Contributor: Barbara Schaff
Location: Göttingen, Germany
Description: This elaborate mourning dress, or heva, stands out as a particularly magnificent example of Tahitian artisanship among the about 2000 ethnographical objects which were either received as presents or tokens of exchange by Cook or members of his crew during Cook’s three Pacific voyages. It is one of only six complete surviving mourning costumes of its kind and testifies to an elaborate mourning practice, also called a heva, which would, with the coming of Christianity, soon become a thing of the past on Tahiti. Brought back to England, it was purchased by the British Crown from the London dealer in ethnographic specimens, George Humphrey, in 1782. It was then sent on to the ethnographic collection of Göttingen University, where it remains. As the only German university founded by a British king in the context of the Personal Union between Hanover and Britain, the scientific contacts between Göttingen, the Royal Society and the British Crown in the 18th century were excellent, as this handsome gift evidences. Its passage from Tahiti through London and on to Germany was also marked by the impression it made upon the late eighteenth-century cultural imagination. The heva was to become one of the most widely circulated images of Tahitian culture in late eighteenth-century Europe.
Continue reading “A Mourning Dress brought back from Tahiti by Captain James Cook”
Contributor: Deirdre Coleman
Location: The Johnston House Museum, East Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
Description: The exquisite and costly workmanship of this early-nineteenth century French table clock makes it one of the most eye-catching items in the house museum of The Johnston Collection in East Melbourne, Victoria. Acquired by the Australian antiques dealer William Johnston (1911-1986), and attributed to the leading French-Swiss automata-maker Jean David Maillardet (1768-1834), the figure conforms to a once popular caricature, the Pendule au Nègre fumeur [The Smoking Negro Clock]. But as the controversy generated by the ‘blackamoor’ brooch worn in late 2017 by Princess Michael of Kent demonstrated, exoticized black figures are now considered offensive. What makes this table clock even more challenging and intriguing is the name it was given: ‘Toussaint Louverture’, in reference to the leader of a famous slave-uprising in 1802. Continue reading “The Toussaint Timepiece: Trophy of War?”
Contributor: Nicola J. Watson
Location: Theatre Collection, Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Description: Nearly two hundred years ago today, you might have attended this post-Christmas entertainment at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden in London. The programme characteristically offered a straight piece (here, Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The Duenna) but it also included a ‘new, grand & comick’ pantomime staged by the famous composer, arranger and producer of such shows, Charles Farley (1771-1859). As nowadays, pantomime in the Regency was one of the more idiosyncratically and resolutely British forms of national popular theatre and an integral part of Christmas festivities. But, as this playbill suggests, British pantomime also drew heavily upon European literary tradition and theatrical practice, even as it staged Britain’s relation to the rest of the world in topical, patriotic and even imperialist mode.
Continue reading “A Christmas Entertainment in London, Jan 11th, 1826”
Location: Library of Congress, Washington D.C., United States of America
Contributor: Anna Mercer
Description: This is the inside cover of a notebook jointly owned by Percy Bysshe Shelley (PBS), Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (MWS), and Claire Clairmont. It was used by this close-knit group of writers from 1814-18, and is now held in the Library of Congress. The notebook accompanied the Shelleys and Claire on their 1816 travels through Europe, and contains material in all three of their hands, some of which pertains to the composition and publication of MWS’s first novel Frankenstein. Continue reading “The notebook shared by the Shelleys, 1814-1818”
Location: Horse Guards, London, United Kingdom
Contributor: Ian Haywood
Description: This strange-looking, even kitsch object stands in a corner of Horse Guards, next to St James’s Park in London. For all its garish and even comic appearance, it is actually Britain’s only public monument to the Peninsular war. It was first unveiled in 1816, but its genesis began in 1812 with the Duke of Wellington’s victory at Salamanca. One consequence of this battle was that Napoleonic forces withdrew from the two-year siege of Cadiz, seat of the Spanish Cortes and the new liberal constitution. To celebrate this liberation, the Cortes gave a huge French mortar as a gift to the Prince Regent (later George IV), requesting only that it be displayed in a public place. The Prince duly obliged and commissioned the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich to build a suitable carriage. Four years and an immense expenditure later, the Cadiz ‘bomb’, as it soon became known, was shown to the public on the Prince’s birthday. Continue reading “The Cadiz Bomb”
Location: Freies Deutsches Hochstift/Frankfurter Goethe-Museum, Grosser Hirschgraben 23-25, D-60311 Frankfurt/M., Germany
Contributor: Wolfgang Bunzel
Description: In the 18th and 19th century there were folding travel desks, often equipped with bottom drawers (cp. folding travel desk in the Beethoven-Haus Bonn from the collection of H. C. Bodmer) enabling travellers to work during their journeys. Suitable for excursions and journeys, Bettina von Arnim’s handbag, foldable from both sides, adopts exactly this design principle. It has a drawer underneath with a removable long wooden box, which served as a storage for writing utensils (ink pot and several quills), drawing tools (pencil and chalk) and different needle work (knitting- and sewing-needles as well as fixing pins).Thus, the authoress was always provided with the necessary writing material while travelling. Continue reading “Bettina von Arnim’s handbag”
Location: Istituzione Biblioteca Classense, via Baccarini 3 Ravenna (Italy)
Contributors: Claudia Giuliani, Diego Saglia
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”
Location: Royal Irish Academy, Dawson Street, Dublin, Ireland
Contributor: Francesca Benatti
Description: Thomas Moore’s harp is held in Dublin in the Library of the Royal Irish Academy, which also houses Moore’s personal library. It was donated to Moore in 1821 by Dublin harp maker John Egan in a publicity drive for his new line of Portable Irish Harps, which culminated the following year with an endorsement by King George IV. Moore’s Portable Irish Harp features in the anonymous portrait of Thomas Moore in his Study at Sloperton (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin), next to his cabinet piano. We know that, despite Egan’s efforts, which greatly expanded the sale of Irish harps in Ireland and Britain, Moore himself preferred the piano as an instrument.
During the eighteenth century, the Irish harp had become powerfully charged with nationalist symbolism through the publications of the Volunteers and the United Irishmen, who chose it as the emblem of their revolutionary movement. Continue reading “Thomas Moore’s Harp”
Location: Restaurant and Hôtel de l’Île St Pierre, Lac de Bienne, Switzerland
Contributor: Nicola J. Watson
Description: A wooden trapdoor set within the floor in the corner of a first-floor bedroom in the sole farmhouse on the Île St Pierre in the Lac de Bienne, Switzerland. Both its date of origin and original use are obscure. It achieved celebrity in the last decade of the eighteenth century through its association with the philosopher, novelist and essayist Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), and in particular with his posthumously published autobiographical writings, both the latter part of the Confessions (published first in 1789) and the volume of essays entitled Les Rêveries du Promeneur Solitaire (composed between 1776 and 1778, published in 1782). Continue reading “Rousseau’s Trapdoor”
Location: Private Collection
Contributor: Catriona Seth
Description: The heroine of Germaine de Staël’s Corinne, ou l’Italie (1807) is a poet and improviser who displays great sensitivity to the arts. She takes the Scottish aristocrat who falls in love with her, Oswald, Lord Nelvil, around the monuments of Rome. She also shows him her own paintings and statues in her villa at Tivoli. Her collection was probably imagined on the basis of Angelica Kauffmann’s, which the novelist had seen. Continue reading “A real picture from the fictional Corinne’s gallery”