Contributor: Diego Saglia
Location: The Museum of London
Description: The beau monde of Romantic-period Britain, dashing Regency gentlemen, male characters in the fiction of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, and in recent films and TV series: all of these become strikingly present through this pristine dark blue coat dating from around 1803. It was made in London by a tailor patronized by George Bryan ‘Beau’ Brummell (1778-1840), foremost among the early nineteenth-century dandies and the inventor of a simple but exquisite way of dressing aimed at enhancing the male physique. The coat brings to life the understated style he and his circle developed. By reinventing male fashion, these men created new modes of presenting and being (in) their bodies: besides demanding the highest standards in tailoring and attention to detail, they were innovative in valuing personal cleanliness and grooming. Though, in the Romantic period, such practices were restricted to a few individuals from the privileged elite, they also anticipated later phenomena up to recent forms of metrosexual or fluid masculine identity. This blue coat has these and other intriguing stories to tell – not least that of its rediscovery.
Continue reading “‘Beau Brummell’’s Coat”
Contributors: Diego Saglia and Steve Wharton
Location: No. 20 Lansdown Crescent, Bath (UK)
Description: William Beckford (1760-1844), enfant terrible of Romantic-period Britain who lived into the Victorian age, left his mark in and on many of its literary and artistic manifestations. The son of a former Lord Mayor of London and one of the richest men in the kingdom, he was an aesthete interested in music, painting and objets d’art, a traveller, a novelist and the focus of a sexual scandal. In literature, he came to prominence as the author of the oriental gothic novella Vathek (1786), an extraordinarily imaginative work that opens with the description of Caliph Vathek’s fabulous palace of Alkoremi, an exotic fantasia on a par with the Prince Regent’s Pavilion at Brighton. A less conspicuous ‘oriental’ building project of Beckford’s was this small summer house or pavilion in the garden behind his Bath residence. Though diminutive, this building is full of surprises and tells the story of the diffusion of the Orient in the visual and spatial environment of the Romantic period, as well as in the context of an otherwise classically denotated city.
Continue reading “Beckford’s Moorish Summer House”
Contributors: Diego Saglia and Francesca Sandrini
Location: Salone delle Feste, tavolo 3; Museo Glauco Lombardi, Parma.
Description: This object, a commonplace book, speaks to a number of questions: What did a European female ruler from the Romantic period read? And how did she respond to the works? And was this reading also a creative, ‘writerly’ act?
Napoleon’s second wife, Marie Louise of Austria, Duchess of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla from the Congress of Vienna (1814/15) to her death in 1847, was a keen reader who kept several diaries, akin both to English commonplace books and the French practice of extraits et mélanges. There she transcribed longer and shorter extracts from the books she read, as well as her own observations and reflections. This commonplace book in our exhibition is the most significant and representative of them. This kind of artefact was in fact a relatively common phenomenon among women (and men) of the middle and upper classes all around Europe; yet, this specific example offers insights into a woman whose life blended public and private aspects, officialdom and intimacy, in peculiar and significant ways. Mixing reading and writing, reception and creation, Marie Louise’s commonplace book may be argued to be ultimately a vehicle for authoring both one’s own book and, in turn, one’s own Romantic self.
Continue reading “The Commonplace Book of Marie Louise of Austria, Duchess of Parma”
Contributor: Diego Saglia
Location: Istituzione Biblioteca Classense, Ravenna (Italy)
Description: This sizeable travelling chest (48.2 x 80.7 x 19.2 cm) belonged to Countess Teresa Guiccioli, née Gamba (1800-73), the co-protagonist of what Iris Origo called Lord Byron’s ‘last attachment’. A little battered, perhaps, it hides its secrets well. Read carefully, it nonetheless expresses continuity with systems of aristocratic identity construction familiar from the ancien régime, describes the consumerist self-styling of the travelling woman, and testifies to its central role in Teresa’s construction of her relationship with Byron.
Continue reading “Teresa Guiccioli’s Travelling Chest”
Contributors: Claudia Giuliani, Diego Saglia
Location: Istituzione Biblioteca Classense, via Baccarini 3 Ravenna (Italy)
Description (English): Made of gold decorated with enamel, this medallion contains a lock of George Gordon, Lord Byron’s hair. The hair is dark and fastened by a small cord. This jewel is part of Teresa Gamba Guiccioli’s collection of souvenirs, letters and manuscripts kept at Ravenna’s Biblioteca Classense (Classense Library) and donated by the Gamba heirs in 1949.
It was given to Teresa by Byron on the eve of his departure for Greece in July 1823, after a relationship of more than four years. It is preserved together with other such love-tokens: another medallion commissioned by Byron in Genoa before leaving, made from intertwining the two lovers’ locks of hair and bearing Teresa’s “TGG” monogram; a braided lock of Teresa’s hair; and other locks of the poet’s hair, sometimes kept in paper wrappers with her own signature, which Byron gave her at various times during their relationship. The last lock of Byron’s hair in the collection was cut after his death in Greece, where he passed away with her medallion still round his neck, hanging from a cord made of hair. The collection is complete, with cards containing Teresa Gamba’s autograph. Continue reading “Byron’s hair”