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Archive for the ‘19th Century France’ Category

I find this painting of Queen Hortense under a pergola in Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine-Jean Duclaux arresting on many levels. As a lover of the Regency era, the scene and its occupant are an embodiment of my romantic ideas about the era. I don’t care whether art critics regard the work as great or minor – there’s something about the quality of light (is it sunrise or is it the hour of the golden light – just before sunset?) … the solitary position of the sitter, whose back is turned to us … the beautiful clothes and scenery … the lively dog with a tail that bookends the feathers to the hat at right.

La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux

La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. Credits © Napoleonmuseum, Thurgau, Switzerland

In 1813 the Napoleonic Wars were still raging on the Continent. British tourism to Europe had halted. Before the wars, the Grand Tour was a requirement for a young heir. Many rich girls and their chaperons also paid homage to France, Greece, and Italy, taking in the culture and fashions and bringing back objects d’art with Neoclassical influences. All of that had halted. Starved of Parisian influence, British fashions had begun to look to English history for influences and British and French fashions had begun to diverge.

This scene is quiet, almost elegiac. I wanted to write about my own response to the painting before looking up any information on it and am glad I did. It seems that just before she sat for this portrait, Queen Hortense, who is Josephine de Beauharnais’s daughter, had just lost her good friend, Adèle de Broc, who had drowned in front of her:

on 10 June, the two ladies went for a stroll near the Grésy waterfall. “I went first, the board was unsteady. I turned around: Good Lord! What a terrible sight! My friend, taken away by the current, had disappeared from view… Her lifeless body was retrieved […] She was no more! What despair! Once again I found myself more alone than ever, without my friend who had helped me through all my hardships!” – Napoleon.org

In an effort to assuage Hortense’s grief, the painter François Fleury Richard was summoned. He arrived with his pupil, Atoine-Jean Duclaux, and while the master sketched the young queen playing music, the student painted the lady from behind. Duclaux had just turned thirty when he painted Hortense. His family had been driven out of Lyonnais during the terror to Burgundy, where the family lived on charity. In his youth he knew terror and the harsh realities of the guillotine. The painter’s early background and his knowledge of Hortense’s grief add to my enjoyment of this painting.

Hortense sits in shadow under a dark and oppressive roof, but she is bathed in golden light – a sign of hope? The little dog is there to comfort her or to draw attention  away from her reverie and sad thoughts. “Here I am,” he seems to say, “notice me. ” Dogs  in art mean fidelity and loyalty. They have also been associated with death and as guardians of the Other World, assuring us safe passage to the other side. Ostrich feathers, while quite a fashionable adornment during this era, are also symbols of truth in Egyptian art. It is interesting to see how the feathers are given the same visual weight as the dog’s tail. reaction to it.

One more thing: Hortense’s pose reminds me of my favorite view of Jane Austen, painted by her sister, Cassandra. It, too, is taken from behind. I love the mystery of both positions.

Jane Austen by Cassandra

Jane Austen by Cassandra

I am curious to know your thoughts about this painting and its many layers of visual enjoyment and interpretation.

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Oak cask for making vinegar. Image @Taste of Croatia

Vinegar has had a long and noble history of uses for mankind. Since ancient times it has been used as a preservative. Delicate fruits and berries were ripe for such a short season that vinegar, with its acetic acid content, was used to to preserve them. (Blackberry vinegar recipe)

Add sugar and water, to the mixture and one had created a tart and pleasing beverage. Mix it with alcohol, and this sweet concoction became a tasty mixer! Vinegar Cocktails Are Making the Rounds 

As vinegar is so necessary an article in a family, and one on which so great a profit is made, a barrel or two might always be kept preparing, according to what suited.” – A new system of domestic cookery: formed upon principles of economy, and adapted to the use of private families (Google eBook), Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell, Printed by Norris & Sawyer, 1808.

18th century French faience oil and vinegar set

Vinegar is made from many sources: grapes, apples, sugar cane, or malted barley or oats.

In foods it is used for its antibacterial properties, as an acidity stabiliser, diluting colourings, as a flavouring agent and for inhibiting mould growth in bread. In brewing it is used to reduce excess losses of carbohydrate from the germinated barley and to compensate for production variations, so producing a consistent quality beer.

It can be found in beer, bread, cheese, chutney, horseradish cream, pickles, salad cream, brown sauce, fruit sauce, mint sauce and jelly and tinned baby food, sardines and tomatoes.” – La Leva di Archimede

George III condiment set, silver 1782 Sheffield

Herbs, fruits and spices have long been added to vinegar for flavor, and recipes for infused vinegars were handed down for generations. ‘Sugars of lead,’ a sweet tasting substance, was made by pouring vinegar over lead. This liquid would be used to sweeten harsh cider, but as every self-respecting 21st century reader knows, this substance was quite poisonous. One can only conclude that sugars of lead must have been quite deadly to Europeans addicted to drinking cider. – Enzyme facts, vinegar history 

Recipes for vinegar are found as early as the 17th century. In the Delightes for Ladies (1602), Sir Hugh Plats offers this recipe for distilling and purifying vinegar. Notice his caution of the use of lead.

How to distill wine vinegar or good Aligar that it may be both cleare and sharpe

I Know it is an usuall manner among the Novices of our time to put a quart or two of good vinegar into an ordinay leaden stil, and so to distill it as they doe all other waters. But this way I do utterly dislike, both for that heere is no separation made at all, and also because I feare that the Vinegar doth carry an ill touch with it, either fro the leaden botto or the pewter head or both. And therefore I could wish rather that the same were distilledin a large bodie of glasse with a head or receiver, the same beeing placed in sand or ashes. Note that the best part of the vinegar is the middle part that ariseth, for the first is fainte and phlegmatick, and the last will taste of adustion, because it groweth heavie toward the latter end, and must be urged up with a great fire, and therefore you must now and then taste of that which commeth both in the beginning & towardes the latter end, that you may receive the best by it selfe.

18th C. French vinaigrette bottle

Aromatic vinegar in the minds of 17th-19th century users had many medicinal purposes for preventing infections and megrims (headaches), reviving a fainting person, and covering bad odors. It was used to treat dropsy, croup, stomach aches, as well as sore throats. Vinegar teas were consumed by diabetics, and the liquid was used to heal wounds and fight infections. (Bragg, Health Information.) Vinegar was also a well-known cleaning agent and furniture polish, although it was not recommended for polishing marble, since the acid would eat into the smooth surface, leaving it pockmarked over time.

Vinegar was considered an indispensable item in the 18th century for arousing a fainting person or masking foul odors. When the sponge was soaked only in vinegar, its original use, it could help prevent the wearer from fainting. A person stepping outside a crowded London street might carry aromatic soaked sponges to hold close to the nose to mask the odor of raw sewage and rotting garbage.

19th c. Victorian silver vinaigrette

In the early 19th century, there wasn’t garbage men that carted away the trash. People threw the stuff out the window. Slop pails went out the window in the 18th century. And when you left your house, you would encounter odors that made you just choke. So they invented a device called the vinaigrette. And it was a box or a little trinket carried to revive oneself if one felt faint.

So now they can’t breathe, they go outside, they smell the rotten garbage and the sewage, and they think they’re going to faint. They opened up their vinaigrette, which they held in their hand, and inside is a gold-pierced grill with beautiful decoration. But underneath the grill is a sponge. They would soak that sponge in an aromatic solution, sort of a mixture of perfume and ammonia, like smelling salts.” – Barry Weber, Antiques Road Show 

Vinaigrette and train holder. Image @Antiques Road Show

That was the concept of the vinaigrette. But the other end of this, you seldom see these all together. This is called a train holder. And this is shaped like a shell. When you squeeze it, it opens. The train was the long part of the ball gown. And they didn’t want it to drag in the dirt and be soiled. So they would hook the train holder onto the edge of the train, and then they would hold the vinaigrette in their hand, and this kept the train from dragging behind them.” Barry Weber, Antiques Road Show 

Vinaigrettes were small decorative containers that held the vinegar-soaked sponges. The inside of the vinaigrette would be gilded to protect the silver from staining.

Used by both men and women, vinaigrettes were suspended from chatelaines, placed in pockets, hung from long chains, bracelets or finger rings. Often designed in the shape of a rectangular box, the more spectacular vinaigrettes took on the look of a vase of flowers, a purse, an urn, almost any contemporary theme. Made from multicolored gold or silver and sometimes silver-gilt, many were decorated with Italian mosaics, mother-of-pearl or other gem materials. – Antique Jewelry University

18th century French ladies carrying canes

The soaked sponges were also carried in a compartment in the head of walking canes.

…many ladies of the 18th and 19th centuries carried a “vinaigrette” cane to protect them from a variety of ailments. Throughout history, vinegar has been heralded for its medicinal qualities. A sponge soaked in the healing liquid was placed in a small container with holes in it on the handle of the cane. Should a lady’s tight corset cause her to faint or should she encounter someone with a dreaded illness, her vinaigrette tucked into her cane was close at hand to protect her.” – Collecting Antique Walking Sticks or Canes 

Vinaigrette, Nathaniel Mills. Image @Leopard Antiques

Often spices such as cinnamon, lavender, roses, or orange were added to sweeten the smell.

The vinaigrette was a most necessary adjunct to the toilette in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when it was considered the correct thing for a lady to show symptoms of fainting on occasion. The little boxes with a grating inside—through which the essence contained in a saturated sponge could be inhaled— are of all sorts and conditions. Some are quite plain, others have delicately chased or monogrammed tops, or views engraved on the lids; others, again, are of fantastic shapes. The vinaigrette was the descendant of the old pomander, and the forerunner of the midVictorian smelling bottle; but whereas the vinaigrette is accessible to the most modest purse for a very small sum, the real old genuine pomander is very scarce indeed, and it means a lot of money to come by one at all. The pomander was round, and often of china, and contained a wonderfully strong-smelling ball, compounded of spices and pungent scents which could hardly fail to bring round the most upset of ladies. – Byways of Collecting, 1908, Ethel Deane, Pp 170-172.

The small containers known as vinaigrettes were actually an English invention. The French called them “boite de perfum”. They came in many shapes and sizes, and eventually became decorative items that lovers exchanged as tokens of affection. (Limoges Boxes: A Complete Guide)

The vapours from a vinaigrette caused the person to inhale sharply and then breathe more rapidly. Restoratives carried different names and were made from various recipes, not just with vinegar: In addition to vinaigrettes, there are smelling-salts, hartshorn, and Hungary water or lavender water. Ladies prone to fainting would also keep a bottle of laudanum nearby. Laudanum, a painkiller, was an alcoholic herbal preparation that containing approximately 10% powdered opium. Smelling-salts were an infusion made with ammonium carbonate and alcohol and scented with lemon or lavender oil. Hartshorn (aqueous ammonia)was made from carbonate of ammonia distilled from the shaved or powdered horns of a male deer. Hartshorn and smelling salts or sal volatile could be mixed with water and drunk as a restorative. Hungary water was a perfumed restorative made with distilled water and sweet-smelling herbs and flowers. This was dabbed on the skin of a person suffering from “nerves.”- Jennifer Kloester, Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, 157-58

Pauline Bonaparte transformed into a goddes of antiquity on her day couch. Neoclassical statue by Canova, 1805-1808, @ Borghese Gallery

And so we finally come to the fainting couch or a chaise longue, or a reclining chair with a long seat that supported the legs of the fainting person. These couches were placed in drawing rooms and dressing rooms, and were used for relaxation as well.

Early 19th century Recamier day bed. Image @Victoria & Albert Museum

This post will not go into the myriad reasons why women of this era fainted with such regularity. Tightly laced corsets certainly had something to do with the condition, but with so few rights and options open to them in their life’s choices, one cannot blame women of that time for reacting to the child-like treatment their husbands and fathers accorded them with fits, vapours, nerves, and fainting spells.

The Bennet family is well acquainted with Mrs. Bennet's nerves. Pride and Prejudice 1995

A character like Mrs. Bennet, who had her origins in Jane Austen’s real life observations, did not have many opportunities for maturing or turning into a well-educated and sensible woman. Mr. Bennet had given up on her and her childish behavior was enabled by her caring daughters and siblings.

Scene from 1995 Pride and Prejudice. Mrs. Bennet is overcome from the thought of Lydia's elopement. Note that she is not using the day bed but has a chair propped under her feet.

Vinegar had many other uses:

A recipe for black dye

Let one pound of chopped logwood remain all night in one gallon of vinegar. Then boil them, and put in a piece of copperas, as large as a hen’s egg. Wet the articles in warm water, and put them in the dye, boiling and stirring them for fifteen minutes. Dry them, then wet them in warm water, and dip them again. Repeat the process, till the articles are black enough. Wash them in suds, and rinse them till the water comes off clear. Iron nails, boiled in vinegar, make a black dye, which is good for restoring rusty black silks. – A Treatise on domestic economy for the use of young ladies at home and at school, by Catharine Esther Beecher, 1849, p. 299-303

For whitening scorched articles of  clothing

Scorched articles can often be whitened again by laying them in the sun wet with suds. Where this does not answer, put a pound of white soap in a gallon of milk and boil the article in it. Another method is to chop and extract the juice from two onions and boil this with half a pint of vinegar, an ounce of white soap, and two ounces of fuller’s earth. Spread this when cool on the scorched part, and when dry, wash it off in fair water. Mildew may be removed by dipping the article in sour buttermilk, laying it in the sun, and after it is white, rinsing it in fair water. Soap and chalk are also good, also soap and starch, adding half as much salt as there is starch, together with the juice of a lemon. Stains in linen can often be removed by rubbing on soft soap, then putting on a starch paste, and drying in the sun, renewing it several times. Wash off all the soap and starch in cold fair water. – A Treatise on domestic economy for the use of young ladies at home and at school, by Catharine Esther Beecher, 1849  p 296.

Reviving a person overcome with fumes:

In case of stupefaction from the fumes of charcoal or from entering a well, limekiln, or coal mine, expose the person to cold air; lying on his back, dash cold water on the head and breast, and rub the body with spirits of camphor vinegar or Cologne water. Apply mustard paste to the pit of the stomach, and use friction on the hands feet and whole length of the back bone. Give some acid drink, and when the person revives, place him in a warm bed in fresh air. Be prompt and persevering. – A Treatise on domestic economy for the use of young ladies at home and at school, by Catharine Esther Beecher, 1849 p. 243.

This late 19th century poem by Edith Willis Linn talks nostalgically about vinaigrettes as a thing of the past. At this time, lovers gave each other these small decorative items as tokens of affection:

AN OLD VINAIGRETTE – Poem by  Edith Willis Linn, C. W. Moulton, 1892.

LITTLE gleaming box of silver

Wrought in flowery design;

Drifted down the silent ages

To this humble hand of mine;

From the days of kingly France,

From the days of minuet dance,

From the days of stately graces,

Powdered hair and painted faces;

Bring a shining thread of story

To this all-prosaic hour;

From those castles proud and olden,

Those salons of wit and power.

You have known the love and woe

Of fair dames of long ago;

Round you like a love-tale wreathing

Is the perfume of their breathing.

Silent! Not a word to give me!

See, I raise your flowery lid;

Whisper in your heart my secret

Knowing you will keep it hid.

An Old Vinaigrette.

One more life now leaves its trace;

One more love has lent its grace;

Keep it sacred down the ages

On your shining silver pages.

Now my imprint I have given

Though you never bear my name:

Graven with your silver roses

Are all lives of praise or blame.

All things that we touch or wear

Must the spirit’s impress bear.

Every hand that ever won you

Left a fadeless mark upon you.

Love and hate and jealous passion,—

All I feel have been your own;

Shall my life not breathe about you

Purer love than you have known?

Nobler grows this life with years,

Grander grow earth’s hopes and fears;

May the traces of my living

Make this heirloom worthier giving.

Whence and Whither.

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One can imagine that during her final illness, Jane Austen was no stranger to leeches. This method of bloodletting was so common in Great Britain (Wales especially) and France that by the 1830’s Hirudo medicinal leeches (common in Europe) were hard to find and had to be imported or home grown .

Leech finders, 1814. George Havell, Costumes of Yorkshire.

Gathering leeches was a traditional female occupation, although there are always exceptions to the rule. Take this passage about leech-fishers in France from the Gazette des Hopitaux:

Man leech fishing in a marsh in Bretagne. 1857. Image @Shutter Stock

If ever you pass through La Brenne, you will see a man, pale and straight-haired with a woollen cap on his head, and his legs and arms naked; he walks along the borders of a marsh, among the spots left dry by the surrounding waters. This man is a leech- fisher. To see him from a distance,—his wo-begone aspect, his hollow eyes, his livid lips, his singular gestures,—you would take him for a maniac. If you observe him every now and then raising his legs and examining them one after another, you might suppose him a fool ; but he is an intelligent leech-fisher. The leeches attach themselves to his legs and feet as he moves among their haunts; he feels their bite, and gathers them as they cluster about the roots of the bulrushes and aquatic weeds, or beneath the stones covered with a green and slimy moss. He may thus collect, ten or twelve dozen in three or four hours. In summer, when the leeches retire into deep water, the fishers move about upon rafts made of twigs and rushes.”  – Excerpt taken from Curiosities of Medical Experience (1838) by John Gideon Millingen, via The Condenser: Hunting Down Good Bits

Despite the many strides that were made in medicine regarding human anatomy and diseases, the knowledge about treatments lagged behind. Lack of anesthetics made surgery an excruciating experience, and there were no antibiotics. Useful plants, such as digitalis, were discovered more by luck than by science. Bloodletting or ‘breathing a vein’ was one way in which a patient could be treated by a physician who had few options. Applying leeches often resulted  in a severe loss of blood, which was more detrimental to the patient’s condition than not. A human with a poor immune response could suffer from wound infections, diarrhea and septicemia, all influenced by the bacterium, Aeromonas veronii, carried in the leeche’s gut.

19th century leech advertisement

Regardless of adverse consequences, bloodletting has been practiced for at least 2,500 years. The earliest instruments, or lancets, were sharpened pieces of wood or stone, but it is leeches that I want to write about. (I am more repulsed by their sight than a snake’s, and had a hard time searching for an image that did not make me gag.)  The ancient Greeks believed in the humoral theory, which proposed that when the four humors, blood, phlegm, black and yellow bile in the human body were in balance, good health was guaranteed. An unbalance in these four humors led to ill health. Fast forward to the middle ages, when superstition and religion gave weight to the art of bleeding. If you recall, the earliest surgeons were barbers as well. Their leeches cured anything from headaches to gout!

Bloodletting with leeches is an ancient tradition

Leeches are commonly affixed by inverting a wine-glass containing as many as may be required, upon the part affected. The great disadvantage of this practice is, that some of them frequently retire to the upper part of the glass and remain at rest, defying all attempts to dislodge them, without incurring the risk of removing those that may have fastened.” – James Rawlins Johnson, A Treatise on the Medicinal Leech

Francois Broussais proposed in  his Histoire des phlegmasies ou inflammations chroniques (1808) that all disease resulted from excess build up of blood. The alleviation of this condition required heavy leeching and starvation. Leeches subsequently became the most prevalent way of treating a patient, especially in France, where tens of million of leeches were used per year, resulting in a drastic leech shortage. The British were equally enamored with this form of therapy. It is conjectured that Princess Charlotte’s death in childbirth in 1817 was exacerbated by her physician, who prescribed a rigorous course of blood letting and starvation diet during her pregnancy, weakening her before her agonizing 50+ hours of labor. (Read my article on this topic.)

In 1833, bloodletting became so popular in Europe, that the commercial trade in leeches became a major industry. France, suffering a deficiency, had to import 41.5 million leeches. The medicinal leech almost became extinct in Europe due to the extremely high demand for them. Leeches were collected in a particularly creepy way. Leech collectors would wade in leech infested waters allowing the leeches to attach themselves to the collector’s legs. In this way as many as 2,500 leeches could be gathered per day. When the numbers became insufficient, the French and Germans started the practice of leech farming. Elderly horses were used as leech feed where they would be sent into the water and would later die of blood loss. – Maggots and Leeches Make a Comeback

Oh, how I pity those elderly horses!

 

Large leech collector jar.

Intestinal tract of the hirudo leech

Leeches are quite extraordinary in that they have 31 brains and can gorge themselves up to five times their body weight before falling off their host. Afterward they require no feeding for another 6 months. There are over 650 known species of leeches, not all of which are bloodsuckers (some eat earthworms, for example). Placing leeches onto a patient (making sure the frontal sucker with teeth was directed to the skin) is relatively pain free, for their bite releases an anaesthetic. During feeding they secrete compounds, such as a vasodilator that dilates blood vessels and anticoagulant that prevents the blood from clotting. The worms are hermaphrodites, functioning as both the male and female sex. Even after being frozen, leeches can be coaxed back to life!  Needless to say, these creatures must provide an endless source of interest to scientists.

Early 19th century rare cobalt blue transportable leech jar. These were mostly made of clear glass. Cloth covered the everted lip to prevent escapees.

People (meaning mostly women) stood in fresh water marshes, lakes, pools, and the edges of river banks, and allowed the leeches to attach to their legs. (I shudder as I type this.) Once the leeches were gathered, they were placed in a basket, ceramic pot with breathing holes, or a reservoir.

One of these traders was known to collect, with the aid of his children, seventeen thousand five hundred leeches in the course of a few months; these he had deposited in a reservoir, where, in one night, they were all frozen en masse.” But congelation does not kill them, and they can easily be thawed into life, by melting the ice that surrounds them. Leeches, it appears, can bear much rougher usage than one might imagine: they are packed up closely in wet bags, carried on pack-saddles, and it is well known that they will attach themselves with more avidity when rubbed in a dry napkin previous to their application. Leech-gatherers are in general short-lived, and become early victims to agues, and other diseases brought on by the damp and noxious air that constantly surrounds them ; the effects of which they seek to counteract by the use of strong liquors.”  Excerpt taken from Curiosities of Medical Experience (1838) by John Gideon Millingen, via The Condenser: Hunting Down Good Bits

Pewter box for transporting leeches. Image @Science Museum of london

Leeches were carried in a variety of containers made of glass, silver, or pewter. Small bowls were portable, and the larger ones were probably kept in an apothecary’s shop or pharmacy. The everted lips were used to attach a cloth, which prevented the hapless creatures from escaping.

Portable leech carriers made of glass, silver and pewter. Small leech tubes directed the worm to difficult to reach places in the mouth, larynx, ear, conjunctiva, rectum and vagina, begging this question: How did one retrieve the engorged leech?

After the 1830s, the practice of leeching began to decline as medical diagnostic skills improved. Physicians realized that patients who were leeched did not often recover more fully than those who were not, and other, more beneficial treatments,  including pharmaceutical and homeopathic remedies, began to replace leeching

Red and cream Staffordshire leech jar

More on the Topic

Leech bowl

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I was at the private view of the “Diorama”; it is in part a transparency; the spectator is in a dark chamber, and it is very pleasing, and has great illusion. It is without the pale of art, because its object is deception. The art pleases by reminding, not deceiving. The place was filled with foreigners, and I seemed to be in a cage of magpies. – John Constable.

Ruins of Hollyrood Chapel, one of Daguerre's paintings for an 1824 Paris diorama

Imagine a world without films or television, computers or cell phones. Where transportation was slow and costly, and only the rich could afford to travel out of the country. Then imagine a new cutting edge technology in which lifesized illusions of ancient or distant lands were recreated on large transluscent screens and scenes of beauty or disaster were enhanced with lights that simulated scenes containing fire, the changing seasons, and sunrises and sunsets. Dioramas were a 19th century version of virtual reality – spectacles that both entertained and filled the viewer with wonder. Illusionary, seemingly 3D, and augmented by concealed lights in back of the stage, these entertainments were shown in buildings designed to display them.

Photo shows people watching Daguerre's diorama. Undated illustration. Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

In 1822, a mere 5 years after Jane Austen’s death, Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, introduced the first Diorama theater in Paris.

Diorama in Paris. Image @Jack and Beverley's Optical Toys

“Daguerre made large paintings of scenes and displayed they in elaborate layered stage settings along with real objects. The theater was equipped with windows and louvers that could be opened and closed to front light and back light the images. This caused transparent areas of the scene to change and new images to appear. Most often these were day to night transformations.” – Jack and Beverley’s Optical Toys

Diorama, Regent's Park

One year after Daguerre’s introduction of this wondrous new entertainment, the first diorama opened up in London in Regent’s Park. (The building still stands, but the interior has been vastly transformed.) The subject matter included landscape scenes of the grand tour, religious stories, recreations of paintings and grand architecture, and historical themes well-known to the public. The images could be made more or less bright according to the mood or atmosphere required by the theme. Props were also added for realism:

Diorama theatre

The visitors, after passing through a gloomy anteroom, were ushered into a circular chamber, apparently quite dark. One or two small shrouded lamps placed on the floor served dimly to light the way to a few descending steps and the voice of an invisible guide gave directions to walk forward. The eye soon became sufficiently accustomed to the darkness to distinguish the objects around and to perceive that there were several persons seated on benches opposite an open space resembling a large window. Through the window was seen the interior of Canterbury Cathedral undergoing partial repair with the figures of two or three workmen resting from their labours. The pillars, the arches, the stone floor and steps, stained with damp, and the planks of wood strewn on the ground, all seemed to stand out in bold relief, so solidly as not to admit a doubt of their substantiality, whilst the floor extended to the distant pillars, temptingly inviting the tread of exploring footsteps. Few could be persuaded that what they saw was a mere painting on a flat surface. The impression was strengthened by perceiving the light and shadows change, as if clouds were passing over the sun, the rays of which occasionally shone through the painted windows, casting coloured shadows on the floor. Then shortly the lightness would disappear and the former gloom again obscure the objects that had been momentarily illumined. The illusion was rendered more perfect by the sensitive condition of the eye in the darkness of the surrounding chamber.” “- The History of the Discovery of Cinematography http://www.precinemahistory.net/1800.htm

Diorama

Dioramas were created for spectacle and entertainment, and one can readily imagine Georgette Heyer’s characters attending these events during the London Season.

The popularity of the dioramas generated a debate over whether their pictures were art. The press discussed them as ‘exhibitions of art.’ But if the dioramas were art, it was a mundane art, and it rarely elevated the viewer’s taste. Indeed, if contemporary reactions are to be believed, the highest artistic achievement the diorama could attain was providing an entertaining substitute for reality. These pleasant but uncomplicated images required little or no preparation for serious thought… – Robert W. Brown.

Diorama diagram. Image @Wikipedia

This first-hand account gives the modern reader a sense of how these 30 – 50 minute light shows seemed to the viewer:

Woodcut of a diorama, day and night scenes.

A bell now rings, we find ourselves in motion; the whole theatre in which we sit, moves round till its wall closes the aperture or stage, and we are in perfect darkness; the bell rings again, a curtain rises, and we are looking on the time-worn towers, transepts, and buttresses of Notre Dame, its rose window on the left, and the water around its base reflecting back the last beams of the setting sun. Gradually these reflections disappear, the warm tints fade from the sky, and arc succeeded by the cool grey hue of twilight, and that again by night—deepening by insensible m degrees till the quay and the surrounding buildings and the water are no longer distinguishable, and Notre Dame itself scarcely reveals to us its outlines against the sky. Before we have long gazed on this scene the moon brgins to emerge slowly—very slowly, from the opposite quarter of the heavens, its first faint rays tempering apparently rather than dispersing the gloom; presently a slight radiance touches the top of one of the pinnacles of the cathedral—and glances as it were athwart the dark breast of the stream; now growing more powerful, the projections of Notre Dame throw their light and fantastic shadows over the left side of the building, until at last, bursting forth in serene unclouded majesty, the whole scene is lit up, except where the vast Cathedral interrupts its beams, on the quay here to the left, and where through the darkness the lamps are now seen, each illumining its allotted space.” – London Volumes 5-6, Edited by Charles Knight, 1843, pp. 284 – 288

Diorama, Edinburgh

By the early half of the 19th century there were five diaromas open in London. They were also popular in other British cities, as well as Breslau, Berlin, Cologne, Stockholm, and the United states. It is interesting to note that the end of the diorama’s popularity coincided with the rise of photography.

The Annual Peeps Diorama competition grows bigger every year: Easter at the National Peeps-thedral

Dioramas have shrunk in size, and today’s viewers know them only as scenes in boxes or bottles, as museum displays, or for competitions, such as the science fair or annual peeps contest.

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The lush fashion exhibition, Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion, closed in Milan in September. On the website, readers are still allowed to choose where they would like it to travel next!

The beautiful cameo necklace and earrings complete this evening ensemble.

The catalogue, written by Cristina Barreto and Martin Lancaster, is sumptuous and filled with color photographs. The clothes are compared to fashion illustrations of the day. One cannot get a better education of French fashion during this period than this book. This video and the link to the slide show below it show what we have missed by not traveling to Milan last spring and summer.

Napoleon’s desire to protect the garment industry in France after the French Revolution resulted in an explosion of designs that propelled the French fashion industry to the forefront, making it hugely influential. By encouraging women to purchase many gowns (so that they would not be seen in the same dress too often), France became synonymous with fashion. See the slide show of images from the exhibition by clicking on this link.

The many French fashions shown from the 1795-1810 years

Vote where you would like the exhibit to travel next. If the exhibit comes to New York, I hope to see the same mannequins. Aren’t they simply superb?

Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion in Milan

Order the catalog at Amazon: It ships within 1-3 months.

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They say an image is worth a thousand words. This one, drawn in 1855, made me pause. It’s from Forrester’s Pictorial Miscellany for the Family Circle by Matthew Forrester.

French shepherd sitting on raised stool and stilts. Book illustration, pen drawing. Image @Wikimedia Commons

Here’s the accompanying text (p. 65-67):

The Shepherds of Les Bas Landes.

In the south-western part of France, bounded on the west by the Atlantic Ocean, and on the south by the Pyrenees, a chain of high mountains separating France from Spain, there is a large barren tract of land, that, from the number of its heaths, has conferred the title of Les Landes on the department to which it belongs. Being generally a level plain, intermixed with shrubs and swamps, it is naturally described as being the most desolate and dreary portion of France. A few spots, like the oases of the African deserts, are to be found at long intervals of space, and here only can rye be grown, the rest being a dreary waste, dotted with heath, firs, or cork trees.

The climate is very unhealthy, the heat in summer being scorching, and in winter the marshes are enveloped in dense fogs. From the « level nature of the land, and from the fact that a considerable portion of it is under water, the shepherds have recourse to stilts, and the dexterity which is manifested in their management has often elicited wonder and admiration from the passing traveller, who rarely meets with many traces of civilization. You will see a picture of one of these shepherds on the preceding page. There he sits from morning till night, knitting away, and watching his flock.

The shepherds in these parts are very careful of their flocks, whose docility is remarkable. Not less so is the good understanding between the sheep and the dogs. The celerity with which the shepherds draw their flocks around them is not more astonishing than the process by which they effect it is simple and beautiful. If they are at no great distance from him, he gives a peculiar whistle, and they leave off feeding, and obey the call; if they are afar off and scattered, he utters a shrill cry, and instantly the flocks are seen leaping over the swamps, and scampering towards him. When they have mustered around him, the shepherd sets off on his return to the cabin, or resting place he has secured, and the flock follow behind, like so many well-trained hounds.

Their fine looking dogs, a couple of which are generally attached to each flock, have nobler duties to perform than that of chasing the animals together, and biting the legs of stragglers. To their protection is confided the flock from the predatory expeditions of wolves and bears, against whose approach they are continually on the watch, and to whom they at once offer battle. So well aware are the sheep of the fatherly care of these dogs, and that they themselves have nothing to fear from them, that they crowd around them as if they really sought their protection, and dogs and sheep may be seen resting together in perfect harmony. Thus habituated to scenes of such gentleness and magnanimity, the shepherds themselves are brave, generous, and humane, and though, as may be imagined, for the most part plunged in the deepest ignorance, are highly sensitive among themselves to the slightest dereliction from the strict paths of true morality.

Given this bucolic description, would the shepherd’s heart be torn asunder once his sheep were ripped from his protection and driven to market?

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