Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Lustrous Luxury: Eighteenth-Century Coque de Perle Earrings

Wednesday, March 21, 2018
Susan reporting,

One of the very best parts of blogging and social media in general is the opportunity to share images and inspiration with other like-minded folk. Last week, I saw the earrings upper right with a short explanation on the Instagram page of Taylor Autumn Shelby, a friend of this blog as well as the creator of replicas of historic jewelry.

I had never heard of 18thc coque de perle earrings before, but I realized I'd seen them in portraits like the one upper left: earrings with oval-shaped pearls that were far too large to be real, but were clearly prized enough to be featured in portraits. Pearls have been in fashion since ancient times, but before the invention of cultured pearls in the early 20thc, true pearls were rare and prohibitively expensive except for the very rich or very royal. I knew about Roman pearls, another kind of 18thc faux pearl that were glass beads lined with a pearly coating (see my earlier posts here and here), but coques de perle was new to me, and off I went to hunt for more information.

According to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, who owns the earrings lower right, each coque de perle (literally "pearl shell") is cut from the East Indian nautilus shell; the result is similar to a blister or mabe pearl. They are not rounded, but flat or hollowed on one side, and can be made quite large in size. The shape is usually oval (often described as olive) to follow the natural curve of the shell. The hollowed curve could be filled with wax or resin to give the finished coque de perle more of the weight of a true pearl, or left hollow to keep it light; I'm guessing that is the case of the pearl swinging from the large hoop earring in the Vigée Le Brun portrait, lower left. Some coques de perle were set in gold or silver like true pearls, while others were set in a base metal to make them more affordable.

I also found this description of coques de perle in the 1814 edition of A History of Inventions and Discoveries by Johann Beckmann, who in turn quotes 1762 French expert Jean Henri Prosper Pouget:

"Coque de perles are flat on one side, and are used for ornaments, one side of which only is seen. By Pliny they are called physemata. Artificial pearls of this kind have, for some time past, been employed in making ear-rings. Our toymen [jewelers], after the French, give these pearls the name perles coques; but the following account of Pouget in Traité des pierres precieuses et de la manière de les employer en parure [A Treatis on precious stones and how to use them for adornment] makes me dubious respecting them. 'La coque de perle,' says he, "is not formed in a pearl-shell like the pearl; it is procured from a kind of snail found only in the East-Indies. There are several species of them. The shell of this animal is sawn in two, and one coque only can be obtained from each. The coques are very small, and one is obliged to fill them with tears of mastic to give them a body, before they can be employed. This beautiful snail is found generally in the sea, and sometimes on the shore.'"

A beautiful snail, and beautiful earrings as well.

Upper left: Ritratto de Caterina Sagredo Barbarigo by Rosalba Carriera, 1741, private collection.
Upper right: Coque de Perle Girandole Earrings, 18thc, image via Bonhams Auctioneers.
Lower left, Detail, The Marquise de Pezay, and the Marquise de Rougé with Her Sons Alexis and Adrien by Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1797, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
Lower right: Girandole Style Earring (one of a pair; gold metal and coque de perle) English, about 1780, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Lord Rivers Drowns in the Serpentine—Was It an Accident?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Lord Rivers as a boy
Loretta reports:

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, was addicted to gambling. The first Lord Holland’s sons ran up enormous gambling debts. Beau Brummell fled England to escape his. A lot of that going around.

The third Baron Rivers is another example I happened on. The trail started with the following in La Belle Assemblée for March 1831:
“The first act of the Duke of Sussex, on being appointed to the Rangership of Hyde-park, has been to give directions for the placing an adequate protection against the spot where the late Lord Rivers lost his life."
This was intriguing. Who was Lord Rivers and how did he die?

Wikipedia’s short entry only tantalized, sending me to the 1 April 1831 Gentleman’s Magazine obituary.
Jan. 23 Drowned in the Serpentine river, aged 53, the Right Hon. Horace William Pitt, third Baron Rivers, of Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire (1802).
 ... As Mr. Horace Beckford he was for many years a distinguished member of the haut ton; and it was only after his succeeding to the title on the death of his maternal uncle, July 20, 1828, that he took the name of Pitt ... .
“Lord Rivers was first missed on the evening of Sunday Jan. 23 ... On Tuesday the Serpentine river was dragged, and in the afternoon his Lordship's body was found at the east end, near the waterfall.”
At the inquest, his steward and a footman insisted he’d been in good spirits: He was nearsighted and must have fallen into the river by accident. The superintendent of the Humane Society's Receiving House said the footpath there was so dangerous that ten people fell into the river on a recent foggy night.
“The Jury returned this verdict: ‘Found drowned near the public path at the head of the Serpentine River, considered very dangerous for want of a rail or fence, where many persons have lately fallen in.’—The rail has been since erected by direction of the Duke of Sussex, the new Ranger of Hyde Park.

Subsequently to the inquest ..., there has been considerable discussion in the newspapers regarding the cause of the occurrence; and it has been stated, with what truth we cannot say, that when the body was taken out of the water, his Lordship's hat was secured with a handkerchief under his chin, and that his umbrella was found on the bank, both which circumstances are considered indicative that his immersion was intentional; and it is added that on the Saturday night he had lost considerable sums at a gaming-house; and that this passion for play had for some years so far possessed him, that his uncle bequeathed to him only 4000l. a year, leaving the bulk of his property, amounting to 40,000l a year, to trustees for the benefit of his son, the present Peer.”
Nigel Cox, Serpentine Waterfall
It’s important to remember that suicide, being self-murder, was a capital offense. One could be tried and hanged for the attempt, and a suicide’s property was forfeit to the Crown. Up to a certain point in the early 19th C, those who’d committed suicide were buried at midnight at a crossroads without the offices of clergy. This is why coroner’s juries tended to find the deaths accidental or, when this was impossible, the victim of unsound mind.

Image: A print of the “youthful portrait of Mr. Horace Beckford, at full length in a Vandyke costume, painted by R. Cosway, R.A. and engraved in stipple by John Conde, 1792", courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Photo of Serpentine Waterfall by Nigel Cox. Another image here.

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

Sunday, March 18, 2018

An Unfinished Gown with Secrets to Share, c1785

Sunday, March 18, 2018
Susan reporting,

Historical clothing is collected, preserved, and valued for many reasons. A garment can be considered significant because it belonged to a famous person, or because it belonged to a person whom history has forgotten entirely. Another item could be treasured for the family story behind it, or could have been worn to a significant historical event. A garment can be treasured because it represents the highest level of craftsmanship and skill, or because was fashioned from rare and costly textiles.

And then there is this dress in the collection of Colonial Williamsburg. (Those of you who attended the Costume Society of America 2018 Symposium in CW last week will recognize it from the keynote discussion.) Made in America of printed cotton around 1785-1795 and purchased by CW in 2004, the dress is a popular style of the time known as a common gown. The open-front dress would have been worn over a petticoat (skirt), stays, and a false rump, and would also have had 3/4- or wrist-length sleeves. Depending on the light, the ground-color of the printed cotton appears either dark purple or brown, though chemical analysis has shown it was originally a shade with deep red overtones from a cochineal-based dye.

The reason this gown holds a special place in the CW collection, however, is not what it is, but what it isn't: it was never finished. While sufficiently assembled for fitting, the gown still has extra-wide seams allowances that would eventually be trimmed away and basting threads to hold the pleats in place and to indicate where trim would be added. Most notably, stitching holes indicate that sleeves (now lost) had once been stitched in place, and were then removed. The armholes are quite high, and it's possible that they didn't fit the intended wearer. 

Still, no one now knows why the dress was abandoned so close to completion. Yet in this state, the dress reveals a rare glimpse at the mantua-maker's working and construction methods; it's frozen in time, there at the final fitting. In addition, the unworn dress presents a glazed, printed cotton in a pristine condition. For the sake of preserving this glazed finish, it's unlikely that the dress will ever go on public display and risk light-damage to the delicate surface. See more images of the original dress plus descriptions of how the fabric was produced here on the CW e-museum website.

The dress is also unusual for another reason. Most surviving 18thc dresses tend to be small - not because all 18thc women were petite, but because in an era when remodeling and recutting clothing was common, the smaller gowns didn't offer enough fabric to make recycling feasible. This gown was intended for a tall woman - 5'10" or even taller - with a 46" bust and a 42" waist.

While the original gown is primarily a study garment in the collection, it has already inspired several copies. First, the printed cotton fabric has been commercially reproduced for sale (it can be ordered by the yard here.) An exact one-to-one copy of the dress to be used for study was created by CW's Costume Design Center, who also made another copy to be worn as a costume in the historic area.

Finally (at least for now) the mantua-makers of the Margaret Hunter shop in CW's historic trades program made a technological reproduction, recreating the dress using 18thc hand-sewing and other period-correct techniques. This version was completed based on other similar dresses from the period, and is shown right worn by Janea Whitacre, mistress of the mantua-making trade. It's stunning in person - which makes you wonder all over again why the original was never finished.

Left: Gown, maker unknown, 1785-1795, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Photograph courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg.
Right: Technological reproduction gown, made the Margaret Hunter shop, Colonial Williamsburg, 2018. Photograph ©2018 Susan Holloway Scott.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of March 12, 2018.

Saturday, March 17, 2018
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Read the comic history of England - handwritten and illustrated - that Jane Austen wrote when she was only sixteen.
• Consumptive chic: how tuberculosis symptoms became ideals of beauty in the 19thc.
• A recipe that's perfect for an 18thc spring dinner: pistachio creams.
James Allen, a Regency-era female husband.
Image: A canine rail cart trip in Alaska, 1912.
Pineapples in 18thc America.
• Nineteenth century Quaker Rebecca Lukens, America's first female CEO of an industrial company.
• A caracal for King George II.
• A thaw in the streets of London, 1865.
Image: An elegant c1775 combined music stand and writing table with Severes porcelain plaque.
• The many residents of this elegant 1872 New York rowhouse included the tragic American-born Princess Rospigliosi.
• The woman with the violin: the trailblazzing Ginger Smock and the 1940s-1950s Los Angeles jazz scene.
• The Victorian ostrich feather trade: boom and bust.
Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman doctor in America; where she lived and worked in Greenwich Village, NY.
• The importance of coffee, tea, and chocolate in early America.
Image: First World War police whistle associated with the service of Miss D.A. Lovell in the
• Of sealing wax and Emperor Francis I of Austria.
Italian (sort of) restaurants in New York City in 1916.
• Dreams of the Forbidden City: when Chinatown nightclubs beckoned Hollywood.
Crispus Attucks: American Revolutionary hero?
• Image: Helluva good icicle at 15thc Rosslyn Chapel, Midlothian, Scotland.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Friday Video: Dressing an 18thc Gentleman for "Reigning Men" at LACMA

Friday, March 16, 2018

Susan reporting,

This week I've been attending the Costume Society of America's annual symposium in Colonial Williamsburg. One of the more fascinating presentations was given by Senior Curator Sharon Takeda and Assistant Curator Clarissa M. Esguerra from the Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), who described the process of creating the 2016 major exhibition Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear 1715-2015. Featuring pieces drawn largely from the museum's own collections, the exhibition challenged the assumption that fashion is only for women, and instead - as the program described it - "celebrated the rich history of restraint and resplendence in menswear, traced cultural influences over the centuries, and illuminated connections between history and high fashion." (The exhibition also received CSA's Richard Martin Exhibition Award.)

This short video offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the show's preparation. Dressing and moving mannequins in rare and delicate 200-year-old clothing is clearly not an easy task - but the beauty and craftsmanship of the menswear glimpsed here makes the video well worth watching. For more information and other images, see the LACMA blog dedicated to the exhibition.

Attention to our lucky readers in Australia: the Reigning Men exhibition has traveled from Los Angeles to Saint Louis in 2017, and will soon complete be on display at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney from May 2-October 14, 2018.

If you received this post via email, you may be seeing a black box or empty space where the video should be. Please click here to watch the video.

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