Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Lady & the Mirror

Thursday, October 30, 2014
Loretta reports:

Continuing in Halloween Week mode—

While attending an event at the Spencer Country Inn, I took photos of some of the place’s many antiques.  After all, one never knows what image might come in handy one day to illustrate a 2NHG blog.  It was only later, while I was sitting and chatting with friends and family members, that I noticed this picture in a distant corner of the room.  It seemed completely out of place in an area filled with baskets and old tools and milk bottles and antique cash registers and no Halloween décor whatsoever.

When I walked up for a closer look—and to take a photo, of course—the print turned out to be not exactly what I thought it was.  Or was it?  As will not surprise you, I conducted an internet search as soon as I got home.

If you've never seen this image before, you might want to try flying without Google, and telling us in the Comments what you make of it.  Or, you can click on the links below or do your own search.

The artist.   What it’s about.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Jeremy Bentham's Head & Other Matters

Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Loretta reports:

Like anybody else who studied English history, I knew who Jeremy Bentham was.

But I did not know he was still hanging around the University College of London until a respected U.S. newspaper pointed this out.  The paper also reported as fact what turns out to be mainly a myth that accreted, as myths often do, around the truth.

Jeremy Bentham wanted his body preserved and kept on display.  He definitely wanted to encourage dissection. He believed, too, that his preserved body would be a useful educational tool.  He believed others’ bodies should be preserved for posterity, too, as what he called “Auto Icons.”

Though, having been dissected, his body wasn't actually preserved, his skeleton was duly stuffed with straw and dressed.  He had hoped to have his head mummified, and somebody did try to carry out his wishes, but the result wasn’t pretty.  Instead, a wax head was made and stuck on.  The real one apparently sat at his feet for a while, then was stored in a cabinet.  Now it’s in temperature-controlled storage, in the care of conservation staff.

This page shows you the full auto-icon and other images, including a photo of Bentham with his mummified head between his feet.

Here is a 360º view.

Contrary to myth, Bentham did not leave money to the University College of London on condition his body appear at University Board Meetings and noted as “present but not voting.”  He did show up for a board meeting in 2013, though.

You can read more here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Beautiful (and Romantic) 18th c. Man's Shirt from "The Diligent Needle" Exhibition

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Isabella reporting,

Today I'm posting one of the breathtaking examples of needlework from The Diligent Needle: Instrument of Profit, Pleasure, & Ornament, an exhibition currently showing at Winterthur Museum. 

Hung against a dark wall, this 18th c. man's linen shirt is almost sculptural in its pristine perfection. I've written other posts about similar shirts here and here, so I won't repeat how they're made, how often they're laundered, or who wore them.

So why write about another one here (except, of course, because it's so stunningly beautiful)? While most men of every class purchased shirts made by tailors (remember that at this time, the primary cost of any garment lay in the fabric, not the labor), shirts were one of the few garments that wives and mothers could, and did, make at home. The economical geometry of 18th c. shirts made them comparatively easy to cut out and sew, and the voluminous shape did away with any challenging issues of fitting. The simple construction focused the attention on the stitching, and an accomplished seamstress could display her gifts for perfect tiny stitches and neat hems, left. Fancy needlework was admired, but skillful plain sewing like this was almost considered a wifely virtue.

Shirts were also intimate garments, worn next to the skin, and for most men at this time who still had not adopted the new-ish fashion for underdrawers, the tails of shirts also served as underwear. All of these reasons made a well-stitched shirt a popular gift from a bride or newlywed wife to her husband, and they are often mentioned in letters and diaries of the time. A new wife could proudly cloth her husband with her own labors and romantically think of him with every stitch, while he in turn would also be proud to wear a shirt that showed his new wife was accomplished and frugal.

Although the curators at Winterthur don't know either who made or wore this shirt, their guess is that it was one of these "newlywed" shirts. Not does its sparkling condition hint at a shirt that was perhaps put aside as a keepsake, but the stitcher also added a small, sentimental touch: at the bottom of the neck-opening, serving as a reinforcement, is a small appliqued heart, right. Awww....

Above: Shirt, maker unknown, linen, probably made in America, c1790-1820. Winterthur Museum.
Photographs © 2014 by Susan Holloway Scott.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Stolen Bodies in 1826

Monday, October 27, 2014
Resurrectionists at work

Loretta reports:

In the days before x-rays (near the turn of the 20th century), the only way to see what was inside the human body was to cut it open and actually look inside, preferably after death.  As Judith Flanders points out in The Invention of Murder, “medical schools officially used only the corpses of executed criminals for dissection.”  The trouble was, there weren’t enough dead criminals to keep up with the demand.  Enterprising individuals started digging up the recently interred from graveyards and selling the bodies to anatomy lecturers.  Desperate for fresh corpses, the latter didn’t ask awkward questions.

What I didn’t realize until reading Ms. Flanders’s book was, this was only “semi-illegal (‘semi’ because dead bodies in law belonged to no one; resurrectionists could be charged only with stealing grave clothes).” The info comes as part of her introduction to the Burke and Hare case of the late 1820s.*

My excerpt from The Gentleman’s Magazine (Volume 96, Part 2; Volume 140, 1826) is shortly before Burke & Hare, and the “friend of anatomical pursuits" is a lot more finicky about how the bodies are obtained than medical schools were.

Image: Hablot Knight Browne, Resurrectionists at work, accompanying the story of John Holmes and Peter Williams, whipped for stealing dead bodies in 1777, from The chronicles of crime; or, The new Newgate calendar, being a series of memoirs and anecdotes of notorious characters who have outraged the laws of Great Britain from the earliest period to 1841 (later ed. 1887)

*More here.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the captions will allow you to read at the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Breakfast Links: Week of October 20, 2014

Saturday, October 25, 2014
Fresh for you - our weekly roundup of favorite links to other web sites, blogs, articles, and images, all gathered for you via Twitter.
• Fashion myths: Roger Vivier's coronations shoes.
• Mourning the short-lived children of John and Dorothy Hancock.
• Regency fashion victim: "An Exquisite alias  Dandy in Distress!"
• With and without: how wearing a corset affects you and your clothes.
• Beautiful fish art by 19th c. convict transported to Tasmania for stealing a coat.
• The forgotten female "shell shock" victims of World War One.
Image: Wonderful headstone for Dewey the Cat (1898-1910).
• The House of Doucet, a 19th c. pillar of fashion.
Tape loom weaving and its traditions in the North American colonies.
• The princess, a ruff, and an eyepatch.
• Portrait of a lady? Exhibition aims to stop the spread of Jane Austenization.
• The Divine Sarah Bernhardt upstages the spirits at a Spiritualist seance in New York, 1893.
Image: The St. Pancras Smallpox Hospital in London in the 18th c.; now the site of the King's Cross station.
• The House of Correction for bad wives, 1791.
• The now-lost 1763 Rhinelander warehouse survived in Lower Manhattan until 1892 due to a baseless rumor that lives on today.
• The tale of Lord Byron's ill-fated doctor, John Poliodori.
• Why students give teachers apples and more from the fruit's juicy past.
Image: early photo of Piazza San Marco in Venice, 1870.
• Letter from Queen Anne (Anne Boleyn.)
• Toni Morrison, Zadie Smith, other authors, share their best writing advice.
• Big pockets, little pockets: a question of pocket equality for women.
• Flirting with death: the subject of death plays a part in popular culture (and a new fashion exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)
Image: 18th c. wedding dress of Queen of Sweden.
• Haunting homes: Ohio's abandoned country houses.
• How flowers conquered the world.
• Do NOT try this at home: Mrs. Corlyon's toxic pimple remedy.
• Interesting selection of 1880s-1890s Liberty Art fabrics.
• The golden age of outhouses.
• Beautiful Elder Street, Spitalfields, London, in 1935 and 2013.
• An endangered species: Britain's non-royal duchesses.
Image: Grave of 14th c. couple holding hands.
Paisley, cashmere, pashmina....
• New site gives a tour through the making of a medieval manuscript.
• The 1829 story of the late Female Husband, wife-beater and model of restraint.
• A tornado, some executions, and a flood of beer.
• Just for fun: Wren Behaving Badly.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
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