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.
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