Something showed up in one of the feeds that comes my way from time to time which piqued my interest. Or at least the visual caught my attention. It was an old fashioned ad for Ayr’s Sarsaparilla! I hadn’t heard that word in years. When my father was attempting to recover from his second serious stroke back in 1960 one of the things he asked for, obviously drawing on a memory from his childhood, was a glass of Sarsaparilla. It was a soft drink that had long been out of both fashion and production in North America so I had to disappoint him with root beer. He was having none of that – he knew the difference. I remember that it bothered me at the time – and perhaps even still today – that I wasn’t able to help him recapture that childhood pleasure. Sorry, I wandered down a memory path there, something that should be held for another time and place.

One of my favourite “Trade Cards” which appears to be part of a series: Heinz “pickle” ads?????

Back to the visual on the feed that led to an article about a delightful exhibition of Victorian Trade Cards at Cornell University. Before they were supplanted by sports trading cards these imagination advertisements were collected, pasted in scrap books or exchanged by eager collectors. Many of them advertised the benefits of restoratives, “medicinal” food and drink that prove outrageous claims have always been an advertising tool. Others extol restaurants, canned goods, hair tonics, baking products, or cultural venues. And the creators were not above quoting from Shakespeare, Lord Byron or other well-respect poets. Nor in capturing sophisticated (and sometimes stereotype) images to hawk the superiority of their products.

Wandering through the online exhibition was a nice way to spend an hour of two of the late evening: stopping to be both amused and entertained by the breadth of products, the extravagance of the claims, and the charm of the illustrations.

A left click will take you to the Online Exhibition at Cornell University’s website.

The word for March 12th is:
Ballyhoo /ˈbalēˌho͞o/: [informal noun/North American verb]
1. extravagant or exaggerated publicity or fuss
2. to praise or publicize extravagantly
Late 19th century American coinage of unknown origin – possible carnival slang.
In addition to the “ballyhoo” discussed above, it is old nautical slang for an inferior ship (possibly from the Spanish balahou or small schooner); a name for a species of fish (more correctly the balao); or possibly the name of the mythical “ballyhoo bird,” supposedly sporting four wings and two heads.

The “Aunt Heap”

The centre piece of the commemoration of the birth of Queen Victoria at Kensington Place is Victoria: Woman and Crown. A temporary exhibition created by Nissen Richards Studio it highlights clothing from the Historic Royal Palaces collections and many items on loan from the Royal Trust Collection and the private collection of Her Majesty the Queen.

A left click on the entrance way to Victoria: Woman and Queen will take you to the creators website with more pictures of the actual exhibition design and some of the challenges the design team faced.

As I mentioned in a previous post Alexandrina Victoria was a small woman and as a teenager often bewailed her lack of stature. She once exclaimed “Everyone grows but me!” At one point there were rumours that under the strict regime of “the Kensington System” she wasn’t being fed properly which accounted for her slightness of build. Her mother and Sir John Conroy went to great lengths to put those stories to rest. Her height has been variously given as 4’10”, 4’11” and 5’1″.

Dating from 1840 this hand stitched cotton lawn petticoat is a good indication of how small she was at the time of her marriage to Prince Albert.

After their marriage in February 1840 Prince Albert became Victoria’s chief advisor on most things. He was the orchestrator of her public persona right down to the clothing she wore. She had no wish to upstage her husband who had no right to wear a crown so she chose to wear a bonnet in public. Though she was criticized it gave the “favourable” impression of the Royal pair as being an “ordinary couple”. (Sound familiar?)

Albert had jewellery made to his designs as gifts for Victoria. She wore this circlet of gold and semi-precious stones every year on their wedding anniversary. The four small green oranges nestled amongst the blossoms represent their four eldest children.

Her shoes were made by Richard Grundy and Sons of Soho Square. They were to be her shoemakers from 1824 until 1898. The exhibition included a pair of silver boots that suggest that though she may have been tiny Victoria had normal size feet. Or perhaps it was just the fashion at the time. A recent acquisition of the Historic Royal Palaces they are made of silk, leather and cotton. Dating from 1840 they show that before the years of her widowhood Victoria had a sense of style and flair.

A left click will take you to a video showing the conservation technique used in restoring the boots for display.

During her lifetime there were two pieces of jewellery that were constantly on her person: a locket containing a lock of Albert’s hair and his portrait, and a gold charm bracelet. They are normally housed in the “Albert Room” at Windsor Castle. This was the room in which Prince Albert had died in 1861 and the Queen left instructions for a specific list of personal jewellery to be placed there and not passed on in the family. (A left click on the links will take you to a closer look at both.)

After the death of Albert, from suspected typhoid, in 1861 and until the day she died in 1901 Victoria wore “widow’s weeds”. Black silk or satin, jet beads, ebony work, and her eternal widow’s cap became her trademark. It also set the standard for “mourning” in households of wealth and position and those with pretence to wealth and position.

Much has been written of Victoria’s nine children and of her relationships with them. For someone who gave her name to a (publicly) sexually stifled period she apparently enjoyed the pleasures of the couch but not the resultant accouchment. Her frequent pregnancies left her with a painful hernia which was to plague her until the day she died. It also accounted for her “dumpy” appearance as she aged. She delivered her eighth and ninth child with the aid of chloroform under objections of clergy and doctors. The former found it “unbiblical” and the later “dangerous”.

She wasn’t particularly fond of children and thought newborns resembled “tadpoles”. During his lifetime Albert involved himself with the upbringing and education of their children. It was a strange mixture of liberalism and privilege. After his death Victoria demanded attention from her children even as they matured and left home as consorts of half the monarchies of Europe.

With the abolition of the British East India Company in 1858 the British Government took over governing the Subcontinent. However in 1877, as a political move, Benjamin Disraeli had Victoria proclaimed Empress of India. She took an interest in the people and culture of that corner of her immense Empire and learned Urdu from Abdul Karmin, an Indian household servant who became her personal clerk or Munshi. Though she kept to her signature black silk dresses they were often adorned with patterns easily recognizable as of Indian origin.

The exhibition ends, not with her death in 1901 but four years earlier when she celebrated her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. By that point her popularity had reach a high and she appeared more frequently in public. Though all the heads of government in her Dominions were present at the festivities the crowned heads of Europe had been excluded. There was strong anti-German sentiment in England at the time and it was felt the presence of her eldest grandson Wilhelm could be a source of contention. He was her favourite and rather than offend him it was decided that none of the European “royals” – most of whom were family – would be invited.

Ironically she was to die in “Willy’s” arms on January 21, 1901 at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.

The word for January 23 is:
Homodoxian /ˈhōmōdäksēən/: [countable noun]
Someone who shares the same opinion as you.
Obsolete noun from the Greek: homos – the same + doxa – opinion
No it does mean the same dachshund – no doxie is the same as another. They are all unique! Ask Nicky and Nora.

The “Aunt Heap”

Continuing our visit to Kensington Palace

As mentioned in the first post two of the exhibitions at Kensington Palace commemorated the 200th anniversary of the birth of Her Majesty Victoria, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India.

Victoria: A Royal Childhood, a new permanent exhibition, is a bittersweet display capturing her life at Kensington Palace – from her birth on May 24, 1819 until the morning of June 20th 1837 when she became Queen. The last room is, fittingly enough, the Red Saloon where she met with the Accession Council for the first time as Queen.

Though the table where she signed the Protestant Declaration is the centre piece of the room what caught my attention was the diorama of the Coronation at Westminster Abbey and the immense dalmatica that she wore.

It appears that things did not go quite as planned on more than one occasion during the five hour long ceremony. The lack of rehearsal and general air of improvisation was commented on by more than one observer. The young Benjamin Disraeli commented that the participants “were always in doubt as to what came next, and you saw the want of rehearsal”.

The dalmatica is a liturgical vestment worn by a deacon during mass and by tradition a British monarch, as supreme head of the church, during what was once called the “Eighth Sacrament”. Encased in glass, badly lit, jammed into a corner and it’s flowing lines stiffened to a cone shape it did not show to best advantage. Looking at the elaborately woven cloth of gold robe, heavy with silk embroidery, my first thought was that must have overwhelmed the teen age Queen as Victoria was only 5 feet one inch (several of the other sources suggest less than that). C. R Leslie’s portrait of her kneeling at the altar at Westminster Abbey gives a better impression of how it appeared when worn.

Queen Victoria at the altar of Westminster Abbey.
Charles Robert Leslie (1794-1859) – Victoria and Albert Museum

Victoria: Woman and Crown, the second special exhibition, highlighted examples of the Queen’s wardrobe during both her time as a young, and vibrant, bride and ruler and during the long dour years of her self-imposed mourning. And I’ll should have a post on it available shortly.

The word of the day for December 7th is:
Jocoserious /dʒəʊkəʊˈsɪərɪəs/: [adjective]
A mixture of half in jest and half serious. A blending of serious and humourous matters. Jocose + serious.

First appeared in 1637 in the anonymously published Raillerie À La Mode Consider’d, or the Supercilious Detractor: A Joco-Serious Discourse; Shewing the Open Impertinence and Degenerosity of Publishing Private Pecques and Controversies to the World. A jocoserious title if there ever was one!
Dr Spo will be pleased to hear it is also used in Chapter 17 of James Joyce’s Ulysses. But then what word isn’t?

Throwback Thursday

A week or two ago I recalled a visit to the Exhibition celebrating the reopening of the Vatican Library back in 2011. One of the many beautiful illuminated manuscripts that caught my eye was a choir book from the 16th century – the earliest compilation by one composer in their vast collection. I thought I’d revisit it today.

Willy Or Won't He

An engraving from 1578 by Etienne Duperac of the Sistine Chapel shows the full pomp of a papal religious ceremony with the singers in their “cantoria” (lower right) gathered around a lectern. The bottom of the hand coloured engraving has been cut off but other copies show that every important participant is identified by a number corresponding to a legend at the bottom of the page. (From the V&A website)

There was a time when the finest composers and musicians were attached to the Papacy. Music at both Saint Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel were of a quality equal to any in the world. Many great composers are recorded to have been associated with the music making in the Papal chapels and court: Dufay, Ninot le Petit, Festa, Josquin, Palestrina, de Morales,  Landi – a roll call of the major talents of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. …

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Siren with a Lens

I was searching for a past post earlier this week and came across this item from September of 2009. We had gone to the Palazzo delle Esposizioni to see the much publicized Bulgari Exhibition and as so often happens another show proved a more satisfying and memorable experience. And the memory had me turning to a bookshelf to retrieve the wonderful catalogue that had been published.

Willy Or Won't He

I fell in love with the circus and Burt Lancaster when I was about 10 or 11. Back in 1956 my brother took me to see Ringling Bros Circus in one of their last appearances under canvas and I was enchanted. That same year Trapeze was released and I remember having the comic book and reading about it in one of the screen story magazines. And it had some poster! Lancaster and Tony Curtis in white circus tights. And standing between them Gina Lollobrigida all spangles, cleavage, doe eyes and pouty lips. But even at 10 the sight of Burt in tights did more for me than Gina in spangles.

La Lolla was one of those buxom foreign stars that came into the studio system as it was fading into oblivion. She was exotic, she was beautiful, she was Italian and she was hot. But she was always more than…

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