Friday, October 11, 2013

Taking a brief hiatus

Hello all,

Bertie and I have found ourselves in the middle of a very busy week.  With only so much energy between us, we're going to take a brief hiatus.  

We'll be back to the usual business on Monday.  Here's wishing everyone a good weekend!


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Mastery of Design: Queen Alexandra's Scarab Bracelet

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
This and all related images courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Click on each image for a larger version.

Made in 1862 and attributed to the firm of Phillips Bros. & Son, this bangle of gold, steatite, amethyst and glazed composition was given to Queen Alexandra, consort of King Edward VII, King of the United Kingdom (1844-1925).  The bracelet was made with six scarabs
acquired by King Edward VII, when Prince of Wales, upon a visit to Egypt in 1862,  The finished bracelet was presented by Queen Victoria to Princess Alexandra on December 1 of the same year.

The scarabs are mounted in openwork scroll settings, with stylized rearing cobras flanking the the sun.  Each of the scarabs is carved on the back, except for the amethyst which in itself typifies a very fine example of hardstone scarab from the XII Dynasty (c. 1985-1795 BC). 

The bangle also boasts a faience scarab which is adorned with animals, including the a rare depiction of the "Typhonian animal" a dog-like creature which resembles a greyhound or a jackal.  This animal is associated with Seth (or Set), the Egyptian god of the desert and storms in addition to the attributes of chaos and confusion. 

Painting of the Day: Anne of Denmark, 1614

Anne of Denmark
Attributed to Marcus Gheeradts the Younger, 1614
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection 
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

This lovely portrait is attributed to Marcus Gheeradts the Younger (c.1561-1635). The work of oil on panel dates to 1614 and depicts Anne of Denmark in an interior. She’s adorned in her regal jewels and a beautifully embroidered dress. 

The painting was first recorded in the Royal Collection during the reign of King James II. 

Antique Image of the Day: Alexandra, Princess of Wales and Her Sister, 1873

Queen Alexandra when Princess of Wales with
Tsarevna Marie Feodorovna of Russia
James Russell & Sons, 1873
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection 
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Photographed in 1873 by James Russell & Sons, this image shows Alexandra, Princess of Wales (1844-1925, later Queen Alexandra, Consort of King Edward VII) with her sister Tsarevna Marie Feodorovna of Russia (1847-1928). Both girls were born princesses of Denmark and made very smart marriages to other Royal families.

The photo, presented to Queen Alexandra, was placed in a gilt metal frame in the form of a horseshoe. The nail heads are coated in blue enamel.

This photo is one of the earliest records of this frame and image in the Royal Collection
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Unfolding Pictures: Fan Depicting the Siege of Barcelona, 1740

Fan Depicting the Siege of Barcelona
English, 1740
Vellum leaf on ivory sticks with ivory guards.
The Royal Colllection

The leaf of this magnificent hand fan has been painted with a scene of the 1714 siege of Barcelona by Bourbon forces. This was the final stage of the War of Spanish Succession (1704-1714). The painting here, completed in 1740, is based on an earlier engraving of the siege which was the work of Jacques Rigaud in 1732.

The reverse of the fan depicts a solider in a red coat. He carries a musket. A note accompanying this fan—tucked into its original box, indicates that it once belonged to Queen Louise of Denmark who bequeathed it to her daughter, Queen Alexandra (consort of King Edward VII). The curious thing about this fan is that it appears to have been cropped and rebuilt at some point in its existence. The left side of the fan is slightly shorter than the right and the sticks on the left have clearly been cut and reassembled in the wrong order. Regardless of this damage, it’s still quite attractive. With its brilliantly-colored single leaf mounting (in the English style) on ivory sticks, this is an important bit of history for many reasons. 

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
All Images Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Click on image for larger size.

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 395

Chapter 395
To Be Home Again

"Have you settled into your new home upstairs?"  Lennie asked as she joined her brother and Robert who were chatting with Gerard and Gamilla in the library.

"Oh, yes, Your Ladyship."  Gamilla beamed.  "I already done made room for all Gerard's things."

"I still can't believe I'll be in such a handsome suite of rooms."  Gerard shook his head.

"We may have to find a way to make more space for you,"  Punch smiled.  "Won't be long before you got to have a nursery o' your own."

"Oh, there's plenty of time to worry 'bout that, Your Grace.  We won't need no more room.  I just want you to know that my havin' a baby o' our own won't take way from my time with Colin.  I'll still be able to attend to my own duties."  Gamilla said quickly.

"No one doubts that,"  Robert protested.

"Not at all,"  Punch shook his head.  "Only, we gotta be fair.  You'll need time with your own baby, too.  We want you to know that your family's always got a place with us.  I'm pleased as...well, pleased as me-self to know that our Colin'll have a friend what he can grow up with right in the house--wherever we are."

"Most gentlemen wouldn't be as generous as that, Your Grace."  Gerard said sincerely.

"We ain't most gentlemen."  Punch grinned.

"Gamilla,"  Robert began.  "I don't know if you've planned on a physician."

"Oh, not yet, Your Lordship.  I only just realized, well...only a few days ago."  Gamilla blushed.

"If you'd like, I'd be happy to act as your physician."  Robert offered.

"But, Sir, you're takin' time away from your practice while we're in Yorkshire."  Gamilla shook her head.

"Except for members of the family."  Robert insisted.  "I do understand that perhaps you wouldn't be comfortable having someone you know so well attend to you."

"There's no one I'd rather have."  Gamilla said quickly.

"Well, then, it's settled."  Robert replied.

"I just hope that the journey north won't upset you too much,"  Lennie spoke up thoughtfully.

"Oh, no, Miss.  I'm a strong girl."

"She is."  Gerard boasted.  "I spent most o' me life on ships.  Even I got a wee sick on our way back, but not my 'Milla.  She loved it.  A carriage journey'll be nothin' for her."

Gamilla giggled.

"Seems a shame to uproot you so soon after your return home."  Lennie said. 

"We're excited 'bout it."  Gamilla replied.

"It's a good thing as we're leavin' in a week."  Punch said.

"I suppose we should let you go upstairs and rest.  You've had a long journey."  Robert smiled.

"I'm ready to spend some time with Master Colin."  Gamilla shook her head.  "Besides that, Ethel's earned herself a break."

"And, I'd really like to get to your wardrobe, Your Lordship."  Gerard said. 

"There's no one like you--either of you."  Punch laughed.

"And,"  Gerard began sheepishly.  "There's no one like any of you.  I want to thank you again for all you did for our wedding, and the wedding trip."

"It was our pleasure."  Punch nodded.

"We do appreciate it."  Gamilla smiled.  "So much."  She reached down to retrieve the gifts she'd tucked under her chair.  "We brought you back some things to thank you.  They ain't much, but they're from the heart."

Gerard stood and took the presents, handing one to each Lennie, Punch and Robert.

"Thank you so much,"  Robert nodded.

"Oh, don't open them with us here."  Gamilla shook her head.  "We'll...we'll get all misty-eyed."

"We'd best get to our duties anyway,"  Gerard added.

"You know, you don't have to.  Not this evening."  Lennie argued.

"There's nothin' we'd like better though, Your Ladyship."  Gamilla grinned.  "It's our way of showin' how glad we are to be home."

Come back tomorrow for Chapter 396 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square.

The Home Beautiful: Queen Alexandra's Elephant Bell-Push, 1896-1900

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Alexandra, consort of the rather lusty Edward VII, amused herself while her husband was dating other women by collecting the work of the House of Fabergé—especially wee animals made of precious stones. This collection was one of the few things upon which Queen Alexandra and her daughter-in-law, the Duchess of York (later Queen Mary, Consort of George V) could agree as both enjoyed this particular hobby.

When one collects Fabergé animals, it’s only natural, after amassing a few hundred, that one would start to commission unusual pieces to make the collection a little more exciting. So, why not a bell-push shaped like an elephant?

Here, made between 1896 and 1900 in nephrite, silver, and guilloché enamel, and rubies we see such a bell-push. Even though Fabergé was bes known for opulent decorative items, they did occasionally produce practical items, among which bell-pushes were some of the most functional and complicated. Such bell-pushes were designed to sit upon a desk.

Here, the push-piece is in the form of a silver elephant set with cabochon ruby eyes. The elephant is a reference to Queen Alexandra’s native Denmark, where the elephant is incorporated in the design of the senior Danish order of chivalry.

The elephant, here, stands on a tapered platform of salmon-pink guilloché enamel with a nephrite base. It bears the mark of Fabergé ‘s Karl Armfelt; with a silver mark of 88 zolotniks (1896-1908); and Fabergé in Cyrillic characters.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: An Invitation to the Coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra

Invitation to the Coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Today, we’ll  have a look at an invitation to the coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. Given the fact that it was more recent, a few more of these invitations survive than from earlier coronations, but they’re still incredibly rare. An invitation to a coronation was not sent to just anyone. Of course, Edward invited his wife since it was her coronation, too. And, although he was just as much of a cad as his great-uncle, George IV, Edward VII was, at least, much nicer to his wife, the former Alexandra of Denmark, while he was cheating on her.

Edward VII was not quite sixty years old when he ascended the throne. He was Prince of Wales forever since his mother, Queen Victoria, reigned from 1837 to 1901. By the time Edward took the throne, he was already quite set in his ways and there was no hope he’d begin to walk the straight and narrow. He reigned nine years and was succeeded by his second son, who became King George V.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Mastery of Design: Her Majesty’s Telescope

Telescope of gold, sapphires and mother-of-pearl
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection 
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Little is known about this beautiful object from the Royal Collection. The Royal inventories do not list its maker, date of creation or for whom it was originally made. Just looking at it, I’d say it comes from the first half of the Nineteenth Century and it seems to be the sort of thing which would have greatly amused Queen Victoria.

It’s a collapsible telescope of five extending tubes which spring from the gold and glass eyepiece. Each tube is crafted of gold and adorned with a middle band of faceted mother-of-pearl and matching borders of shimmering sapphires. 

I wonder whose hands have held this and what it has seen.

Painting of the Day: Robie's Flowers and Fruit, 1863

The Victoria & Albert Museum

Jean Baptiste Robie (1821-1910) painted this woodland landscape in 1863. The scene depicts a river bank with a still life of ferns, pink and white flowers and a basket of raspberries. The canvas is signed with the artists’ name, the year and “Brussels.”

Robie was a Belgian artist who primarily painted flower and fruit still lifes in the tradition of Dutch still life painters of the Seventeenth Century. However, Robie introduced a new, brighter color palette and themes better suited to the Romantic style.

The Home Beautiful: An Eighteenth Century Champagne Glass

Champagne Flute
The Victoria & Albert Museum

The “flute” glass of the mid-Eighteenth century was developed both for strong ale and for champagne.  Here, we see an example adorned with elaborate and expensive engraving.  It has been decorated with scrolling vines and leaves which indicate that it was intended for sparkling wine.

Tall flute glasses such as this first became popular in the late Seventeenth Century.  Set high on a glass stem, the high bowl allowed the beauty of the wine to be admired while remaining cool from the warming touch of the hands. Furthermore, when champagne became fashionable, the narrow flute glass was the ideal vessel due to its ability to preserve the bubbles.

Champagne was the stuff of the upper classes, especially among young men who had the opportunity to travel the European continent.  The drink was a mark of wealth since, naturally, there was the expense of importing the spirit from France in bottles rather than in barrels.

This flute was made between 1750-1760 by an unknown manufacturer.  It was most likely made in England or in Belgium and features crisp engraving and a fanciful air-twist stem.  

Print of the Day: Belgium Fights On, 1940-1944

Belgium Fights On
Sturbelle, 1940-1944
The Victoria & Albert Museum

We’ve looked at several World War II propaganda posters. This one was used between 1940 and 1944 after the German occupation of Belgium of May of 1940. This poster was part of a campaign to encourage American support for the Belgian resistance. It’s the work of R. Sturbelle who excelled in creating dramatic and effective images such as this one which juxtaposes a group of bound Belgians about the executed with an image of decided freedom. 

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square Will Continue Tomorrow

Hello all,

Sorry to say, I've a very hectic day ahead of me.  So, I'm going to have to postpone today's chapter until tomorrow.

See you then.

Building of the Day: The Hôtel de Ville, Brussels

The centerpiece of the Grand Place in Brussels, Belgium is the Brussels Town Hall which is known in French as the Hôtel de Ville and, in Dutch, the Stadhuis. This monumental Gothic building with its graceful spires and elegant statues has been an important feature of Brussels since the Fifteenth Century. The original section of the building (the left wing) was constructed from 1402 to 1420 under the direction of Jacob van Thienen. Originally, there were no plans to expand the building in the future. However, when craft guilds were added to the politics of Belgium, a need to enlarge the building became urgent.

By 1452, the building had taken the form we see today with the present tower being completed in 1455. The tower is a magnificent work of art, narrowing to an octagonal base adorned with intricate fretwork and tracery. The entire structure is graced by allegorical statues and figures of nobles and saints. The original sculptures have been taken to the safer climate of a museum, and were replaced with copies. 

Photo by Ed Holden.
The central tower and archway are noticeably off-center. Legend has it that the architect, upon noticing this error, leapt to his death from the tower. However, this proves to be apocryphal given the long period of time during which the building was expanded. Nevertheless, it’s the quirk which gives the building much of its charm and energy.

The 1695 Bombardment of Brussels saw a vicious fire rip through the entire of the Hôtel de Ville, destroying the city’s records. The interior was entirely rebuilt, and, by 1712, two new wings were added to the rear of the structure. The building was substantially redecorated in 1868 with the addition of lavish tapestries and artwork. Since then, the Hôtel de Ville has remained relatively unchanged. Today, it’s a grand monument to the artistry and ingenuity of a remarkable people.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: Landscape with Donkey, 1846

Landscape with Donkey
E.J. Verboeckhoven
Belgium, 1846
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Belgian painter Eugène Joseph Verboeckhoven (1798-1881) was learned the principles of art at the knee of his father, the sculptor Barthélemy Verboeckhoven. Later, he attended the Ghent Academy where he was a pupil of the landscape painter Balthasar-Paul Ommeganck (1755-1826). By 1827, the artist had become the director of the Musée de Bruxelles and later a teacher at the Académie Royale.

Verboeckhoven was known for his careful depictions of animals silhouetted against flat landscapes. This painting from 1846 is an excellent example of his style. Here, we see a donkey set against a white and blue sky. This same donkey appears in several of Verboeckhoven’s compositions. Obviously, he was a favorite subject of the artist.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Mastery of Design: A Jeweled Bouquet Holder, 1855

The Royal Collection
In 1855, Queen Victoria wrote in her journal, “A week ago the Empress gave me a beautiful bouquet holder, in diamonds, pearls & rubies with the stem in enamel. She said nothing beyond hoping I would take the bouquet, which I felt quite shy in accepting. The holder is quite lovely.”

This fabulous jeweled bouquet holder was given to Queen Victoria by the French Empress during her ten-day state visit to France. Victoria long admired the Empress’ jewelry and the care with which she commissioned the pieces. Queen Victoria was particularly thrilled with this exceptional piece. Her love of the Empress’ jewels was so great, in fact, that when the French Crown jewels came up for auction, she bid on several lots. She was, however, outbid.

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Thanks to the Royal Collection Trust

Click on image for larger size.

Treat of the Week: A Crustless Quiche and Sumptuous Apple Cupcakes

The aroma of a luscious crustless quiche greeted Bertie and me when we visited my parents this weekend.  My mother had worked her culinary magic and prepared this magnificent creation of gruyere, leeks, and eggs--a fluffy, savory masterpiece.  Served with potatoes and onions roasted to perfection, spinach and lovely ciabatta rolls, this was the ideal dinner for the first truly cool day we've had.

Apparently, my mother was seeing spots this weekend.  Delicious spots!  She treated us with this moist, perfect apple cupcakes topped with swirls of buttercream icing and polka dots of pink and purple.

With a chill in the air and an apple cupcake on my plate, I finally felt as if the heat of summer was abating.

The Home Beautiful: A Baby's Cradle, 1810

Bateau Cradle
French with German Ormolu Mounts
Circa 1810
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Cradles that would either swing or rock have been built for over five centuries. Of course, most of those cradles, when rocked or swung a little too hard, would deposit Baby onto the floor. It wasn’t until the Nineteenth Century that the makers of baby cradles began to realize that they could build a mechanism that would keep the cradle from swinging or rocking too far and spilling the child out.

Here’s a handsome example of an early Nineteenth-Century cradle. The boat shape of this French cradle gives it the name “Bateau.” French cradles in this ovoid shape were usually made without elaborate decoration except for some figural carving at the top of the curving pole which was used to hold drapery—in this case a swan. So, with its glittering mounts, this one is quite a rarity. Instead of the usual plain mahogany of most similar cradles, this one is mounted with ormolu adornment. It’s believed, given the unusually elaborate decoration, that though the cradle was decidedly built in France, the ormolu mounts were added later, likely in Germany. 

Her Majesty’s Furniture: A French Jewel-Cabinet, 1787

The Royal Collection

Designed by Jean-Henry Riesener, in 1787 for the French Royal Family, this exquisite jewel cabinet was among the many opulent pieces of furniture seized during the French Revolution. Subsequently, it was put on display in a French Museum, but later sold off due to the increasing debt of the French government at the time. Enter Britain’s King George IV with his fascination for French design. The cabinet was quickly purchased (along with a number of other important French items) and added to The Royal Collection.

This cabinet was designed to reflect its use. Sensitively sculpted three-dimensional figures and fittings of ormolu were carefully added to this highly shined walnut piece to give the overall look of it a sense of being a jewel in and of itself. Today, this is considered one of the finest examples of French furniture-making of the period. We should be thankful to King George IV for rescuing it from an uncertain future so that it can proudly represent the tastes of two empires.

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
All Images Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 394

Chapter 394
New Life

After almost an hour of ecstatic chatter downstairs with the entire staff, Robert declared that Gamilla and Gerard should be allowed to go to their suite to rest and unpack.

"After all, they've just concluded a long journey,"  Robert smiled.

"We haven't given everyone their presents, yet."  Gerard said quickly.

"There's time 'nough for all that."  Mr. Punch shook his head.  "You two go on up--Gamilla, 'specially needs to get 'er rest."

He caught sight of Hulda, Dolly and the new scullery maid examining him as he spoke.  He'd forgotten that they weren't yet accustomed to him.  Still, he didn't care.  He was too happy to worry about such things.

"Besides,"  Lennie nodded, "Ethel, and, especially young Colin will want to see you both."

Gerard reached for one of their bags.

"Oh, no!"  Charles said.  "Georgie and I will bring them up."

Gerard blushed.  "I can still carry.  Marriage ain't made my arms weaker."

"Good to know."  Charles winked.  "But, just this once, let us carry for you."

Robert, Punch and Lennie walked upstairs with Gerard and Gamilla.  

"We're so glad to have you back with us,"  Lennie beamed.  "The house was not the same without you."

"It's very true.  Though Ethel did a very fine job on her own, we simply missed having you both with us."  Robert added.

"We missed all of you, too,"  Gamilla replied.  "So many times I'd see somethin' and think, 'Oh, His Grace would love to see that or His Lordship would like to go there. And wouldn't Her Ladyship enjoy goin' to this shop?'"

"Much happened here what we'd 'ave loved to share with you.  Miss Fern went to school."  Punch said as they climbed the next flight.

"Did she now?"  Gerard grinned.  "Without any...issue?"

"She went happily and she's been writing that she's doing her best."  Robert replied.

"We'll leave you to the next flight on your own."  Punch said.  "Only, if you would, once you're ready, join us in the library so we might continue our chat."

"We'd be so happy to."  Gamilla smiled.  

"Gamilla, I hope you don't mind that I...that I said that you were...with child.  I could just tell and, I thought it so good, I just...said it without thinkin'."  Punch said sheepishly.

"I knew you'd know right off, Your Grace."  Gamilla said.

"I don't know how you knew, dear Punch."  Robert shook his head.  "I'm the physician, and I couldn't tell.  It's only been sixteen days."

"Oh, I just knew."  Punch shrugged.  "I dunno.  Felt new life in the house.  Felt hope come to us."

Gamilla sighed happily.  "It is hope, Sir.  We all got so much good ahead o' us."

"I know what's ahead of me just now."  Gerard grinned.

"What's that Gerard?"  Lennie asked.

"I'm gonna carry my beautiful wife into our new home."  He answered happily.

Did you miss Chapters 1-393 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square?  If so, you can read them here.  Come back tomorrow for Chapter 395.