- Victorian Hair Jewelry
Bored with your old trinkets? Want to surprise your coworkers during the next Zoom meeting? Well, look no further, because Victorians have what you need – hair jewelry! And we don’t mean hair accessories, we’re talking about jewelry pieces made of actual human hair. Earrings, rings, necklaces, brooches, you name it – everything can be woven out of hair or at least contain locks of hair.
The practice was prevalent throughout the Victorian era, with higher classes adopting the trend first thanks to goldsmiths and other artisans offering high-quality jewelry that could be personalized by adding a beloved person’s hair and precious materials. Such mementos could not only be a way to keep your family and friends close, but also objects of mourning. The mourning hair jewelry became especially common after the death of Prince Albert, when Queen Victoria decided to wear a locket of Albert’s hair around her neck, thus popularizing this way of showing love for the deceased. Around the same time, hair work became a common pastime for women of lower classes. Ladies would learn how to create these intricate items from each other or could use patterns printed in women’s magazines.
The topic of this week’s comic was suggested by IG @sewing_ducky, who also became one of the characters! If you would also like to become a character in one of the future comics, check out the Anatomist membership level on VeinityFair Patreon or try your luck in the next giveaways
- Madame X
“Madame X” was an infamous portrait of Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, painted by John Singer Sargent. In the painting, Virginie, a Parisian socialite known for her beauty, is wearing a sleek black dress. She has perfectly styled hair, and the paleness of her skin beautifully contrasts with the dark background. It seemed that the piece would become a great success for both the artist and the model.
And yet, the portrait was met with a very controversial reception at the 1884 Paris Salon. The viewers commented on the revealing dress cut, the shoulder strap inappropriately falling down on the shoulder, the weird position of the model, and her morbid paleness. How could it be? After all, it was still the society that applauded the sickly look caused by romanticized tuberculosis. What is more, the dress design wasn’t more revealing than other popular evening gowns at the time. It seems that a large part of the scandal was … gossip.
The 1884 Salon was a particularly mundane exhibition with almost no notable paintings. Moreover, visitors had to go through many rooms to see “Madame X”, which could have altered their moods. Besides, the majority of the patrons belonged to the bourgeoisie and could have been more critical of the aristocratic Madame Gautreau flaunting her jeweled straps and high fashion. It was also enough for a few respected people to openly describe the piece of art as ‘immoral’ to create an atmosphere in which anyone who disagrees could be seen as ‘immoral’ as well. The newspapers quickly jumped on the bandwagon, criticizing the painting, Madame Gautreau, and Sargent. They even printed caricatures! As you can imagine, at that point, new Salon visitors were already expecting to see something scandalous, even before seeing the painting themselves!
The scandal was so blown up out of proportion that Virginie’s mother threatened Sargent with a duel, and Sargent himself moved to Britain (after repainting the unfortunate strap, as can be seen in the portrait today.). After the initial backlash, the lives of Gautreau and Sargent went back to normal. The first remained a fashionable Paris figure, and the latter became a highly sought-after artist.
Check out this video by Karolina Żebrowska to find out more on the history of Madame X!
- First Foot!
We made it! 2020 is officially over, and I hope you spent the last hours of that year in a joyful atmosphere. But have you paid attention to who crossed your threshold first this year? Your whole 2021 may depend on it! According to an old Scottish tradition, called ‘First Foot’, the first person who enters your household after midnight fortells the fortune for the new year. The best candidates are dark-haired men bearing small gifts, as they are a sign of prosperity and good luck. Fair-haired men are not as good apparently, and seen as a bad omen.
While the tradition can still be observed today, it was especially popular in the Victorian era, as the Queen was in love with everything Scottish and popularized Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) traditions among her subjects. During the time, the midnight guests were expected to bring such symbolic gifts as whiskey, coal, shortbread, spices, and black bun.
- Dead Birds & Christmas Cards
The holiday season is upon us, which also means some delightful colorful cards in many households. The tradition of sending holiday cards was also alive and well in the 19th century and the Victorians are well-known for their outlandish Christmas cards usually featuring a variety of critters from moths through frogs to … dead birds.
The lifeless bodies of little wrens or robins were a popular design choice, although it might be difficult to imagine today how they were supposed to boost the festive spirit. Apparently, this quirky tradition might have its roots in a more morbid one, in which killing a wren or a robin was deemed a good-luck charm for the new year.
Luckily, the Victorians decided to treat this one more symbolically, and following their footsteps I’m giving you my watercolor interpretation of the theme along with my best wishes for the holidays and 2021. Do you have any favorite vintage card designs?
- “A Christmas Tree with Lamps of Skulls”
The San Francisco Call, December 27, I898
“A Christmas Tree with Lamps of Skulls”
The Vision That Appeared to a Demonstrator of Anatomy at Midnight.
It was 12 o’clock last Saturday night when Dr. W. O. Wllcox climbed the stairs of 21 Powell street to go to his room. It was just the time when graveyards yawn and give forth their dead; but the doctor had no reason to suppose the spirits of the air would haunt him in the privacy of his own chamber, so he opened the door without hesitation and stepped inside.
There was no need of striking alight. The room was illuminated by a score of prim and ghastly lamps, that clung to the green bangles of a Christmas tree standing upon a table. They were skulls, and the eyeless sockets flashed fire from within as they nodded their grisly heads to the swaying of the branches.
On the table under the bone-fruited tree were some of the doctor’s dissecting knives, gleaming balefully in the eye light from the skulls. There were crossed shinbones lying on the black tablecloth, white as the symbol of death on a pirate’s ensign, and more skulls— evidently windfalls from the boughs above. Between the jaws of one of these was a half-smoked cigarette, which the grinning head seemed to be thoroughly enjoying.
There were skeletons of hands, feet and other parts of the human bony building, mingled with the steel implements of surgical craft, and to many of these objects of cub-medico humor were attached cards bearing inscriptions as appropriate as witty.
By means of one of these inscriptions one skull complained bitterly of the unusually long time between drinks. Another, whose way in this world had probably strayed from the straight and narrow path, demanded ice and steam beer, while the head of a child declared it had been the victim of a mother’s neglect.
Dr. Wilcox is a demonstrator of anatomy in one of the colleges, and although the students of his class declare they never would do such a thing as desecrate a Christmas tree with the products of the grave, still the doctor is looking among them for the one who planned his pleasant Christmas surprise.
Source of the story: The San Francisco Call archive
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