Thursday, July 2, 2015

Fashions for July 1810, a Strange Contrast

Thursday, July 2, 2015
1810 Ball Dress
July 1810 Court Dress
1810 Ball Dress description
Loretta reports:

Throughout the earliest part of the 1800s until 1820, when the Prince of Wales (later Prince Regent*) became King George IV and changed the rules, ladies had to wear a very strange fashion for Royal Court occasions.

While court dress was quite formal, it wasn’t like normal formal dress, as you can see when you compare these two fashion plates.

Since author Candice Hern offers a beautiful explanation of court dress here at her website, I will leave it to her, while I leave you to ponder what hoops did to the slim silhouette we associate with Regency dress.
1810 Court Dress description
Images: The Ball Dress is from Ackermann's Repository for July 1810, courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art via the Internet Archive. The Court Dress is courtesy the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (the Google Books edition of La Belle Assemblée, where I found the description, had only a black and white plate.)

*“Regency” strictly interpreted, refers to the time he was Prince Regent, when his father, King George III, was too ill to carry out his duties as monarch. Many social historians, however, use the term Regency to cover a much broader period, often from 1800 to 1837, when Victoria became queen, and ushered in the Victorian period.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will allow you to read at the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

From the Archives: Independence Day, 1812

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Isabella reporting:

This weekend most Americans will be celebrating Independence Day with picnics and barbecues, trips to the beach or the lake, parades, baseball, and fireworks, and just general lazing around. The painting, above, may look more like a genteel Jane Austen-esque gathering than a Fourth of July celebration, but that's exactly what it is: Philadelphians gathering to celebrate the day in July, 1812.

Painted by German-born artist John Lewis Krimmel (1786-1821), the picture is actually quite true to the spirit of the holiday. Like many Europeans, Krimmel was impressed by the democratic, orderly feel of the young republic, still less than forty years removed from revolution. Philadelphians from all different social groups have gathered together to observe the day. There's a group of fashion-conscious gentry and a family of Quakers in plain clothes, a few rakish bachelors, country folk gawking at the nude statue, children acting up, and a well-dressed African-American couple near the fence. Everyone appears to be enjoying themselves in a mannerly way. Even the dogs are getting along.

The temple-like building in the background isn't some classical folly, but a testament to civic welfare. In the late 18th c, Philadelphia had suffered from a horrific outbreak of yellow fever that had killed more than a tenth of the city's population. Believing that one of the causes of the outbreak was Philadelphia's notoriously bad drinking water and nonexistent sanitation, the city fathers commissioned architect Benjamin Latrobe to devise the country's first waterworks. Shown here is the central pump-house, built in 1800, which contained a steam-driven pump (the reason for the smoke drifting from the roof) that brought fresh water to houses and businesses throughout the city, and provided sufficient water pressure to wash streets and docks. This was a huge achievement that benefited the entire city, rich and poor alike. Celebrating Independence Day here, before such an obvious example of civic pride and unity, must have made perfect sense.

Another reason why this celebration doesn't seem quite as raucous as later ones would become: the United States had just declared war on Great Britain to begin what would later be called the War of 1812. The war was not popular – the congressional vote was the narrowest of any formal declaration of war in American history – and even the most bellicose of Philadelphians must have been wondering uncertainly what the future would bring.

Of course modern Americans know exactly how the War of 1812 turned out (at least the ones who even know there was such a war, but that's a separate issue altogether), and this year many Independence Day celebrations will be including bicentennial tributes. However you choose to observe the day, we wish you all the best!

Above: Fourth of July in Centre Square, Philadelphia, 1812, by John Lewis Krimmel

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Medical Advice About Bathing in 1813

Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Warm Bath

Loretta reports:

Recently, I posted about shower baths in the 1800s.

Those of you who’ve followed our various posts on bathing are aware that our ancestors were not necessarily filthy and smelly, although they did not generally take full baths or showers every day.

But cleanliness wasn’t the only reason for bathing. In 1800s medical literature, one encounters discussions about the medicinal value of baths, of various temperatures. My post on the Royal Waterloo Bath included the quote, “Bathing is so essentially connected with health ...”

Going to Bath or another spa town to take the waters might include bathing in as well as drinking the healthful waters.

This Medical Report, a monthly item—at least for a time—in Ackermann’s Repository, offers both a glimpse at the ailments a physician encountered and his thoughts on bathing. Please note the last several lines, where he describes what bathing cures and what dangers it holds.

1813 Medical Report
Image from Poetical Sketches of Scarborough in 1813, courtesy Internet Archive.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will allow you to read at the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Georgian Photoshop? One Princess, Two Portraits, and a Mystery

Sunday, June 28, 2015
Isabella reporting,

Today we're accustomed to celebrities carefully crafting their public image with a hefty dose of Photoshop. Whether on Instagram or a magazine cover, what the public sees is seldom reality.

In the days before photography, portrait painters performed much the same service. A successful portraitist was one who flattered the sitter to conform with the contemporary sense of beauty, smoothing out the complexion, narrowing the waist, adding grace or gravity where perhaps there was none.

The portraits of royalty are especially prone to "improvement," for these are not just powerful (and vain) people, but people who embodied the country they ruled. There's often a stunning disconnect between how a king or prince was portrayed in official portraits, and how he appeared in popular caricatures or was described by contemporaries. Just compare the official portraits of the George IV (more usually remembered as the Prince Regent) by Thomas Lawrence with the cruelly satiric drawings by James Gillray.

Most discrepancies in portraits can be attributed to different portraitists; every artist sees a face differently. But the two portraits shown here of HRH Princess Caroline Elizabeth (1713-1757), daughter of George II and Caroline of Ansbach, were painted by the same artist, Jacopo Amigoni (1682-1752.) Both portraits were painted in the early 1730s, when the princess was a young woman, and when Amigoni painted several portraits of the royal family. Both portraits show the princess wearing the same clothes, and sitting in much the same pose.

And yet the portraits are markedly different. The presumably earlier portrait, above left, shows the princess with a strong resemblance to other members of the Hanover royal family, with heavy-lidded eyes, small, full mouth, and a softness beneath her chin. The other portrait, right, shows a much more refined version of the princess's face. Her eyes and mouth are wider, and her chin as been firmed. She's overall more graceful and more appealing (at least to modern eyes.)

The changes are subtle, but different enough to have been intentional. An engraving made for popular distribution (lower left) appears to be almost a composite of the two paintings: there's the coronet on the table from the first painting, but the face seems to have more of the elegance of the second, and the hands are the same, too.

So what is the story behind the two portraits? I must confess that I do not know. If the royal family was unhappy with the first painting, then it would have been reworked or destroyed, so it's unlikely that the second painting was created with directions to "improve" the lady's face. Was Amigoni making a copy of the first painting (a common practice) for a patron outside of the family who wished her to be more of a beauty?

Or was it Amigoni himself who couldn't resist altering the lady's face, or perhaps his own skills evolved? Before coming to England, he had been known primarily for his religious scenes and large-scale decorative paintings, and he switched to portraits to suit the English market; the second painting does seem to have more of an artistic assurance and sophistication that is lacking in the first. There's also a chance that the more flattering portrait doesn't even show the princess, but is the portrait of another noble lady entirely, who requested that she be painted in the same pose (which would explain the absence of the coronet.)

If anyone out there has another theory, or knows for certain, I'd love to hear your explanation. Ahh, the mysteries of the past!

Many thanks to Lucinda Brant for the inspiration for this post. 

Above left: Portrait of Caroline Elizabeth, by Jacopo Amigoni, c. 1730s. Most recently sold by Christie's auction house, now in a private collection.
Right: Princess Caroline Elizabeth, after a portrait by Jacopo Amigoni, c. 1735. ©National Portrait Gallery, London.
Lower left: Princess Caroline Elizabeth, by Jacopo Amigoni, 1732. National Trust Collections, Ickworth, Suffolk.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Breakfast Links: Week of June 22, 2015

Saturday, June 27, 2015
Ready for your Sunday browsing - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, blogs, articles, and images, collected via Twitter.
• The Battle of Waterloo is hiding on the edge of this beautifully bound book by Robert Southey.
• How did Marie-Antoinette celebrate her twenty-first birthday?
• Finding a new life: a young German Jewish bride among the roustabouts of 1860s Santa Fe, NM.
• Glorious Renaissance altarpieces, and how they came about.
• Image: Twenty-two-year-old fighter ace P/O A.G. Lewis with his Hawker Hurricane, 1940.
• The feminist past – and present – of culottes.
• Uncovering the stories of the women in an iconic WWII VE Day photo.
• The iconic Heavy Cavalry sword, "the" sword of the Napoleonic Wars.
Wedding history (and advice) from the Journal des Dames et des Modes, 1822.
Thomas Kemble: kissing his wife earned him a trip to the stocks in Puritan Massachusetts.
Image: Another sword: this one belonged to Oliver Cromwell, c1650, and it's a beauty.
• The agony of the wedding night for a bashful bridegroom from Tennessee, 1831.
• A short history of men's boot-heels, and their purpose.
• The curative powers of beer and rhubarb.
• What were day-rooms?
• How Outlander's costume designer Terry Dresbach brings history to life.
• Or how to dress like a true 18thc. Highlander: wearing a plaid.
• Image: Napoleon's cloak, captured on the battlefield at Waterloo with the rest of his baggage.
Bibliotherapy: can reading make you happier?
• Fifty shades of chambray? Lurid 19thc cautionary novels featuring New England factory girls.
• Twenty hauntingly beautiful photographs of Victorian London.
Image: Patriotic beefcake in 1944 advertisement for Cannon towels.
• Not for the faint-hearted: medicine and surgery at the Battle of Waterloo
• Achoo! An historical look at the humble sneeze.
• Creating a beautifully pattern textile by "undoing" it.
Ackermann and the celebration of Waterloo.
• A beautifully embroidered 16thc. sleeve fragment, found hidden in a wall.
• A Lowland witch: the legend of Gyre Carline.
• F. Scott Fitzgerald conjugates "to cocktail," the ultimate Jazz Age verb, 1928.

Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.
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