Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Lily Font: Christening Princess Charlotte in Royal (and Historical) Style

Tuesday, July 7, 2015
Isabella reporting,

For a holiday weekend, these last few days have had their share of excitement, from fireworks, Wimbledon, and women's World Cup Soccer. But there was also a much quieter event on Sunday afternoon that had special appeal to us who like history and tradition. Two-month-old Princess Charlotte of Cambridge was baptized at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham, surrounded by doting family, paparazzi, and a cheering crowd of royal supporters.

There has been plenty already written about how the princess cried, what her mother wore, and how her older brother had a small meltdown at the end of the day (as two-year-olds are entirely entitled to do, princely or not.) Of course the little princess made history simply by being born: thanks to recent changes in the laws of succession, she is the first British princess who cannot be displaced by any future younger brothers, and is now officially fourth in line for the throne. Considering how well Britain has done - and continues to do - under its queens, this is a fine thing indeed.

But I was fascinated by one of the lesser historical features of the christening that no cameras were permitted to capture. In fact, its very arrival in Sandringham from the Tower of London (where it is considered part of the Crown Jewels) was so shrouded in secrecy and high-level security that the man personally responsible for its care has never had his photograph taken with it, in case he might be identified and linked to the priceless treasure's whereabouts.

The Lily Font has been used for all royal baptisms since 1840. Made of silver gilt, the elaborate font features a design of water lilies (lilies in general represent purity, and water lilies are considered a symbol of new life) and harping putti (because putti are babies.) The font was ordered through the firm of E.&W.Smith, and made by Barnard & Co., at the sizable cost of £189 9s.4.d.

The font was ordered by Queen Victoria for the birth of her first child, Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa, who was born November 21, 1840; her baptism was not until February 10, 1841, her parents' wedding anniversary. That ceremony took place at Buckingham Palace, and earned the Queen's praise: "Albert and I agreed that all had gone off beautifully and in a very dignified manner."

Dignity was important to both Victoria and Albert. The Lily Font was not the first royal silver baptismal font. An earlier one had been made for Charles II in the 1660s. Unfortunately, Charles and his queen, Catherine of Braganza, had had no children between them, but the font had been put to good use for the christenings of a number of his illegitimate children with various mistresses. Not surprisingly, this association was distasteful to Victoria, who did not want her children to use the same font as Charles's royal by-blows - no matter how many other legitimate royal children had made use of it in the 18thc.

Princess Victoria was duly baptized by the Archbishop of Canterbury, with water brought from the River Jordan, exactly as Princess Charlotte was this weekend. From the news photos, the current royal family seemed every bit as happy with the results as Victoria and Albert had been.

Still, one wag wrote in a letter to The Telegraph (London): "Does an archbishop using water from the river Jordan in the Lily Font make you more christened than any old vicar using tap water in a stone trough?" Well, no; but it certainly must have made for a beautiful and history-laden ceremony.

Above: The Lily Font, 1840, by Barnard & Co.  The Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Gargoyles on the Doomed Gymnasium

Monday, July 6, 2015

Loretta reports:

A notice in the local paper, of a building’s possible appointment with a wrecking ball, spurred us* to document it. That was how we discovered the gargoyles on the Alumni Gymnasium of Worcester Polytechnic Institute. However, as I began to research them, I learned that gargoyles are waterspouts. Stony beings like these, which are not, are “chimera” or “bosses.” But when you look at these photos, I’ll bet a majority of you are thinking “gargoyles.” Also, that whoever carved them had a sense of humor.

Since I’m not the art historian of the 2NHGs, I asked Susan/Isabella about this architectural feature. She introduced me to the term Collegiate Gothic, which led me to this very interesting piece in the Atlantic about its origins...

...and then, in the way of nerdiness, to this pdf, which early on makes two intriguing points: “Success of these buildings can be measured, in part, by the fact that these are often the most desirable buildings in which to live, despite the fact that in many cases they have undergone only minimal updates over the years and are in somewhat worn condition.

“Success is also measured by the ability of these buildings to be modified. (Italics mine] During their renovations they have been able to withstand interventions while maintaining their structural and aesthetic integrity. At the same time they are capable of being updated with state of the art systems and programmatic changes.”

Interestingly, as I continued research—about the WPI building in particular—I discovered that a team of engineering students apparently—and only last year—did view the Alumni Gymnasium as “desirable." They prepared this proposal to renovate it. Furthermore a fundraising project was under way in spring of 2014, and appears to be continuing ... for a building WPI wants to raze?

So I guess the the university is saying ... erm ... “Never mind.”

N.B. The building was in use as late as 2012.

Well, at least they’re promising to save the gargoyles/chimera/bosses.

*Actually, I told my husband he had to document it, because he’s a real photographer.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Breakfast Links: Week of June 29, 2015

Saturday, July 4, 2015
Ready for your weekend browsing - our weekly collection of links to other blogs, websites, articles, and images, discovered via Twitter.
• Eliza Fenning, innocent but proven guilty, 1815.
Lawnmowers for ladies.
• Her Majesty's rat catcher: Jack Black caught vermin for Queen Victoria.
• Jamaica's priestess-warrior Nanny of the Maroons fought against 18thc. British slavers.
Image: Isaac Newton works things out on all sides of an envelope.
• What exactly is a "tea gown"?
• The sartorial dilemmas facing MPs attending Queen Victoria's coronation.
• American Civil War sites - an interactive "then and now."
• Medical recipes in the 18thc.
• The history of the home pregnancy test.
• What are the supplementary rooms in a Regency house?
Image: In honor of Wimbledon this week, an early 20thc. tennis-themed fan.
Havana nights: Eric de Juan designs for Josephine Baker, 1949.
• The raunchy world of 18thc. bookseller and pornographer Edmund Curll.
• Branded for bigamy, 1784.
• Unmasking the WWII military bunkers still disguised as Swiss villas.
• Eight elegant 18thc. views of Chiswick House by painter Pieter Rysbrack.
Image: Late 19thc. advertisement for a woman's bicycle corset.
• A proud and posturing grandfather: Louis XIV appeared at  his best in yearly illustrated almanacs.
• What are state-rooms?
• Going on holiday in 1773: Stone Henge, Wilton House, and more....
• Try this 1723 recipe for "fry'd cream."
• How did a men's hat get its name from a glamorous fin-de-siecle French actress?
• "A toast to your health": getting drunk in Colonial America.
Image: A Civil War "bosom pin" and the letter that accompanied it.
• The prodigal book: miraculous (and mysterious) return of a rare volume to a library.
• The carefully crafted myth of the 18thc. actor David Garrick.
• From a Loyalist's 18thc. estate, to a fashionable Methodist Episcopal church, and now a synagogue: the rich history of NYC's Willetts Street church.
• Joan of Arc underwear and diamond stockings: fashion in travel writing.
• The Georgian joke book.
Earrings, race, and symbolism in Western Renaissance art.
• Leave your screens behind (mostly) at summer rare book school.
Image: Just for fun: Pulp fiction's view of the sordid lives of...librarians.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Friday Video: Dance with Me

Friday, July 3, 2015

Isabella reporting,

This is the beginning of a long, three-day weekend in America. Yes, the Fourth of July celebrates our independence, but it's also a fun holiday, marked by fireworks, parades, and backyard BBQs, chasing fireflies and relaxing out-of-doors with friends and families.

Today's video is in that nothing-too-serious spirit. Shut Up and Dance by Walk the Moon is one of the unavoidably catchy Top-40 songs of the summer, and YouTube user MsTabularasa has cleverly edited memorable dance scenes from popular movies of the last seventy-five years or so to fit with the song. If you can't name them all (I'll admit I couldn't; I guess I don't go to the movies enough), the YouTube page does have the full list.

Enjoy the weekend!

If you receive this post via email, you may be seeing an empty space or black box where the video should be. To view, click here to go directly to our blog.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Fashions for July 1810, a Strange Contrast

Thursday, July 2, 2015
1810 Ball Dress
July 1810 Court Dress
1810 Ball Dress description
Loretta reports:

Throughout the earliest part of the 1800s until 1820, when the Prince of Wales (later Prince Regent*) became King George IV and changed the rules, ladies had to wear a very strange fashion for Royal Court occasions.

While court dress was quite formal, it wasn’t like normal formal dress, as you can see when you compare these two fashion plates.

Since author Candice Hern offers a beautiful explanation of court dress here at her website, I will leave it to her, while I leave you to ponder what hoops did to the slim silhouette we associate with Regency dress.
1810 Court Dress description
Images: The Ball Dress is from Ackermann's Repository for July 1810, courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art via the Internet Archive. The Court Dress is courtesy the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (the Google Books edition of La Belle Assemblée, where I found the description, had only a black and white plate.)

*“Regency” strictly interpreted, refers to the time he was Prince Regent, when his father, King George III, was too ill to carry out his duties as monarch. Many social historians, however, use the term Regency to cover a much broader period, often from 1800 to 1837, when Victoria became queen, and ushered in the Victorian period.

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