Cabinets of Curiosities

Cabinets of Curiosities

Cabinets of Curiosities

Julia Herdman is fascinated by 18th-century cabinets of curiosities because they show a love of learning and the natural world.  The 18th century saw a huge growth in the public interest in science and medicine. Cabinets of curiosities were a feature of many large houses because they were a way to show that their owners were taking an intellectual interest in the world. The 18th century was a time when it was cool to show off one’s intellectual prowess. Most of the collections consisted of rocks and minerals, shells, feathers and small animal skeletons. Cabinets of curiosities were works of art and a popular way to establish and uphold the owner’s rank in society. Because of the wonderful things they had in them these collections were sometimes called ‘wonder rooms.’ They were collections of the most extraordinary objects.

Peter The Great’s Cabinets of Curiosities

Russian Emperor, Peter the Great created his Kunstkamera in Saint Petersburg in 1714. It was a haphazard collection rarities with an emphasis on natural specimens.”, rather than the man-made objects called “artificialia”.

Julia Herdman Blog

Frederik Ruysch (1638 – 1731)

Peter was interested in anatomy because he wanted to improve Russian medicine. He encouraged research into human deformities by issuing a royal edict requiring examples of malformed and still-born infants to be sent to the imperial collection where he put them on display as examples of accidents of nature. This collection of human specimens became the core of the Russian Academy of Sciences. 

In 1716, he added a mineral cabinet to the Kunstkamera, with the purchase of a collection of 1195 minerals. Russian minerals were added to the collection that eventually became the core of the Fersman Mineralogical Museum in Moscow.

Peter the Great also bought many specimens from Holland particularly from the pharmacologist, Albertus Seba, and the anatomist, Frederik Ruysch (1638 – 1731).

The illustration shows one of the scenes created by Ruysch and displayed in his museum in Amsterdam. Ruysch’s creations were so intricate and detailed they were known as 8th wonders of the world. Ruysch’s daughter prepared the delicate cuffs and collars that were slipped on to arms and necks of the skeletons which were positioned to show them crying into handkerchiefs. To add to the bizarre scene the skeletons were wearing strings of pearls and playing the violin. Ruysch was an expert showman and a scientist. His dissections were public spectacles held by candlelight and accompanied by music and refreshments. A major new voice in historical fiction.

John and William Hunter’s Cabinets of Curiosities

In Britain, the anatomists, John and William Hunter were renowned collectors of curiosities. The brothers collected what is called the  Hunterian Collection which is split between London and Glasgow.

William Hunter played a prominent role in the most prestigious cultural and scientific institutions of the 18th century, both in Britain and abroad. He appears in Zoffany’s painting, Life Class at the Royal Academy (1771-1772). He also appears in James Barry’s Distribution of the Premiums by the Royal Society of Arts and Manufactures (1777-1783).

The curiosities he collected are now on display at the University of Glasgow. The exhibition explores Hunter’s personal and professional life and highlights both his passion for collecting and his hugely successful career as a royal physician, outstanding teacher of anatomy and surgery and pioneering scientific researcher. It is one of the best-known collections in the country and contains 650 manuscripts,10,000 printed books, 30,000 coins.r new voice in historical fiction

William Hunter (1718-1783)

Cabinets of Curiosities

John Hunter

 

William Hunter teaching anatomy

John Hunter FRS (1728 – 1793) was one of the most distinguished scientists and surgeons of his day. He came to London in 1748 at the age of 20 and worked as an assistant in the anatomy school of his elder brother William (1718-83), who was already an established physician and obstetrician. He was an early advocate of careful observation and scientific method in medicine. John Hunter was a great showman and entrepreneur as well as one of London’s most famous surgeons.

Hunter devoted all his resources to his museum. It included nearly 14,000 preparations of more than 500 different species of plants and animals. As his reputation grew, he was supplied with rare specimens such as kangaroos brought back by Sir Joseph Banks from James Cook’s voyage of 1768-71.

In his lifetime, John Hunter collected and prepared thousands of natural specimens, which he displayed in his museum including the skeleton of the Irish Giant Charles Byrne. In 1799, the British government purchased the collection and presented to the Royal College of Surgeons.

La Ronde Cabinets of Curiosities

A La Ronde is an 18th-century 16-sided house located near Lympstone, Exmouth, Devon, England, and in the ownership of the National Trust.

 

Jane and Mary Parminter – La Ronde
Cabinets of Curiosities

Collecting was not just the rage for anatomists and princes. Curious Parsons and Lords of the manor had their own cabinets of curiosities. It was part of what has been called the 18th century’s elite ‘learned entertainment.’

Many houses had cabinets of curiosities; one of the most beautiful collections of seashells was gathered by two spinster cousins, Jane and Mary Parminter. The two cousins became greatly attached to each other and in 1795 decided to set up home together in Devon.

The sisters created a magical world in their sixteen-sided house with diamond-shaped windows. The spinster cousins went on a tour around Europe and were avid collectors. They decorated the walls of their quirky house lovingly with hundreds of feathers and shells. They crafted pictures using sand, seaweed, and card and hung them on the walls. The cabinet of curiosities in the library is jam-packed with a jumble of Parminter family souvenirs such as shells, beadwork, semi-precious stones and votive statues. This is a real treasure house with every nook and cranny crammed with bizarre items collected over the years.  It is a treasure trove overflowing with everything from ancient Egyptian artifacts and precious rocks to prints from Switzerland. The cousins lived secluded and somewhat eccentric lives for many years. Their happy lives together came to an end in 1811 when Miss Jane died. A major new voice in historical fiction.

Cabinets of curiosities la ronde

Cabinet of shells from La Ronde

http://www.bl.uk/learning/timeline/item107648.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_College_of_Surgeons_of_England#Hunterian_Museum
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Hunter_(anatomist)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunterian_Museum_and_Art_Gallery
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kunstkamera
https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/a-la-ronde
http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/people/johnhunter

Turkish Delight

Turkish Delight

Turquerie was the fashion for all things Turkish. It started in the late sixteenth century and lasted well into the nineteenth. unconcerned with the realities of life in the east it was rather a product of European fantasies about the luxuries of the Orient. Turkey was a supplier of exotic goods such as coffee, perfumes, spices, and tea.

First diplomatic relations with the far east started near the end of the sixteenth century with Sir Robert Shirley going to Persia in 1599 to train the Persian army in the ways of English military warfare.

The West had a growing interest in Turkish-made products and art, including music, visual arts, architecture, and sculptures.

This fashionable phenomenon became more popular through trading routes and increased diplomatic relationships between the Ottomans and the European nations, exemplified by the Franco-Ottoman alliance in 1715 when Louis XIV received the first Persian ambassadors to France.

European portraits of the 18th century were used to portray social position and wealth. Dress, posture, and props were carefully selected in order to communicate the appropriate status. Choosing the exotic turquerie style to express one’s elite position in society involved wearing loose, flowing gowns belted with ornate bands of embroidered cloth. Some sitters donned ermine-trimmed robes while others chose tasselled turbans. Scandalously, most have abandoned their corsets and attached strings of pearls to their hair. (There has always been one law for the rich and one for the lower classes when it comes to letting one’s social hair down.) Many portraits have Turkish carpets displayed on the floor, woven with bright colours and exotic designs. The loose clothing and the unorthodox styles added to the lewd perceptions of the Ottomans.

At the same time portraits of real Turkish people by European artists were a la mode. They were often depicted as exotic, and it was rare that portraits were painted without wearing their traditional cultural clothing.

Perhaps the most influential transformation into the turquerie vogue in Europe was done by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Montagu went to Turkey in 1717 when her husband was posted as ambassador there. Her collected letters while there, describing Turkish fashion were distributed widely in manuscript form. They were then printed after her death in 1762. These letters helped shape how Europeans interpreted the Turkish fashion and how to dress. This phenomenon eventually found its way across the Atlantic and in colonial America, where Montagu’s letters were also published.

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.42  Also available on:

Amazon Australia

Amazon Canada

Amazon New Zealand

Amazon South Africa

Amazon USA

Cristallo – Italian Clear Glass

Cristallo – Italian Clear Glass

We take clear glass or Cristallo for granted today but this fragile material was once so prized men were condemned to death for revealing its secrets.

Sparklingly clear glass is the stuff of romance. Without it there would be no coup de champagne or glittering chandeliers to dance under and no cheap sparkles for a girl to wear.

The Venetians had been making glass since Roman times but by the late 1200s, the production of glass objects of the finest quality was the city’s major industry. The Glassmakers Guild laid out rules and regulations to safeguard their secrets and in 1271 a law prohibited the importation of foreign glass or the employment of foreign glass workers. An even more radical law was passed in 1291 that laid the ground for the establishment of Murano as a premier glass-manufacturing centre. This law required that all furnaces used for glass making be moved from Venice to the island of Murano to avoid the risk of in the overpopulated city. Many historians agree that the real motive was to isolate the glassmakers to a place on where they wouldn’t be able to disclose trade secrets. A subsequent law passed in 1295 forbidding the glassmakers from leaving the city on pain of death confirms this theory.

Venetian glass reached the peak of its popularity in the 15th and 16th centuries. In the 15th century, master Angelo Barovier discovered the process for producing clear glass – (Cristallo) – that allowed Murano glass makers to become the only producers of mirrors in Europe. In addition, the popularity of Chinese porcelain among European nobility fuelled the discovery and production of the white glass mimicking porcelain (lattimo). Other types of glass making techniques became popular such as enameling and gilding glass, which originated in the Middle East, filigrana glass which is made using glass rods with inner threads of white, golden or coloured glass that are twisted or intersecting, and ice glass which appears finely crackled. Variety of shapes and colours increased, and glassware became more sophisticated though the beauty was still viewed as the simplicity of shapes and ornaments.

By the end of the 16th-century glasshouses in Bohemia, Germany, the Low Countries, and even England were employing Italian glassmakers to produce a colourless glass, an imitation of Venetian Cristallo, often called façon de Venise. However, a century later things were beginning to change. Coal was a major factor. Coal fired furnaces were developed in England and towards the end of the 17th century, the first colourless lead glass (variously called ‘flint glass’ and ‘lead crystal’) was produced. These new technologies allowed Britain to become one of the leading glass producers and the balance of power in the world of glass began to shift northwards.

This shift from Venetian Cristallo glass to northern European imitations (façon de Venise) was noted by Girolamo Alberti, the Doge of Venice’s Secretary in London in October 1672 when he complained that “With regard to Venetian trade, I find that of glass is utterly ruined since the introduction here of the manufacture of mirrors and drinking glasses, by a privilege granted to the Duke of Buckingham.”

The origin of colourless lead glass is traditionally traced back to George Ravenscroft and his 1674 patent. However, the details of what Ravenscroft actually invented are obscure. Recent research points to an Italian connection. Ravenscroft, set up a furnace in Savoy. The Savoy glasshouse was visited 29 July 1673 by Robert Hooke and Christopher Wren. Hooke records that they visited, the new glasshouse at the Savoy and “saw calcind flints as white as flower, Borax, Niter and tarter, with which he made his glasse he denyd to use arsenick he shewd pretty representations of Agates by glass &c.”
It is more likely that Ravenscroft was a financial backer and that an Italian glassmaker called Da Costa was the actual inventor of the glass that was patented. John Baptista Da Costa was one of two glassmakers from Altare, the other was John Odaccio Formica, who worked together in Nijmegen between 1665 and c.1672. Both were later associated with lead glass industries: Da Costa in London and Odaccio in Dublin.

On the 8th March of 1674, George Ravenscroft petitioned the crown for a patent to produce glass as it was still legally in the hands of the Duke of Buckingham. Ravenscroft claimed to have ‘attained to the art and manufacture of a particular sort of Cristaline Glasses resembling Rock Cristall, not formerly exercised or put into use’. The patent was for drinking glasses and specifically excludes mirrors as well as, other sorts of glasse of ancient fabrick, at present and for many years practiced or any other sort of glasse that shall be made by others. The King approved the application on the 19th March and the patent was formally issued on the 16th May 1674 for a period of seven years. That year Ravenscroft entered into an exclusive agreement with the Company of London Glass Sellers to provide them with his new glassware.

The new process had its teething problems, namely crizzling, where the glass became flaky and lost transparency. The problem it seems was solved by adding more lead to the mixture. By the 1680s glass, manufacture had spread outside London to Bristol and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Archaeological evidence from the glasshouse at Silkstone, South Yorkshire shows the production of lead glass during the 1680s using coal.

The Glass Sellers sought to ban imports of so-called ‘country’ glasses into London during the 1680s. They argued that the ‘country’ glasses were of inferior quality and that the London consumer needed to be protected. It is perhaps more likely that those most in need of protection were the members of the Company of Glass Sellers!

 

Sources:
Investigation of Late 17th Century Crystal Glass, D Dungworth and C Brain, Centre for Archaeology Report 21/2005
https://www.glassofvenice.com/murano_glass_history.php

 

 

 

 

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.42  Also available on:

Amazon Australia

Amazon Canada

Amazon New Zealand

Amazon South Africa

Amazon USA

Also on Smashwords

Flowers, Theatre and Fashion – Fanny Abington

Flowers, Theatre and Fashion – Fanny Abington

The actress Frances Barton or Frances “Fanny” Barton was the daughter of a private soldier who started her working life as a flower girl and a street singer. As an actress, she performed in taverns and resorted to selling herself as many hard-up women did in those days before she made it onto the stage.

Her first step to success came when she got a job as a servant to a French milliner. Fanny learned about costume and acquired some French which afterward stood her in good stead as she mingled in London’s high society as a famous actress.

Actress Fanny first appeared on the stage was at Haymarket in 1755 as Miranda in Mrs. Centlivre’s play, Busybody. Following that she became a member of the Drury Lane Company, where she was overshadowed by its more established actresses Hannah Pritchard and Kitty Clive. However, Fanny was an she was an ambitious actress and travelled to Ireland where she had her first major success Lady Townley in The Provok’d Husband by Vanbrugh and Cibber. Fanny worked at her trade, she became a consumate actress and five years after she began her career she received an invitation from David Garrick to return to Drury Lane.

Fanny married her music teacher, James Abington, a royal trumpeter, in 1759. It was not happy and the pair separated but she retained his name calling herself Mrs. Abington. She remained at Drury Lane for eighteen yearsFanny played Mrs. Teasel in Sheridan’s School for Scandal making the role her own. She also played Shakespearean heroines – Beatrice, Portia, Desdemona and Ophelia and the comic characters  Miss Hoyden, Biddy Tipkin, Lucy Lockit, and Miss Prue. Mrs. Abington’s Kitty in “High Life Below Stairs” put her in the foremost rank of comic actresses, making the mop cap she wore in the role the reigning fashion“.

This cap was soon referred to as the “Abington Cap” and frequently seen on stage as well as in hat shops across Ireland and England. Adoring fans donned copies of this cap and it became an essential part of the well-appointed woman’s wardrobe. The actress soon became known for her avant-garde fashion and she even came up with a way of making the female figure appear taller. She began to wear a tall-hat called a ziggurat adorned with long flowing feathers and began to follow the French custom of putting red powder on her hair.

An example of Fanny’s influence on fashion – the high ziggurat style hat.

Sir Joshua Reynolds painted her as Miss Prue a character from Congreve’s Love for Love. The portrait is the best-known of his half-dozen or more portraits of her. In 1782 she left Drury Lane for Covent Garden. After an absence from the stage from 1790 until 1797, she reappeared, quitting it finally in 1799. Her ambition, personal wit, and cleverness won her a distinguished position in society, in spite of her humble origin.

Source; Wikipedia

Illustrations: Fanny Abington, Joshua Reynolds, Portrait of Marie-Dauncey,1789, James-Northcote, Fanny as Miss Prue, Joshua Reynolds.

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon 

Amazon Australia

Amazon Canada

Amazon New Zealand

Amazon South Africa

Amazon USA

 

Marie-Antoinette – A woman of fashion who was eaten alive by her frocks

Marie-Antoinette – A woman of fashion who was eaten alive by her frocks

Fashion victims come in many guises. Princesses often find themselves the butt of the fashion press.

In the London Review of Books in 2013 novelist Hilary Mantel wrote in an article about the book she would choose to give to her chosen famous person. Her choice of book and the person she chose to give it to was a shock. Mantel chose ‘Queen of Fashion – What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution’ published in 2006, by the cultural historian Caroline Weber; and the person she chose to give it to was Catherine Duchess of Cambridge.

“It’s not that I think we’re heading for a revolution,” said Mantel but she was concerned that Kate was becoming a jointed doll on which certain rags were hung. “Marie Antoinette was a woman eaten alive by her frocks,” says Mantel. “She was transfixed by appearances, stigmatised by her fashion choices. Fashion and politics were made personal in her. Her greed for self-gratification, her half-educated dabbling in public affairs, were adduced as a reason the French were bankrupt and miserable.

It was ridiculous, of course. Marie-Antoinette was one individual with limited power and influence, who focused the rays of misogyny. She was a woman who couldn’t win. If she wore fine fabrics she was said to be extravagant. If she wore simple fabrics, she was accused of plotting to ruin the Lyon silk trade.

But in truth, she was all body and no soul: no soul, no sense, and no sensitivity. She was so wedded to fashion and her appearance that when the royal family, in disguise, made its desperate escape from Paris, dashing for the border, she not only had several trunk loads of new clothes sent on in advance, she took her hairdresser along too.

Despite the weight of her mountainous hairdos, she didn’t feel her head wobbling on her shoulders. When she returned from that trip to the prison Paris would become for her, it was said that her hair had turned grey overnight.”

The Duchess of Cambridge is, of course, no Marie-Antoinette says Mantel but she has been a victim of the fashion press. Kate is a modern, educated woman who has married for love but Mantel is right about royal women of the past and strangely prophetic in describing what has happened to Kate in the press recently. Duchess of Drab! wrote Sarah Vine in the Daily Mail on 8th April 2016, “It’s the mystery of the cosmos… How DOES a beautiful woman make designer outfits look so frumpy?”

Unlike her late mother-in-law, Diana Princess of Wales, Kate has not courted fashion or the press; a crime she will pay heavily for I suspect but as a woman with a mind, she probably knows she’s damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t. If she courts fashion and sex appeal, she will be lambasted and lauded like tragic Diana, if she doesn’t she’ll remain a dowdy, uptight mouse.

In this respect, Kate is like so many royal women in the past who receive only a passing reference in mainstream history books. When Kate ventures out to visit some charity or other on her own she is lauded patronisingly by the newscasters as if they were praising a child. Surely, it’s not hard for a woman in possession of one of the country’s most expensive educations and a good university degree to talk to children or politicians for a half an hour after a briefing by Palace aids!

The Duchess of Cambridge is just the most recent in a line of royal women living out their lives in gilded cages. The difference between Kate and her Georgian forbears is that she has chosen her life and consciously sacrificed her private life and career success for love. This was not a luxury afforded to princesses in the past.

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon

Amazon Australia

Amazon Canada

Amazon New Zealand

Amazon South Africa

Amazon USA

 

History of 18th Century Crazes

History of 18th Century Crazes

The craze for porcelain was not orchestrated – it was a by-product of another craze; the craze for drinking tea and to a lesser extent coffee. As tea drinking really took hold the East India Company’s imports rocketed. By 1750 around four million pounds of tea were being imported to Britain and the porcelain was used to pack around the tea chests as it added ballast to ships without tainting the flavour of the precious cargoes. Over half a million pieces were brought to London in 1713 and soon this affordable tableware, plain white or blue and white was an essentially middle-class item.

From the first journeys east in the 1600s the elites of Europe had indulged their passion for porcelain and tea. Queen Mary of Orange was an avid collector and spread the fashion when she came to Britain with her husband William in 1688, the Swedish architect Nicodemus Tessin described the Princess’s country estate of Honselaersdyck (not far from the Hague), as “very richly furnished with Chinese work and pictures”. An inventory of her apartment at Kensington Palace in 1697 listed 7,800 porcelain items – figures, jars, porcelain dishes, plates, and cups.

The royal craze soon spread through the upper echelons of English society as can be seen in the inventories of the Antonie family at their estate at Colworth House in Bedfordshire. An inventory drawn up for a sale following the death of Marc Antonie in 1720 lists “cheany & Teatable” in the North Parlour, advertised for £ 6 14s, and in the Hall “10 little Cheany plates that sold for £ 1 5s, 6 large Cheany Dishes £ 1 15s, 4 Cheany Basons, Cheany mugs and Delf Dishes, Cheany Cassters and Cheany”.

Taste in the High Life

Contrary to the popular literature of the day that the passion for porcelain was almost entirely female men collected it too. Indeed William Hogarth’s satirical painting ‘Taste in High Life’, shows amongst many other things considered fashionable at the time a couple fawning over a china cup and saucer.

These exotic treasures from the east brought their owners connection with the wider world, a world most of them would never see, and probably gave them the thrill of owning and using something that had been bought so unimaginably far away.

In William Burnaby’s The Ladies’ Visiting Day dated 1701, the female character Lady Lovetoy laments over the impossibility of travel to the East for women and the purchase of exotic goods is presented as a replacement for the voyages she could not make, unlike one supposes the men she might have might have known:

Fulvia: I wonder your Ladyship, that has such a Passion for those Parts of the World, never had the Curiosity to see ‘em.
Lady Lovetoy: Alas! The Men have usurp’d all the Pleasures of Life, and made it not so decent for our Sex to Travel; but I manage it as Mahomet wou’d ha’ done his Mountain […] Every Morning the pretty Things of all these Countries are brought me, and I’m in love with every Thing I see.”

Between 1660 and 1689, tea sold in coffee houses was taxed in liquid form. Unbelievably, all the tea for the day would be brewed in the morning, taxed by a visiting excise officer, and then kept in barrels and reheated as necessary throughout the day, which is a truly horrific thought for a tea drinker today. The quality of the drink improved after 1689, when it was taxed in leaf form rather than as a liquid and people started to brew it at home.

Smuggling tea became an unofficial industry along the south coast of England with a brisk trade in illegal tea from English merchants based in France until 1785 when the government (under pressure from London tea merchants whose profits were being seriously undermined) slashed the duty making it not only cheaper for customers but also wiping out the illegal trade overnight.

The Strode Family

So while men tended to haunt the coffee houses, smoking, reading the newspapers and doing business their female relatives were at home brewing and drinking tea. All the equipment would be set up by the servants, and then the tea would be brewed by the hostess (aided by a servant on hand to bring hot water) and then served by her to her guests in dainty cups. Both green and black teas were popular, and sugar was frequently added but not milk.

William Hogarth’s painting, ‘The Strode Family’ depicts the wealthy city magnate William Strode seated at the tea table with his aristocratic wife Lady Anne Cecil, inviting Reverend Arthur Smith to quit his solitary reading to join the conversation over tea while the empty seat awaits Colonel Strode to complete the party. The effect of the tea table with its combination of tea and porcelain was to bring about a mini social revolution in Britain.

This afternoon break with refreshments was considered a good thing for the rich and middle classes but some commentators of the day set themselves against it for the lower orders as it would lower their productivity. Despite their protestations not only was teatime invented so was the workers tea-break!

Workers at the British Oil Cake Company, Manchester WW1.

I think it’s time for a cuppa after all this writing!

history, history, history, history, history, history, history, history, history, history