Category Archives: Culture

Hats off to Saint Catherine

There is a holiday more feminine than Thanksgiving and it is today: the feast day of St. Catherine of Alexandria, whose hagiography established her as the patron saint of philosophers and students in the Middle Ages, and of unmarried women and milliners in the modern era. An interesting evolution from the spiritual to the secular, like many medieval saints, with librarians and all penitents in need representing the transitional beneficiaries. According to her Legend, Catherine was a lovely young woman of noble birth in the early fourth century who converted to Christianity following a vision. She caught the eye of the Emperor Maxentius (r. 306-312) and her refusal to marry him resulted in her martyrdom: after she shattered the first instrument of her torture and execution, a spiked wheel, with a mere touch, she was put to the sword and beheaded. Catherine is seldom seen without these attributes as reminders of the strength of her faith, but there is also a genre of Renaissance depictions which show her rising above them and vanquishing the evil emperor.

Saint Catherine Pacher

Saint Catherine withe the Defeated Emperor

Friedrich Pacher, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, 15th-16th century, deYoung/Legion of Honor Museums, San Francisco; Master of the Legend of Saint Lucy, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, with the Defeated Emperor (c. 1482), Philadelphia Museum of Art.

I’m not sure of the precise transition, but at some point in the later eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, Catherine evolved in a patron saint for spinsters, or more precisely unmarried women over the age of 25. This was particularly a French development, and young women began to commemorate the day by praying to Saint Catherine for a husband, donning hats specially made for the occasion, and sending notes and cards to each other as a form of comfort and companionship. The emphasis on hats led to another evolution of Catherine’s patronage, and she became associated more specifically with unmarried women who worked in the fashion and millinery trades of Paris, where large “Catherinette” celebrations occurred on this day in the 1920s and 1930s, a “tradition” that was revived after World War II and apparently continues to this day. As would only be fitting for the women who worked in these creative industries, the hats worn by the Catherinettes were often (but not always) confined to Catherine’s colors of yellow (for faith) and green (for wisdom), but also exemplified unlimited forms of structure, substance and style. And still do.

Catherinets Paris Flammarion

Catherinettes 1950s

Catherinettes Etsy

Catherinette PC

Catherinette Paris 2013

Catherinettes in the 1930s (from Ernest Flammarion’s Paris (1931)) and 1950s; a modern print of vintage Catherinettes; a St. Catherine’s Day card from the 1940s, and a Chanel Catherinette creation, 2013.

Fabricating the Feast

Can there be any other holiday more closely associated with women than Thanksgiving? Forget the quasi-mythical “First Thanksgiving”, for which we only have references to men fowling and feasting–after that it’s all about women. What emerged as a New England tradition in the early nineteenth century was transformed into a national holiday through the intense efforts of author and editor Sarah Josepha Hale, eventually resulting in Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863. Several other New England ladies contributed to this effort, including Lydia Maria Child, whose “Over the River and through the Wood” we traditionally associate with Christmas but was first published in 1844 as “The New England Boy’s Song about Thanksgiving”. Successive presidents followed Lincoln’s precedent until 1941, when Congress established the fourth Thursday of November as a permanent Thanksgiving holiday. In the interim, a major medium for the adoption of a national harvest holiday seems to have been women’s magazines, chief among them Hale’s own Godey’s Ladies Book and later Good Housekeeping, The Ladies’ Home Journal (and Practical Housekeeper), (The) House Beautiful, and even Harper’s Bazaar. There was definitely a bit of culinary imperialism at work here: the ideal Thanksgiving menu published in Hale’s first novel, Northwood, was Yankee fare (cranberries!), but as turkey assumed the center stage (pushing out the very popular chicken pot pie and assorted other fowl) regional dishes could be assimilated as “sides”. And need I even say it? Women were making all those Thanksgiving feasts.

Thanksgiving HP 1894

Thanksgiving 1895 Bradley

Thanksgiving LHJ 1897-98

Thanksgiving 1904 Puck

Thanksgiving Pictorial Review 1906 Cover

Bearing Thanksgiving HP 1914

Thanksgiving gh 1937

Fabricating a very FEMININE Thanksgiving in the popular print media, 1894-1937: 1894-95 covers by Louis John Rhead and William H. Bradley, Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Ladies’ Home Journal Thanksgiving covers for 1897 and 1898; 1904 Puck Magazine cover, Library of Congress;  Pictorial Review and Ullman Manufacturing calendar page for November 1906; Harpers Bazaar and Good Housekeeping covers, 1914 and 1937, Library of Congress and Good Housekeeping archive.

The Equestrian King

So Downton Abbey reruns began this week in advance of the show’s final season and I dutifully watched, even though I’d seen it all before. I’m not a big fan of this show–the writing is a bit too erratic and melodramatic for me–but I certainly will miss seeing the house when the series is over. The production values of the series have been stellar, although several friends of mine who are landscape architects tell me that the opportunity to showcase the the estate’s grounds has been squandered. There are two rooms in the “abbey” (really Highclere Castle) that I particularly like: the Earl’s library with its pair of plush red couches and the dining room. I love that huge van Dyck portrait of Charles I and his riding master towering over the Crawley family, but I suppose I can see it elsewhere because it’s one of at least 3 variant copies.

dining room highclere castle


(c) Launceston Town Council; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) English Heritage, The Wellington Collection, Apsley House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

King Charles I (1600-1649) with M. de St Antoine (1633) by Anthony van Dyck at Highclere Castle; in the Royal Collection (Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2015); After van Dyck paintings at the Launceston Town Hall and  Aspley House, Wellington Collection.

I’ve been thinking about Charles a lot over the past few weeks as I have just dragged the students in my graduate course on Early Modern England through the history and historiography of the English Revolution. When you’re focusing on Charles in this particular context, he looks arrogant and ill-advised, even stupid, and you tend to dwell on his death rather than his life. The enormity of being the only king in English history to be tried, convicted, and executed by his subjects for high treason will always be his primary identify and legacy, but still, sometimes it’s nice to think about “villains” in other ways. When I look at these images of Charles on horseback I see a dashing, dignified, and powerful cavalier (and also TALL, much taller than his actual height of 5’4” or so), and that is a nice way to consider him on this day, his birthday. Before the Revolution and after, when the monarchy was restored through the equally dashing persona of his son and namesake Charles II, similar portraits of Charles were commissioned, created, and published, almost as if the image of the robust, noble, and virtuous (horses are always virtuous) king was intended to wipe out alternative images of the tyrant or the traitor. Van Dyck  painted two other equestrian portraits of Charles in the 1630s: the very large “wandering portrait” of Charles I on Horseback, c.1636-8 (National Gallery, London) and my favorite, Le Roi à la Chasse, c.1635 (The Louvre), and after the Revolution, prints of the equestrian king were produced well into the nineteenth century.

Equestrian Portrait Anthonis_van_Dyck_046


Above: the Van Dyck equestrian portraits of Charles I from the National Gallery and the Louvre, and a 1636 line engraving of the latter from the National Portrait Gallery, London; Below: a succession of equestrian portraits of Charles I.

Bernard Baron, after Sir Anthony Van Dyck, line engraving, 1741 (1633); after Unknown artist, line engraving, 18th century; Charles Turner, published by Samuel Woodburn, after Francis Delaram, mezzotint, 1813, all National Portrait Gallery, London.

Lafayette, We are Here

Over this past weekend I caught many references to the storied phrase “Lafayette, we are here” on my twitter feed and the radio, so many that I woke up on Monday morning with it ringing in my ears! I can appreciate the American-Lafayette connection, after all I live right next to Hamilton Hall, where a “Lafayette Room” memorializes the Marquis’s visit to Salem in 1824 and walk to work on Lafayette Street every day, but I wasn’t quite sure about the complete context of the phrase. I think I always assumed that General John. J. Pershing uttered it when he arrived in France with the first American forces in the summer of 1917, but it was actually one of his aides, Colonel Charles E. Stanton, when both he and Pershing visited Lafayette’s tomb after a triumphant parade through the streets of Paris on July 4, 1917. Apparently the Colonel was much more eloquent than the General, and often called to come up with appropriate remarks, though he was very humble about this role during and well after the war. You can easily understand Stanton’s inspiration when you consider other contemporary American references to Lafayette: a Lafayette U.S. dollar minted in 1899, the work of the Lafayette Memorial Commission which was charged with raising funds for the installation of a Lafayette statue at the Paris World’s Fair in 1900, the Lafayette Fund established in 1914 to aid France once the war began, and of course the famous Lafayette Escadrille with its daring American volunteer flyers. With the predominant mood of isolationism in the U.S. prior (and even after) 1914, entry into this European war had to be justified by an American interest–and “paying back” Lafayette became one. Either Stanton’s words really struck a chord in 1917, or the government promoted this sentiment to increase popular support for the war. Maybe a bit of both?

Lafayette and Washington sheet music

Lafayette Stantion NYT Jan 18 1931 Framed


Lafayette Calling LC 1918

Lafayette We are Going Over LC 1917

Lafayette We are Here Sheet Museic

Lafayette We are Herd 1919 LC

Lafayette were here 1918 LC

Lafayette Rebuild LOC 1918

Lafayette Paid Debt LC 1919

Washington-Pershing song sheet, 1917, Cornell University; the story of Stanton’s phrase in the New York Times, January 18, 1931; “Lafayette, We are Here” poster, Lafayette University; the progress of the war from the American-Lafayette perspective in song sheets from the Library of Congress; below, post-war Washington-Lafayette-Handkerchief from the Boston Athenaeum exhibition: Over There: World War One Posters from Around the World.

Lafayette Handkerchief Boston Athenaeum

The Cries of Paris

A title that is all-too-poignant if perceived literally from our perspective here and now, in mid-November of 2015, but historically refers to a genre of popular prints from the early modern era depicting everyday people in the streets, carrying on their business openly and freely: modernity means “progress”, you say? The title is paradoxical because these are visual media, but if we could hear the cries we would be offered a multitude of services and products: chimney-sweeping, firewood, rags, vinegar, milk, cakes, bread, varieties of vegetables. Everyone was a specialist, and of course these images are essentially idealistic–yet still they are notable attempts to represent the people. The Cries genre encompasses not only Paris but also London and a few other European cities, and pre-dates print, but the printed images became particularly popular in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when many variants of original etchings were produced. They are key sources for economic, social, and cultural historians, but also for those of fashion and print. The Cries of Paris images disappear during the French Revolutionary era, only to reappear in the nineteenth century as a form of nostalgia for the “simpler” ancien regime: it is in that spirit that I am presenting them now. Nineteenth-century street cries images appear not only on print series but also on board games and playing cards: a judge is included in sets of latter, declaring “Peace, peace” in order to stop the game.

Cries of Paris Milkmaid Bnf Arsenal

Cries of Paris Rat Poison MFA

Cries of Paris Nutcrackers

Cries of Paris BM

Cries of Palace Frontspiece

Cries of Paris Collage

Cris de Paris Playing Cards Auction Results

Milkmaid from Les Cris de Paris, c. 1500, BnF, Arsenal. Est. 264 ; A seller of rat poison, engraving by Abraham Bosse’s Small Trades and Cries of Paris, 1630, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Nutcrackers, from Les Cris de Paris, after Jacques Philippe Le Bas and François Boucher, 18th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Crit de Paris, published by Adriaan Schoonebeek, 1675-1714, British Museum; “Bill stickers” from variant versions of the Cries of Paris, 1740s; “Tisane seller”, conjurer, and umbrella pedlar, from The Cries of Paris series, engraved by Francois Seraphin Delpech after Antoine Charles Vernet, early 19th century, Musee de la Ville de Paris, Musee Carnavalet, Paris, France; Les Cris de Paris. Amusement de Société set of playing cards, Paris, 1820, Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions.

Tumbling Blocks

It’s an old, old pattern, utilized in ancient Greece and Rome and maybe before, revived in the Renaissance, Baroque, and Victorian eras. Actually “tumbling blocks”, also known as rhombille tiling, reverse cubes, or cubework, probably never went away. It’s got to be one of the most popular–and most effective–optical illusions used in tile and textile design–both in the past and the present. I’ve always loved this pattern, and after I saw it on some chairs in one of the bedrooms in the newly-restored Joshua Ward House, soon to open as The Merchant, I started thinking about it and looking for it and it was suddenly everywhere. I always knew it was ancient, but my first introduction to tumbling blocks came via an amazing and influential eighteenth-century pattern book,  John Carwitham’s Floor-decorations of Various Kinds, Both in Plano & Perspective: Adapted to the Ornamenting of Halls, Rooms, Summerhouses (1739). Carwitham’s 24 plates, including several three-dimensional patterns “compos’d of three different kinds of marble, as white, black and dove-coloured, which are so disposed of, that in the dark of an Evening they both appear as if they consisted of a number of long cubes, lying with angles upward, forming of ridges, like the roofs of houses…..”, were apparently very influential on both sides of the Atlantic. I wouldn’t be surprised if Joshua Ward’s beautiful Mansion House, built less than 50 years later, did not feature some surface in the tumbling blocks pattern, so it seemed very appropriate to see it reappear on a pair of modern slipper chairs in 2015.

Tumbling Blocks Pompeii House of the Faun

Tumbling Blocks Carwitham 1739

Tumbling Blocks Firescreen V and A

Tumbling Blacks Quilt crop NMAH

Tumbling Blocks Tunbridge Ware Box

Optical Illusion Below Getty

Tumbling Blocks Bowl Jayson

Tumbling blocks

Merchant Salem

Tumbling Blocks:  House of the Faun at Pompeii; plate for John Carwitham’s Floor-Decorations of Various Kinds (1739); Victorian firescreen, c. 1865-1875, Victoria and Albert Museum Collections; Connecticut Child’s Quilt, c. 1860-1880, National Museum of American History; Tunbridge Ware Tea Caddy, c. 1860, available here; floor of the Getty Villa; bowl at Jason Home; Anthropologie Diamond Interlockrugs; guest room corner at The Merchant, Salem.

Salem Spirits

After the various map posts, which go viral immediately and retain a steady following thereafter, the most popular posts on my blog have been those focused on spirits, in particular an examination of a peculiar Salem drink from colonial days named Whistle Belly Vengeance and the story of a libelous temperance pamphlet directed at the wealthy rum distiller who happened to build my house. I can understand why: there’s just something very alluring about alcohol! The process of distillation, in particular, has always had a rather mysterious and even diabolical reputation, from the days of alchemy to that of Nathaniel Hawthorne, when a certain ambitious temperance minister named George Cheever targeted the largest rum distiller in town, John Stone (who built my house and styled himself Deacon for his role at the First Church of Salem) in an allegorical pamphlet entitled  The Dream, or, The True History of Deacon Giles’ Distillery (1835). In the thinly-veiled Deacon Giles, who concocted barrels of cholera, murder, fever and delirium with the aid of his demon workers, Deacon Stone saw the inverse of his pious self: both men were (hypocritical) bible-society members, both lost relatives in the diabolical vats of their distilleries, both had alcoholic sons, both made demon rum. Stone sued for libel and won, but Cheever became a cause celebre and temperance hero during the trial. His little story was reprinted for a national audience, and within the next decade Stone’s largest distillery was converted into a sawmill.

Deacon Giles Frontspiece 1835

Domestic and Demonic Distillation: Rebecca Tallamy’s Book of Receipts. Written in the margins and blank spaces of a copy of John French’s Art of Distillation, 1651, Wellcome Library, London; the frontspiece to George Cheever’s True History of Deacon Giles’ Distillery, 1835, New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

But now Deacon Giles, and rum distillation, has returned to Salem in the form of a new (and real) craft distillery named after the fictional distiller. Deacon Giles Distillery, located just off Canal Street, not only reflects the current appetite for crafted spirits, but also Salem’s rich rum-selling past. Rum is as “Salem” as the Witch Trials of 1692, Samuel McIntire, Hawthorne, and (unfortunately) Halloween: with eight distilleries in operation in 1821 and a reputation for the best “New England” rum around, the city logically became the target of the evangelical temperance movement in the next decade. It wasn’t just all about Deacon John Stone! And as the distillers were walking me around their beautiful “still house” this afternoon while talking about their triple-distillation process and pursuit of “purification”, I couldn’t help but think back to the days of the medieval alchemists, who also pursued the ultimate quintessence, or “elixir of life”, through a multi-step process in which distillation, the next-to-less step, effects the ultimate purification.

Spirits 121

Spirits 106

Spirits 112

Spirits 117

Spirits 103

Deacon Giles Distillery, 75 Canal Street, Salem: Tasting Room mural, the distillers at work, the products–Liquid Damnation Rum and Original Gin.

Deacon Giles was aided by the path which Salem’s craft hard cider brewery, Far From the Tree, paved and the amendment of the Salem zoning ordinance to allow Massachusetts Farmers Series licenses allowing them to produce, pour, and sell. Both businesses have great tasting rooms and really knowledgeable people eager to tell you all about their products while you sip them. I was really tempted today, but I didn’t think having a swallow of rum (or more) was a good idea when I had class in an hour!

Spirits 085

Spirits 091

The Far From the Tree Tasting Room on Jackson Street in Salem and two Far from the Tree ciders: they also have Rind (my favorite–but I think it is a seasonal variety), Spice, and several others. These ciders are great because they are really dry, as advertised. Next up: Notch Brewing on Derby Street!


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