arts


We have to acknowledge that in this day and age – as it has forever been – beauty matters. Our definition of beauty is based on the media saturation which we are bombarded with on a daily basis. For instance, the idea of tanned = gorgeous has only appeared recently — it would stand to reason that with all the lead-based paints and powder that was used, pale was beautiful as it indicated that you had no need to stand about in the sun all day. As a society, we perceive people who have traits which we consider admirable: self restraint, indefatigable dedication to an idea, sacrifice to epitomise the current standards of beauty – mirrored so closely in the way we view the working world. So we end up with the size zero models and body-builders with ripped stomachs and veined arms as a societal idea.

Personally, all that leaves me completely cold. I find the rabid insistence in gay stories – but most especially gay historical – that people should conform to the current societal archetype of beauty slightly mad. Let’s be honest, it is not ALL that likely we see the majority of people conform to this ideal – if we did, it would be damn unlikely to be an aspiration! I like to see real people in books – be they consumptive clerks with weak arms and eyes from peering over the books all day, be they well-upholstered married aristocrats whose only exercise is taken between the front door and the handsome cab. While a cavalry solider would have a fantastic rear-end and muscled thighs, and depending on his weapons a certain amount of muscular development in the shoulders and back (Medieval knights looked like Props in rugby – muscle upon muscle with a massive amount of shoulder and neck development to support all the armour and thick solid waists to enable them both to shift and move and to take the impact of a swords’-blow).

black-knight

why yes, that is a plastic knigget on a my little pony

Of course, lacking a tardis, I can’t go back in time and drag examples of said bodies to parade before you. And – as any artist knows – when one is being painted, one likes to be flattered – so I can’t really tell you that the painted historical record holds true of anything other than the upper-class archetypical view (think of today, you’d think we’re all size 0 if you believed Cosmo), but what it can do, with a bit of extrapolation, is provide a basis for what was revered, and the obvious counterpoint of what was the norm.

For the time periods, I’m shamelessly nicking the structure of “The List” from Speak Its Name. If perchance you’re a new Macaroni (fresh-mac? mini-mac?) you may want to go and check out this fantastic and pretty exhaustive list of MM fiction here: http://speakitsname.com/the-list/

By virtue of available and accessible historical documentation, a lot of this going to be western-centric. Note that this is a VERY ROUGH OVERVIEW and is taking the overarching concept rather than the nitty details.

CAVEAT: This deals with beauty in the ideal form, and what was admired as can be extrapolated through art. This therefore, while based in fact, does have a certain amount of interpretation, so feel free to discuss. However (as always) discussion should pertain to the point of this, which is a holistic overview of beauty rather than the detailed nuances. If people find this interesting, I may do a post on how jobs/circumstances affected musculature which would have changed how people were actually built and how they would have looked — as Alex Beecroft pointed out — sailors for instance would have had amazing upper body strength but relatively undeveloped lower bodies from all their wandering up and down the rigging (I am sure there is a technical term for that).

ANCIENT WORLD

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A youth - Roman Statue from Tripoli

Statue of Hermes with Dionysus -- Greek

In the ancient world, transport and war were both pursuits carried out predominantly on foot and with an emphasis on speed. Between this and the idealisation of young men, it is therefore relatively obvious that the idealised young man would be one who was lightly muscled, had low body fat, and was developed in an equal fashion across his body. He had only light armour — if any — and so did not require a heavy shoulder musculature to keep weighty armour up. The advent of the Olympics as a trial for men (as well as the ‘unspeakable vice of the Greeks’) fed into this perception of male beauty. Note that while these statues are both lightly defined, there are no striations or veins that would be the hallmark of a body builder. Instead the physique is of someone who improves themselves through normal pursuits.

DARK AGES

rugby-player-cameron-6-742x1024Shoulder musculature – really.

Plate Armour

Now, besides this being a post for me to wave about half-dressed rugby players (YAY!) and write the word “Knigget”, there is a serious point on the musculature of people who wore plate or chain mail armour, as did the Knights in the Dark Ages. The weight of the armour hung about the neck, as illustrated above. Now, while they were on a horse, this was probably not so much of a problem, but just think about moving around in that weight, in that heat, swinging a clunking great sword with all that pulling down on your shoulders. No bloody wonder a knight needed pages — they were built like – if you pardon my French – a brick shithouse, and had the same ability to move!

MIDDLE AGES

carvaggio1

A youth by Caravaggio

clip carvaggio

Detail of Doubting Thomas by Caravaggio

This was a time when there was little to eat, the peasants were being pushed on all sides –by their Lords and their Churches, who needed their tithes, and to support the great peregrinations such as those of Henry VIII (such as the Field of the Cloth of Gold) and with the massed court that travelled with them. Between this and the incessant feudal and national wars meant that the average person was unlikely to be very well nourished. One therefore finds that the style of masculine beauty tends to an almost angelically clear and smooth skin, with a slight fleshiness that belies poverty.

RENAISSANCE

Hand of Michaelangelo's David, Florence4

Detail of David's Hand - Michaelanglo

Michaelangelo_David_1

David - Michaelangelo

The renaissance was — as the name suggests — an obvious return to classical ideals. Great founts of knowledge were springing up, and the old Greco-Roman notions of patronage and taking someone under your wing (with all that entailed) reared up again. There was a near-worship for creation, for genesis. This ideal of young, male beauty was pulled to the fore, both because it suited classical ideals, and because some of the easiest models for a master artist to get their hands on were their young male apprentices. We can see from the statue to the side, though, that while there is greater definition than in the Middle Ages, it is nothing that someone who was able to do a great deal of physical labour would not have. Note the lack of striae on David’s stomach, and then contrast that with the detail of his hand — it is not that there was an accepted fluidity in the portrayal that allowed details to be glossed over. Rather, the six-pack did not exist in the idea of fundamental male beauty.

17th CENTURY

17th century dress a

17th Century Dress

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Louis XIV

We now move onto the 17th century where it became one’s duty is to look prosperous and well fleshed in clothing. Observe the way the coats on the 17th Century dress patterns are strained. It is quite difficult to find 17th century statues without clothing — this was the era of empire building , and the idea of nudity became associated not with the cleanliness of the Renaissance, but with the savages of the new world. There was a duty in the western world — promoted both by church and state — to show one’s superiority, which was greatly fetishized in the ridiculous accoutrements which denoted statues (see sumptuary laws). One’s body appears to have become wither a tool, or something shameful. This is one of those periods in history where you’d be more likely to consider the fact that someone is well fleshed as a positive thing.

18th CENTURY

macaroni_uwm_edu

Macaroni!

costumefamily_regency

Regency Family

The eighteenth century was very much a continuation of the same morals and ideas promulgated in the 17th, as the scope and vastness of the empires grew, but the essential avariciousness behind them didn’t. A Highly formalised pragmatism came to be seen in male dress, while women were very much idealised as ethereal virgins. In response to the growing middle class being able to ape the fashions of the elite, the dress of some members of society who were able do the Grand Tour took to aping the more outlandish continental fashions of the day. Contemporary sources cite the macaronis as being those completely jaded by life — it sounds like Pratchett got it right when he parodied it as The Grand Sneer. From a physical point of view, as the paintings show, there was still an appreciation of people being well fleshed to indicate prosperity.

19th CENTURY

brummel

Beau Brummel

dandy

Another Dandy

The 19th century was dominated by the rise of the middle class. A differentiation both in dress and in physical characteristics was therefore required. Enter the concept of the dandy — a much more subdued offshoot of the macaronis. With the idea of being beautiful for beauty’s sake, the ideals of the dandy went back to those of the renaissance. But *grin* with a little bit of help, it was in this century that the Cumberland corset etc. became common wear for men to create that pinched-waisted look that was so prized and the mark of a man who had to do nothing for his money but exist. The men shown epitomise this physical aspect, it is almost effete and feminine, which would mean they’d have little time to build muscle — that was the preserve of those who had to work for a living.

Over at The New York Times, there’s an article about an exhibition of 17thC embroidery at the Bard Graduate Center

Pair of Gloves

Pair of Gloves

 From the NYTimes article:

“The exhibition of embroidery at the Bard Graduate Center is both a revelation and great fun. Its subject is one of the most beloved, ancient and widely pursued art forms/crafts/hobbies on earth. Its focus is 17th-century England, the site of one of embroidery’s golden ages, it turns out.

A lot happened during this period, especially after 1642. Two civil wars culminated in the beheading of King Charles I in 1649. Then came 10 years of the Cromwells and all that, followed by the Restoration (1660), the Great Plague of London (1665) and the Great Fire of London (1666), which did much to extinguish the Great Plague. Finally a fairly bloodless revolution (1688) was quickly followed by the formation of a constitutional monarchy (1689). Throughout, endless squabbling and plotting and frequent combat transpired between or among monarchs and parliaments; Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Puritans; and Scots, Irish and English. It is a miracle that anybody had time for anything, much less great needlework. “

The Bard Center is in Manhattan so an in person visit isn’t likely for most Macaronis; however, the article is well worth a look, and Bard have a wonderfully distracting set of past exhibition catalogs too, so do beware as they are available via Yale UP.  

The article has a gorgeous slideshow that’s worth ogling. 

Here’s the Bard’s press release:

ENGLISH EMBROIDERY FROM THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, ca. 1580-1700: ’TWIXT ART AND NATURE

December 11, 2008 to April 12, 2009

From December 11, 2008 to April 12, 2009, The Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture is presenting English Embroidery from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, ca. 1580-1700: ’Twixt Art and Nature. This is the third exhibition resulting from a collaboration between the Bard Graduate Center and The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA).*
The exhibition, a key component in the BGC’s History and Theory of Museums concentration, draws from the Metropolitan’s preeminent collection of embroidered objects made for secular use during the late Tudor and Stuart eras. These objects have usually been regarded as a discrete body of work, removed from any sense of their original settings and contexts. However, the embroideries were created and used by the gentry of England for personal adornment and to decorate their homes, and feature designs and patterns that reflect contemporary religious ideals, education concepts, and fashionable motifs. One of the principal goals of this exhibition is to give aesthetic and scholarly credence to these often technically complex, thematically rich, and compelling objects. The significance of the objects within the social and cultural economy of 17th-century domestic life is examined by juxtaposing them with contemporary prints, books, and decorative arts.
The project is co-curated by Melinda Watt, assistant curator in the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum, and Andrew Morrall, professor at the Bard Graduate Center; and is overseen by Deborah L. Krohn, associate professor and coordinator for History and Theory of Museums, and Nina Stritzler-Levine, director of exhibitions, both at the BGC.

The Exhibition
English Embroidery is composed of approximately 80 objects from the MMA’s collection of embroideries and comparative supplemental material from the museum and other institutions and private collectors. The exhibition is presented on three floors of the BGC and is organized in sections that explore thematic and typological characteristics of the embroideries. Original printed images and texts, combined with high-quality photo reproductions, help the viewer contextualize the embroideries in a way that has not been attempted previously. There is also a special animation component, consisting of three digital videos that demonstrate stitch techniques, to enhance visitors’ understanding of this art form.

The exhibition aims, therefore, to further historical understanding of the material by combining historical interpretation with the best in museum practice. The technical sections use macro- and x-ray photography to demonstrate the complexity of embroidery techniques and the variety of constituent materials in a manner never before realized in exhibition form. The adjoining displays of the stages of girlhood education demonstrate concretely the historical process by which these techniques were learned and developed. At the same time, each section illustrates the specific social and cultural meanings of the forms and subject matter, and shows how the themes employed in needlework reflected values of domestic harmony and new ideals of social grace and gentility.
The introductory section on the first floor is centered on the theme of royalty and serves to provide historical background for the visitor. It contains objects of courtly ceremonial and domestic pieces that reinforce the importance of the idea of monarchy to court and country throughout a period in which stable rule under the Tudors was followed by civil war, regicide, and the eventual restoration of monarchy under the Stuarts. Among the ceremonial objects in this section are a spectacular burse (purse) made to hold the Great Seal of England and a lavishly embroidered Bible associated with Archbishop Laud. A number of embroidered portraits are displayed, including a unique Elizabethan portrait of a woman, possibly Queen Elizabeth herself, and a finely worked “portrait miniature” of Charles I, based on engravings by Wenceslas Hollar. This latter work testifies to the deeply intimate nature of the cult of the Martyr King that arose after Charles’s execution. Another featured object is a beaded and embroidered basket with representations of Charles II and Catherine of Braganza, made in celebration of the royal marriage and restored monarchy.
The overarching theme of the second-floor galleries is the use of embroidered objects within the domestic setting. There are three specific themes: the role of embroidery in the education of girls and young women, the survival of rare and precious accessories of dress, and the production and function of domestic furnishings. On display are several samplers representative of the types created in the mid-17th century, including a rare dated workbag created and initialed by a ten-year-old in 1669, as well as exemplary literature advocating needlework skills for the well-bred young woman and pattern books from which designs were taken. A display of techniques and materials complements the presentation of embroidery as an educational tool. Several objects, including a late 16th-century pair of gloves and a highly three-dimensional raised-work panel, have been chosen to illustrate the variety and quality of materials found in 17th-century embroidery.

The display of objects related to education and technique is followed by a display of fashion accessories from the early 17th century. One rare complete garment, an embroidered jacket from about 1616, is highlighted.
Continuing the theme of objects made for domestic use, the second floor concludes with domestic furnishings produced at both the amateur and professional levels. Decorated caskets (small boxes), mirror frames, and cushions all played a role in bringing comfort and color to the home at a time when many furnishings were still transported from one home to another and most upholstery was not fixed. Two of the Met’s most spectacular caskets, as well as two equally elaborate mirrors, are shown here.

The third floor installation explores in detail two of the most popular themes in the pictorial embroidery of the period: stories drawn from the Bible and the depiction of nature. The objects here depict the centrality of the Bible in contemporary domestic life and reflect the use of exemplary biblical heroines as models of virtuous behavior in the upbringing of young women. Finally, a selection of embroideries is used to highlight the importance of the natural world in the decorative conventions of the time.

The Catalogue
The accompanying publication, published and distributed by Yale University Press, has been edited by co-curators Melinda Watt and Andrew Morrall and contains a complete catalogue of the objects in the exhibition as well as six essays. It is the most extensive examination of embroidery from this period ever published in the United States. In addition to the curators, contributors include Kathleen Staples, author of British Embroidery: Curious Works from the Seventeenth Century (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1998), whose essay addresses the production and usage of embroidered furnishings; Susan North, curator of 17th and 18th century dress at the Victoria and Albert Museum (London), who has written an essay on fashion accessories; Ruth Geuter, a leading expert on pictorial embroideries, who offers an essay on the social dimensions of the embroidered biblical narratives; and Cristina Carr, associate conservator at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, who presents an illustrated technical dictionary of materials unique to these objects .

Related Programs
An array of lectures, panels, and other offerings will be presented in conjunction with English Embroidery from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, ca. 1580-1700: ’Twixt Art and Nature . For further information, please call 212-501-3011 or e-mail programs@bgc.bard.edu.

Exhibition Tours
Group tours of English Embroidery are conducted Tuesdays through Fridays between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., and on Thursdays until 7:00 p.m.  Reservations are required for all groups. For further information, please call the Bard Graduate Center Gallery at 212-501-3013 or TTY 212-501-3012, or e-mail gallery@bgc.bard.edu.gallery@bgc.bard.edu.

Location
The Bard Graduate Center is located at 18 West 86th Street, between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue, in New York City.  Gallery hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Thursday from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.  Admission is $3 general, $2 seniors and students (with valid ID), and free on Thursday evenings after 5:00 p.m.  For further information about the Bard Graduate Center and upcoming exhibitions, please visit www.bgc.bard.edu.

Support

‘English Embroidery from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, ca. 1580-1700: Twixt Art and Nature is made possible through generous grants from the Coby Foundation, Ltd. and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.

Upcoming Exhibitions
  Fall-Winter 2009-2010 New Amsterdam in the Dutch Atlantic

For further information, please call 212-501-3000 or e-mail generalinfo@bgc.bard.edu.

*The BGC/MMA collaboration was inaugurated in 2001.  Prior to mounting each exhibition, the BGC, in conjunction with the MMA, holds a series of courses in which a small group of graduate students learn all aspects of researching, planning, designing, and installing exhibitions of decorative objects. Class sessions are held in the storerooms of the MMA, where curators lead scholarly discussions and students work intimately with the objects considered for display. Research in this course is ultimately utilized in the exhibition catalogue, exhibition labels, and/or gallery guides. Other classes are held at the BGC and examine topics related to general museum practice, including developing and proposing the exhibition concept; identifying and arranging for the borrowing of objects; writing a script, captions, text panels, and other interpretive materials; and accommodating transport, installation, and conservation requirements. This current academic initiative offers a unique opportunity to heighten awareness of and develop a critical understanding of textiles.

 

In line with Margaret Leigh’s post on her native country, we thought we’d keep the theme running with a post on Australian cinema.

Never self-indulgent, always fascinating and sometimes as harsh as the climate of its country, Australian cinema has clawed its way to the notice of the film world, taking its place -rightly, imo – alongside any nation on earth.

Here are a few of my favourites. I’d love to know about yours.

Muriel’s Wedding

A comedy which deals with suicide, theft, cancer? Surely not? But yet, it deals with all these and more. A wonderful warped coming out film with a great score and magnificent performances from all.

Strictly Ballroom

Tongue firmly in cheek and camper than a line of tents, this is a “must watch” for me whenever it comes on the TV. I love the storyline, (even if the cliche of the “ugly girl” becomes lovely just by taking her glasses off is a little over-done) the dancing, the over-the-top characters, the histrionics, the the music. Oh and the section where Paul Mecurio is dancing in his vest? And the Pasa Double? Hubba hubba. *fans self*

Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Not the campest of our offerings, surprisingly. A travelogue tail of female impersonators travelling from Sydney to Alice Springs (don’t ask) and the adventures and misadventures they encounter along the way. Far fetched? Yes. Over the top? Absolutely. Brilliant? Not a doubt about it. If you’ve never see it, it’s worth it just for Guy Pearce, perched on top of Priscilla miming to opera while trailing silver lame across the Australian scenery.

Gallipoli

Back when Mel Gibson was good, and beautiful and not a loon. The film makes you love the characters and then breaks your heart into little bitty pieces. There’s a lovely slashy subtext if you have slash goggles, which I’m sure you do.

The Proposition

What? you are saying, “Never heard of it.” I caught this on a criminally short run and felt happy to have seen it. It’s what the Aussies do best, gritty, dark morally ambigious drama. The blurb goes :”A lawman apprehends a notorious outlaw and gives him 9 days to kill his older brother, or else they’ll execute his younger brother.” So you know you aren’t in for a Hollywood edition of an Australian Western. Screenplay by Nick Cave, which might give you a bit of a clue, too. If you like Kurosawa or Eastwood-style westerns then get the DVD of this – hard to watch in parts but so worth it.

The Piano

Called at times, “a fairy tale for adults” this was filmed in New Zealand with an international cast but is essentially Australian made. Scenery, score, performances to die for together with angst and turmoil by the bucketload this film is just about the perfect viewing for my money.

Shine

Another “can’t miss” for me when it comes on the TV. A real “journey” film that will grab you right from the beginning and you crying, laughing, cringing and simply wallowing in the wonderfulness of it. Wonderful wonderful score (hmmm – i’m seeing a pattern here)

I’ve included a clip of Geoffrey Rush (deservedly won a Oscar for his performance as the mentally ill David Helfgott) playing Flight of the Bumblebee. Rush did all his own hand workfor the film, which, as someone who can barely tinkle the ivories amazes me almost as much as the man’s performance. If you watch an interview with the real Helfgott it’s uncanny how accurate Rush’s performance is. It’s the most heartwarming film I know, and even this one clip makes me tear up.

To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love – Pride & Prejudice

We’ve all seen them, the costume dramas where dancing takes place but have you wondered how accurate they are or how much fun they’d really be?

For a start, dances in the 18th and 19th century were complicated. I remember doing country dancing when I was at school and it took just about all my concentration to “strip the willow” or to do a “dashing white sergeant.” So I’m doubly in awe of Elizabeth Bennett – who knocks off a neat cotillion or quadrille – while pausing now and then to partake in witty banter. My bonnet’s off to you, my dear.

If you agreed to dance with a partner you would “stand up” for a “set” of 2 dances – and this was generally about half an hour. Plenty of time to get to know each other a little, and you can imagine why it was considered scandalous to dance too many sets with the same person. Not only was it selfish, and the partner didn’t get passed around (still not enough men to go around) but you would be considered to be getting too familiar and that led to trouble.

What is often omitted in these costume dramas (for obvious reasons that it would probably clash with the dialogue) was that there was usually a caller – same as there is in American Square Dancing (which sprang from these dances after all) who explained the changes in movement just before they were performed. Not an easy task, I can tell you!

La Coquette

If you can make head or tail of these dancing instructions you are better macaroni than me, Gunga Din. However – these people can – and here they are dancing it.

Can I express how happy the sight of men in breeches skipping makes me?

The Cotillion

The cotillion is a square set formation for four couples. The chorus (or figure) is danced between each “change” which means the dance changes slightly. There were generally 9 changes but they weren’t all danced at once or you’d be dancing all blooming night.

The Quadrille

Again, danced by four couples in a square (and if you’ve heard of riders doing a quadrille, well yes, this is where it came from – people wanted to try the complicated movements without horses) The head couple in a square would perform their movements and then these movements would be repeated by the other three couples in turn

The Mazurka

Dances from Europe travelled as soldiers returned from war, this one had spread from Poland and was particularly lively. Excuse the costumes here, as they are more Victorian – but the dance was made popular in Paris as early as 1775.

The Waltz

The waltz evolved from the stately turning dances of Alpine Europe, and like the Mazurka, spread during and after the Napoleonic wars. It was adopted by Almacks in the early 19th century but was still considered quite shocking by much of society that didn’t requent that club. Some hostesses barred it from their houses.

Ernst Arndt observed the waltz being performed in 1799:

The dancers grasped the long dress of their partners so that it would not drag and be trodden upon, and lifted it high, holding them in this cloak which brought both bodies under one cover, as closely as possible against them and in this way the whirling continued in the most indecent positions: the suppporting hand lay firmly on the breast, at each movement making little lustful pressures; the girls went wild and looked as if they would drop. When waltzing on the darker side of the room there were bolder embraces and kisses. The custom of the country: it is not as bad as it looks, they exclaim. But now I understand very well why there and there in parts of Swabia and Switzerland the waltz has been prohibited.

Again – this video is the wrong era for dresses etc – but you can imagine just how shocking it must have seemed after the “gentle on the eye” country dances where everything is neat and symettrical – this must have seemed like Babylonian chaos.

No sooner than this dance had been universally accepted, when a further horror was perpetrated on the genteel set…

The Polka

http://www.lahacal.org/film/polka.html

And then – it’s all downhill from there!!

fatlady.jpg

Apologies for another ‘serious content lite’ post but I couldn’t resist sharing the link to this great website about the history of Opera. It has a slight relevance to writing, as I found it while researching opera for a scene in ‘Secrets’, but for anyone who likes the lighter side of history, it speaks for itself :)

PeoplePlay UK

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