Marginal Monkey: Scandalous Simians of the Middle Ages

It’s Monday, and we are still hanging out in the margins of Medieval manuscripts, looking at all the animals behaving badly. This week, we are focusing on the monkey. These partying primates present puerile pastimes and perilous pranks.

As an aside, WTF is up with the Luttrell Psalter? I mean seriously. A psalter is supposed to be a solemn collection of the 150 Psalms of the Bible. The Luttrell Psalter was written somewhere between 1320-1340, and it was commissioned by Sir Geoffrey Luttrell in Lincolnshire. Lemme tell ya, whatever they were putting in the water in Lincolnshire back then, the guys who produced the book drank a lot of it.

Anyway, back to the monkey thing.

The fact that there were monkeys in Medieval Europe should surprise no one. Really, if you’re surprised, unsurprise yourself right now. The Medieval world was by no means as isolated and isolationist as is commonly thought. That’s a whole other post about travel and tourism in the Middle Ages (complete with souvenirs). Suffice it to say that monkeys were around.

Let’s begin, shall we?

 

Monkey on a What?

We know that monkeys are climbers. But the monkey of the Middle Ages apparently got a lot of rides…on whatever he could.

This monkey is riding a pig. Okay, it’s a boar. Which is a kind of pig. And this boar seems to be pretty jazzed about the whole thing. Look at the smile on his face.

Monkey riding a boar and holding a stick skewering a chicken, Stowe 17, 14th c., fol. 82r. British Library.
Monkey riding a boar and holding a stick skewering a chicken, Stowe 17, 14th c., fol. 82r. British Library.

We know that this dude is fighting a snail. But apparently, he’s riding…an ostrich? If you have any ideas of what this bird might actually be, leave them in the comments.

Monkey vs. Snail. Sloane 3097, f. 3v. 1311. British Library.
Monkey vs. Snail. Sloane 3097, f. 3v. 1311. British Library.

I am assuming this is a turkey. And the monkey doesn’t look too confident about his chances in the joust, either.

Monkey jouster, English, about 1260. Rutland Psalter, f. 66v
Monkey jouster, English, about 1260. Rutland Psalter, f. 66v

This is a little different. We have a SHE-monkey (which unfortunately makes me think of Helena Bonham Carter in Planet of the Apes), riding a goat, training an owl to be a falcon. Seems to me we have a whole lot of species-identity confusion. The monkey wants to be human. The owl wants to be a falcon. The goat wants to be a horse. I mean, it doesn’t bother me. I’m really open minded about that kind of thing.

The Falconer - Female monkey on a goat training an owl, Luttrell Psalter, Add MS 42130, fol. 38, 1325-1340. British Library.
The Falconer – Female monkey on a goat training an owl, Luttrell Psalter, Add MS 42130, fol. 38, 1325-1340. British Library.

There are some other images, but I think I’ll end the section with this one: a happy little monkey on a happy camel. This is how you know the guy drawing this has never seen a camel before. Camels are never this happy and cooperative. Camels are assholes.

Book of Hours, MS G.4 fol. 106v - Images from Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts - The Morgan Library & Museum
Book of Hours, MS G.4 fol. 106v – Images from Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts – The Morgan Library & Museum

 

What’s with this Shit?

No, seriously. Apparently, the Medieval Monkey was seriously into poop. I mean, look at this guy. He’s just sitting there, thinking deep thoughts as we all do sometimes when we’re on the toilet. Maybe the monk who was working on this section really needed a bathroom break.

Rodinesque monkey on a pot (above Saints Peter and Paul ‘Petrus apostolus et Paulus doctor gentium’) Book of Hours, Paris ca.1460 | Morgan Library & Museum, NY: MS M.282, fol. 125v
Rodinesque monkey on a pot (above Saints Peter and Paul ‘Petrus apostolus et Paulus doctor gentium’) Book of Hours, Paris ca.1460 | Morgan Library & Museum, NY: MS M.282, fol. 125v

At this point, I feel the need to remind you that these drawings were done by monks. MONKS.

Monkey prank, from Recueil des croniques d'Engleterre, Bruges, 1471-1483
Monkey prank, from Recueil des croniques d’Engleterre, Bruges, 1471-1483

Your guess is as good as mine as to what this monkey is up to. No, seriously. Early simian proctologist? Mocking the astronomer monkey? Shooting peas up his butt?

British Library, Stowe 17, detail of f. 61v. Book of Hours, Use of Maastricht (‘The Maastricht Hours’). 1st quarter of the 14th century.
British Library, Stowe 17, detail of f. 61v. Book of Hours, Use of Maastricht (‘The Maastricht Hours’). 1st quarter of the 14th century.

What do you do when your monkey poops everywhere instead of the chamber pot? You break out the Medieval equivalent of the newspaper. Except this first monkey seems to be enjoying it, which borders on bestiality, which is not someplace I want to go.

Monkey, wearing hat, seated on back of second monkey and disciplining it with switch held in right hand | Book of Hours | France, Paris | ca. 1460 | The Morgan Library & Museum
Monkey, wearing hat, seated on back of second monkey and disciplining it with switch held in right hand | Book of Hours | France, Paris | ca. 1460 | The Morgan Library & Museum

Apparently, there are instruction manuals on how to do do this.

Naughty monkey, from Arthurian Romances, French, about 1275-1300. Beinecke Library
Naughty monkey, from Arthurian Romances, French, about 1275-1300. Beinecke Library

 

Party Animals

Apparently, these primates liked their booze and corrupting other animals with their naughty ways.

Literary, MS G.24 fol. 118r - Images from Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts - The Morgan Library & Museum
Literary, MS G.24 fol. 118r – Images from Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts – The Morgan Library & Museum

These guys are totally going to trash the place and not even write a thank you note.

Roman d’Alexandre, Tournai, 1338-1344. Bodleian Library, MS. Bodl. 264, fol. 94v
Roman d’Alexandre, Tournai, 1338-1344. Bodleian Library, MS. Bodl. 264, fol. 94v

This picture makes me want earplugs because you know this guy is playing the fiddle in the middle of the night to annoy his neighbors.

Monkey
Red-hooded monkey playing the vielle, Prayer Book of Charles the Bold. Ms. 37, fol. 41v, c. 1469. J. Paul Getty Museum

Snails and Monkeys

I can’t even with this category. I mean, if there had been Ye Olde Facebook back then, their relationship status would have clearly been: “It’s Complicated.”

See? Complicated.

Mine! No mine!, from the Copenhagen Chansonnier, 1400s. Det Kongelige Bibliotek
Mine! No mine!, from the Copenhagen Chansonnier, 1400s. Det Kongelige Bibliotek

This is the equivalent of the text message that you can’t decide if he’s breaking up with you or wants to have sex. I don’t get this at all.

The Copenhagen Chansonnier : (Thott 291 8º ): 26 recto
The Copenhagen Chansonnier : (Thott 291 8º ): 26 recto

Clearly, these snails are stalkers. I mean, do you see the snail going up the side of the turret? DO YOU???

The snails attack the monkeys' castle, The Copenhagen Chansonnier, Thott 291 8º, France, 15th century. Det Kongelige Bibliotek
The snails attack the monkeys’ castle, The Copenhagen Chansonnier, Thott 291 8º, France, 15th century. Det Kongelige Bibliotek

Totally, totally complicated. Poly-species-amory? Kinky cosplay? This is the Snapchat photo you didn’t want everyone to see.

Taking the slow train, from the Copenhagen Chansonnier, 1400s. Det Kongelige Bibliotek
Taking the slow train, from the Copenhagen Chansonnier, 1400s. Det Kongelige Bibliotek

These Monkeys Broke the Medieval Internet with their Cuteness

Not all monkeys were assholes. Just like we see those cute videos of monkeys taking care of tiger cubs or puppies, folks in the middle ages wanted to capture those cute moments as well.

See? Here’s a nice monkey helping a kitty get a (non-alcoholic) drink.

Sharing, from Trivulzio Book of Hours, 1400s. Koninklijke Bibliotheek
Sharing, from Trivulzio Book of Hours, 1400s. Koninklijke Bibliotheek

Koko the Gorilla wasn’t the first simian to want a kitten.

Monkey hugs a kitten, from a Book of Hours, Brussels, about 1475. Morgan Library
Monkey hugs a kitten, from a Book of Hours, Brussels, about 1475. Morgan Library

Medieval monkeys also liked puppies.

couple embracing on fleurs-de-lysTraictés de Pierre Salemon a Charles VI roy de France, Paris 1412-1415. Bibliothèque de Genève, Ms. fr. 165...
couple embracing on fleurs-de-lysTraictés de Pierre Salemon a Charles VI roy de France, Paris 1412-1415. Bibliothèque de Genève, Ms. fr. 165…

This monkey is going above and beyond the call of duty and feeding a bird. Heart-warming, non?

Line-ending monkey feeding a small bird (MS Douce 6, Psalter, made in Ghent, ca.1320-1330)
Line-ending monkey feeding a small bird (MS Douce 6, Psalter, made in Ghent, ca.1320-1330)

 

What to Make of the Medieval Monkey?

Was he good? Bad? True to his nature? Frankly, I don’t know and would rather ponder the fact that it was almost all monks doing these illustrations. Which, as this monkey shows, is far more worthy of further thought…

The Thinker Monkey, from the Breviary of Mary of Savoy, Lombardy, c. 1430
The Thinker Monkey, from the Breviary of Mary of Savoy, Lombardy, c. 1430

Want to see other Medieval Monday Posts? Check out:

Marginal Cats

Marginal Dogs

The Medieval Hair Salon

The Medieval Church Sorta Did Quantum Physics

Why Eowyn is Better than Arwen

Eowyn will cut you!
Eowyn in LORT, courtesy of New Line Cinema.
Eowyn in LOTR, courtesy of New Line Cinema.

Don’t get me wrong. I love love love Lord of the Rings (LOTR) by J.R.R. Tolkien. Read all the books. Saw all the movies. But seriously. Can we please talk about the friend-zoning of Eowyn?

I know y’all love Faramir, and he’s a good dude. I don’t disagree. But, Eowyn should have absolutely ended up with Aragorn. What makes this whole thing even worse is that in the original drafts of LOTR, Tolkien actually had Eowyn and Aragorn together in the end. He also killed Eowyn, which thankfully he thought better of.

Growing up, I was a total tomboy in terms of the games I liked to play and what I liked to watch. I was all about Voltron (Lions, though Vehicles were okay), Robotech (OMG LISA HAYES IS A BAMF), and GI Joe (Scarlet all the way). Even in these cartoons, though, the girls were never badass enough for me. I used to imagine them having just as much action as the guys and being the ones who saved the day.

Imagine my delight at reading about Eowyn in LOTR. Here was a chick who was not only gorgeous and a princess (because I was still a girl), but she also was a warrior and a rebel. Yes, you can argue that there may have been dereliction of duty on her part in disobeying Theoden and not staying behind to take care of the people of Rohan. But, hey, how many guys in fiction do the same thing and it’s totally cool because the story, yo?

LOTR Eowyn > LOTR Arwen

Images from New Line Cinema.
Images from New Line Cinema.

Let’s get down to business and just lay it out there, shall we?

  • Eowyn grew up as royalty with hands-on experience in ruling and managing people. Arwen? *crickets*
  • Eowyn can ride and wield a sword like a BAMF. Arwen? *crickets* (no, the movie does NOT count here)
  • When Aragorn sets out on a perilous mission (the Paths of the Dead), Eowyn is willing to ride with him to fight and die by his side if need be. When Aragorn sets out on a perilous mission (the whole Ring quest), Arwen embroiders him a little flag that he doesn’t even get until the end.
  • What’s that? Arwen is willing to give up her immortality? Well, Eowyn is willing to die for him, too. Just because one lifespan is longer doesn’t make it any more or less valuable. It’s the intent.
  • When all hope for love is lost, Eowyn doesn’t just mope around and fade. She straps on a helm and a shield, grabs a hobbit, and goes and turns the tide of battle.
  • Eowyn has empathy. Merry is bummed that he can’t go, and she totally gets it. She even brings him along because she knows what it’s like to be left behind. Arwen? *crickets*
  • Aragorn and Arwen go way, way back. Sure. Kind of like we all had that crazy summer infatuation in high school. Then, you grow up and see it for what it was. Plus, Elrond is kind of a dick to Aragorn about dating his daughter. “Sure, you can date Arwen, when Mordor freezes over – literally.” Theoden would have been totally cool with Aragorn and Eowyn.
  • Eomer calls Aragorn on the carpet for leading his sister on, just like a good big brother should when a guy dicks around with his sister’s heart. Arwen’s brothers? *crickets*
  • Arwen’s big emotional choice is Daddy vs. Boyfriend. Eowyn is all, “whatever, I do what I want!” and shows up with some ovaries of steel.
  • Let’s just be honest here. What do you think Gondorians really felt about having an elf queen? I mean, not to be speciesist, but there probably would have been a segment of the population that was like, “We’re human, shouldn’t we have a human queen?” LIKE EOWYN????

Eogorn vs. Farawyn or even Borowyn

If you have to put Eowyn with a guy at the end of LOTR, Faramir’s not the only option. Let’s take a look at the real cast of Bachelorette Middle Earth.

Farawyn

I do like Faramir. He’s just kinda milquetoast. His moral quandaries just don’t grab me. Putting Eowyn with Faramir is selling out just to give her some kind of happy ending.

I mean really. Did this chick ever once mention that she liked gardening?

Eowyn’s volte-face from warrior to healer does carry emotional weight, and it’s not a unique response from those who have lived through the horrors of battle. It’s just that it happens too fast, too easily, and most importantly, totally doesn’t fit with her character arc.

Yes, she got glory and wanted love. But, I just don’t feel that what she wanted was the kind of happy ending that turned her into the June Cleaver of Middle Earth. Eowyn was meant to rule, to lead, to fight. To stick her with a Victory Garden as her only goal is to sell her out and to sell short the power of female ambition and women’s need to achieve.

So, while Faramir’s a good guy, and I’m sure they’re very happy together, it leaves me totally meh. Though…I wouldn’t mind that starry blue cloak.

Borowyn

Okay, so Boromir dies in book 1. Small detail. But, seriously, can’t you just already feel the zinging chemistry between Eowyn and Boromir? Both fierce, ambitious, and fighters, Borowyn would have been HAWT.

I could see Boromir being Aragorn’s Steward of Gondor, and I could see Eowyn filling the role of Steward’s wife and playing politics, managing her parts of the job, and fulfilling her destiny to be a powerful woman. I can see Eowyn being the woman who actually handles the queen’s job while Arwen hangs out in her garden, popping out little Aragorns and embroidering shit.

Boromir is a powerful, passionate, conflicted character, just like Eowyn. While their union might not have brought the psychological peace that Farawyn does, I just feel that it would have been more realistic, more exciting, and frankly, more of what Eowyn would have truly wanted in her life.

Eogorn

New Line Cinema
New Line Cinema

Honestly, think about it. It’s not just that Eowyn wants renown as a warrior. She wants acknowledgement of her power as a woman. She WANTS TO BE A QUEEN. Instead, she ends up growing flowers in Ithilien? Chuh.

Aragorn really needed to wake up and smell the coffee. Eowyn was perfect for him. A powerful woman who understood court politics, was used to having a ruling position, was human, and loved him to the point of self-sacrifice…I mean, seriously.

In all honesty, Aragorn could have used that jolt of passion from Eowyn. It would have been like a shot of emotional espresso. Might have made him less grim about pursuing the whole King-of-Gondor thing. Eowyn was also unafraid to call him out when he was being an ass, just like a good friend/partner/spouse should. Remember when he told her to stay behind and do her duty? Can you see him saying that to Theoden or Eomer?

“All your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the house. But when the men have died in battle and honour, you have leave to be burned in the house, for the men will need it no more. But I am of the House of Eorl and not a serving-woman. I can ride and wield blade, and I do not fear either pain or death.” (J.R.R. Tolkien)

BOOM! Kings need honest advisors, and Eowyn would have been exactly that.

Let’s not forget that Eowyn loved him when he was just a stranger and a captain of soldiers. She was willing to defy everything and everyone and go with him even if he wasn’t a king. Arwen? *crickets*

I am kind of pissed at Aragorn for dismissing Eowyn’s feelings for him as an infatuation with a shadow. How the hell does he know? How dare he decide for her what her feelings are? *shakes tiny fist at Tolkien*

Just Eowyn

At the end of the day, I would have totally been happy for Eowyn to end up as just Eowyn. Not married to anyone but choosing her own life. She could have led a army of shieldmaidens in Rohan. She could have run off to be a mercenary. She could have stayed single and taken lovers as needed/wanted. She could have had a chance to learn more about herself and fall in love with herself before she fell in love with any man.

Because sometimes, it’s about the #relationshipgoals you have with yourself.

New Line Cinema.
New Line Cinema.

Just Your Average 14th Century Dog

Cats might rule the internet, but dogs come a close second. The same is true in Medieval manuscripts. Well, it might be a photo finish with the monkeys, snails, and rabbits (yes, snails), but more on that later.

You can find dogs doing lots of things in Medieval manuscripts: playing instruments, reading books, working as scribes, break-dancing, and riding goats into battle (don’t ask). They’re also portrayed as frequent and faithful companions on the hunt and in battle. The devotion of the Medieval dog to his master is never in question.

But, you can also find dogs doing regular dog things.

For example, they never really did accept the cat. However, my money is still on the cat to kick all their asses.

Medieval dogs
4 of Hounds, from The Stuttgart Playing Cards, ca. 1430. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Landesmuseum Württemberg, Stuttgart (KK grau 34) |

There’s also you traditional domestic standoff. Dog wants to play. Cat wants no part of it. Dog gets huffy. Cat prepares to kick ass.

To Agree Like Cat and Dog----French (Artist) PERIOD ca. 1490 MEDIUM ink on paper. (Manuscripts & Rare Books) The Walters Museum
To Agree Like Cat and Dog—-French (Artist) PERIOD ca. 1490 MEDIUM ink on paper. (Manuscripts & Rare Books) The Walters Museum

The dog on the right is clearly just waiting for the cat to leave the safety of the bench, and then it’s ON.

«Regnault de Montauban», rédaction en prose. Regnault de Montauban, tome 1er Date d'édition : 1451-1500 Contributeur : Paulmy (Antoine-René d'Argenson, marquis de). Ancien possesseur Contributeur : Philippe III le Bon, duc de Bourgogne. Ancien possesseur Type : manuscrit Langue : Français
«Regnault de Montauban», rédaction en prose. Regnault de Montauban, tome 1er Date d’édition : 1451-1500 Contributeur : Paulmy (Antoine-René d’Argenson, marquis de). Ancien possesseur Contributeur : Philippe III le Bon, duc de Bourgogne. Ancien possesseur Type : manuscrit Langue : Français

Dogs will be Dogs, Mostly.

Has your dog ever given you side eye? Like when you need to take them outside in the rain to do their business or mentioned the b-a-t-h or the v-e-t? Or even worse, asked them to move from their (your) spot on the couch? These hounds clearly disapprove of you, the monks who drew them, and whoever is reading the manuscript.

Grumpy dog - Psalter, Flanders 13th century. (Bodleian Library, MS. Douce 49, fol. 64v)
Grumpy dog – Psalter, Flanders 13th century. (Bodleian Library, MS. Douce 49, fol. 64v)

 

Hours of Joanna the Mad (Add MS 18852), a Book of Hours produced for Joanna of Castile (more frequently, and somewhat unfairly, known as Joanna the Mad) in Bruges between 1496 and 1506. Nearly every folio has marginalia, unrelated to the text, including many animals and hybrids.
Hours of Joanna the Mad (Add MS 18852), a Book of Hours produced for Joanna of Castile (more frequently, and somewhat unfairly, known as Joanna the Mad) in Bruges between 1496 and 1506. Nearly every folio has marginalia, unrelated to the text, including many animals and hybrids.

 

Wolf As Monk (in a monk's cowl): in the margins of a Book of Hours, Utrecht, c 1460 - Reynard the Fox
Wolf As Monk (in a monk’s cowl): in the margins of a Book of Hours, Utrecht, c 1460 – Reynard the Fox

You know that sound? *That* sound? The glunngh glunngh glunngh that comes right before dinner is reproduced all over the carpet/bed/sofa? Medieval peeps were apparently familiar with that sound, too. To the point where they were moved to show these dogs vomiting in manuscripts.

Vomiting dog. 'li chiens qui est de teil nature que quant il a womit si repaire à son womitte et le remengue de rechief jou eusse volontiers ma proiere renglotie cent fois...' Richard de Fournival, Bestiaire d’Amour, Lorraine 14th century (Bodleian Library, MS. Douce 308, fol. 89r). Discarding images
Vomiting dog. ‘li chiens qui est de teil nature que quant il a womit si repaire à son womitte et le remengue de rechief jou eusse volontiers ma proiere renglotie cent fois…’ Richard de Fournival, Bestiaire d’Amour, Lorraine 14th century (Bodleian Library, MS. Douce 308, fol. 89r). Discarding images

 

PERRO: El perro que devora su propio vómito es como el hombre que, tras la confesión, regresa al pecado. Bestiaire d'amour, Richard de Fournival, s. XIV-XV. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, fr. 1951
PERRO: El perro que devora su propio vómito es como el hombre que, tras la confesión, regresa al pecado. Bestiaire d’amour, Richard de Fournival, s. XIV-XV. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, fr. 1951

Mostly, though, dogs spent the Middle Ages just being dogs. Doing the things they do best…like…

Begging at the table.

Medieval Manuscript Images, Pierpont Morgan Library, Book of hours (MS M.6). MS M.6 fol. 3r
Medieval Manuscript Images, Pierpont Morgan Library, Book of hours (MS M.6). MS M.6 fol. 3r

Being annoyed by/chasing insects.

Marginalia painting of flies surrounding a dog, from the Maastricht Hours, Netherlands (Liège), 1st quarter of the 14th century
Marginalia painting of flies surrounding a dog, from the Maastricht Hours, Netherlands (Liège), 1st quarter of the 14th century

Fighting over bones.

Dogs from Hours of Catherine of Cleves. Circa 1440. Morgan Library MS M 945 ff 142v 143r
Dogs from Hours of Catherine of Cleves. Circa 1440. Morgan Library MS M 945 ff 142v 143r

And, the perennial favorite, hogging the bed…

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Which leads to the other favorite, being kicked out of the bed.

103 [50r] - Ms. germ. qu. 12 - Die sieben weisen Meister - Page - Mittelalterliche Handschriften - Digitale Sammlungen
103 [50r] – Ms. germ. qu. 12 – Die sieben weisen Meister – Page – Mittelalterliche Handschriften – Digitale Sammlungen
But the best things that dogs have always been – and will always be – are a girl’s best friend.***

Taymouth Hours, 1325-40 English.
Taymouth Hours, 1325-40 English.

See more fun dogs on my Pinterest board: Marginal Dogs.

***This post is Denny Basenji-approved.

Marginal Cats – Ye Olde Icanhascheezburger

Long before Icanhascheezburger.com gave us the gift of endless cat memes, Medieval cats were movers and shakers, behaving inappropriately, seizing power, and literally leaving their mark on history.

Most of these lovable assholes are found in the margins and designs of Medieval and early Renaissance manuscripts. Let’s take a tour of all the feline marginalia mayhem, shall we?

Always Inappropriate

You have guests over. The neighboring seigneur and his lady. The venison is perfectly roasted. The troubadour is singing like his life depends on it (and it could). The mead is flowing.

And then the cat comes in, settles down on the middle of the floor and proceeds to do this.

MorganLibrary, MS M. 1004, 15th c., 38m
MorganLibrary, MS M. 1004, 15th c., 38m
Thomas of Cantimpré, Liber de natura rerum, France ca. 1290. Valenciennes, Bibliothèque municipale, ms. 320, fol. 72r
Thomas of Cantimpré, Liber de natura rerum, France ca. 1290.
Valenciennes, Bibliothèque municipale, ms. 320, fol. 72r
Book of Hours, Lyon, ca. 1505-1510. Lyon, BM, Ms 6881, fol. 30r
Book of Hours, Lyon, ca. 1505-1510. Lyon, BM, Ms 6881, fol. 30r

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This cat doesn’t even give a shit if it’s the Apocalypse.

Christ on Majesty flanked by two angels blowing trumpets of the Last Judgement and a little grey guy licking its butt. Missal, Bavaria ca. 1440-1460 (New York Public Library, MA 112, fol. 7r)
Christ on Majesty flanked by two angels blowing trumpets of the Last Judgement and a little grey guy licking its butt. Missal, Bavaria ca. 1440-1460 (New York Public Library, MA 112, fol. 7r)

Sometimes, though, you’ve just had enough. This is the Medieval version of the squirt bottle:

1Maccabees 16:18-20. Bible, France 13th century (Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire de Lausanne, U 964, fol. 376r)
1Maccabees 16:18-20. Bible, France 13th century (Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire de Lausanne, U 964, fol. 376r)

Cats with Delusions of Grandeur

Cats have always believed they are the king or queen of the castle and that humans are simply thumbed slaves. Medieval cats were no different, only – as appropriate for the time – they included the Church in their ambitions.

This special kitten not only imitates the adoration of the Christ Child, but has the honor of being featured in the Book of Hours of Joanna the Mad. Yes, she really was mad. More on her another time.

‘Hours of Joanna the Mad’, Bruges 1486-1506. BL, Add 18852, fol. 412r
‘Hours of Joanna the Mad’, Bruges 1486-1506.
BL, Add 18852, fol. 412r

Here we have a King of the Cats and a cat who wants a bishopric. Assholes.

Antonius von Pforr, Buch der Beispiele, Swabia ca. 1475-1482 Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 84, fol. 227v
Antonius von Pforr, Buch der Beispiele, Swabia ca. 1475-1482 Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 84, fol. 227v
An Elderly Man Speaking to a Younger Man; A Cat with a Bishop's Crosier and Miter Sitting on a Circular Building; Unknown; Trier (probably), Germany; third quarter of 15th century; Pen and black ink and colored washes on paper; Leaf: 28.7 x 20.6 cm (11 5/16 x 8 1/8 in.); Ms. Ludwig XV 1, fol. 48
An Elderly Man Speaking to a Younger Man; A Cat with a Bishop’s Crosier and Miter Sitting on a Circular Building; Unknown; Trier (probably), Germany; third quarter of 15th century; Pen and black ink and colored washes on paper; Leaf: 28.7 x 20.6 cm (11 5/16 x 8 1/8 in.); Ms. Ludwig XV 1, fol. 48

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then there’s this cat who let the power go to his head. Go home, royal kitteh, you’re drunk.

Zürich armorial, Zürich ca. 1340Zürich, Schweizerisches Nationalmuseum, AG 2760, fol. 1r
Zürich armorial, Zürich ca. 1340Zürich, Schweizerisches Nationalmuseum, AG 2760, fol. 1r

Paw Prints on your Heart…and Manuscript

See this cat? This cat is just waiting to jump up on this poor dude’s manuscript. I’m not kidding.

St. Matthew writing his Gospel book of hours, Bruges ca. 1510-1525 Rouen, BM, ms. 3028, fol. 63r
St. Matthew writing his Gospel book of hours, Bruges ca. 1510-1525 Rouen, BM, ms. 3028, fol. 63r

He probably knocked over the inkwell while he was at it because cats are like that.

Cat paws in a fifteenth-century manuscript (photo taken at the Dubrovnik archives by @EmirOFilipovic)
Cat paws in a fifteenth-century manuscript (photo taken at the Dubrovnik archives by @EmirOFilipovic)

Cats take pride in ownership, even of the things they destroy. That has never changed, as seen here by this manuscript that some asshole cat peed on.

Cursed be this cat for peeing over my book! (Cologne, Historisches Archiv, G.B. quarto, 249, fol. 68r)
Cursed be this cat for peeing over my book! (Cologne, Historisches Archiv, G.B. quarto, 249, fol. 68r)

Actually, it says a lot more than “Ye Olde Damn Cat!”

“Hic non defectus est, sed cattus minxit desuper nocte quadam. Confundatur pessimus cattus qui minxit super librum istum in nocte Daventrie, et consimiliter omnes alii propter illum. Et cavendum valde ne permittantur libri aperti per noctem ubi cattie venire possunt.”

[Here is nothing missing, but a cat urinated on this during a certain night. Cursed be the pesty cat that urinated over this book during the night in Deventer and because of it many others [other cats] too. And beware well not to leave open books at night where cats can come.] taken from Medieval Fragments.

The Ultimate Medieval Cat Asshole

I have saved the best for last because…well…I think I’ll just end here and let the picture speak for itself.

‘Flaisch macht Flaisch’, German woodcut, 1555.
‘Flaisch macht Flaisch’, German woodcut, 1555.

 

ultimate bad cat 1
She’s trying to trade a fish for the penis. The cat gives no fucks.

What Happens when Charles Worth gets Bored

It’s French Friday again, and again, we are diving back into the world of Charles Frederick Worth, the father of haute couture. 

I am not an expert on fashion history, though I enjoy dabbling in it. The following is simply a silly idea that came to me as I was feverishly digging through Pinterest for all the House of Worth images I could find. There are biographies of him that probably explain exactly what exactly he did and why he did it.

My silly theory is this: Charles Worth produced greatness when he got bored.

I kinda sorta have proof.

Boring and Bored Worth

Okay, let’s start with his earliest dresses from the 1860’s.

House of Worth, 1860's. Photo courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
House of Worth, 1860’s. Photo courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
House of Worth young girl's gown. 1860's. Photo courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum.
House of Worth young girl’s gown. 1860’s. Photo courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum.
Worth & Bobergh Day Dress c. 1865 Silk Satin Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection
Worth & Bobergh Day Dress c. 1865 Silk Satin Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gorgeous designs, granted. Clever use of lines and fabric, granted. Boring, cookie-cutter lines of every other 1860’s gown? Absolutely.

Genius and Daring are the Cure

Now, assume that having had a modicum of success, Charles begins to feel a little confident, a little bold. He starts stitching his label into his dresses, but what’s the point of having a label that people talk about if you don’t give them a design to remember?

Now we get to the 1870’s, and Charles takes a couple of tentative creative steps forward, testing out trains, overskirts, and folding the fabric so it starts to form part of the structure of the dress itself.

House of Worth 1870. Photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Museum of Art.
House of Worth 1870. Photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Museum of Art.
House of Worth 1870's. Photo courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
House of Worth 1870’s. Photo courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
House of Worth 1870's. Photo courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
House of Worth 1870’s. Photo courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’re starting to get a different line for the bodice, pleats, and more options for mixing and matching fabrics and colors.

Evening gown 1888. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Evening gown 1888. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Evening gown 1889. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Evening gown 1889. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Evening gown. 1880's. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Evening gown. 1880’s. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Evening gown 1882. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Evening gown 1882. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Worth 1880. Photo courtesy of Indiana State Museum.
Worth 1880. Photo courtesy of Indiana State Museum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Look at this. Look at the incredible, bold use of asymmetry, draping, fabric mixing, texture, and lines. There’s example of example of his genius. His son Jean-Philippe would continue with some of the most iconic designs of the 1890’s. Take a look at my Pinterest board on the House of Worth to find more awesomeness.

Some of the final designs Worth senior did himself give us these striking gowns. The use of fabric, positioning, lace, and draping is astonishing, ground-breaking, and utterly bewitching.

iconic ballgowns 1889
Charles Worth ballgowns 1887. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Charles Worth ballgowns 1887. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Charles Worth ballgowns 1887. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think you’ll agree with me that these examples of what happens when art, architecture, and fashion meet boredom and genius.

I guess we can all say, “Vive l’ennui!”

Hans Holbein – Victorian Jeweler?

Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543) had a brother Ambrosius Holbein, father Hans Holbein the Elder, and uncle Sigmund Holbein. That’s a lot of Holbeins. Hans the Younger is best known for his career as court painter to Henry VIII of England, where he had the thankless of job of trying to make the English nobility look attractive. (I’m looking at you, Henry.)

Hans junior bounced between England and Switzerland, depending on whether he was in or out of favor (which was a tricky business when several of his portrait subjects ended up dead by the king’s orders like Sir Thomas More, or accidentally like Jane Seymour…oh, and let’s not forget the Anne of Cleaves portrait fiasco). When he wasn’t painting politically-uncertain portraits, he did quite a lot of work with woodcuts, decorative designs for walls, doors, and hearths, and jewelry.

That’s right. Hans Holbein the Younger was a jewelry designer, and while he clearly clings to the Renaissance belief that “more is more” when it comes to detail and adornment, his designs are quite beautiful.

Hans Holbein the Younger's  pendant designs. Image courtesy of the British Museum.
Hans Holbein the Younger’s pendant designs. Image courtesy of the British Museum.

Unfortunately, his designs are all we have. Whether they were ever executed back then is unknown.

Holbein Rides Again

Just as everything comes back into fashion (though, please God, not shoulder pads), Holbein’s designs experienced a literal revival beginning in the 1860’s. Victorian jewelers such as John Brogden and Carlo Giuliano.

Cameo Framed in the Renaissance Revival Style with Enamel and Pearls by Froment-Meurice c.1870. Photo Courtesy of Christie's.
Cameo Framed in the Renaissance Revival Style with Enamel and Pearls by Froment-Meurice c.1870.
Photo Courtesy of Christie’s.
Antique Holbeinesque Emerald and Natural Pearl Necklace. Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques
Antique Holbeinesque Emerald and Natural Pearl Necklace.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hallmarks of the Holbeinesque Revival Style were broaches or pendants, with a large central cabochon gem or cameo, and a dangling drop-shaped pearl or diamond-set lozenge (or circle, if you don’t want to think of cough drops). Add in a lot of decorative scrollwork, fancy engraved back, and voila, you have a kinda-Holbeinish piece of jewelry.

Getting your Holbein Fix

If you just can’t stand the idea that Holbein’s jewelry never made it to reality so you can pin it on Pinterest, never fear. There’s always Etsy.

That’s right. If you are looking for that perfect piece to complete your Renaissance costume or just to shock and awe at work, look no further than TreasuresforaQueen on Etsy.

Holbein Pendant from TreasuresforaQueen on Etsy.
Holbein Pendant from TreasuresforaQueen on Etsy.
Original Holbein sketch.
Original Holbein sketch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Holbein Pendant from TreasuresforaQueen on Etsy.
Holbein Pendant from TreasuresforaQueen on Etsy.
Original Holbein sketch.
Original Holbein sketch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, if you’ll excuse, I have some online shopping to do.

The Medieval Hair Salon

It’s Medieval Monday again! This week, we are going to pick and pluck our way through hairy tidbits of Medieval haircare and hairstyling. By the end of this post, you’ll be groomed to regale your friends with useless trivia about hair fashion and hygiene in the Middle Ages.

Have you ever wondered how women managed to take care of unibrow and mustache issues before nail salons and hot waxing pots were invented? What? You haven’t? Oh, well, I bet you are now! Also, in artwork – especially from the Renaissance onwards, you never really see those robust nude females sporting hairy underarms or hairy legs. As for the pudenda, most of them look like they had Brazilian wax jobs before Brazil was even discovered.

I worry about these things. They prey on my mind. This is why I end up reading so much non-fiction. I need answers.

Anyway.

Big Hair is not a New Thing

https://www.flickr.com/photos/museum_girl/4674203427/
Plaited hair retrieved from bogs in Denmark. Photo courtesy of Museum Girl on Flickr.

Let’s start with the easy stuff. In the Middle Ages, it was fashionable and desirable for women to have really long hair. Down-to-their-knees-long. Keeping that much hair clean was a serious challenge.

Actual washing was done several times a year – more often if you had enough money and servants to heat and carry water for bathing. Everyday hair maintenance included combing (which spread the hair’s natural oils and also did a decent job of helping to keep lice at bay – except when you got lice, and then you were screwed). Medieval women discovered “dry shampoo” long before us. Various types of powders were used to soak up scalp and hair oils (and to suffocate lice).

When you did wash your hair, you didn’t pull out your Paul Mitchell or Herbal Essences shampoo and conditioner. You whipped up a delightful little mixture of ashes, vine stalks, and egg whites to cleanse your hair. Of course, this meant that you’d want to finish with a pleasantly-scented rinse or oil, like rose or lavender because no one wants their hair to smell like a veggie omelette when they come out of the shower.

A woman combing her hair. Paris, circa 1400 from a pen and ink drawing in the Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin
A woman combing her hair. Paris, circa 1400
from a pen and ink drawing in the Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin

Women in the Middle Ages didn’t have Miss Clairol or Garnier to cover up the grey, but they did have some charming recipes from the Trotula, a 12th century compendium of women’s medicine and healthcare. Blonde was the preferred shade, and several recipes guaranteed golden tresses. You could choose from a combination of Barberry tree ash and water, or honey and white wine with a finishing conditioner of calendine roots, olive-madder, oil of cumin seed, box shavings and saffron. The success rate of these recipes was never recorded.

As much as long, glorious, and – if possible – golden hair was desirable, it was crucial that it all be hidden at all times. A woman’s hair was considered highly erotic and was seen as a sign of their innate sinfulness (thanks, Eve).

Bernard de Clarivaux (who was kind of grim and ascetic anyway) decried women’s vanity and hair, went so far as to affirm that wigs were the work of the Devil. Which, technically makes everyone with hair extensions today a sinner…with fabulous hair.

Unmarried women and occasionally nobility would still wear their hair on display, intricately woven with golden threads, nets, beads, jewels, and pins. However, married women and any woman attending church had to cover her head. This is where we get caps, wimples, and gorgets, making women uncomfortable and hot for centuries.

Getting Rid of all that Hair

The basic principle of the wimple was a length of cloth wrapped around the head and under the chin. Then, another length of cloth was wrapped around the head like a crown. You literally topped it all off with draped fabric that concealed the straps and the pinned braids underneath.

The Trotula - the Medieval manual for women's health, fertility, beauty and hygiene. Image from medievallists.net
The Trotula – the Medieval manual for women’s health, fertility, beauty and hygiene. Image from medievallists.net

What’s a woman to do if she can’t show her hair that she spend so much time fussing with? She simply finds another way to set a fashion standard. With the advent of the wimple, a high, prominent forehead became the epitome of style. To achieve this look, women plucked and depilated with a nasty ye olde version of Nair that was made of ants’ eggs, red orpiment, and gum of ivy mixed with vinegar. Or, she could boil together a solution of one pint of arsenic and eighth of a pint of quicklime. In both cases, once the skin started burning, it was time to wash it off.

12th century straight razor. Image from Badgerandblade.com
12th century straight razor. Image from Badgerandblade.com

These pastes were used to remove hair on all parts of the body, and what they didn’t get, copper tweezers or primitive straight razors would (and based on the pictures of Medieval razors, it seems that arsenic and alum-based depilatories were the safer option). Other depilatory recipes included mixtures of cat dung and vinegar, or pig lard, mustard, and juniper if that was your preference.

My bet is that they ended up doing a lot of plucking on very sore, slightly raw skin.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

I don’t know. I just wanted to use that for a subheading. Surprisingly, Wikipedia did not turn out to be a very good source for this post. It was a lot of Pinterest and Google instead. The closes to a generalist Wikipedia source I found was Rosalie’s Medieval Woman. It gave me quite a good grounding for knowing what to hunt for.

There’s lots more I could do – I mean, there are entire articles I could write about liturgical combs, hair nets, and hair pins (also quite useful for scratching itchy, lice-infested scalps). I figured, I’d go ahead and get the interesting and gross stuff out of the way, first.

I may also switch over to footwear. I have some very strong opinions on chopines.

Because shoes.

I will leave you with the wise words of Martial from his Epigrams (1st century AD): “Calvo turpius est nihil comato.” There is nothing more unsightly than a bald man who wears hair.

Proving that toupees have always been a bad idea.

Nerd at the Beach

This is what nerds do when we are at the beach and given tools. We don’t build sand castles. We build archaeological sites.

Behold. A Neolithic settlement.

There are ditches and fortified dirt bank walls. There is also a communal animal pen, round houses, dolmens, and a stone circle for astronomy.


It should be noted that the stone circle is actually two circles because the tilt of the Earth and orbit had shifted the constellations over a period of 1,000 years.

There are also smoke holes in the top of the round houses, and giant granite passage tombs.

The best part, though, is after I retired back to the towel and seeing a curious kid approach and investigate this strange sand castle settlement.

Thus is the next generation of nerds born.

Worth is Worthy of Wearing

Charles Frederick Worth ballgown. Image courtesy of charleybrown77 on flickr.

For the next few French Fridays, we’re going to be talking about the father of haute couture: Charles Frederick Worth (1825-1895)

Charles Frederick Worth
Charles Frederick Worth

Okay, okay, small dirty secret: he was English. Fine. Points to the English for giving birth to him. But, take note, he moved to Paris to establish his fashion salon, and he became synonymous with FRENCH fashion forever.

I mean…look at that beret. The carelessly floppy neckcloth. The fur trim. FUR TRIM.

Only a man who is fully French in his soul could pull that off with aplomb.

There’s a lot of juicy history about his and his salon, like how he was the first to use live models to show his clothing to patrons, or how his salon became an exclusive society meeting place, or how he aggressively promoted himself by sewing a brand label on the clothing, and how he ended up couturier to queens, princesses, tsarinas, empresses, and any heiress who had any pretensions to social mobility.

But, let’s step away from all that and just take a moment to appreciate what made him so successful. Aggressive promotion will get you 98% of the way there, but there’s that 2% of talent that you need to not just succeed, but to be remembered.

The Art of the Zebra According to Worth.

Like I said, we’re going to look at several aspects of Worth over the next few weeks. Today, I want to start with the bold way he engaged with black and white.

Black and white has always been a striking combination. Diane de Poitiers, the noble mistress of Henri II, wore only black or white (or some combination thereof) after the death of her husband. It was a high impact style statement and stood out in a sea of blue brocades and red velvets.

Worth and his sons took black and white out of its post-Regency mothballs and worked them almost architecturally to create some of the most memorable gowns ever created.

Case in point, this iconic 1898 “ironwork” ballgown:

Charles Frederick Worth Ballgown
Ballgown. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Here’s some amazing detail for you about the dress:

 

tumblr_ls9b8cB1GZ1qegasto1_500Charles Frederick Worth Ballgown. Image courtesy of oldrags.tumblr.com
Ballgown. Image courtesy of oldrags.tumblr.com
Charles Frederick Worth Ballgown. Image courtesy of oldrags.tumblr.com
Ballgown. His original sketch. Image courtesy of oldrags.tumblr.com

 

Worth ballgown. Image courtesy of charleybrown77 on flickr.
Ballgown. Image courtesy of charleybrown77 on flickr.

 

Or, if you prefer a white-on-black motif, you can enjoy this gem from 1896:

Charles Frederick Worth ballgown. Image courtesy of charleybrown77 on flickr.
Ballgown. Image courtesy of charleybrown77 on flickr.

 

Charles Charles Frederick Worth ballgown. Comtesse Élizabeth Greffulhe (born Princess Marie Anatole Louise Elisabeth de Riquet de Caraman-Chimay) (and you thought your name was complicated). Image courtesy of oldrags.tumblr.com
Ballgown. Comtesse Élizabeth Greffulhe (born Princess Marie Anatole Louise Elisabeth de Riquet de Caraman-Chimay) (and you thought your name was complicated).
Image courtesy of oldrags.tumblr.com
Charles Charles Frederick Worth ballgown. Comtesse Élizabeth Greffulhe (born Princess Marie Anatole Louise Elisabeth de Riquet de Caraman-Chimay) (and you thought your name was complicated). Image courtesy of oldrags.tumblr.com
Ballgown. Image courtesy of oldrags.tumblr.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You know what they say: “like father, like son”? Well, Jean-Philippe Worth took over the mantle (see what I did there? Right?) for his father and continued to design for the House of Worth through the turn of the century, World War I, and the rising of the hemlines. It seems that Junior learned his lesson about the power of black and white with this beauty from 1898-1900:

Jean-Philippe Worth ballgown 1898-1900. Image courtesy of omgthatdress.tumblr.com
Jean-Philippe Worth ballgown 1898-1900. Image courtesy of omgthatdress.tumblr.com

Let’s just say that father and son had a talent for designing striking trains:

Jean-Philippe Worth ballgown 1898-1900. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Jean-Philippe Worth ballgown 1898-1900. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

What? You don’t like your arms? You’d prefer something more covered up? Well, how about these amazing pieces from the 1880’s 1890’s:

Charles Frederick Worth evening dress. 1890. Image courtesy of Drexel University.
Evening dress. 1890. Image courtesy of Drexel University.
Worth evening gown. Image courtesy of tekstildershanesi.com.tr
Evening gown. Image courtesy of tekstildershanesi.com.tr
Worth dinner dress. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Dinner dress. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Worth dinner dress. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Dinner dress. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Worth evening dress ca. 1895 From the Kunstgewerbemuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin via Europeana Fashion For Primrose.
Evening dress ca. 1895 From the Kunstgewerbemuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin via Europeana Fashion For Primrose. (okay, so the one on the left and this one aren’t strictly black and “white” but I say they’re close enough).
Worth dinner dress. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Dress. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dining out and need to cover your black and white gown with something that matches in awesomeness? You’d literally be covered with these cloaks, dolmans, capes, and coats. Oh, and I totally think the evening coat is something that needs to come back.

Worth evening coat. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Evening coat. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Worth evening coat. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Evening coat. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Worth evening coat. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Evening coat. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can hear you now. It’s easy to do something dramatic with black and white at night. Yet, he took on the challenge of making this combination stand out during the day as well.

Image courtesy of Genesee Country Village & Museum
Image courtesy of Genesee Country Village & Museum
Worth visiting ensemble. Image courtesy of charleybrown77 on flickr.
Visiting ensemble. Image courtesy of charleybrown77 on flickr.
Worth day ensemble. Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Day ensemble. Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Worth day ensemble. Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Day ensemble. Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

Worth day ensemble. Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Day ensemble. Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

 

Worth day ensemble. Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Day ensemble. Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Worth day ensemble. Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Day ensemble. Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyway. I know I’m forgetting some dresses, but you know what? You can find them on Pinterest, including on my board, House of Worth.

Don’t worry if you’re a fan of Pingat, Paquin, or Callot Soeurs, I’ve got them on my radar. There’s plenty of French Fridays to go around for all of them.

Au revoir!

Cosplay Ruins Everything…on Pinterest

Borgia Gown by Gewandfantasien on Etsy.

When I started on Pinterest four years ago, I blithely threw my pins into jumbo catchall boards like “Fashion History” and “Yummy.” I am paying for that now. Damn you, cosplay.

No, I don’t cosplay. I’m not crafty enough. Trust me. If I tried, I would end up with glue in my hair, glitter on my butt (don’t ask, it would just happen), and rage duct-taped cardboard wings. However, a lot of people cosplay and do it really, really well, which makes it all the more frustrating for me when I try to organize my “Fashion History” board.

I am currently going through and picking out from the several thousand pins I have all the Renaissance clothing. I’m defining Renaissance from the end of the Black Death (1350’ish) to about 1650’ish. I know that stretches it a little bit, but the paucity of actual extant clothing makes it hard to be picky this early in history.

I built the board “Renaissance Fashion” and was extremely satisfied with myself. Then, I went to go add more pins to it. This is where I ended getting confused and ragey.

Most of my choices were either to pin paintings, which I won’t because the point of this board is to see the physical things that people touched and wore, or replicas. Really, really amazing replicas.

The Real Deal

A Perfect Red
A Perfect Red by Amy Butler Greenfield.

For example, consider one of the best “real” Renaissance gowns, the famous “Red Dress of Pisa.” First, it’s extraordinary because it’s red. Have you read, “A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire” by Amy Butler Greenfield? If not, you should. It’s a fascinating study of fashion, the history of cloth dyeing, trade with the New World, and Renaissance and Early Modern economics.

The Red Dress of Pisa. Thanks, Pinterest.
The Red Dress of Pisa. Image courtesy of Moda A Firenze 1540-1580. Also, thanks Pinterest.

 

So, back to the Red Dress of Pisa. It was found on an effigy of the Virgin Mary at the monastery of San Matteo. It’s a crimson velvet dress with metallic thread decorative stitching. What’s fantastic about this dress is that it was found largely intact, despite moth holes and other signs of age. Scholars agree that it comes from the 1560’s and was probably made by the tailor Master Agostino who probably worked for Eleonora di Toledo.

The controversy comes (if such a disagreement can be called an actual controversy) from whether this is the funeral dress of Eleonora di Toledo, or whether it belonged to her ladies-in-waiting (as it was mentioned in a contemporary chronicle that they wore sottane di velluto cremisi” (crimson velvet dresses) in a ceremonial trip to Siena in 1560. The “Moda a Firenze” authors are firmly in the ladies-in-waiting camp, while the Pisa team (where the dress is currently on display) believe it was Eleonora’s based on sumptuary laws in 1562 that declared only nobles could wear crimson. Either way, it’s a gorgeous dress, and all the more amazing for actually existing.

Make Believe is More Fun

While this dress is beautiful and remarkable, there’s something also a bit disappointing about its slightly battered appearance, especially when there are so many bright, colorful, sumptuous gowns from the 1700’s on that one can see in museums and on *cough* Pinterest.

Okay, okay, Pinterest may not be in and of itself to blame. If we really want to stick to to someone for tempting me and confusing me with amazing replicas and original productions, we have to go to Etsy, that other foul bastion of time suckage.

Renaissance gown replica
Mary Stuart replica gown from AlentradaSHOP on Etsy. SEE WHAT I MEAN???

Don’t even get me started on the gorgeous Borgia-inspired gowns. *shakes tiny fist at creative, crafty people* I mean, really. REALLY!

Borgia Gown by Gewandfantasien on Etsy.
Borgia Gown by Gewandfantasien on Etsy.

Pinterest: Surrender or Compromise?

The purist historian in me wants to only have boards with the real deal Holyfield objects. The fact that these dresses, shoes, stockings, and corsets were witness to countless lives and history is a delightfully boggling notion that I like to contemplate in my spare time.

The imagination-addicted, closet 80’s anime chick in me wants to include awesome replicas that meet some sort of ridiculously high standard of authenticity (though, then I get into this whole death spiral of arguing the nature of authenticity in my head, yeah, it’s ugly).

Maybe I’ll just surrender (pander? to myself? the masses?)  and start a Medieval and Renaissance Replica board.

Perhaps that’s the solution – until we can invent time travel.

(P.S. You can follow me on Pinterest at http://www.pinterest.com/caitreylove!)