Category Archives: Culture

Mirror of History

Louis XIV famously once said Fashion is the mirror of history but as we all know, sometimes mirrors show us things we don’t want to see. I was looking around for some inspiration for my Resistance Ball dress, when I discovered the work of an amazing Haitian-born, Brooklyn-based artist named Fabiola JeanLouis, a photographer, a stylist, a (paper)dressmaker, and a “maker” who seems to be able to embrace the past, present and future in her work, sometimes simultaneously. Her breakthrough exhibition, Rewriting History (2016), took my breath away. Look at this “mirror image”, in which the embroidery design on the back of the embellished dress of “Madame Beauvoir” mirrors the scars from the scourged back of the once-enslaved man named Gordon, displayed in a famous photograph by McPherson & Oliver that went viral during the Civil War.

Fabiola Jean Louis MADAME BEAUVOIR'S PAINTINGMadame Beavoir’s Painting

The juxtaposition of the very beautiful (women, dresses, surroundings) with very ugly historical events is jarring in these compositions, but also remarkably effective: you can’t look away. According to Ms. Jean-Louis, it’s not just the medium and the message but also the material: the paper gown sculptures are transformed in a way that allows me to represent layers of time and the events of the past as they intrude upon the present. Through the materials, I suggest that although we cannot change the past, we can act to change the present, as we activate the memories, visions, and legacies of our ancestors. Rewriting History seeks to reconnect viewers to the past so that parallels with current events are amplified.

Fabiola Jean Louis Madam LeRoy

Fabiola Jean Louis Rest in Peace

Fabiola Jean Louis Revolutionary-Dress-Top Madame Leroy and Rest in Peace; Revolutionary Dress Top (detail).

The beautiful Madame Leroy in her exquisite eighteenth-century gown with a stomacher (locket? window?) encasing a lynched man, an image which is repeated even more starkly in the model-less Revolutionary Dress. Less straightforward, at least for me, is Marie Antoinette is Dead, modeled on François Boucher’s portrait of a reclining Madame de Pompadour, but the updated subject seems to be a Voodoo Queen in a rococo dress. There are no fashion victims among Jean-Louis’s subjects: only powerful women, and heroines such as Mathilda Taylor Beasley: born into slavery in Georgia in 1832, she somehow escaped, and operated a secret school for African-American children in Savannah in the 1850s—a very dangerous act at that time and place. I cannot help but think of Charlotte Forten Grimké, a contemporary of Beasley’s and Salem’s first African-American educator, who ascended to that profession under far more advantageous circumstances in the North. Beasley is memorialized in Passing and Violin of the Dead, and now I know her name. I really can’t discern whether I am reacting to these works as a cultural consumer or an educator.

Fabiola Jean Louis Marie Antoinette is Dead

madamedepompadour

Fabiola Jean Louis CollageMarie Antoinette is Dead; Boucher’s Portrait of Madame de Pompadour (Neue Pinakothek, Munich); Passing and Violin of the Dead.  All photographs by Fabiola Jean-Louis with more + commentary at her website: www.fabiolajeanlouis.com .


Portuguese Pavement

Like everyone else in the world, I admire Portuguese sidewalks, paved in mosaic patterns of polished white and black limestone, hand-cut and hand-laid: calçada Portuguesa is definitely an important part of Lisbon’s municipal identity, with a bronze installation of two pavers (calceteiros) at work situated in one of its central squares. We had great weather last week, but I’ve been on these sidewalks in the rain before, and I know that they are definitely slippery when wet. Consequently they have their critics, but I think the more serious threat to their continuing existence comes from the production side, as low wages, arduous work, and long hours have diminished the number of calceteiros working in Lisbon in recent decades. One article asserts that there are a mere ten pavers in Lisbon today, compared with 400 in the eighteenth century. I saw several pavers working while I was there, and they looked just like this bronze pair below: craftsmanship from time immemorial, still very evident along the streets of Lisbon.

Port Pav 9

Port Pav 6

Port Pav 2

Port Pav

Port Pav 8pixlr

Even the beautiful store Vista Alegre was inspired enough by Portuguese sidewalks to design and produce an entire line of dinnerware with some traditional motifs: just stunning. It was hard to resist these plates but I was worried about breakage: and now I see I can buy them here!

Port Pav 4

Port Pav 3

Port Pav 5


The Lynde Ladies of Salem

I’ve always admired these three portraits of women from the Lynde family: the wife and daughters of Benjamin Lynde Jr., chief justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court of Judicature and one of the justices who presided over the trial of Captain Thomas Preston following the Boston Massacre. As the portraits were produced by very esteemed and in-demand artists, their existence seems to me to represent the extreme wealth and prestige of the family, and by extension Salem, with which they were all identified. But since I’ve had my “enslavement enlightenment” lightbulb moment, I find I can’t look at them in the same way I used to: a little personal perspective on a challenge faced by many towns, cities, and universities these days. I can’t admire the rich folds of velvet and silk swathing these women without thinking of their other “possessions”.

Lynde Jr Wife Mary Feke Huntington

Robert Feke, Mrs. Benjamin Lynde Jr., c. 1748. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Gift of the Virginia Steele Scott Foundation.

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Joseph Blackburn, Mary Lynde Oliver, c. 1755. National Gallery of Art.

Lynde Lydia Copley

John Singleton Copley, Lydia Lynde (Walter), c. 1762-64. Lydia Lynde, ca. 1762-64.  New Britain Museum of American Art, Stephen B. Lawrence Fund and through exchange.

Maybe I can look at the silk without guilt: there are references to at least two enslaved men in the various accounts of Justice Lynde’s household, implicating his wife Mary (Bowles) Lynde (1709-91), but I do not know if the Lynde’s two daughters, Mary Lynde Oliver (1733-1807) and Lydia Lynde Walter (1741-1798) are so-tainted. As Mary Jr. was married to a gentleman scientist (Andrew Oliver) and Lydia married the Rector of  Trinity Church in Boston (the Reverend William Walter), I would like to think that they despised the institution and practice of slavery, but that might be anachronistic wishful thinking on my part as science, religion, and slavery seem to be compatible in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world. Mary’s 1751 diary is among other Oliver collections at the Massachusetts Historical Society, and I bet that would yield some clues. Slavery was abolished in Massachusetts during the lifetimes of all of these women, and it would be interesting to know their reactions to that epic event. While the two Marys led much of their lives in the Lynde family home on the corner of Essex and Liberty Streets (demolished in 1836, and then of course the PEM engulfed that latter so that no longer exists either) in Salem, Lydia lived with her husband in Boston until 1776 when they decamped for Nova Scotia with other Loyalists, to return only in 1791. While The Loyalists of Massachusetts described both of Benjamin Lynde’s sons-in-law as “staunch Loyalists”, I’m just not sure that is the case with Andrew Oliver, Mary’s husband. He was certainly part of a conspicuous Loyalist family as his father was the last royal Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts and his uncle its last royal Chief Justice, but he seems to have been more passionate about science than politics and he and Mary remained in Salem during the Revolution.

Lynde Andrew Olliver

Joseph Blackburn, Andrew Oliver, Jr., c. 1755, National Gallery of Art. In the companion portrait to that of Mary above, Andrew Oliver looks even more resplendent, with his waistcoat and dovecote!

Andrew Oliver by Copley MFA

John Singleton Copley, Andrew Oliver, Jr., 1758. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

At least I think they did: they’re pretty quiet, only emerging towards the end of the war as executors (she with her maiden name) of her father’s estate. I’d like to think that Mary and Andrew fulfilled the dictates of Benjamin Lynde Jr.’s will and freed his long-term “man” Primus joyfully, and on the most generous of terms. No advertisements for lost or runaway humans before that, thank goodness, only books. We do get some insights into Mary’s character from the ever-quotable Reverend Bentley, although they are not very complimentary: she was “of real piety but not of that mind which could have rendered her a fit companion for her husband who took a high rank in American Literature. She was feeble limited in her enquiries, & a century too late in her manners.” (Diary II, 335-6).

Lynde Salem Gazette 1781

Lynde Essex Gazette 1769

Addendum: There is a fourth portrait of a Lynde lady: Benjamin Lynde Jr.’s mother, Mary Browne Lynde, in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum: I don’t remember ever seeing it, but it is featured in Lorinda Goodwin’s book An Archaeology of Manners: The Polite World of the Merchant Elite of Colonial Massachusetts (2002) as well as the Smithsonian’s catalog of American portraits, where it is attributed to none other than Sir Godfrey Kneller, the “Principal Painter” of the late Stuart courts. It is quite something to think of a Salem girl being painted by the same artist who portrayed James II, William and Mary, Anne, Locke and Newton! There is no online catalog of its object collections on the PEM website, so I can’t check out their attribution, though Goodwin lists it as unattributed. Mrs. Lynde Sr. appears to have been a very beautiful woman, but not only were her father and husband slave owners, she lived in an age in which slavery became integrated inextricably with the British Atlantic Empire. In 1713 Britain was granted the asiento, the exclusive contract to supply the Spanish American colonies with slaves, in the treaty that ended the War of the Spanish Succession, thus enabling its domination of the Atlantic Slave Trade for the rest of the eighteenth century. 

Mary Browne Lynde

Queen Anne Kneller

Two Kneller portraits? Mary Browne Lynde and Princess Anne before her accession in 1702, Sir Godfrey Kneller, Chirk Castle © National Trust.  After the asiento was granted to Great Britain by the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht, the South Sea Company, in which both Anne and her successor George I were large shareholders, was awarded the contract to supply slaves to Spain’s colonies. 


Edwardian Tudors

I’m back teaching this semester after a productive sabbatical, although I’m a bit out of practice. Thankfully I’ve got my favorite Tudor-Stuart survey scheduled, a course that I’ve taught many, many times but always in a different way. This semester we are focusing on “disorder” in general and crime in particular and they are reading accounts of sensational crimes interspersed with the usual narrative of Reformation and Revolution. Before we get to any of that, however, I drag my students through a lot of historiographical and cultural context, because I find that they already have so many preconceived notions about this era, even those who have never really studied it, from films and television…..and Shakespeare, even though they don’t know that their “history” is Bard-derived. Yesterday we were examining how the Victorians perceived the Tudors, as you generally have to burst through Victorian interpretations to get close to anything resembling the historical truth, and we ended up with these wonderful Edwardian murals, installed in the East Corridor of the House of Commons in 1910. They are images of Tudor monarchs (for the most part), of course, but they are also Edwardian projections, chosen to represent the ideals of that time: a more popular-based sovereignty, empire, education, and the long-term consequences of the Reformation. What is so interesting is that several of the murals are not based on any documented historic event, but rather on Shakespeare’s depiction of an historical event: with their prominent situation in Parliament, they represent a multi-layered representation of the past.

Parliamentary prints first Plucking_the_Red_and_White_Roses,_by_Henry_Payne.jpgHenry Arthur Payne, The Origin of Parties. Plucking the White Rose in the Old Temple Gardens

Let’s take the first East Corridor mural as a case in point: Henry Arthur Payne’s The Origin of Parties. Plucking the White Rose in the Old Temple Gardens, which depicts a scene taken from Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part I in which the noble factions about to wage what would become known (much later) as the War of the Roses are choosing sides/roses. This is a pre-Raphaelite depiction of a pre-Tudor “scene”, and a bit of a stretch to consider the York and Lancaster factions as the “origin of parties”. Apparently even the artist questioned the first subtitle given to his work, but as the murals project was being overseen by the American artist Edwin Austen Abbey of the Royal Academy, who most definitely looked upon Shakespeare as his muse, the inclusion of this scene is understandable. Abbey was also responsible for the homogeneity of the East Corridor murals, as he specified the red, gold, and black color scheme which unites all six murals, as well as the uniform height and perspective of the characters portrayed.

cooper john-cabot-and-his-sons-receive-the-charter-from-henry-vii-to-sail-in-search-of-new-landsDenis William EdenJohn Cabot and his Sons Receive the Charter from Henry VII to Sail in Search of New Lands 1496

henry_vii_at_greenwichFrank Cadogan Cowper, Erasmus and Thomas More Visit the Children of Henry VII at Greenwich, 1499

katherine and henryFrank O. Salisbury, Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon before the Papal Legates at Blackfriars, 1529.

(c) Palace of Westminster; Supplied by The Public Catalogue FoundationErnest BoardLatimer Preaching before Edward VI at St. Paul’s Cross, 1548.

mary enteringJohn Byam Liston Shaw, The Entrance of Mary I with Princess Elizabeth into London, 1553

And there you have them: representatives of Tudor history from an Edwardian perspective. The emphasis seems to be on: the story, empire, the “new learning”, and the relationship of the royal government to the people. We have an equal representation of both Protestantism and Catholicism, hinting at the secularism of the era. I’m happy to see that my favorite Tudor, Henry VII, has a larger role in this story than Henry VIII, but surprised to see such a supporting role for Elizabeth: perhaps she was too powerful an opponent of parliamentary power.

Images and more information about the murals here: https://www.parliament.uk/worksofart/collection-highlights/british-history/tudor-history.

and more context here: https://www.paul-mellon-centre.ac.uk/publications/browse/9780300163353.

edwardian sense


Victory New Year, 1919

All New Years are special as they are embedded with thoughts of hopefulness and fresh starts, but I think the dawn of 1919 might have been particularly so: the themes of victory and peace following the Great War ring out in all the accounts of its celebration, which might also have been particularly joyous as it marked the last “liquid” New Year with the onset of Prohibition approaching. The New York Times proclaimed 1919 the “Victory New Year” and the Boston Globe bid adieu to a battle-scarred pirate-gladiator representing 1918. Probably the best image expressing contemporary hopes for the coming year was a seemingly-ubiquitous poster equating world peace, (lady) liberty and (American) prosperity produced by the United Cigar Stores Company: this theme is manifest in all of the accounts of New Year celebrations and forecasts which I sampled, and most mentions of Prohibition were below the fold!

Victory New Year 1919 NYT

New Year 1919 Boston Globe

New Year's collage

I think I must have posted on all of the New Year’s traditions and symbols over the past eight (!!!) years, and horseshoes, pigs, toadstools, shamrocks, and chimney-sweeps are still in evidence on New Year’s postcards in 1919, but change was also inevitable, as the dominant German postcard industry collapsed with the onset of the war, and domestic producers gradually altered the style and substance of holiday cards. During and right after the war, there are a profusion of babies and comforting hearth scenes on holiday postcards, but also more patriotic and elevated expressions. The French influence seems strong, but American illustrators also shaped the image of seasons’ greetings—with emphasis on both domestic prosperity and universal peace: a major cultural consequence of World War I is the emergence of peace on earth as a popular holiday sentiment.

New Year 1918

New Year silk

New Year 1919 Card

Santa Snowman Delcampe (1)

_Peace._Your_Gift_To_The_Nation._A_Merry_Christmas.__-_NARA_-_512601

New Year RuzickaFrench silk New Years’ postcards for 1918 and 1919 featuring the Allied flags, Europeana; Xavier Sager and Santa planting the American flag on the North Pole postcards, 1919, Delcampe.net; Santa’s gift of peace poster by the U.S. Food Administration, Library of Congress; Rudolph Ruzicka holiday card for 1918-1919, Harvard.

But all was not completely calm in the United States on January 1, 1919. Deaths from the Spanish Flu epidemic of the fall had dwindled, but they were still being reported. As President Wilson made his way to the Paris Peace Conference, there was both evident pride and anxiety about America’s evolving role in world affairs. As always, everyone was concerned about the economy. The front page of the Boston Herald shows a cartoon in which all of Paris’s landmarks have been renamed “Wilson” (Place de la Wilson, La Tour Wilson, etc.), but also features an interview with Massachusetts Governor-elect Calvin Coolidge who prescribes “thrift and industry” and expresses what seems to be a very real concern that now that Europe is peaceful, all Americans of European descent will return there! This is Calvin Coolidge in a new light for me (remember, I am not an American historian), expressing concerns over the labor market as well as the loss of “so many men who during their stay with us have given us so many models of good citizenship” and suggesting cash payments as enticements for these men to stay put!

New Year Boston Herald

New Year Coolidge Collage

The Suffragist leader Alice Paul also identified 1919 as the “Victory New Year” as she was determined to bring the long struggle for votes for women to a triumphant close in that year. President Wilson’s commitment to freedom and democracy overseas was recognized as a wonderful opportunity to expose his hypocrisy at home (as this was an age when people recognized hypocrisy) and so the Suffragists burned “watchfires” in front of the White House, “to consume every outburst of the President on freedom until his advocacy of freedom has been translated into support of political freedom for American women”. From New Year’s Day into February, the watchfires burned, despite the cold, the harassment, and the arrests, igniting the final push towards the passage of the 19th Amendment in the Congress in May and June of 1919, and its eventual ratification in August of 1920. And so it seems that victories were both in hand and at hand on New Year’s Day, 1919.

Watchfires LC

The+Suffragist,+June+14,+1919_NMAH-AHB2013q013138Library of Congress & National Museum of American History.


My Top Ten Books for 2018

I don’t believe that I’ve posted on books that I’ve read, or am reading, or want to read in quite some time: it seems like this whole past year has been consumed by the dislocation of our local history rather than more pleasurable pursuits! In years past, I always rounded up what I read–even before I started blogging—as a form of reflection, and December is obviously the best time for that. This year was odd not only because of the PEM problem, but also because I’ve been on sabbatical this fall and am writing my own book—so I’ve been reading primary sources and very specialized scholarly texts for the most part, not the sort of books that are going to rate inclusion in a top ten list aimed at a general audience. On weekends and at night I worked through a more entertaining stack by my bedside. I’ve always been a content reader even when I’m not reading for work: some history outside my period, lots of natural history, all sorts of books about books, and books about art and various types of design. I like to read about food in historical or cultural contexts, but I don’t really like to cook. I like to read about beverages in historical and cultural context as well, and I do like to mix drinks (and drink them). Not much fiction, and the occasional guide depending on what’s going on in my life. The first three books on this list intersect with my professional and private interests a bit, the rest are just representative of my varied interests, and the last book is a work of fiction, and one of the best books I read all year.

Books Pasta

Books Hawfinch

Books catalogue-of-shipwrecked-books-9781982111397_xlg

Books

My book is actually based on Renaissance handbooks, but not handbooks as specialized, and as beautiful, as the one reproduced, in its first English translation, in Pasta for Nightingales, an Italian orinthological study by Pietro Olina produced in 1622 with watercolor illustrations produced for the Paper Museum” of the Roman collector and scholar Cassiano dal Pozzo. The text features all sorts of charming contemporary ways to relate to birds, including a chickpea pasta recipe for nightingales. This is just the kind of intersection—of folklore and emerging “science”— that I’m hoping to capture in my book. The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books, by Edward Wilson-Lee, tells the story of Christopher Columbus’s illegitimate son, Hernando Colón, and his thirty-year quest to assemble–and organize–the largest private library in Europe, a collection that sadly went to waste after his death. It’s not just Colón’s constant purchasing of books from all over Europe that makes this book interesting, but also his efforts to catalog them: their problem looks slight in comparison to ours, but Renaissance Europeans actually suffered (a bit) from “information overload” in the first decades of print. I’ve always learned a lot from Theodore Rabb—in graduate school and throughout my career–and the essays in Why Does Michelangelo Matter? address one of my key teaching goals: the integration of the visual arts into historical analysis. Jumping back and then forward in time: ancient history is not my favorite era, much less the horrible twentieth century, but I love Mary Beard and I wanted to read something about the Great War in this centennial year of its end, so I’ve got The Roman Triumph and Jörn Leonhard’s Pandora’s BoxA History of the First World War on my list.

Book Collage

I am including Susan Orlean’s The Library Book, about the devastating destruction by fire of the Los Angeles Angeles Public Library in 1986 in particular and the impact of libraries on public and private lives in general, on my list even though I haven’t read it. It just seems appropriate for this year when I was obsessed with the loss of a library (and she is such a good writer): it’s nearing the top of my bedside stack. My food book this year (so far) is Dan Stone’s The Food Explorer, which is really about a botanist bureaucrat who transformed the American diet through his discoveries in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. On to drink: I’m including a mixology book because it’s been a difficult year: gin is my spirit of choice and I’m always looking for the perfect gin and lemon drink, and Gin Made me Do It helped me to refine one. I really am a material girl at heart, and an anglophile, and I live in a townhouse, so Ros Byam Shaw’s’s Perfect English Townhouse, showcasing 14 stunning homes, is perfect for me. Finally, my last pick: Francis Spufford’s amazing novel of colonial New York City: Golden Hill. Rarely do I read fiction, even rarer still, historical fiction: essentially I have to know the author to indulge in that genre. But, much like Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, this book just submerged me into into its time and setting. I devoured it: you will too, I bet.

Library

Food Explorer

Books Gin

Perfect Collage.jpg

Golden Hill


Pilgrim Life

Life magazine was a different sort of periodical in its first incarnation, from 1883 to 1936, than after, when photographs characterized its style and substance. The earlier Life was all about illustration, and all the famous graphic artists of the era contributed to its pages: everyone from Charles Dana Gibson to Norman Rockwell. It seems to have been a humorous society magazine with some very cutting caricatures, and as I was leafing through a succession of Thanksgiving “numbers” I found a very dark view of the “Ye Merrie New England Thanksgiving of Earlier Dayes” by illustrator F.T Richards from 1895. Dark. Even Hawthornesque, you might say.

Life Thanksgiving Puritans 1895

Pilgrim LifePuritans and Witches 1895

And quite a departure from the more playful portrayal of Thanksgiving Pilgrims published in Life and other contemporary periodicals in the first decades of the twentieth century: First Thanksgivings, amorous encounters and myriad in-the-stocks scenarios. Then the war comes and changes everything for longer than its duration, followed by the cult-of-celebrity culture that still seems to define us.

Life 1904-11-

Life 1910-11-03

Life 1913-11-06

Life1923-11-22 (2)Life covers from 1904, 1910, 1913 & 1923.


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