was doing the La Cachucha in the role of Florinda in the ballet Le diable boiteu, written by Jean Coralli and Casimir Gide. This was even to be captured on prints of the time, and even in porcelain. She was to stay on stage and perform until she retired, as her sister, having earned a fortune which could make it possible for her to have a comfortable life henceforth. She lived outside of Hamburg. But she died in Vienna, and was buried there at the Hietzing cemetery.

Her personal life was not quite as straightforward as her career. In 1827 she met Leopold of Naples-Sicily, prince of Salerno, and son of Ferdinand IV, king of Naples. With Leopold she had the son Franz, who was to commit suicide in 1873. In 1829 she met Friedrich von Gentz (1764-1832), a writer and politician who had to withdraw from public affairs in 1830 and lived the reminder of his life on his castle at Weinhaus, and Fanny stayed with him there – when she was not out performing. After the death of Gentz she was to get reacquainted with an old friend from her youth, Anton Stuhlmüller, with whom she in 1833 had the daughter Therese. Therese was later to marry into the prestigious noble family of Webenau, but she died in 1870.

4/24/2009

Pop-culture woman of the week - Chun-Li

Name: Chun-Li (チュンリー Chun-Rī, from the Chinese 春麗 Chūn-Lì)
First appearance: Street Fighter II (1991), from Capcom.
Creator: Akira "Akuman" Yasuda
Weapon/ability: Chuan Fa-fighting technique, her most famous attack is Hyakuretsu kyaku (百裂脚 Hundred Rending Kicks), commonly known as Lightning Kick.
Race:
Chinese
Age:
Born on March 1, 1968

Chun-Li was the first woman to appear in a one on one-fighting game as a playable character, when she entered the stage in Street Fighter II in 1991. She has since then appeared in every game in the series, as a playable character - but along the way had had the company of other women too (like Sakura, Rose and Cammy). She is sometimes referred to as
"First Lady of Fighting Games".

Chun-Li's name means "spring beauty", with chun meaning spring and li beauty. She has no known last name.

In the game she is introduced as an Interpol-agent, working undercover, and searching for the one responsible for the murder of her father. It is revealed to her it is the crime-syndicate
Shadaloo, run by the evil man M. Bison. But in this first game Bison gets away, and she swears vengeance. This continues in the following games.

In the games Chun-Li has two different outfits (and a third is added in Street Fighter IV, from 2008). The first one, the one seen in this picture, is a version of the qipao, also known as cheongsam, a Chinese dress from Manchuria - but open at the side to allow freer movement when fighting. In the second game she appeared, in this was changed to a blue body-suit and a small vest on top of it - though the qipao was later added as an alternative dress. In the Street Fighter IV game there is another dress available for Chun-Li to wear, available in a wide range of colours.

Chun-Li's hair-buns are known as "ox horns", a Chinese hair-do for children, and silk brocade and ribbons in her hair - this is to signify mourning for her dead father. Another feature in her appearance is her spiked bracelets.

4/16/2009

Photo of the week - Ada Wennlund

Ada Wennlund
Date: Around 1900
Photographer: Anna Nordlöw-Björk
Sitter: Ada Wennlund
Provenience: Gävle, (Gefle with old spelling), Sweden

Ada was born in 1881 in Stockholm, the older sister of Ragnhild Wennlund - who is my maternal grand-mother's mother. She was in the family referred to as "Little Ada", to keep her apart from her cousin Ada von Böös. She was later to marry the brother of Ragnhild's husband and take on the surname of Ringholm.

It is not the best of scans, but the photograph in itself is quite nice and interesting - rather solemn in the depicting of the young woman. Her clothes are simple, but simple in cut only, there is no reason to suspect it was cheap in any way at all, she was a girl from a well off middle class home. The sleeves of the blouse are extremely narrow and contrast to the big ruffled collar. The collar seems to have been made of some kind of very sheer fabric, but probably not lace on the collar itself. On the other hand there is some lace hinted at the neck. It is also possible there are some kind of lace trimming at the end of the sleeves, hard to tell for sure, but there is something there. The skirt has nothing extra added, and seems to have had the same colour as the blouse - at least it is the same kind of lightness to the two pieces. To this clothing are added the extra touches of both a necklace - a medallion - and a thick bracelet.

The hair is the most extravagant part of the picture. The hair has obviously been curled to make those rather hard, formal shapes on the top of her head. A few curls are left to soften the frame of the face, but the rest is pulled back and up, making it look like the hair is almost trying to defy the laws of gravity - and since this was long before the use of hair-spray that is quite an accomplishment.

4/15/2009

Fashion of the week - Day dresses of 1840

This picture comes from the Austrian magazine Wiener Zeitschrift, printed in Vienna. This is from the issue for July 1840, and shows two women in day dresses - but the white one could possibly be described as a walking-dress too. It can be somewhat of a fine line between the two types of dresses since many women at the time hardly would have offered to have a specific dress for walking - though a day dress in good shape would have to be preferred if no such distinction was to be made in the woman's wardrobe; the walking-dress was what would be worn when visiting people in the day-time.

As we see here, the big sleeves of the 1830's had by now disappeared into something much more practical - and in the daytime long sleeves were always worn. But the shape of the skirt is much the same as previous years, as are the sloping shoulders, which is quite a contrast to the broad and straight shoulders preferred on men.

The checkered fabric on the woman to the left is also typical for both the 1830's and 40's - the clothing industry had made patterned fabrics a much cheaper commodity than it had ever been before, and it became widely popular now that anyone, or at least close to anyone, actually could afford it.

Another typical trait of the fashion in this example worth pointing out, is the ruffle at the end of the skirt, a very popular thing at the time - on skirts which otherwise were very plain in cut. These ruffles seem to have a corresponding thing going on at the top of the dresses too, over the bust - being straight out ruffles in one case and more of a folded fabric in the other - making it one of the more eye-catching part of the dresses. I doubt the aim was to make people stare at the busts of women, it is much more likely it was about making the upper part of the torso wider, which made the lower, corseted, part seem even smaller. A narrow-looking waist was about the most important thing on the silhouette of women at the time.

3/11/2009

On Pause

My lovely blog will have to be paused for a little while now, but I am to return to it and you within a month, sometime before the middle of April.

Love to you all!

3/06/2009

Goddess of the week - Nike

Name: Nike
Sphere of influence: Victory
Location: Greece
Famous portraits: Nike from Samothrace (but other portraits exist).

Nike (in Greek Νίκη) is the personification of victory. She was the daughter of Pallas and Styx, and the sister of Cratos, Bia and Zelus (other personifications). She enters the stage of classical myths in the service of Zeus during the Titan wars. Her mother has brought her and her siblings there and Nike was his charioteer. After the victory of Zeus, she and her siblings were appointed as senteniels, standing next to the throne of Zeus. This is the only time Nike is active in any mythological stories, but she is sometimes depicted as the god's charioteer from time to time.

She is generally portrayed with wings - one of the few gods and goddesses in classical Greece to be so. She could be seen with several different attributes, all to do with her role as the personified victory. It is the vessels needed for a libation (the ritual pouring of liquids as offerings to higher powers), a wreath to crown a winner, a lyre for playing a victory song, and so on. The list can be made much longer.

She is sometimes seen as closely related to the goddess Athena, and sometimes the two goddesses are merged so that Nike turns out to be nothing more than an aspect of the more prominent goddess.

Nike from Samothrace, the headless statue which can be seen here, is a prime example of Hellenistic art - found on the island of Samothrace. The exact date of the statue is not known, the classical assumption is somewhere 220-190 B.C., but dates from 250 to 180 B.C. have been mentioned too. The statue is now on display at the Louvre, Paris, where it has been since 1884.

3/01/2009

Woman of the week - Eustochium Calafato

Name: Eustochium Calafato - born as Smeralda
Born: about 1434, Messina, Sicily
Died: 1468, Montevergine, Sicily
Married to: None
Occupation: Nun

Eustochium was born as Smeralda (Italian for emerald); some sources say she was born on Good Friday, but the truth of the matter the exact date is not known and it might be a fact added later to further underline the holiness of the woman. She was born as the daughter of Bernard, a wealthy merchant and his wife, the countess Matilda (Macalda) Romano Colonna of Calafato – a very pious woman. Over all the upbringing of the girl was very centered around the Christian faith and it made a great impression on the young girl.

When her father died, in 1346, she entered a convent of Poor Clare – Santa Maria di Basicò – having experienced visions of the crucified Christ. Some legends claim the nuns were reluctant to receive her, her brothers having threatened to burn the convent down would she join it. Either this is another apocryphal fact, or they just did not follow through, whatever the reason she did become a nun, now with the name under which she would become famous, Eustochium, and the convent was not burnt down.

Eustochium was a very pious woman, and she soon found the convent far too lax for her taste. This made her ask for permission to found a new convent, nearby, with a stricter rule. This was granted in 1457 – and the new convent followed the Franciscan rule. The convent moved to Montevirgine in 1463 and the following year she was elected abbess. By now her mother and sister had joined her convent. She was very pious woman, being very influenced by the life of Christ and among other things writing a treatise on the Passion (though that text is now lost). But her life was hard and she was not very strong in body. She passed away in 1468, around thirty-five years old. She was buried at Montevirgine.

A cult soon developed, and her uncorrupted body was described by the archbishop of Messina in 1690. The cult was formally approved in 1782 and she was canonized as a saint in 1988. Her feast day is nowadays January 20, but earlier it was February 16. Her body is still venerated too. Her name is sometimes given as Eustochia, but it is not entirely correct and should have the ending of -um.

2/23/2009

Fashion of the week - Dresses of 1879

This is an example of dresses from the year of 1879. The picture is from the French magazine La mode illustrée and shows two women and a girl. One of the women is dressed in an evening dress, which you can just see the back of, while the other woman is dressed in more common day-wear and the little girl is wearing a coat, complete with cap and muff.

This is yet another example of how these fashion plates combine dresses shown in a way which can hardly be seen as a good example of how it would have acted out in reality.

The dresses, on the other hand, is more typical of the time, with a very slim and slender figure, following the silhouette of the wearer closely. The evening dress is in a light yellow colour and adorned with both ribbons and lace - evenings were not a time when you saved your money, if you had any to begin with.

The day-wear is more sombre, in a darker blue shade, and it looks like it could be meant to be in velvet (though basing such an assumption on just a drawing can be dangerous). Then there are a fringe in the same colour on the skirt - also indicating this really is a dress for the upper classes.

The little girl is wearing clothes which mimic the adult's, but with a much shorter skirt - as was the habit of the time, the length of the skirt was determined by the wearer's age and did not reach a full length until the wearer was deemed to be an adult herself.

2/21/2009

Little My

Name: Little My (Swedish: Lilla My/ Finnish: Pikku Myy)
First appearance: The Exploits of Moominpappa (1950)
Creator: Tove Jansson
Weapon/ability: Aggressiveness
Race:
Mymble
Age:
Born in the first book but eventually becomes an independent character in her own right

Little My is one of the most popular characters from the stories about Moominpappa and his family and friends, written by Tove Jansson from 1945 and onwards - even though she does not appear until the fourth book. She has a really bad temper, get angry and aggressive at the drop of a hat, but is also a determined person who gets things done and doesn't put everything off to the last minute. She is also quite loyal.

She is born as a daughter of the Mymble, a word used in Jansson's circle of friend to mean 'love', and is the sister of Daughter of Mymble and Snufkin. She is later adopted by the Moomin-family.

In the first books she is very small, just as her name indicates, sometimes even carried in the pocket of her older brother. Her older sister tries to raise her, but it does not go very well, and the project is eventually abandoned. She comes to live with the Moomin-family, learning to like winter and not being cast down by circumstances.

Her name is derived from the Greek letter
μ (mu - which in Swedish is transcribed as 'my')

2/20/2009

Photo of the week - Eugenia von Boos

Date: 1880's
Photographer: Selma Jacobsson
Sitter: Ada Eugenia von Böös
Provenience: Stockholm, Sweden

The teenage girl posing for this photo in Stockholm, Sweden is one of the the approximately 1.3 million Swedes who left their native country for the US. The main reason for emigration was to avoid poverty, and even though this girl never worked in a field on the brink of starvation, it was the financial situation which forced the girl and her mother to leave for a new home.

The girl was born as Ada Eugenia von Böös, circa 1870 (I don't have her birthdate, but when she died in May 1966 she was 93 years old), and over in the new country she was generally known as the countess Eugenia von Boos - she was of noble birth, the title was not just a scam to sound more interesting. She would later marry and add the name Farrar to her own, a name she kept after the divorce from her husband. She was a great singer, her singing was what kept her and her mother fed and dressed for several years, and at the turn of the last century she was a well-known opera-singer in New York, famous for her charity (primarily aimed at families of convicts) and on friendly terms with, among others, Buffalo Bill (a.k.a. William F. Cody). But her greatest claim to history was she was the first person to sing on a wireless radio-broadcast, in New York in 1907 - she sang 'I love you truly'.

The photo must, considering the sitters age and the place the photo is taken in, be from the 1880's and I would venture a guess to the middle of the decade. She is wearing a dress in a sturdy material, probably wool, but she wears some jewellery - rather simple in design, but this was not a time when it was very common at all, and it says something about her position in life. Her hair is cut very short, like a boy's hair-cut, which was very uncommon. A young girl at this time most often had long (preferably curled) hair hanging down on their back and bangs - and Ada only has the second part right. A common reason for cutting a girl's long hair off was if the girl was ill and in bed, when the hair really could get in the way - but it's impossible to tell if that is the case here.

Ada, to the family known as 'Great Ada' (to separate her from her cousin with the same first name, but who was born a few years later), was my maternal great-grandmother's first cousin. She was to live the rest of her life in the US and died in New York.

2/14/2009

Portrait of the week - The stolen kiss

Few things are better for Valentine's day than a painting by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, a French rococo painter who did a series of very sweet pictures - preferably of young men and women.

This painting is called 'The stolen kiss' and is painted sometime 1786-1788 and depicts a young woman who has sneaked away from her company (hinted behind the half closed door) to have a small encounter through a door. The girl's dress is typical of the time, both in cut and colouring.

It is a part of a series of paintings he did on the subject of kisses. The painting does not depict any named persons, but the face of the girl is very like that of Fragonard's daughter Rosalie (1769-1788) who was a favourite model of her father.

For a better look of the dress you can go here.

The painting can now be found at the State Hermitage Museum, Russia.

2/11/2009

Hair-do of the week - Louise, vicomtesse d'Haussonville, 1845

This is a detail from a painting portraying vicomtesse Othenin d'Haussonville, done in 1845 by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. She was born as Louise, Princesse de Broglie in 1818 (and she died in 1882). When she was 18, in 1836, she married the vicomte - who was both a historian and a member of parliament. Louise herself was known for her liberal views and published several books - including a biography over Byron. This portrait of her was very popular among family and friends.

Due to the way she is painted it also gives a close to perfect view of how her hair is made, the back of her head being reflected by a mirror. The 1840's was the time of the soft impression when it came to the hair. It was parted in the middle and then shaped in soft curves around the upper part of the face, being very smooth and without curls. But as can be seen here, the hair at the back was not forgotten. The hair was long and braided. It is impossible to tell by looking alone the number of braids, but considering the thickness, two seem to be a likely number. The braids were then gathered and pinned up at the back of the head - and kept in place with a comb. As extra flair a red bow is then added to the side of the head, giving it the perfect finished touch.

2/10/2009

Goddess of the week - Gaia

Name: Gaia
Sphere of influence: Earth
Location: Greece
Famous portraits: A few - mosaics, vase paintings and reliefs

Gaia is the first goddess of the Greeks. She comes from the god Chaos, and she mothered a few children without having a father for them, all by herself (parthenogensis). One of these children was Uranus and with him she got even more children - despite her being able to pull it off herself at first, it would seem. This union brought about, among others, Cronos - the son who would eventually castrate his own father with a sickle his mother gave him. Uranus had done some evil things to their children and Gaia could not forgive him. The son cut his genitals off and Gaia got impregnated with the semen which fell to the earth.

All this according to Hesiod in his Theogony.

Gaia was very much a mother goddess, she was the personified Earth, and a nurturing life-giver. She had numerous children - so many it is hard to keep track of them all - with many different men (and as mentioned, some by herself too). These motherly attributes were also present in depictions of her - like this one.

2/07/2009

Woman of the week - Helena Snakenborg

Name: Helena (Elin) Snakenborg; Helena, Marchioness of Northampton
Born: c. 1549 in Sweden (probably in Fyllingarum, Ostrogothia/Östergötland, where the family had land and estate)
Died: 10 April 1635 at Redlynch, Somerset, England
Married to: 1. William Parr, 1st Marques of Northampton (married 1571)
2. Thomas Gorges (married 1576-1610)
Children:
Elizabeth (1578-1659)
Francis (c. 1579- before 1600)
Frances (1580-1649)
Edward (c. 1582 - before 1653)
Theobald (1583-1647)
Bridget (1584-c 1634)
Robert (1588-1648)
Thomas (1589 - after 1624)
Occupation: Maid of honour

Helena was born in Sweden, daughter of Ulf Henriksson,
a High Councilor of Sweden, and his wife Agneta Knutsdotter. At the baptism she was given the name Elin Ulfsdotter (i.e. daughter of Ulf). She was a member of the best circles of the country, being on friendly terms with the royal family. When the princess Cecilia Vasa left for England, Helena was one of the ladies to accompany her. She was then about 16 years old. When arrived in England she caught the eye of William Parr (the brother of Katherine Parr, the last queen of Henry VIII) and though he was much older, she encouraged him, and wrote letters home about his high rank and the beautiful gifts she received from him. The only problem was that the man was already married. Despite this, Helena stayed in England when Cecilia was forced to flee the country in 1566 - it was not just the matter of a rich suitor, she was also a favourite with the queen, Elizabeth I, who made her a maid of honour.

She was to remain a friend of the queen throughout Elizabeth's life, despite a couple of bumps on the way. Her first marriage, when William Parr finally was widowed in 1571, was not a bump, though. The couple married in May 1571 - but Helena was widowed in October the same year. The couple had no children and she returned to the queen's service. As Parr left no children and no heir to the title Helena got to keep her title of Marchioness for life. What was a bump, on the other hand, was Helena's second marriage, to Thomas Gorges, who was 'just' a gentleman. The couple married secretly in 1576 when the queen refused to giver her consent to the match. When Elizabeth found out she was furious, Helena was exiled from court - and her husband incarcerated in the Tower, in London. Eventually the couple was forgiven and could continue with their lives as before. Thomas was knighted in 1586.

Now Helena shared her time between her family, the couple had eight surviving children, and the court. She had her hand in the diplomatic connections with Sweden, due to her connections with the royal family. She and her husband were granted the estate of Sheen, close enough to the court for them to be able to both be at home with the family and serve the queen.

Elizabeth passed away in 1603 and Helena was the chief mourner at the funeral procession - a great honour indeed. After this, with a new king and queen, Helena was no longer one of the highest ranked maids of honours, but retired for the most part to the country, but both she and her husband served at court from time to time. Sir Thomas passed away in 1610 and after this Helena mostly kept away from the public eye. She died herself in 1635, and was buried in Salisbury Cathedral.

It is not a hundred percent certain this portrait really is of Helena Snakenborg, but it is not unlikely - that some portrait of her should have been made is likely and the age of the girl is correct. The portrait also matches descriptions of her looks, being red-haired and brown-eyed, fair skinned and a general beauty.

1/31/2009

Fashion of the week - Daydress, 1790


This is a French drawing showing the fashion right after the onset of the French Revolution (began in 1789). The French Revolution was not an episode that can be understood as just one event, it was not just the storming of the Bastille, or the execution of the king and queen.

The fashion that you mostly connect to the French Revolution is the regency fashion with high waists, thin fabrics (though 'Regency fashion' in itself might be a dangerous title to adopt when talking about French fashion - it is an English term, tailored for English circumstances. In France the styles are referred to as directoire and empire). The fashion of 1790 had nothing to do with the fashion that was to come.

To put it a bit bluntly, the fashion was what it had been before the start of things. It was wide skirts and slim waists - requiring a corset. It was an overdress in one material, a robe - here in blue, and in the front it gave way so that you could see the skirts worn under. It would be wrong to say that you showed your petticoats, these skirts were meant to be seen and it was not just any old under-garment you had in your closet you put on.

The first thing that happened after the onset of the Revolution, fashion-wise, was a restriction in the already existing fashion, fabrics chosen were simpler, there was not as much ornaments to the dress - and quite frankly this dress is not a good example, being covered in quite a lot of lace. But bonnet, gloves and fan were still accessories very much needed and worn by any upper-class woman - even in France in 1790.

1/27/2009

Pop-culture woman of the week - Celes Chere

Name: Celes Chere (セリス・シェール Serisu Shēru)
First appearance: Final Fantasy VI (1994)
Creator: Tetsuya Nomura
Weapon/ability: Rune knight
Race:
Human (but with Magitek infusion)
Age:
18 years old

Celes in one of the two main female characters of the video-game Final Fantasy VI (the other being Terra). She is a former general of the imperial army - the same army that the player has to fight in the game. But she is introduced into the game when she has been jailed for treason and is to be executed the next day. Locke, another of the main characters and a thief, rescues her and despite her background she turns out to be a valuable member of the party.

Despite her background, despite having been involved in the killing of innocent people while she was a general, she has a pure soul and really pulls her weight to save the world from destruction. But there are still moments when the rest of the party doubts her sincerity to the cause - it is hard to forget who she was. At the same time she has to battle with herself too, turning away from being a general with a clear purpose (but perhaps not always with a clear conscience), to a human being interacting with others, and with all the feelings that comes with that. Final Fantasy VI is not a game that centres around love, it is much more about friendship, but even so it won't be totally forgotten either.

1/25/2009

Photo of the week - Ragnhild Wennlund, 1907

Date: 1907
Photographer: Esther Eklöf
Sitter: Ragnhild Wennlund
Provenience: Gävle, Sweden

This is a photo in a set of wedding-photographs, dated to the year 1907. It is from the wedding of Ragnhild Wennlund, and after that she would take on the name of Ringholm. On the other photo, which shows her with her husband, she is sitting down so this one shows the dress much better.

Gävle is situated rather far up north in Sweden, but close to the capital of Stockholm, and if you are a member of the upper classes the influences from the latest fashion could be clearly seen on its inhabitants. This is the case here, this bride is dressed quite intricate and not even a good a close up of the dress can reveal all the details - but it is well worth a try anyway.

The upper part of the dress is hanging loose, like a blouse, around the female shape. It has a turtle-neck in a different material, and a T-shaped front with thick embroideries. The material from the turtle-neck comes again in the sleeves of the dress, sleeves that are widening up around the glove-dressed hands, and here are also some lace - real, expensive lace. Lace that also can be seen with the flowers she is holding in her hand. The upper part of the dress is also decorated with some fresh flowers - like fresh jewellery.

The skirt has a rather narrow cut, just to spread when it comes close to the floor and make a real train. The skirt is also decorated with embroidery, the same as can be seen on the upper part of the dress. And even the dress is ornated with flowers, or more exactly a sprig with leaves.

All this is framed by her long veil, going all the way from the head and down to the floor, thick and airy at the same time and with flowers keeping it in place on top the head. This is, by all accounts, an upper-class wedding, but the bride does not wear any jewellery.

The woman, by the way, is my maternal grand-mother's mother - and on this day she was 24 years old.

1/23/2009

Goddess of the week - Nut

Name: Nut
Sphere of influence: Sky
Location: Egypt
Famous portraits: Several

The goddess of the sky is often portrayed as a woman bent over the world - sometimes the earth, personified by the god Geb, and sometimes just as an arc of sky, like in this picture.

Nut was viewed as the mother of five of the main gods of Egyptian mythology: Osiris, Horus, Set, Isis and Nephthys and they were all known as "The children of Nut". She was also the goddess who made the sun disappear every night - she swallowed it, and every morning she gave birth to it - it had then travelled through her body.

Like all older Egyptian gods and goddesses the mythology concerning Nut gets a bit complicated fairly quickly. She is said to be the wife of both Geb and Re, alternatively the daughter of Re, or his mother, or a combination. She was also sometimes portraied as a cow, and when Re, as a representation of the sun travelled to get to the next day he is said to have ridden on her back.

1/12/2009

Portrait of the week - The dream of the nun

This historical painting is called The dream of the nun, painted by Karl Brulloff in 1831.

This highly idealized picture shows a young nun fast asleep and the mother superior checking in on her. She really ought to, because the girl is dream of a romantic love between her and some fair young man. Hardly suitable for a girl with a religious calling.

To distinguish what time it is that the picture is trying to convey is actually quite hard. The girl in the dream is wearing clothes and a hair-do that could suit the time the picture was done - but the man is less so. This is not the place do discuss male clothing, but let us just note that no man (perhaps except on the stage) would wear something like that man has put on.

But historical paintings were rally popular in the 19th century, and many times the artists knew very little about how things looked like in the era they portrayed and had to guess, imagine and use what they saw in their own time to make something that could pass for correct. After all, the buyers and viewers seldom knew more about it.

The painting is currently owned by the Russian museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

1/10/2009

Hair-do of the week - English women of 1869

This picture is from the English magazine Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine, and shows some models for both hats and hair in the year of 1869. It is from the May issue and thereby it can be determined that it is late spring-summer hats.

The difference between summer and winter is actually more in the colours than the models of the hats - since when have people bothered about practical fashion?

The difference between coiffures in the beginning of the 1860's and the later part of the same decade is actually quite great, though not many years differ. Earlier the hair had been very straight and tied back from the face in a rather severe fashion, any curls were at the back of the head, and in the day-time most of it was hidden by the bonnet. This was not the case any more.

The hair was still kept away from the face, but even there some waves in the hair was allowed, to give a softer look. Then the hair was gathered high up on the back of the head and long locks were hanging down there. It was definitely pinned up, as grown women were supposed to have it, but still more resembling how girls would wear their hair than it had in ages.

The hats and bonnets that came with these hair-dos were made to sit on top of these creations, without hiding them. Small hats and equally small bonnets were placed on the top of the head, sometimes even in front of the pinned up curls. This was more a symbol of head-wear than something that actually protect from the weather, which had been it's initial goal. But the head-wear had to be always present - pretty much without regard to the shape and size of the thing.

1/07/2009

Woman of the week - Dame Ellen Terry

Name: Dame Ellen Alice Terry
Born: February 27 1847, Coventry, England
Died: July 21 1928, Small Hythe, Kent, England
Married to: 1. George Frederic Watts (1864-1877)
2. Charles Kelly (1878-1883)
3. James Carew (1907-1909)
Children: Edith Craig (born 1869)
Edward Gordon Craig (1872-1966)
Occupation: Actress

Terry came from an acting-family, born as the third of eleven children, and it was only natural that she did not go to school but instead went on the stage at the age of just 8. She played several roles, including Puck in A midsummer night's dream. She moved around quite a lot, already at this tender age, and worked in both London, Bristol and Bath. In 1864, right before she turned 17, she married the much older painter George Frederic Watts. Ten months after the marriage she was returned home - she always claimed their relationship was amiable, despite the separation, and his letters to her, later on, seems to prove this. The "interference" (as she puts it in her memoirs, written in 1908) was brought about by her parents and some others. She returned to the stage, after some persuasion, in 1867. She did not stay long, this time.

Terry had some years prior met the architect and designer Edward William Godwin, and would live with him in the country in Hertfordshire. They had eloped and at first the family would think that she had actually died, but she could put an end to all rumours by being very much alive. They had two, illegitimate, children - Edith and Edward Gordon and they were given the last name Craig. During the six years the relationship lasted she did not act at all - and would not return to the stage until their relationship ended, through economic difficulties and Godwin getting a new mistress.

With the return to the stage Terry would soon also begin a long partnership with the actor Henry Irving in his theatre-company at the Lyceum Theatre, London, in 1878. Her first role was Ophelia, and she would soon be known as the leading Shakespeare actress of the period - a position she would keep for a long time. One of her roles was as Lady Macbeth, portrayed by Sargent, a picture that can be seen here. She also played a lot of other major parts and was a very well-known actress. 1878 was also the year she married Charles Kelly, mostly to have a father to her children. He died five years later.

Terry continued to have a great success as an actress, both during her second marriage and after it. In the 1880's she also toured the United States with great success. In 1889 she got a house at Barkston Gardens (number 22 - now Burns Hotel) in London where she lived with her children and pets. It was a good choice since it kept her close to friends and colleagues, many lived in that area. She would keep the house till 1902. Two years before that, in 1900, she had gotten herself a house in Smallhyte, Kent, which would be her final home.

In 1906 Terry celebrated her 50 years on stage with a five hour show which featured all the main acting stars of the time. The queuing started some 24 hours before the actual performance. But of course this was not end of her acting. That continued just as it had before. In 1907 she married the American actor James Carew - some thirty years her junior. The marriage lasted just two years, but they kept being on good terms after thier divorce. She acted all the way through the First World War , in many benefit shows too. In 1917 she made her debut on the silver screen - in the end she would partake in seven films, between 1917 and 1922.

Terry retired from acting in the theatres in 1920. She was made a Dame Grand Cross of the British Empire in 1925. Her last years were marred by a failing eye-sight and dementia. She died from heart-failure in 1928 and was buried at St Paul's at Convent Garden, London.

On a side note, it is worth noting that Terry's son,
Edward Gordon Craig, was the father of the daughter of Isadora Duncan.

1/01/2009

Fashion of the week - Evening wear of 1830


This evening costume dates to the year 1830 – and was first shown in the French fashion magazine Costumes Parisienne. It is actually just one dress, and supposedly it is the same girl too, shown in different angles. It is the same hair-do and the same jewellery on both figures.

Typical of this time are the very broad sleeves and the very slim waist – there were a lot of women who would never have managed to squeeze themselves into something like this. But since it was a drawn picture, it was quite easy to show off an ideal of a woman-figure. And the fact that it was a drawing did not stop women from trying to look as close to pictures like this as absolutely possible. This is, after all, the time of the corset – in a way that it had not been just ten years earlier.

The picture shows off the dress quite clearly, after all you can see both back and front of the dress – it happens on fashion-plates from time to time, but it is not that common. The dress in itself is quite typical of the day both in model and colouring. Bright and light colours on eveningwear (for women, of course) were a common theme throughout most of the 19th century. A few other common themes for parties and what to wear to them are also the long gloves, the deep neckline that showed quite a lot of skin, the fan and the ballet-like slippers. What is less common for the 19th century in general is the hair-do. It is high and complicated and must have been quite headache-inducing (if it was ever worn like this in real life, it is quite possible that the reality made women wear something inspired by this picture – but at least somewhat more practical).