I write like...

I write like
Mary Shelley

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Jacket; c. 1790; French

Red and white striped silk brocade with

silver-colored buttons; fold-back collar.

Source: Kyoto Fashion Institute

Fantastic historic dress resource! Particularly useful for isolating by decade the time period you are researching.

Démodé: 1790's real women's clothing directory

Every example is precious. This is a beautiful example of sartorial enthusiasm for the revolution. Or, it could just be a gorgeous red & white striped parisien jacket.

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This showed up on Wikimedia Commons today. Will add to my Beatrice Gallery.

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Study_of_Beatrice_Cenci,_by_Julia_Margaret_Cameron.jpg

Study of Beatrice Cenci, 1866.
Model is May Prinsep.

Jean-Baptiste Jacques Augustin 1792 [source]

Up until the 18th century mourning was a luxury enjoyed (sic) mainly by royalty and those with sufficient aristocratic pedigrees. When Sir Henry Unton, a mere Ambassador, MP and civil servant extraordinaire, died of bubonic plague while in the queen's service in 1596 he was accorded a baron's funeral for services rendered, a full two stations higher than his own of Knight.

Certain mourning customs that were familiar to the Victorians, the worlds best mourners, would have seemed equally at home four-hundred years earlier. While the 16th century was awash in black, the upper class women (and by that we mean aristocratic) draped themselves in various veils and bauble-free headgear, usually in black, sometimes in white if you were Marie Stuart (please clip those "r"s like a proper scot). Men donned a hooded cloak, seen quite clearly in Sir Henry's funeral procession. These are not monks, but friends and family, who would be expected to wear the garment up to six months depending on their relation to the deceased. Male mourning would later lose the mourning cloak and cowl, and substitute darker, more somber versions of au current fashion.

Prior to Et in Arcadia ego (Nicolas Poussin, 1637-1638) death iconography was quite literal, and consisted mostly of deaths heads and crossbones, reapers, and uniquely animated cadavers out to pay a call.

During the enlightenment era a fundamental change occured. While mourning goods became more affordable by the middle classes, mourning customs began to be sentimentalized as the enlightenment philosphies began to change the very basis of family life and family feeling. Rousseauian ideals and neoclassical motifs collided so that by the second half of the 18th century every grieving mother envisioned herself a stoic Roman matron mourning her Brutus while posing attractively on the lawn with an obelisk. Early on it was primarily in mourning iconography that women played out these neo-classical fashion fantasies, long before they appeared draped over the heaving bosoms of the demi-monde at the Palais Royale.

Mourning Jewelry and Portraiture

It was common custom for a person to stipulate in their will to have memorial jewelry made for loved ones (rings, brooches, lockets) either using macerated hair to paint with, or locks of hair woven to create a pleasing pattern or design, with a sentimental phrase, pertinent names, dates etc. The to-be-deceased would have set aside some locks of hair for this purpose. So it is with little surprise that (especially) during the Terror, when people were certain of their own demise, we find the condemned preparing for death, and their own remembrances there-after. Locks of hair and other tokens are exchanged frequently, bequeathed, and smuggled out of prisons by sympathetic, and sometimes merely pecuniary, opportunists. This was especially the case for the royal family. Despite thorough efforts by the revolutionary government to deter the traffic in royal relics, there were reports of locks Louis XVI hair being sold in little boxes, and "large silver rings, which have secret openings, containing in their upper part, made convex for this purpose a small piece of the coat of Monsieur Veto..." [source: The Politics of Appearance - Wrigley]

Royalist Sympathies

landon_Le Comte Pierre-Jean de Bourcet et sa famille_1791.jpg
Le Comte Pierre-Jean de Bourcet et sa famille
Charles Paul Landon 1791
Inscription: Landon--officier de la maison
de feu Mgr le Dauphin--1791

The year is 1791 and Bourcet, as an official in the house of the Dauphin, is displaying his royalist sympathies with a lack of subtlety that does him credit. Upon the table to the left are marble busts of the king and queen, one white lily (of france) lies dying upon the table, while a second remains in a french blue vase. I speculate that the lilies are the two dauphins of france, the elder of the two perished just before the fall of the bastille in July of 1789. The Bourcet family seems to be mourning their own loss. M. de Bourcet's downward gaze falls upon the fallen lily, hand empty and outstretched, while the other holds his eldest affectionately to his side. The four children stand between their parents. The eldest, father's little soldier, gazes forlornly at the portrait on the floor, a toddler on Maman's lap reaches towards the portrait upon the wall, too young to understand where his deceased brother has gone, while the young girl watches pensively by her youngest sibling's cradle, the infant turns away, perhaps ready to join the elder sibling who went before, and take her place in the empty frame above. Madame and Mlle. are the only two who gaze at the viewer. Who is the painting beneath the table?

The Victim's Ball

To read more on the most unusual mourning practice of the age, view my post and gallery on Les Bal des Victimes!

Will posterity believe that persons whose relatives died on the scaffold did not institute
days of solemn and common affliction during which, assembled in mourning clothing,
they would attest to their grief over such cruel, such recent losses, but instead [instituted]
days of dancing where the point was to waltz, drink and eat to one's heart's content.

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Life of Sir Henry Unton 1557-1596

(500k) Life of Sir Henry Unton 1557-1596
Anonymous —National Portrait Gallery, London

Up until the 18th century mourning was a luxury enjoyed (sic) mainly by royalty and those with sufficient aristocratic pedigrees. When Sir Henry Unton, a mere Ambassador, MP and civil servant extraordinaire, died of bubonic plague while in the queen's service in 1596 he was accorded a baron's funeral for services rendered, a full two stations higher than his own of Knight. His widow assures that this momentous honor will not be forgotten by her neighbors, had a brilliant and surreal panel painted depicting his birth, life, achievments, but mainly his oh-so-glorious death which takes up a good three-quarters of the panel. His death, including maladie, doctoring, dying, sailing back to England in a black sailed mourning ship, the above mentioned mile long funeral procession and packed church, ends with his tomb, upon which he rests rather cheerfully, looking as if he were resting in a field of daisies, the Widow Unton looming over him like a spider. All of this layed out rather counter-intuitively from right (birth) to left (entombment).

Detail: Sir Henry Unton
Black sailed mourning ship
funeral mourners

While my main focus here is French mourning, I mention Sir Henry because the painting is so very cool. Well, that and the further you go back in time, the more difficult it is to dig up the evidence on google. French and English customs have long been in a neck and neck horse race. One is never far behind the other, and so too goes the mourning customs. That there is my excuse for rambling on about the very awesome Life and Death of Sir Henry Unton (which I didn't actually find on google, but saw rather in person during a recent visit to the National Portrait Gallery in London).

So here I depart from England.

Interesting article about the Tudor's most recently prolific presenter: David Starkey.

Get your hands off my butch history:
The historian David Starkey says his field has become all too girlie but his female colleagues are quick to slap him down

History, he proclaimed in the Radio Times, had been "feminised" because "so many of the writers who write about [it] are women and so much of their audience is a female audience". Even the subject of his latest television series, Henry VIII, had been "absorbed by his wives", he said, "which is bizarre".

That said, Starkey's "Mind of a Tyrant" was pretty entertaining. With more of a focus on Henry VIII himself than even his own previous series have had.


Source: Ebay. 1922 Original Prints, Costumes worn 1789-1799.

What I did over the Christmas holidays... It started out with Mr. Kallisti downloading "The Devil's Whore" for me "cuz it sounded like your type of thing. Y'know, whores..." It snowballed from there as I watched Charles I beheaded three times over the two week slowdown! It has taken me 2 more weeks just to finish this post, oy!

Here's the line-up, all highly recommended, in rough chrono-order.

1638 to 1660: The Devil's Whore [IMDB]

By and large, there are two categories of period drama. The first is White Petticoat Drama, where people do a bit of frisky fan-work, have a picnic that involves a huge ham, and then live happily ever after. The second is Dirty Period Drama - where everyone is covered in boils, wees out of the window, and palpably suffers from the lack of antibiotics and/or mobile telecommunications. The Devil's Whore is definitely in the second category. John Simm's fleas should make the credit list. Oliver Cromwell clearly pongs. It makes a dirty war a very dirty war. But one that, against all the Civil War odds, makes great telly.

-Caitlin Moran, The Times


1640 to 1660: "By the Sword Divided" (1983) [IMDB] [WIKI]

A bit obvious to say, but if you liked Poldark you'll really enjoy "By the Sword Divided." Classic low budget, yet brilliantly written and performed eighteen hour series from the BBC. It also aired on Masterpiece Theater in the late 80's. One of the few period dramas to deal with the English Civil War, before and aftermath.


1660 to 1685: Charles II - The Power & The Passion (The Last King in the U.S.): [BBC] [IMDB] 2003, covers the life and adventures of Charles II of England, played by the ever roguish Rufus Sewell. Mwrowr.


1673 to 1722: The First Churchills [IMDB]

The First Churchills: 1969! Covers the period 1673 through 1722, based on the biography by Winston Churchill of his illustrious ancestors, the first Duke & Duchess of Marlborough. Susan Hampshire & John Neville are sublime.


Michael Dobson and Nicola J Watson are the authors of England's Elizabeth: An Afterlife in Fame and Fantasy (Oxford, 2002). It is a guide to the nation's 400-year obsession with the Virgin Queen.

"This is a deliberately miscellaneous selection, since one of the most extraordinary things about Elizabeth is the sheer range of material she has inspired, and continues to inspire, from Spenser's Faerie Queene to Shekhar Kapur's Elizabeth and beyond."

Read the full list: The Guardian.co.uk - Michael Dobson and Nicola J Watson's top 10 books about Elizabeth I

Or take a spin on my li'l carousel!

Excerpt from: Tudor terror: John Guy is on a mission to bring history to the masses—The Independent

It is the summer of 1535, just weeks after the execution of Sir Thomas More. A small rowing boat makes its way along the Thames from Chelsea to London Bridge. The oarsman's passengers are a 29-year-old gentlewoman, Margaret Roper, and her maid, who carries a basket. A horrific sight meets their eyes as they approach the bridge: a dozen or more skulls on poles protruding from the parapet, which have been boiled and tarred to prevent them being fed upon by circling gulls. As new heads arrive, the old ones are moved along the row until they reach the end of the line, when they are thrown into the river.

At the door of the north tower of the bridge, the maid negotiates with the bridge-master, handing over the contents of her purse. In return she receives one of the skulls, carefully wrapping it in a linen cloth and placing it in a basket. This is all that remains of Thomas More. One day the skull will join Margaret Roper herself, when she is interred in the family tomb at Chelsea, a burial symbolic of the special attachment between father and daughter.

This is the gripping opening scene of John Guy's study of the relationship of Margaret Roper and her father, Thomas More.

To be released: A Daughter's Love: THOMAS MORE AND HIS DEAREST MEG by John Guy


Margaret More (1505-1544), Wife of William Roper, 1535-36
Hans Holbein the Younger (German, 1497/98-1543)
Vellum laid on playing card; Diam. 1 3/4 in. (45 mm)
From: Metropolitan Museum of Art


A rare portrait of Queen Elizabeth I as a young princess has been discovered in a private collection at a stately home in Northamptonshire.

The portrait, dating from 1650 to 1680, was found in the Duke of Buccleuch's collection at Boughton House.

Continue Reading Article...

The Victim's Ball

Croisures à la victime, 1798
from "Fashion in the French Revolution" by Aileen Ribiero
Or, les Bal des Victimes...

The celebratory atmosphere following the "Reign of Terror" gave way to a number of frivolous yet gruesome fashions and pastimes, one of which was the Victim's Ball. In order to qualify for admittance in one of these sought after soirees one had to to be a close relative or spouse of one who had lost their life to the guillotine. Invitations were so coveted that papers proving your right to attend had to be shown at the door, and some were even known to forge this certificate in their eagerness. All the rage at these grand balls was to have the hair cut high up off the neck, in imitation of "le toilette du condamne" where the victim's hair is cut so as not to impede the efficiency of the blade. There were several popular hairstyles including cheveux à la titus or à la victime for both women and men, where the hair is given very short and choppy cut, and the "dog ears" worn by Muscadins, where long flops of hair are left on either side of the face, but cut right up to the hairline on the back of the neck. And for the ladies, a thin red velvet ribbon worn round the neck, or red ribbons worn croisures à la victime, a kind of reverse fichu, or ceinture croisée, across the back of the bodice forming a symbolic "x marks the spot" across the upper back.

Will posterity believe that persons whose relatives died on the scaffold did not institute days of solemn and common affliction during which, assembled in mourning clothing, they would attest to their grief over such cruel, such recent losses, but instead [instituted] days of dancing where the point was to waltz, drink and eat to one's heart's content.

Like most fads, these reactionary styles and those of the Incroyable et Merveilleuse crowd that ruled Paris the days after 9 Thermidor, this one was over before it began. By the end of the decade once mutually exclusive sartorial insignia such as knee breeches (monarchist) and the tricoloure were sported together with verve, irrespective of their once pertinent symbolism. It's just fashion! The short and sassy hair cut à la titus never caught on outside of France for women, but lasted in France into the next century. Men's hair never recovered. From the unpowdered long locks of the revolutionary sympathizer, to the dashingly short titus, men have endeavored to look unfussed ever since, even if it took a whole lot of fussing to achieve.


Marie-Antoinette and the Petit Trianon at Versailles
Legion of Honor, San Francisco
November 17, 2007 — February 17, 2008


Now, if my google alert box weren't quite so overwhelming, I might have caught this press release when it went out. But due to the sharp eyes of a good friend, Nadja (♥), I have the link!


The blurb:

Marie-Antoinette, the Austrian-born queen of Louis XVI of France, was given the Petit Trianon, a small château secluded in the park at Versailles, upon her accession in 1774. An icon of French neoclassicism, it exemplifies the perfection of 18th-century French architecture through its delicate balance of form and proportion. Its interiors were furnished to the queen's order with pieces of the utmost elegance, restraint, and beauty. This exhibition gives a visual history of the Petit Trianon through 88 pieces of the finest furniture, paintings, and sculpture from this château. It is complemented by watercolors, prints, and drawings of the house and its innovative landscaping, including the picturesque Hameau, a rustic village where the queen and her favorites could relax away from the prying eyes of the court at Versailles. This is the only venue of the exhibition, which is organized by the Musée National of the Château de Versailles.

One of my favorite things about trumpeting your hobbies loud and proud (on the internet and otherwise) is that friends and strangers alike are sure to let you know of something dead or decapitated... in case you missed it. Yay!

I'd be running down there this instant if I didn't have so much going on this week with Dolpa & Work & Thanksgiving & OH GAWD! Heh.

In any case, it is showing at San Francisco's Legion of Honor from today til 2/17/2008, with lots of very cool special events planned.

We'll report back. For reals. I still have 2837434 pictures from my Severed Head, er, Absinthe tour of Europe last summer! And more on the revolutionary fashion stuff. I'm a busy girl. But it is all coming along.


Tudor England Links


Point de Convention (Absolutely no agreement)
Louis-Léopold Boilly 1797
A Merveilleuse is mistaken for a prostitute
and refuses the coin offered to her.

The Muscadins (or Incroyable, the Incredible) first appeared around 1792, known for their royalist sympathies and so named for the musk perfume they wore in defiance of revolutionary austerity. They re-emerged after the fall of Robespierre, ending the Terror, and were key thugs in what has become known as The White Terror, a backlash against jacobin oppression, violence, and Robespierrean virtue. The jeunesse dorée roamed the streets of Paris drinking, toasting the monarchy and lashing out at patriots with sticks. And they looked fabulous doing it. Typified by their adherence to ancien regime knee-breeches and exaggerated English style frock coats with impossibly large collars, and powdered hair dressed outlandishly in either multiple braids or "dog-eared" style, cut short in the back à la victime and long beside the face. They were literally roving bands of angry dandies. By the late 1790's however, sporting a Muscadin hairdo would no longer get you arrested (as it could in 1795) as the various styles were adopted and absorbed into the fashionable and ephemeral society of the Directoire.

Aileen Ribeiro says of this image (les Incroyables) :

Caricaturists found a perfect subject in the form of the masculine fashions of the late 1790s. Both young men wear tight-fitting square-cut coats with huge lapels, and knee-breeches decorated with loops of fabric. Their political sympathies are not necessarily clear. Although their culottes date from the ancien régime, their printed cravats are working-class in origin; and, while the man on the left wears his hair plaited at the back à la victime, the man on the right has a revolutionary cockade prominently pinned to his hat. Both have shaggy hair, the side locks falling like spaniel's ears. The implications seems to be that fashion is more important than ideology.

Fashion in the French Revolution, Aileen Ribeiro

Les Merveilleuses, or Marvelous Women, ruled the live fast, die young social whirlwind that took over the salons of Paris after the Terror. At their front Thérésa Cabarrus Fontenay Tallien and Joséphine de Beauharnais (later Empress) both of whom just barely survived the Jacobin regime. It was partly on Thérésa's behalf, with whom Tallien had been conducting a torrid affair, that he spearheaded the Thermadorian take down of Robespierre and the Montagnards. The à la Grecque style typified by Thérésa, Joséphine, and Madame Récamier consisted of clinging, flowing classical Greek and Roman styles in white silks and muslins, draped with brightly colored shawls and ribbons edged with classical motifs. The once allegorical fashion left the painters studio and took to the streets and ballrooms, their dainty feet shod in golden sandals, and dresses dampened to enhance their cling (though wearing knitted flesh colored stays and stockings to preserve a vestige of modesty). Madame Tallien though was the real deal, and famously appeared at the Paris Opera wearing a white silk dress without sleeves and sans petticoats (gasp!). Charles Maurice de Talleyrand commented: "Il n'est pas possible de s'exposer plus somptueusement!" ("It is not possible to exhibit oneself more sumptuously!") [source: wikipedia]. Hair was worn curled and dressed with ribbons à la grecque or clipped short à la victime or à la titus, in emulation of the last haircut the condemned received before being sent to the guillotine so as not to impede the blade. This short and sassy style lasted amazingly til the early 1800s, but never caught on in England or other countries, unlike the empire waisted dress, which proved the silhouette du jour for nearly thirty years.

Sans-culottes: Artisans of Paris

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Sans-culottes carrying a model of the Bastille, 1793
Sans-culottes: Literally "without knee breeches" i.e. not a Mr. Fancy Pants, an aristo, as the working man wore trousers. This became the defacto uniform for the Sans-culotte, along with the Phrygian Cap, removed from the lofty spear of Liberté, and the tricolour cockade.
1793-94 Portrait of Jean-Baptiste Milhaud,
Deputy of the Convention

Jacques Louis David
Just as the 1770s saw Marie Antoinette celebrated France's naval prowesswith the famous ship pouf hair coiffeur, the revolution inspired, and even regulated, the fashions of the day. People enthusiastic for the Revolution and reform festooned themselves in tricolour ribbons, sashes and cockades. Women began dressing like greek goddesses, and men shorn their hair and forewent the poudré. The period of the Terror, things like fashion plates disappeared and Paris went artistically quiet (except for David, who was busy sending people to the guillotine in the Convention). When Robespierre fell there was a backlash against "virtue" and people put rings on their toes, danced in the streets, and beat eachother up with sticks.

Some Terms:

Incroyables et Merveilleuses: the Muscadins and Demi-mondaine are covered in their own post.

Sans-culottes: Also have their own post. In short, it means literally "without knee breeches"... in other words, not an aristo, as the working man wore trousers. Just like cooks today wear checkered pants, the artisans of the day typically wore a red and white striped trouser. This became the defacto uniform for the Sans-culotte, along with the Phrygian Cap, removed from the lofty spear of Liberté, and the tricolour cockade.

Le Tricoteuse (female knitters) were famous for sitting in the front row before the guillotine, knitting. Like the laundresses and fishwives, they were known for their volatility and zeal. Madame DeFarge from Dicken's "Tale of Two Cities" was a tricoteuse.

Source for all good things on the art of dress: Aileen Ribeiro (my hero!)

le Bonnet Rouge, Phrygian Cap, Cap of Liberty [more info]: Borrowed from Roman tradition, the bonnet rouge became a symbol of liberty during the revolution. And is apparent to this day in french national iconography.

An elongated soft woolen cap with the tip pulled forward, it became an every day staple of revolutionary dress, particularly by the sans-culottes.

The Tricolour Cockade: A roundel of ribbon to be worn mostly on hats. in 1789 the tricolore was adopted as a means to declare your revolutionary sympathies, and later as a national symbol of the new France. By July 1792 a law was passed making it mandatory for all men to wear the tricolore cocarde. The following year the Societé des Républicaines-Révolutionnaires, a fervently Republican club of middle and lower class women, took to the streets threatening to whip any woman who failed to don their cockade, even though the wearing of them had not been mandated for women. So they petitioned the Convention requesting such a law make it on the books.

Source: The Politics of Appearances: Representations of Dress in Revolutionary France ... [BUY FROM AMAZON.COM]

Marie Antoinette
by Vigée le Brun, 1783

By the time Vigée le Brun scandalized the masses by exhibiting the Queen in what appeared to be her underwear in 1783, the queen and women of quality had been going en chemise for several years and not just in the privacy of their boudoir. Like oil and water, the classes didn't mix and this was the first time the populace had been exposed en masse to the depravities of the aristocracy. Ironically, the shocking bit was the lack of formality shown by a monarch already famous for flouting tradition. The Queen (capitol Q) was shown without any of the outward symbols and trappings of her position, culturally naked, and appearing en negligée was taken as an insult to her position as mother of the people.

Le Brun was forced to remove her painting from the public eye, but like all scandals, they inspire more than they deter and the chemise gown became the symbolic frock of the 1780's.

The earliest versions were formed much like actual chemises, consisting of four pieces of rectangular cotton muslin yardage and gathered at the neck, just under the bosom, and again at the natural waist, which was then belted with very broad silk sash and tied in back. Sleeves were full, and also tied at two or three places, stopping at or just below the elbow. This was frequently finished off at the neck with a double or tripple collar. By 1790 classical lines and revolutionary ardor had taken the beau monde by storm and women of fashion and culture appeared in portraits and the salons as idolized Roman matrons or Greek godesses. This was primarily achieved by losing the gathered waist and broad sash and the fullness of the sleeves. Sleeves were either close fitted into the armhole, and no longer than just above the elbow, or non-existant, a la toga. It wasn't until the later Empire period that the poofy sleeve often associated with this style was introduced.

1794 Delivering a basket of food
to the Conciergerie prison, the last stop before the guillotine
As revolutionary sentiment reached a fever pitch (and mostly among the artistocracy, I might add), the pinnacle of outward expression of revolutionary fervor was the Roman simplicity and egalitarian nature of the the white muslin gown.

Initially quite modest by our standards, by 1791 the simple frock was every bit as daring as can be imagined. Up until 1800 it could be worn with or without short-waisted corsets. There are numerous portraits of young women of the demi-monde going bare-breasted or the semi-transparent. This effect was often enhanced by dampening the dress with water so it would cling to the figure like a classical statue. In order to preserve some semblance of modesty knitted knee length knickers would be worn... the first underwear maybe? And can be clearly seen in this Incroyable et Merveilleuse painting by Boilly.

Continued: For the most extreme and exotic versions of the fashion, please see the Incroyable & Merveilleuse gallery! (coming soon!)

"Ah! Quelle Antiquité!!!"
1793 meets 1774

I celebrated this year's Bastille Day by sorting through my hundreds of images on my hard-drive and old versions of this site to categorize galleries of late 18th century (mostly french) costume. We'll introduce this new subcategory with a summary timeline.

Portrait of Beatrice Cenci
possibly by Elisabetta Sirani c. 1662
previously thought to be by Guido Reni

The best known image of Beatrice is a popular portrait supposed to have been by Guido Reni. Not quite up to par with the master, it is now thought to be by an artist of his circle, the daughter of his long time assistant, Elisabetta Sirani.

Poignantly serene in the face of calamity, this portrait of a young woman has been reproduced ad infinitim in oil, on porcelain, in print, and other media for centuries. There is some speculation that the painting may have influenced Vermeer and his three-quarter view of "Girl with a Pearl Earring," but it wasn't til over one hundred years after Vermeer that the portrait appeared out of a Baroque fog in the eighteenth century, mentioned in a catalogue of paintings owned by the Barberini family in 1783 and attributed thusly: 'Picture of a head. Portrait, believed to be of the Cenci girl. Artist unknown.' A few years later a copy of the catalogue attributes the painting to Guido Reni. (source: Beatrice's Spell by Belinda Jack) While most art historians currently dispute both attributions, that of being Beatrice and painted by Reni, the portrait fills a vacuum and remains our most tangible link to an enduring legend.

Marie Antoinette Online

Marie Antoinette Online: wonderful gallery and information

Showtime: The Tudors


Official Site: The Tudors at Showtime.com
Airdate: Sunday, April 1st, 2007

Edit: (2/26/2007) With the introduciton of the Showtime official site for The Tudors... it is starting to look rather exciting, despite the very mod popstar treatment. I don't know if it is just because Jonathon Rhys-Meyers is hot (hhhhhhhawt), or the dramatic Lachrymose soundtrack, but the new trailer is definately more gripping. I'm starting to think: oh boy! Ha-ha. I'm a sucker.

I don't know how I feel about this. Article at New York Times.

Jonathon Rhys Meyers as Henry VIII
Nice touch with the wives being cropped at the neck.

I just don't know why they can't do something more rock 'n' roll and keep the costumes more traditional. Or something. I'm not that stuffy, I've loved some non-traditional adaptations. But they have to be good. Like "Titus." Yarm, yarm!

But I really haven't liked much of the recent Tudor pix or series, and one of the reasons is their modernist approach and all that "must get the ignorant masses to relate to crazy tudor england" stuff. I love Jonathon Rhys Meyers though. And Jonathon Rhys Meyers in gold lame even better.

I guess after Anne of the Thousand Days it is all downhill.

Also, why "The Tudors"? Looks like it is just one Tudor to me. Meh.

I'm just sayin'.

The Tudors

Marie Antoinette at LadyReading.net

Marie-Antoinette: Comprehensive site, including lots of images and information.

Marie Antoinette by Sofia Coppola

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A Film by Sofia Coppola,
based on the book by Antonia Fraser
Release Date (USA): October 20th, 2006 (IMDB Listing)

I'm more than a little excited by the much anticipated and talked about Marie Antoinette from Sophia Coppola. I first heard report of the adaptation nearly two years ago, and have been following not too closely ever since. I'm afeared to become saturated in pre-release excitement, so I have restrained myself.

But I watched the trailer for the first time today since seeing the teaser over a year ago and I'm all giddy with anticipation now.

I'm probably one of the few people this film is specifically made for. Me. All me. Being of an age with the director, I completely gel with her conceptualizing Marie as a modern teenager, and using music and motifs evocative of our own adolescence just makes wonderfully hysterical sense to me. As a matter of fact, it seems a brilliant way to bring Antoinette some sympathy. She is a difficult character to sympathize with on the suface. But she was very young and very sheltered when she was thrust center stage into the French Court, certainly one of the freakiest places to have existed ever.

I am a bit consternated that the revolution is given such short shrift in the film. And am hoping there is some balance with the veritable cinema blancmange that is the first two-thirds, or three-quarters or what have you. There is certainly something to be said for cinematic blancmange! But I understand it is more about the fluff than the tragedy. John Hughes rococo style!

In any case, I'll buy the soundtrack as soon as it is released. Mwowrrr! You can read more here about Marie Antoinette and the Guillotine!

EDIT: Saturday, October 21st, 2006

We went with Kelly & Robert to opening night in The City last night. They kindly filled us with champagne and cake beforehand at their lovely little victorian urban abode (wah, I miss city livin' despite the tranny whores and crack smokers!).

Gadzooks, it was gorgeous. It was hands down the most scrumptiously art directed costume froufy drama I've ever seen. And they knew it. The camera completely frotterized the exquisite costuming and candy, I've never been so desperately aroused by the cinema before. Sitting front center was totally awesome, all encompassing.

That said, the film is not for everyone. I'm a devout revolutionary, and never sympathized much with Marie Antoinette and her side of the fence, she wasn't a very good queen, but that doesn't mean she wasn't a good person. What I loved about Coppola's and Fraser's perspective is that we become immediately immersed in her story, the bubble she lived in. There are times when the myriad of mixed up acting styles and accents were jarring, but most of the story is told through whispers and sidelong glances. Coppola uses metaphor (sometimes anachonistically) to communicate things about 18th century life that we could not, would not understand. The strictures of etiquette, the importance of performance and presence. Marie Antoinette's first crime against the people was not that she was too haughty and distant, queenly even, but that she wasn't queenly enough. She sought release from some of the strictures of Versailles, and in doing so crossed boundaries that should not have been crossed (and spent heaps of cash, besides). The film addresses these things metaphorically and artfully. We understand without being told once the barrier created by tradition and etiquette falls, the people lose the respect for her that otherwise might have been manipulated in the face of revolution.

I was very excited to see Madame Vigee-Lebrun, the portait artist. Or the back of her at least. I have a thing for lady painters.

Marie Antoinette, at thirty-seven, was cut down just as she was growing up. Being the age she was when she was executed, I feel this accutely. The film ends just where the second half of her story begins. Though disappointed, I feel this was the right thing to do, considering the stories angle.

There are stories yet to be told of the Revolution, I'll await MA, Part Deux for the denouement.

This just in: From my favorite critic at Salon.com. Stephanie Zacharek always gets it.

No one-time teenager has suffered more from the cruelty of history's gossip mill than Marie Antoinette. When she was told the peasants were starving for lack of bread, the Marie Antoinette of lore shot back, "Let them eat cake!" -- a great line, straight out of "Mean Girls," except that the real Marie Antoinette never said it. Imported to France from her native Austria at age 14, she was the brokered bride of a future king, a bargaining chip with a womb. Her purpose was to cement peace between, and solidify the power of, the two nations. Marie Antoinette landed in a country, and a court, that eyed her with suspicion and contempt: She was a callow, uneducated foreigner, barely worth the disdain of oh-so-civilized France, and the fact that she couldn't immediately produce an heir didn't help. But because she was a future queen, she had access to -- and availed herself of -- the grand and costly buffet of opulence that had been the norm in Versailles long before she arrived. To paraphrase a lyric from another Lesley Gore song: You would shop, too, if it happened to you.

There is shopping in Sofia Coppola's buoyant, passionately sympathetic dream-bio "Marie Antoinette" (which plays the New York Film Festival Friday night, and opens in New York and other cities on Oct. 20). But this is not -- as you might have believed if you trusted the reviews out of Cannes, scrawled by critics from the garretlike confines of their hotel rooms as they clutched their Mao jackets tighter to protect themselves from the threat of beauty, pleasure and decadence -- a movie about shopping. Nor is it a straightforward biopic or a history of the French Revolution (it never purports to be either of those things).

"Marie Antoinette" is Coppola's silk-embroidered fantasy sampler of the inner life of a queen we can never really know: It's a humanist comedy-drama decked out not in sackcloth but in ribbons -- instead of flattering our ideas of our own virtuousness, it asks our sympathy for this doomed queen even as we can't help envying her privilege.

Read on...

Movie Tie-ins:

Marie Antoinette
Antonia Fraser

Marie Antoinette
Original Soundtrack

Marie Antoinette
Sofia Coppola

Judith & Salome Links and Resources

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Books on Tudor England

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Judith & Salome Book List

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Idols of Perversity

Miscellany Books

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General Links & Reference

Salome's Last Dance

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Salome's Last Dance
by Ken Russell
A film by Ken Russell
The moon has a strange look tonight. Has she not a strange look? She is like a mad woman, a mad woman who is seeking everywhere for lovers. She is naked too. She is quite naked.

Russell's 1988 adaptation of Wilde's "Salome" is exploitation at its most delicious. Russell and Wilde make an indomitable pair exploring the fears/delights of being engulfed by the female body. Russell takes his queues from the Oscar's lucious text, the result being Salome putting something in her mouth in nearly every scene. From an apple to a large heart shaped lollypop (in nod to Nabokov's LOLITA, a not-so-distant cousin), Salome mouths the props like a teething three year old. And in the final scene, of course, Salome sups on that "vermillon of Moab": the lips of the John the Baptist. By this time his head had been removed from his body, which does not seem to deter the ever eager Salome from giving him a thorough schlupping. As the grand finale, Salome lifts her robes and lowers herself over the Baptist's head, engulfing him in one great dark moist metaphor.

Vagina dentata, indeed.

Salome & Judith Links

Galleries & Art:

Web Gallery of Art
Representations of Women and Death in German Literature, Art and Media after 1500
Links to images of the Death of John the Baptist

Beatrice Cenci, Executed 1599

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Portrait of Beatrice Cenci
Formerly attributed to Guido Reni
(Read more)
In Rome, a sixteen-year-old Beatrice Cenci—with the help of her stepmother, Lucrezia, and her brother Giacomo—arranged the murder of her father, the cruel and sadistic Count Cenci, who had persecuted Beatrice and probably raped her. The tragic story of the beautiful patricide has been popular with artists across Europe for the past couple centuries, including Percy Bysshe Shelley, Stendhal, and Antonin Artaud.

September 11, 1599. All night long workmen on the Piazza prepared the scene of the tragedy, setting up a huge scaffold with a block and a mannaia (meaning "an axe", and possibly a mechanism resembling the guillotine). At eight o'clock the prisoners left the prison, accompanied by the Company of Misericordia bearing a great crucifix, and Comforters from the Brotherhood of St. John the Beheaded, who accompanied those about to be decapitated, robed in black, and baskets to bear away the head. Each of the women wore a black taffeta veil. Lucrezia was the first to step up to the scaffold, and after several crowd shuddering strokes, the executioner brandished her head to the people, then wrapped it in black taffeta.

French Revolution Links

The Straight Dope: Does the head remain briefly conscious after decapitation?

New York Public Library (NYPL) Digital Gallery: thanks for all the amazing fashion prints made available. ♥!

Ministère de la culture - base Joconde: Catalogue des Collections des Musees de France. For their amazing collections of artists of the period such as Isabey, Boilly and Laurent.

Jean Baptiste Isabey: The Little Court Painter: Isabey's portraits are wonderfully informing on the various characters and fashions during the revolutionary period. Exquisite!

Jean-Baptiste Isabey: at Wikipedia!

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: wonderful portrait miniatures by Isabey and others.

Most of these are books I've read, for real! There's a few new ones in that are on my wish or "to read" list. These are the valuable tomes that have made this site possible. Praise be to the authors and publishers who make my inner life a dark and exciting wonderland!

(please be patient while widget loads!)

Mary Queen of Scots, 1542-1587

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Francois II & Mary Stewart,
Queen of Scotland, his wife
after Clouet, circa 1558
Queen of Scotland at six days old, grandaughter of Henry VIII's elder sister, and betrothed to the Dauphin of France at three, Mary's life would have seemed destined for fortune. Alas, having been brought up in France, married to the Dauphin at fourteen, Queen of France at sixteen, Francis, the king, would die shortly after of an ear infection, leaving her to return to her waring and embittered country of Scotland. Mary, a staunch catholic, was bewildered to find her home country tight in the grip of protestant fervor, and thus no friend to her. An extremely passionate and politically stupid person, she made one disastrous marriage after another, and was even accused of abetting the murder of her second husband to make room for the third.

In a revolution led by her bastard brother, she was imprisoned by her father's old concubine in an old tower in the middle of a large lake known as Loch Leven.

Gloriana: A Rose & Her Thorn

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Elizabeth I: The Rainbow Portrait
Upon the death of her sister Mary in 1558, Elizabeth became queen at the ripe old age of 25. And so too began her nearly thirty year struggle with her own personal thorn in her side. Already considered old in her day to begin the marriage, heir-begetting game, her situaton was exacerbated by the haughty claims of her young cousin, the barely sixteen year old Queen of Scotland and soon to be queen of France. For as soon as the throne changed hands, Mary styled herself Queen of England, for not only was she not a bastard, she was also catholic. Thus was the stage set for a struggle that was partly for who sat on the thone, and partly as to which religion ruled the land.
Detail: Lady Jane Grey
by Paul Delaroche, 1833
Jane Grey is perhaps the most universally sympathetic of our ladies. Being born the grandaughter of Henry VIII's younger sister Mary, she was destined to be used as a political puppet for most of her short life. Henry had died in 1547, leaving the young Edward VI as king in his minority. The Lord Protector, Duke of Northumberland, planning for the certainty of the young king's early demise, married one of his sons, Guilford, to the seventeen year old Lady Jane. He then convinced Edward that it would be politic to re-write Henry's will of succession in favor of the junior branch on the Tudor Tree, ending with Jane Grey, in order to preserve the "new" religion. Thus both Mary (catholic) and Elizabeth (wishy-washy) were barred from the throne as being at one time or another named as bastards during the reign of their father.

When Edward died of consumption in 1554 the Lord Protector forced his will on the council in a masterful coup d'Ètat, sent troops into the country to capture both Mary and Elizabeth, and dragged the young couple back from their honeymoon to proclaim Jane queen. Unfortunately both princesses had been forwarned and both eluded capture. The council soon defected and proclaimed Mary queen. Thus leaving Jane, after nine days, merely another pretender to the throne. The rightful heir rode into London after a short skirmish, throwing all those involved into the Tower to await trial.

Catherine Howard
A strumpet in the finest tradition, Catherine Howard was a rather silly, vivacious girl of nineteen when her uncle the Duke of Norfolk tossed her into Henry's lap. Unlike her cousin Anne Boleyn before her, Catherine was apparently guilty of the "crimes" attributed to her, having galavanted about with some lad named Culpepper both before and after her marriage to Henry, for which she was tried and beheaded. The youngest and prettiest of Henry's brides, she was wedded at a buxom 19 to a fat, doting, cantankerous Henry. We can hardly blame her for seeking comfort and refuge elsewhere. What we can blame her for is for being daft enough to get caught.

On Sunday evening, 12 February 1542, she was told that she was to die the following day. She merely asked for the block to be brought to the apartment, so that she might rehearse the scene, so as not to falter or appear nervous at the crucial moment on the following day.

Anne Boleyn: The Midnight Crow, 1501-1536

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Anne Boleyn
18th Century
Anne Boleyn had the misfortune of being both bewitching (though not beautiful) and conspicuously intelligent, with a complex personality which brings to mind a sort of proto Scarlett O'Hara. For six years she dangled her prize in front of Henry, never fully surrendering until the crown was in clear view. In 1532 she gave Henry what he so dearly wished, and quickly became pregnant with the future Elizabeth I. In a secret ceremony, with only a couple witneses, Henry married her. Reason being, is that he was still married to his first wife, Katherine of Aragorn, his marriage to whom the Pope refused to annul (for political reasons, the Pope was being held political hostage at the time by Katherine's nephew, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor). But nevermind that, said Henry, and promptly cut all ties to Rome. After the birth of Elizabeth Anne miscarried two male children, and while was not the sole reason for his ultimate displeasure (Anne was not making friends at court), had she had a male heir it is highly doubtful he would have casted her off. In 1536 charges of adultery were trumped up against her, involving several of Henry's closest friends and even the Lord Rochford, Anne's own brother. In a court of her peers, she had no chance. After three years as queen, Anne was to die.

Henricus Rex

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Henry VIII
by Hans Holbein
A popular rhyme describing Henry's marital follies:

Divorced, Beheaded, Died
Divorced, Beheaded, Survived

La folie, indeed.

Beneath the Tudor Axe

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Anne Boleyn in The Tower
The sixteenth century women were entering the sphere of politics like never before. Queens would inherit, and consorts would rule. But hand in hand with the privilege of politics, are also the dangers. And in monarchial governments, where personal loyalties and frail egos steer the course of political intrigue, dissent and distrust can cost you your life.

Tudor England (1483 - 1603) saw two queens inherit the throne for the first time in four hundred years, and a parade of influential consorts slip in and out of Henry Tudor's bed. Unfortunately, the only way to get out of bed with Henry, was through your grave, all too often not by natural causes.

From the feisty Anne Boleyn, who ensared Henry's affection, and thus was the catalyst for the English Reformation, the rambunctiously silly Catherine Howard, the bookish & timid Jane Grey, to the final rose in our crown, the bright, witty, passionately compulsive, and ultimately fatal, Mary Stuart Queen of Scots, All marched to the scaffold with dignity, as custom and religion demanded (well, perhaps except for Catherine Howard), in the end thanking and praising their Sovereign and executioner for the privilege of dying.

Anne Boleyn was the first English queen to die under the axe, and Mary Stuart (though Queen of Scotland) was the last.

Fun Link: TudorHistory.org! Happy clicking. Bright and fun to read, wonderful pictures and good selection of portraits with lots of juicy tidbits. Awesome time-killer!

In Conclusion

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Ian Hamilton Finlay
& Gary Hincks, 1987
Both the garden style called 'sentimental', and the French Revolution, grew from Rousseau. The garden trellis, and the guillotine, are alike entwined with the honeysuckle of the new 'sensibility'.

— Ian Hamilton Finlay & Gary Hincks, 1987

The Guillotine was in use in France as it's official form of capitol punishment until 1977.

Lord Byron Witnesses an Execution

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The day before I left Rome I saw three robbers guillotined—the ceremony—including the masqued priests—the half-naked executioners—the bandaged criminals—the black Christ & his banner—the scaffold—the soldiery—the slow procession—& the quick rattle and heavy fall of the axe—the splash of the blood—& the ghastliness of the exposed heads—is altogether more impressive than the vulger and ungentlemanly dirty "new drop" & dog-like agony of infliction upon the sufferers of the English sentence (i.e. hanging). The head was taken off before the eye could trace the blow—but from an attempt to draw back the head—notwithstanding it was held forward by the hair—the first head was cut off close to the ears—the other two were taken off more cleanly;—it is better than the Oriental way (i.e. with sword)—& (I should think) than the axe of our ancestors. The pain seems little—& yet the effect to the spectator—& the preparation to the criminal—is very striking & chilling. The first turned me quite hot & thirsty—& made me shake so that I could hardly hold the opera-glass (I was close—but determined to see—as one should see everything once—with attention) the second and third (which shows how dreadully soon things grow indifferent) I am ashamed to say had no effect on me—as a horror—though I would have saved them if I could.

— Lord Byron, 1817

Camille Desmoulins

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Camille Desmoulins is prison
My Lucile, ma poule, despite my torment I believe there is a God, my blood will efface my faults, I wll see you again one day O my Lucile ... is the death which will deliver me from the spectable of so many crimes such a misfortune? Adieu Loulou, adieu my life, my soul, my divinity on earth ... I feel the river banks of life receding before me, I see you again Lucile, I see my arms locked about you, my tied hands embracing you, my severed head resting on you. I am going to die ...

Camille Desmoulins to His Wife on the Eve of His Execution, 1794

The Death of Madame du Barry

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The Comtesse du Barry
by Vigée Le Brun
Madame du Barry, mistress if the late Louis XV, grew terrified in the face of death, shrieked in the tumbril, begged the onlookers to save her, and struggled with the executioners on the scaffold. The painter Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun speculates in her memoirs that the mobs might indeed have relented had the victims not played their roles so well.
"Madame Du Barry ... is the only woman, among all the women who perished in the dreadful days, who could not stand the sight of the scaffold. She screamed, she begged mercy of the horrible crowd that stood around the scaffold, she aroused them to such a point that the executioner grew anxious and hastened to complete his task. This convinced me that if the victims of these terrible times had not been so proud, had not met death with such courage, the Terror would have ended much earlier. Men of limited intelligence lack the imagination to be touched by inner suffering, and the populace is more easily stirred by pity than by admiration."

Marquis de Sade: Near Miss

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Quills, Directed by
Philip Kaufman, 2001
Having been released from prison in 1790 by the revolutionary government, the Marquis de Sade spent the next three years trying to be a good patriot, but when he was thrown back into prison in 1793 as a former aristocrat he must have feared the worst. He was spared the guillotine only by the fall of Robespierre in 1794. During his imprisonment under the Reign of Terror, Sade recorded his revulsion at the carnage.
"... when suddenly the execution grounds were placed absolutely under our windows and the cemetery for those guillotined put in the very middle of our garden. We have buried eighteen hundred of these in thirty-five days, a third of them from our unfortunate house." And later he complained, "My detention by the state with the guillotine right before my eyes did me a hundred times more harm than all imaginable Bastilles."

la Princess(e) de Lamballe

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La Princesse de Lamballe
by Joseph Sifiède Duplessis
Marie-Therese De Savoie-Carignan (1749-92) Princess of Lamballe
A long time friend to Marie-Antoinette, Lamballe faithfully stuck by her until forcefully removed from the Queen's company in 1792. Confronted by an improvised court on trumped up charges which she denied, she was then asked to swear an oath of loyalty to Liberty and Equality and one of hatred to the King, Queen and Monarchy, she accepted the first but refused the latter. A door was opened off the interrogation room, where she saw men waiting with axes and pikes. Pushed into an alley she was hacked to death in minutes. Her clothes were stripped from her body, and her head was struck off and stuck on a pike. Some accounts attest to the crowd cutting off her breasts and mutilating her genitals. What is certain is that her head was carried in triumph through Paris to be shown to the Queen. Marie-Antoinette spared herself this torment by fainting on the spot. The valet however peered through the blinds to see de Lamballe's blonde curls bobbing in the air.

— Simon Schama (somewhat paraphrased) - Citizens

Marie Antoinette: Crown Without a Head

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Marie Antoinette Imprisoned in the Conciergerie
The Marquise de Bréhan c. 1793-95

Josephe Jeanne Marie Antoinette von Habsburg-Lorraine,
aka Marie Antoinette, Queen of France

(November 2, 1755 – October 16, 1793)

It may be that the champagne glass so familiar today was modeled upon the famous breast of Marie Antoinette, and that her most famed and inflaming quote "Let them eat cake," is fabricated political propoganda, but hindsight renders much of what was so scandalous in her own day, down right trivial by our own standards.

From sycophantic tyrantess, to an obsolete, fluffy-headed haute grandeur, to doomed teen queen, Marie Antoinette's image has been somewhat resurrected in recent years. The truth, in the early years, lies somewhere inbetween this laundry list of feminine archetypes. But it was towards the end, when most of us grow up (she was 37 when she was executed), that her spirit and fortitude shone most. In the end, all pomp gone, she was a dedicated mother, sister, and wife. Brave as a tigress and willing to sacrifice all for her family, this is the picture that is rarely shown in our history books, literature and cinema.

From the fall of the Bastille, July 14th, 1789, til the day of her execution on October 16, 1793, her life became a series of ever shrinking spaces. In 1790 the royal family was taken by force from the palace of Versaille fifteen miles outside of Paris, to a carefully guarded Tuileries Palace in Paris. After a failed attempt to escape in disguise in 1791 to Austria (they were captured in Varenne), rather than bend and except a Republican Monarchy, Marie Antoinette machinated a war with Austria (her home country) that she'd hoped France would lose, and the family would be rescued. The parisienne masses were incensed at such gall, and on August 10, 1792 the mob stormed the Tuileries and massacred the Swiss Guard, while the royal family fled. A few days later Louis XVI was arrested and on September 21 1792 the monarchy in France was officially abolished. The family was moved to the Temple Fortress and put under heavy guard. The Princesse de Lamballe, who up until this point had shared the fate of her closest friend, was seperated from Marie Antoinette and forced to repudiate her. When she refused she was attacked by the mob and beaten to death with a hammer. The story goes that she was torn apart, her head paraded on a pike in front of the Queen's prison window, but the story cannot be substantiated beyond hear say.

[to be written]

The Executioner

Marie Antoinette on her way to the Guillotine
In France, the role of executioner was an hereditary post and from 1688 – 1847 it was held by the Sanson family. At the time of the Revolution the position was held by Charles-Henri Sanson, who took his trade very seriously. But once his public role had been reduced by the guillotine to the mere pulling of a pin the better to show his skill by the sheer numbers that could be dispatched in the shortest amount of time. At the peak of the Terror Sanson guillotined 300 men and women in three days.
Oh, thou charming guillotine,
You shorten kings and queens;
By your influence divine,
We have reconquered our rights.
Come to aid of the Country
And let your superb instrument
Become forever permanent
To destroy the impious sect.
Sharpen your razor for Pitt and his agents
Fill your divine sack with heads of tyrants.

The Scaffold

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The Execution of Robespierre
The executioner's working conditions were all but impossible during the Reign of Terror. Blood soaked the scaffold, leaving Sanson and his assistants liable to slip and fall. A pond of blood pooled beneath the scaffold causing a disgusting stench. Rivers of it ran down the cobbled streets. Indeed, in 1792 Charles-Henri saw his own son Gabriel tumble to the ground, sustaining fatal injuries, after skidding in a pool of blood. Afterwards, railings were put up around the scaffolds to safeguard executioners.

The Halifax Gibbet

The Halifax Gibbet
The most notable forerunner of the guillotine was in use in Halifax, England, from 1286 until 1650. Convicted criminals - those who stole goods assessed by four constables to be worth over 5p. - were taken to the gibbet on market day for execution. When the offender was placed with his head on the block every man nearby took hold of the rope and gave a mighty pull to unleash the pin and allow the blade to crash down, thereby placing justice into the hands of the people.

The Early History

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The Scottish Maiden, 16th Century
Contrary to popular conception, there were many fore-runners of the guillotine throughout history. The Halifax Gibbet (below), the Scottish Maiden, and the Italian "Mannaia" used to execute Beatrice Cenci in the sixteenth century. And it was just these instruments that Dr. Guillotin had in mind when he recommended a design to Dr. Antoine Louis of the Academy of Surgery (in fact, the guillotine was originally known as the Louisette ... pretty pretty, don't you think?). The prototype and subsequent improvements were carried out by a German harpsichord maker, Tobias Schmidt.

The Guillotine

Place de la Révolution
Guillotine , n. A machine which makes a Frenchman shrug his shoulders with good reason. — Ambrose Bierce, "The Devil's Dictionary"

In 1789 Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin proposed to the newly formed National Assembly of Paris a humane alternative to the then barbarous method of separating one's head from one's body. "The mechanism falls like lightning; the head flies off; the blood spurts; the man no longer exists." He explained. "Gentleman, with my machine, I'll take off your head in a flash, and you won't even feel the slightest pain," his words were greeted with nervous laughter. Much to the Doctor's chagrin, the machine was christened in the imagination of the populous as "le Guillotine", an association the good Doctor was never able to distance himself from.

Yet it was not until 1792 that the dread machine was implemented, not until the Assembly had received a request from the Executioner Sanson that some sort of mechanical facilitation was required in order to meet the new revolutionary quotas; i.e. the "Enemies of the Republic". During what is aptly known as The Reign of Terror, 1793-94, between 20,000 and 40,000 people lost their lives under the blade of Madame Guillotine, ending only with the death (aptly by guillotine) of the virtual dictatorship of Robespierre.

JUDITH: a Poem

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Gustave Klimt
Judith has chosen to devote her body to her country, She has prepared her breasts to tempt her dreadful lover, Painted her eyes and brightened their somber scintillation, And she has perfumed her skin ~ destined to return much faded.

Pale, she has stepped forward to stage her massacre ~
Her large eyes crazed with ecstasy and terror;
And her voice, her dance, her lean, hypnotic body
Have served the dark Assyrian as dread intoxicants.

In the arms of her triumphant master, suddenly
She has cried out, closing her eyes as if she were a child.
Afterward the man, relaxed, descends into a bestial slumber:

Caught as much witin a horror of love as of dark death,
Her conscience free, woman has lashed out at man:
Coldly and with slow determination she has sliced off his head.

— Jean Lahor c. 1886

Holy Strumpet

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Jan Massys c. 1565
Judith, as an exemplar of civic virtue triumphant over tyranny, more often than not was depicted as the reluctant assassin. The Decandents had a little fun with her, but they could turn even the Holy Virgin into a strumpet, bless 'em.

"The late nineteenth-century painters, however, unmasked her as a lustful predator and anorexic tigress. Painters and sculptors showed how she had taken man's head and had stomped on it maliciously with her dainty foot." (Bram Djikstra, Idols of Perversity) But Judith's story is a fantastic tale, worthy of the best heroic fiction, she is a post-modern biblical She-Ra, raging against her oppressors, sword in hand.


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Judith, Painted Marble
Conrad Meit 1510-15
"Then she came to the pillar of the bed, which was at Holofernes' head, and took down his fauchion from thence, And approached to his bed, and took hold of the hair of his head, and said, Strengthen me, O Lord God of Israel, this day. And she smote twice upon his neck with all her might, and she took away his head from him. And tumbled his body down from the bed, and pulled down the canopy from the pillars; and anon after she went forth, and gave Holofernes his head to her maid."

— The Book of Judith 13:6-9

In a nutshell, Judith (meaning jewess) is the story of a fetching widow who tarts herself up to seduce the enemy, gets him drunk, cuts off his head as he snores, and marches back to town triumphant, head in bag.

Oscar Wilde's "Salome"

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The Kiss
Illust. for Salome
Aubrey Beardley 1894
"She is like a woman rising from a tomb. She is like a dead woman. One might fancy she was looking for dead things." — Salome, by Oscar Wilde

This vision of Salome remains more or less intact to the present day. Exemplified in Oscar Wilde's "Salome" of 1894, which was so iconic and archetypal that almost any version of Salome that has been done in the past hundred years is either a direct descendent — or a bastard child. Wilde explored the beauty of heightened biblical language to exquisite effect. The rhythm of the play reverberates long after the words were spoke. Oscar doesn¹t invent anything new; he merely draws on centuries of church repressed sex, expressed thru the pantomime of ritual assassinations. Especially poignant to the Victorian English, as they were the most socially repressed of all.

Huysman on Gustave Moreau's "Salome"

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Gustave Moreau
Des Esseintes saw realized at last the Salome, weird and superhuman, he had dreamed of. No longer was she merely the dancing girl who extorts a cry of lust and concupiscence from an old man by the lascivious contortions of her body; who breaks the will, masters the mind of a King by the spectacle of her quivering bosoms, heaving belly and tossing thighs; she was now revealed in a sense as the symbolic incarnation of world-old ice, the goddess of immortal Hysteria, the Curse of Beauty supreme above all other beauties by the cataleptic spasm that stirs the flesh and steels her muscles, ~a monstrous Beast of the Apocalypse, indifferent, irresponsible, insensible, poisoning, like Helen of Troy of the Classic fables, all who come near her, all who see her, all who touch her.

— Huysman waxes masochistically ecstatic over Gustave Moreau's painting of Salome Joris-Karl Huysman c. 1884

"Herodias" by Gustave Flaubert

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by Paul Delaroche (1797 - 1856)
The girl depicted the frenzy of a love which demands satisfaction. She danced like the priestesses of the Indies, like the Nubian girls of the cataracts, like the bacchantes of Lydia. She twisted from side to side like a flower shaken by the wind. The jewels in her ears swung in the air, the silk on her back shimmerred in the light, and from her arms, her feet, and her clothes there shot out invisible sparks which set the men on fire. A harp sang, and the crowd answered it with cheers. Without bending her knees, she opened her legs and leant over so low that her chin touched the floor. And the nomads inured to abstinence, the Roman soldiers skilled in debauchery, the avaricious publicans, and the old priests soured by controversy all sat there with their nostrils distended, quivering with desire.

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880), click here for the e-text (original in French).

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  • Lauren: when did Charles henri Sanson execute those 300 men and read more
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