Classical hair - in 1805

Elisabeth von der Recke

(Photo by me - all rights reserved) 

This is a marble bust of the Baltic-German poet and writer Elisa von der Recke (1754-1833) - made by Bertel Thorvaldsen 1805-1806. It is a great example of the classical ideas and ideals of the early 19th century. It was meant to look like something from the Roman empire; the whole portrait is made to look like something 1800 years older than it actually is. This includes both hair and dress. And though the dress might have worked back then, the hair is very much a statement of its own time.

The hair was kept long, very long, but cut short in front and curled to frame the face and leaving the ears bare. The hair was then parted in to three braids (one is on top of her head from front to back, which can't really be seen here, but you can see it here). The other two braids were wrapped around the head in a full circle - hence that it at first glance look like just one, but very broad, braid around the head. And the extra hair in the back was then shaped into two extra, wavy buns. It was really meant to look like something from the Antiquity - but even though Roman hairstyles could be quite intricate they would never look like this, making this something very typical of the early 19th century.

And it should also be remembered that this is not just the hair-do for some young girl playing around, the sitter was actually a famous, 50-years-old writer at the time of this portrait. This was meant to be original and elegant - and I think she succeeded in that.

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