Sunday, 6 November 2016

Exhibition – French portrait drawings: Clouet to Courbet

Currently there is a temporary exhibition at the British Museum in Room 90, on the 4th floor, of some beautiful drawings dating from the sixteenth century through to the nineteenth century, some have not been exhibited before.  The exhibition, French portrait drawings from Clouet to Courbet,  is on until the 29th January 2017. 

As well as the drawings themselves there is also a case of medals and enamels, so that the earliest item in the exhibition is a medal by Jean Lepère, showing King Louis XII of France and his wife Anne of Brittany, 1499.

To the right is the first drawing that appears in the exhibition. It is  by Jean Clouet  (c.1485/90–1540) of an unknown man of c.1535 inscribed, the uncle of the Seigneur de Tavannes, but no longer identified as Jean de Tavanenes. You can just see sketched the gatherings around the top of his shirt and the ties to it. 

Here to the left is another unknown, this time a young girl c.1615 by Daniel Dumonstier (1574-1646). Lovely details are how the collar lays, the bows on her sleeves, and that lovely and unusual necklace. 

For each drawing in the exhibition if you go to the museum’s illustrated handlist, available here, you get the drawing with its description and a link to the Museum’s catalogue record for further information. Do click through, the museum's images are of far better quality than my photographs

Finally below, just to prove it is not all nobility, though most of it is, here is an old man in working dress, attributed to Pierre Biard II (1592–1661).

Friday, 26 August 2016

Rachel, Countess of Bath: Accessories for a “super-rich” lady of the 1640s.

1870s photo of the Van Dyck portrait
Everyone is aware of the modern idea of the super-rich woman being someone who thinks nothing of spending on a handbag, what for most people is a year’s income. As part of my researches for The Stuart Tailor I have been looking at the General Account Book of Rachel, Countess of Bath, for 1639-54, and she counts as mid seventeenth century super-rich, hubby is Charles I’s Lord Privy Seal. She was also one of the last people to have her portrait painted by Van Dyck, he returned to England in May of 1641, and was already ill. In her June 1641 accounts are two payments, “to Sir Anthony Vandick in part for my picture £10” and “to Sir Anthony Vandick for my picture £10, for the frame £4, to his man £1.” (1)  Van Dyck died in November 1641. The whereabouts of this painting are unknown, meaning that it is probably in a private collection somewhere. The picture on the right is from a 1870s photograph of the painting. 

In some respects it is difficult to compare what Rachel is spending with the income of an ordinary woman of the time. A 1645 list of the servants at the Baths’ Tawstock estate shows three female servants being paid £2 a year. Women who were employed on an annual basis by the gentry Le Strange family of Hunstanton received between £1 10s and £2 a year, while the two female servants listed in the 1642 memorandum book of yeoman farmer Henry Best were paid £1 4s and £1 8s.  However as has been pointed out servants were provided with board, lodging and clothing in addition to this money. Day labourers also received food and drink as part of their remuneration and there was a statutory equivalent of the “minimum wage”. In Suffolk in 1630, for female reapers and binders of corn, this was 4d a day. (2)

Hollar's Winter 1644
So what, for Rachel, was the mid 17th century equivalent of a modern Hermes Birkin handbag? Here left is Hollar’s Winter from his 1644 seasons, and this lady is wearing examples of several items that Rachel buys, a muff, a fur stole, a hood, and shoes roses. 

Apart from jewellery, which is discussed at the end, furs are among her most expensive purchases. In 1650 she pays for “a rich sable muff” £22, while in 1640 she had purchased “a sable for my neck” for £8 10s 0s. 

She buys a large number of hoods ranging in price from 3s for a black hood in 1639, to 12s in 1640 for a tiffany hood laced. In 1644 she buys three hoods for a total of 13s, of love, described by the OED as a thin crape or gauze material, of ducape, described by the OED as a plain-wove stout silk fabric of softer texture than Gros de Naples, and of sarcenet, which is a fine, soft silk fabric.

Looking at Winter’s feet the front of her shoe is covered by a shoe rose. In 1643 Rachel purchases “a pair of roses and 3 yards of pink coloured ribbon for your Ladyship bought at Mr Gumbletons 5s” The ribbon is probably for gartering, in 1644 she buys “gartering ribbons 7s”, and in 1650 “3 yards of blue gartering for my Lady 5s.” The shoes on the other hand are a lot less expensive, in 1644 “for a pair of shoes for your Ladyship 3s 6d”, even decorated shoes as in 1646 “for a pair of laced shoes for your Ladyship 4s” and in 1646 her slippers were 2s 6d. 

 In the winter engraving you can’t see the stockings, but Rachel’s are usually of silk at around £1 2s to £1 5s a pair. In 1639 we have “for 3 pair silk stockings £3 15s” and in 1649 “2 pair of silk stockings 46s,” there are other stockings listed. These silk stockings are in the Livrustkammeren in Stockholm and date from 1654.  

 You can’t tell if Hollar’s winter is wearing gloves but Rachel buys lots, “paid my glover 6th May 1641 £4 10 0,” and a 1646 bill has “paid for 12 pair of white and 11 pair of brown gloves Mrs Everatt 19s.”  These are probably the plain elbow length gloves that can be seen in this Van Dyck portrait of Anne Carr where the glove is shown carried. A slightly later (c1685-1700) pair, with a little decoration, survives in the Glovers’ Collection.

She buys fans. In 1647 she buys one for 2s and another for 3s. She also buys them with other things, for example “for gloves & a fan £1 0s 6d,” and in 1647 in a small spending spree, “for a fair laced scarf and hood & 2 pair of pearl pendants & a screen fan £3.” The assumption is that a screen fan is a solid fan, as opposed to a folding fan. This folding brise fan in the collection of the V&A dates to the 1620s.

For her neckwear she has gorgets, these are deep, usually circular, cape like collars, as can be seen in this rear view from another Hollar engraving right. In 1640 she pays for a tiffany gorget 10s, in 1641 for making 2 gorgets & tiffany to one of them Miss Antony £1. Tiffany is a kind of thin transparent silk. Her neckwear wasn’t always of silk, in 1649 we have “for 2 handkerchiefs, cuffs and a gorget of plain Holland £2”  

Rachel also purchases a sweet bag in 1640 for the sum of £6 10s. Sweet bags are small purses often given as gifts, and sometimes containing a scented “sweet powder,” enabling them to be put with clothing in the same way as lavender bags are used today.  Shortly after buying her sweet bag she spends £1 6s 8d on “silver and gold lace for my best sweet bag.” The Victoria and Albert Museum has an excellent collection of examples from the first half of the 17th century. Jacqui Carey has written a book on the whole subject of sweet bags. (3)
Finally we have Rachel’s jewellery. Her largest expense is in 1652 for “for one fair diamond £40,” but she buys a fair number of small, cheaper items. Some of these items must have been similar to what was found in the Cheapside Hoard. She buys pendants together with a mask for 10s in 1640, and in 1642 she spends 14s on “a cornelian ring & crystal pendants.” The Cheapside Hoard contains several pendants, for example in amethyst and emerald, plus a much cruder crystal pendant.  Two pair of pearl pendants where mentioned above in her 1647 shopping spree, and there is a pearl and wirework pendant in the Cheapside Hoard. (4)  In 1649 she spends £2 5s for “3 great pearls.” In 1652 she buys “two lockets £4 1s 6d”, and one can speculate as to whether the lockets might have been of the type circulating among royalist supporters after Charles’s death. The final entry for jewellery actually mention her jeweller, and goes into some detail as to what he is making for her, “£30 to Mr Grumbleton for 4 diamonds and making two pair of lockets the one 18 diamonds and the other 25 and 17 & a little ring 5s with 5 diamonds.”

Rachel often mentions where she purchases her items, the Exchange and Paternoster Row in London are mentioned. This engraving of the Royal Exchange, and with more detail Abraham Bosse’s engraving of one of the shops in the Galerie du Palais, show the sort of shop involved. However looking at some of her purchases, if you didn’t know, you wouldn’t realise, that most of the time there is a civil war going on.  Oh and the Hermes Birkin equivalent? I think it has to be the sable muff. 

1. Gray, Todd. Devon Household Accounts 1627-59. Part 2. Devon and Cornwall Record Society, new series, vol. 39. 1996.
2. Whittle, J. and Griffiths, E. Consumption and gender in the early seventeenth century household: the world of Alice Le Strange. Oxford : O.U.P., 2012.
3. Carey, Jacqui. Sweet bags: an investigation into 16th and 17th century needlework. Ottery St Mary : Carey Company, 2009.
4. Forsyth, Hazel. The Cheapside Hoard: London's lost jewels. London : Philip Wilson , 2013.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Two 1620s tombs at Salisbury Cathedral

The Mompesson Tomb 

This magnificent tomb is of Sir Richard Mompesson (d1627) and his third wife Katherine (d.1622). The colours are tremendous, but not original as the tomb was overpainted in the 1960s.(1) A coat of arms in its original colours, now somewhat faded, has been found on the underside of the tomb, showing how it was originally coloured. (2)

Sir Richard Mompesson was a younger son of minor gentry, however his first wife Margaret, was the daughter of the first Lord Howard of Effingham, and  therefore sister to the second, both were Lord High Admiral of England.(3) The lady buried with him is however his third wife. He isn’t of interest to clothing people, because he is shown wearing a set of armour. I’m sure people who are interested in armour would have more to say.

Katherine Mompesson is depicted wearing a gown with long hanging sleeves reaching to the calves of her legs. This style of gown is very similar to the type in some of the paintings by William Larkin (1585-1619), for example that of Katherine Howard, Countess of Suffolk, whose hanging sleeves are not as long as Katherine Mompesson’s, and being slightly earlier still has the frill remnants of a skirt designed to be worn over a wheel farthingale. The use of a similarly pattern fabric may be seen in Gheeraerts 1615 portrait of Mary Throckmorton. The arched hood she wears is usually associated with mourning, and something similar can be seen in the 1622 portrait of Marie de Medici painted by Rubens. Her shoes have nicely defined heels.

The Elihonor Sadler Tomb

Elihonor was a resident of Salisbury Cathedral Close, and her tomb dates from 1622/3. She was, according to the inscription, “aged upon LXXX [80] years” when she died. Thomas Sadler was her second husband, her first having been Hugh Powell.(4) Both her husbands had owned the building in the Cathedral Close that now houses the Salisbury Museum.

The sculpture is not as accomplished as that on the Mompesson tomb, and was overpainted at the same time in the 1960s. Elihonor wears as similar arched mourning hood to Katherine Mompesson, but it is much more stylised, and her hair looks very strange. Her gown is considerably less detailed than Katherine’s and shows the frill remnants of a skirt designed to be worn over a wheel farthingale.

1. Peter Martindale Conservation. Salisbury Cathedral: Polychromy associated with five monuments.

2. Hazard, Ruth (2012) Conservator at Salisbury Cathedral discovers painting on underside of Mompesson Tomb. Available from:

3. Bindoff, S. T. (1981) Mompesson, Richard (d.1627), of Salisbury, Wilts. IN: The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603. Available from:
4. Redwood, P. (1990-2) Life in Elizabethan Breconshire as portrayed in contemporary wills. Brycheiniog, Vol. 24, 43-66

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Seventeenth century clothing at Platt Hall Gallery of Costume, Manchester

Figure 1 - Collar from the 1630s
At the weekend I visited Platt Hall for the first time, I had never been to Manchester before but always wanted to visit the Gallery of Costume. At the moment the 20th century exhibitions are closed, however the rest of the museum is open, as is the Schiaparelli exhibition. The Museum has an excellent collection of 17th century garments, many having belonged to the Filmer family, and these by themselves are worth a detour. Below I give a flavour of what is on display, the collection extends well beyond these.
Figure 2 - Whatcombe bodice

There are two cases of linens covering 1600-1630 and 1630-1660, with whitework and lace collars, sleeves, coif and forehead cloths. Figure 1 shows one corner of the 1630-1660 case, with a bobbin lace collar from the 1630s. 

The garments include the Whatcombe bodice (c1650-1660) (Figure 2) with interactive information on the project to “digitally restore” the bodice. Research done for the reconstruction indicates that the garment may originally have belonged to the first wife of Bussy Mansel (1623–1699), a Welsh parliamentarian who served under Fairfax, and was appointed to the Barebones Parliament by Cromwell in 1653.
Figure 3 -Detail of 1630s waistcoat

The heavier embroidered patterns of the late 16th and early 17th century, often with flowers but in this case mainly with bunches of grapes,  that appear on the girl’s jacket from c1610, contrast with the more open embroidery of a woman’s waistcoat from c1630-40 that is displayed near it. A detail of the 1630s embroidery is shown in Figure 3. Slightly later still is a 1670-1700 bodice, which repeats in an Indian painted cotton the very fanciful flower patterns that became popular for embroidery in the second half of the century.  

Figure 4 - Pocket detail 1685-95 coat
In men’s wear there is a natural linen doublet from around 1625-35, heavily embroidered in the same thread with couching and French knots, and a heavily embroidered man's nightcap of about the same date, which is only one of several in the collection. There is a wool/silk mix coat from about 1685-1695, which  has 103 silk thread covered buttons. Figure 4 shows the buttons on one of the pockets of the coat, and figure 5 below shows the splendid 1680s lace cravat displayed with it. 

Figure 5 - 1680s cravat
As can been seen from the links Manchester Museums have put much of the collection online, but it is worth going to the museum to see them, and much more on display.