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Posts Tagged ‘John Hoppner’

Once upon a time children wore miniature versions of their parents’ clothing styles. Then, in 1780 or 1790, depending on the source you read, children began to be dressed differently, wearing fashions designed just for them.

Bowden Children, John Hoppner, late 18th c.

Bowden Children, John Hoppner, late 18th c.

Skeleton suit, Kate Greenaway

Skeleton suit, Kate Greenaway

Not that small boys, left to their own devices, would have worn high-waisted, ankle length trousers made of heavy cotton or linen and white cambric shirts with ruffled trim, but these “skeleton suits” as they were called were popular for at least fifty years. The pants had high waists, because they were buttoned onto the long sleeved jacket.

Although these long-sleeved, trousered suits were meant to be comfortable, they had three layers at the waist, not including underwear. Heaven knows how hot the boys must have felt in the summer or during active play! Or how quickly the white ruffed shirts soiled! Completing the outfit were white stocking, flat-soled strap slippers, and a military-style cap. The strapped slippers can best be seen in the 1841 fashion plate image at the bottom of this post.

Boy with cap

Boy with cap

A skeleton suit, one of those straight blue cloth cases in which small boys used to be confined before belts and tunics had come in … An ingenious contrivance for displaying the symmetry of a boy’s figure by fastening him into a very tight jacket, with an ornamental row of buttons over each shoulder and then buttoning his trousers over it so as to give his legs the appearance of being hooked on just under his arm pits. (Charles Dickens, Sketches by Boz, 1838-39.)

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Adding insult to injury, was the underwear that young boys wore under these layered clothes. This sample comes from the Manchester Art Gallery.

Detail of The Hoppner Children, 1791. Formal skeleton suit.

Detail of The Hoppner Children, 1791. Formal skeleton suit.

The smaller the boy, the more elaborately frilled the collar. Colors were generally light, with the most popular being blue or green. Sometimes the suits were made of scarlet or mustard as well. For more formal occasions, a colorful sash might be added and the trousers made of silk or velvet and trimmed with lace. A young man about to go to Eton would wear the larger Eton collar.

Detail of Fluyder Children, Sir Thomas Lawrence. Skeleton suit with sash

Detail of Fluyder Children, Sir Thomas Lawrence. Skeleton suit with sash

Detail, 1841 fashion plate

Detail, 1841 fashion plate

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Little Anne illustration, Kate Greenaway

Little Anne illustration, Kate Greenaway

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Lady Maria Hamilton, 1802, by Thomas Lawrence.

Lady Maria Hamilton, 1802, by Thomas Lawrence.

Inquiring Reader: You’ve probably seen the necklaces dozens of times without noticing them. I have. These beautiful single string coral necklaces worn by Regency ladies escaped my attention until my friend and blogging partner on Jane Austen Today, Laurel Ann of Austenprose, sent me some spectacular images, such as the one of Lady Maria Hamilton, who died in 1814 unmarried. Coral has enjoyed a long and ancient tradition, first worn as a talisman and later for its color and beauty. One of my favorite drawings by Peter Paul Rubens depicts his son with a coral necklace. At the time coral was thought to protect the wearer.

Nicolaas Rubens Wearing a Coral Necklace, Peter Paul Rubens, Red and black chalk heightened with white and some black ink on paper, c. 1619

Nicolaas Rubens Wearing a Coral Necklace, Peter Paul Rubens, Red and black chalk heightened with white and some black ink on paper, c. 1619

The tradition of giving children coral necklaces continued through the 19th century, as shown in this detail of a late 18th century John Hoppner painting of one of the Sackville girls. The gemstone was considered a guardian of sorts, protecting children from illnesses like stomachaches, fever, typhus, smallpox, and rickets. The mala beads were polished to a smooth sheen and matched in color. Bead sizes could be similar or gradated from small to larger stones that were strung in the center.

The Sackville Children, detail, John Hoppner, 1796

The Sackville Children, detail, John Hoppner, 1796

Handmade jewellery created during the late Georgian Era (1760-1837) is extremely hard to find today.  As styles changed, the pieces were remade rather than tossed out or sold. Until the latter part of the 18th century, coral was harvested from the sea largely by dredging. Fine quality red coral came from the Mediterranean – Algeria, France, Italy, Morocco, Spain, Tunisia and the islands of Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily, with some saying that the best corals came off the coasts of Algeria and Tunisia. Eighteenth century coral was a rich warm red and is unavailable today. In fact, original antique jewellery made with dark red coral is so difficult to find that it has become a highly prized collectible.

Jane Elizabeth, Countess of Oxford, John Hoppner, 1797

Jane Elizabeth, Countess of Oxford, John Hoppner, 1797

Early 19th century red coral necklace

Early 19th century red coral necklace

Simple round necklaces, like the one worn by the Countess of Oxford, were popular and complimented low necklines, but chokers were also fashionable, like the Georgian Cannetille Sardinian red coral four strand necklace on the left. Coral is made up of the skeletal material built up by small animals that live in slow growing colonies in the sea. Colors range from vivid orange, red, and white, to salmon and pale pink (called angelskin coral). In jewelry making coral is either carved into beads, cameos, and other forms, or is left in its natural branch-like form and simply polished. (My mother had such a necklace, which I played with as a child.) The most sought after color (and the rarest) is a deep red, as in the necklace at left.  Coral manufacturing during the Regency Period consisted primarily of filing beads of smoothed coral and stringing necklaces. Because coral consists of calcium carbonate, it is extremely sensitive to chemicals,  perfumes, and body acids. Like pearls, the necklaces must be washed with a damp cloth (no detergents) and restrung periodically.

Little boy placing a coral necklace on a dog's neck, Martin Drolling

Little boy placing a coral necklace on a dog's neck, Martin Drolling

detail of Jacopo Vignali's Head of a Young Woman, 17th c

Many mystical and medicinal properties were attributed to coral, among them vitality, physical strength, stronger marital relationships, wealth, increased sensuality, and protection while out to sea. Coral was also used as a medicinal powder. Primitive physics believed that coral oxides mixed with honey made a person strong. Mix it with betel leaf and it made a potent cure for cough and heart disease. Coral powder is still a popular aphrodisiac in India today, which prompts avaricious collectors to dynamite coral reefs, putting fragile reefs in acute danger. In the detail of a 17th century drawing by Jacopo Vignali at right, one can easily see why this semi-precious stone was considered to have sensual qualities. The combination of the coral necklace and her full lips make the young woman look both fragile and seductive. Thank you, Laurel Ann, for introducing me to this fascinating topic! As you can see, I got a little carried away.

More information about corals can be found in these links:

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