Tag Archives: London

An Array of Elephants

I know that they’re trendy now and have been for some time, but I’ve been an elephant afficionado since I was a little girl, so I have many, many elephants that run the range from extreme tackiness to quite elegant.  I’ve had to edit my collection of elephants down rather dramatically to avoid their takeover of the house, so most of them are in boxes in the basement now (I could not, of course, get rid of them!)  I think that I should forgo future pachyderm purchases, unless they are of the ephemeral variety and don’t take up much room. Nevertheless, I am always looking…and several very different and unattainable elephants  have caught my eye over the past few weeks, renewing my appreciation for those in my own house at the same time.

Three great elephants: a “change packet” (a kind of ephemera I didn’t even know existed! nineteenth-century shopkeepers would give you your change back in these cute little paper packets, which provided them with another avenue for advertising) from the Graphics Arts Collection at the Princeton University Library, the mechanical elephant of the Machines of the Isle of Nantes, which can carry around up to 49 people for 45 minutes, and an elephant embroidered by Mary, Queen of Scots about 1570 from the collection of the Victoria & Alfred Museum in London.

I like this last embroidery panel because it indicates that the Queen had access to the first great Renaissance zoological work, Conrad Gessner’s Historiae Animalium (1551-1558).  Mary’s elephant clearly seems to be based on the image in Volume One of Gessner, and I like to think of the plotting Queen and her ladies leafing through the tome for inspiration.

Elephants in my house:  a few of my favorite elephants, still upstairs, beginning with the wallpaper in my first-floor powder room. I can’t remember what the maker or pattern is.

The little guy below is my very favorite elephant:  I have no idea what he is made of or how old he is. He was in a box with some other little elephants–all cast iron–which I bought for a $1.00, but he is not cast iron but rather a hard plaster-like material.

A recent purchase from an antiques shop in Maine:  this guy seems to be made of old college pennants.  I have no idea what to do with him, so he just sits on a chair in the guest bedroom.

A sixteenth-century book illustration:  I purchased it after it was already cut out, but I still feel guilty.

Moneypenny, one with the elephant garden seat.

The Splashy Thames

Watching from afar, the highlight of this past weekend’s Diamond Jubilee celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s long reign for me was the spectacular 1000-boat flotilla, floating theater on the Thames.  All the “color” commentary, on the television and in print, referred to the precedent of Charles II’s 1662 river pageant, organized to celebrate his marriage to the Portuguese royal princess Catherine of Braganza. The historical narratives of this particular pageant do indeed describe a spectacle.  The very detailed diarist John Evelyn wrote: “His Majesty and the Queen came in an antique-shaped open vessel, covered with a canopy of cloth of gold, made in the form of a cupola, supported by high Corinthian pillars, wreathed with flowers, festoons and garlands” and his contemporary Samuel Pepys observed that you could not see the water, as there were so many barges and boats.  But for visual inspiration, Canelleto’s panoramic painting The Thames on Lord Mayor’s Day (1746) cannot be beat.  It is in the permanent collection of the Lobkowicz Collection of the Czech Republic, and was loaned to the National Maritime Museum in Britain for its timely exhibition Royal River: Power, Pageantry and the Thames, on view until September. A mural was reproduced on the side of the London Bridge tube station to advertise the exhibition.

The Lord Mayor’s river pageants seem to precede those of royalty, but the Tudor and Stuart monarchs definitely used the river as the backdrop for their public displays of royal majesty, including coronations and funerals. They were experts at this sort of thing:  a procession, was great, but a floating procession, even better. Anne Boleyn had a coronation flotilla as well as one that accompanied her to her execution; river pageants also marked the beginning of her daughter Elizabeth’s reign in 1558 and its end in 1603. There was a three-day river pageant, including a staged fight by several ocean-going vessels, in May of 1610 to celebrate King James I’s proclamation of his eldest son Henry Frederick as the Prince of Wales. The pageant for King Charles II and his new queen Catherine in August of 1662 consisted of barges representing the twelve livery companies (guilds) of London as well as masques on the water; Catherine’s court painter, Dirk Stoop, captured the event for all posterity in an engraving entitled Aqua Triumphalis.

Dirk Stoop, Aqua Triumphalis, 1662. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, before the industrial revolution and intensive urbanization generated a “great stink” emanating from the river, the Thames continued to be the setting for municipal and national celebrations, while simultaneously serving as the “highway” that it had always been.  I think that the seventeenth-century map below illustrates this last function very well.  I couldn’t resist the pageantry of the Lord Mayor’s barge gliding by Windsor Castle in the 1813 aquatint, and then there is an image of perhaps the last national Thames pageant before the twentieth century, Lord Nelson’s grand maritime funeral procession in 1806, by Daniel Turner.

London. Part of the County of Middlesex, 1662 Lithograph, Crace Collection of Maps of London, British Library; The City of London State Barge Passing up the Thames by Windsor Castle, 1813 Aquatint, British Library; Daniel Turner, The Procession of Barges attending Lord Nelson’s Funeral, 1806, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

The last Diamond Jubilee, that of Queen Victoria in 1897, seems to have featured only a terra firma procession; perhaps the Thames was still too stinky, though it had been several decades since the installation of London’s sewage system. “Henry VIII” made an appearance on the river upon the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the beginning of his reign in 2009, and then there was the smiling Queen Elizabeth II on the water this past weekend.

Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee procession passing over the Thames in 1897; “King Henry” in 2009; and the Spirit of Chartwell bearing the royal family down the river this past weekend.

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