Monthly Archives: October 2011

The Prettiest Circus Drawings Ever

These very glamorous drawings are part of the circus museum at the Ringling estate.  I wish I had written down the artists’ names, but I’m afraid I was visiting the museum with my husband and his 90 year old uncle and as I had already dragged them through a botanical print exhibit, I was starting to push my luck!  Enjoy!

On another note, the circus museum also boasts a miniature of the entire Big Top and grounds.  I was delighted to find a lady in full 18th century getup in the milieu.

Stepping Outside Cà d’Zan: More Ringling Photos

Approaching the bay–isn’t the marble beautiful?  It looks like a Missoni pattern.

Journey straight through the simple stained glass windows and you’ll be in the Great Room again.  Turn around and there’s the bay.

The unsual looking glass continues throughout the house–come to think of it, I don’t believe the house has a single clear window.  They’re all like the one below.

The view from the Great Room

The Secret Garden north of Cà d’Zan

Secret Garden second view

Statues like this boy are everywhere around the estate.  I like how he’s being taken over by one of the many banyan trees on the grounds.

Missed the first Cà d’Zan post?  Find it here.

Interested in the layout of the estate?  Find it here.

On tap for tomorrow: The Prettiest Circus Drawings Ever

Cà d’Zan : The Ringling Mansion

Cà d’ Zan , the Venetian Gothic mansion belonging to the famous circus owner John Ringling, is a house unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  It’s part circus cheek, part Venetian elegance, and all at once oddly charming.  Built in 1924 and finished around Christmas 1925, it set John and Mable Ringling back 1.5 million–a princely sum in those days.  Situated right on Sarasota Bay, this 36,000 square foot home is on prime real estate and with a Belvedere tower rising 81 feet, the view is a sight to behold.  In total the house boasts 41 rooms and 15 bathrooms, although in person it doesn’t quite feel this large.  All in all it has five stories, including a basement, and stretches two hundred feet across the waterfront. 

The Mansion on the Bay

Approaching the house from the secret garden.  Although on a clear day, the house sparkles, it’s particularly moody with overcast skies.

From the Main Walk

 Facing the golden door where one enters the house

Turn 180 from the view of the golden door I just gave you and you’re facing an anteroom that looks into the great room to the right and a dining room which is not shown.  The red is dramatic, isn’t it?  Perfect for a circus family, I think.

The room directly beyond the foyer looks onto the bay.  It’s a big room full of nothing too interesting except an enchanting ceiling jam packed with vignettes.

The 1920s vignette is a nice ode to the time the house was built.

The Great Room and looking up. . .

I’m a sucker for detailed ceiling work as I am alway craning my neck.  Ca d’Zan does not disappoint in this regard.  Everything is finished with a discriminating eye.

Hand painted on wood


View towards the bay

I think I’ll post a few more photos tomorrow as this is running longer than expected and due to other obligations I’m getting to the post rather late.  So tomorrow then . . .

Ringling Museum: Ladies’ Fans, Part 2

Earlier last week I posted pics of 18th century fans, circa 1750 to be precise, from France and the Netherlands. After a few days lolling around Sarasota and wondering whether a series of postings to a) show additional pics of their C18-19 fan collection and b) extend my current Water for Elephants/Ringling Circus preoccupation would be appropriate for a site mostly devoted to Georgian England and Revolutionary France tidbits, I’ve decided that a week’s deviation from the usual topic might just be diverting.  You agree?  Good.  If not, I’ll see you next week!

The Fans

The left fan I must not have thought much of while at the museum because I have no picture of it in my possession.  Oops! The middle fan (2) caught my eye right away.

It’s of Napoleon and Marie Louise, the Duchess of Parma and Napoleon’s second wife.  The fan is circa 1810, made just prior to her becoming Empress in 1811.  I wonder if they were all the rage to carry or more of a promotional campaign on the Empire’s part?  My French isn’t exactly amazing; otherwise I would take the pains to translate the inscription on either side of the fans.  My guess without translation is that the fan commemorates the uniting of two empires, namely the French and the Austrian-Habsburg.  Oh, well look at that little bit of irony!  Vive la révolution!

 I find this fan visually pretty in a pale, ephemeral sort of way.  It’s the color of tea-stained rags with hints of relief in white and dove gray.  The scene presented to us is a wine festival with musicians and dancers, families and couples, all enjoying an evening out.  Odd color scheme for for what’s being staged, but it is an old fan dating to 1710.  It’s also Italian.  As with many fine fans, the paper is vellum and the sticks are ivory.  This contrasts with the Napoleon and Marie Louise fan whose sticks are wood.

The last fan in the bunch is another French one from 1750.  It’s typical of the period, ivory sticks, watercolor on paper leaf, and a tranquil peasant scene.

 The Making of Fans from the Ringling Museum

“The main components of a folding fan consist of two end sticks, called guards sticks, that protect the painted leaf within.  Typically, the painting was done in watercolor after which the shaped leaf was carefully scored and pleated, allowing the fan to unfold as it was opened.  The interior sticks and spine supporting the fans leaf,  made of materials as varied as elephant ivory, tortoise shell, mother-of-pearl, exotics woods or bone, are joined at the base of the sticks with a single rivet.  The most expensive examples would then have gold or silver leaf applied to the carved decoration.  Handmade paper, woven silk, and vellum were all used to fashion the leaf.”

On tap for tomorrow:  Pictures of Ca’ d’Zan, the Ringling Family Mansion

Ringling Museum: Ladies’ Fans, Part 1

Other than being a delightful ode to all things circus, the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida is a surpising resource for the 18th century.  Not only does it have an original 1788 Vigee-Lebrun of Marie Antoinette, their collection of fans is spectacular.  Take, for instance, this trio from the 1750s.

The left (1) is French and features figures on a landscape.  It’s a pretty example of watercolored leaf paper over ivory sticks.  The predominant design is lace on a black backdrop, black being an unsual color for the time except when used in mourning.  I don’t, however, believe it’s a mourning fan as it was not specified as such at the museum.  If my recollection is correct, full mourning fans would have been made of black crepe during this period with half-mourning allowing white and/or dull colors to grace the garments and accessories.

The middle fan (2) is also French and shows a fête au jardin or garden party.  I have a close-up photo below because it’s very busy.  The sticks in particular are incredible.  Like the previous fan, the medium is watercolor on paper leaf, but it’s made with mother-of-pearl sticks in addition to ivory.

Unlike the first two, the bright red fan on the right is Dutch.  The technique is gouache on paper leaf.  This technique is similar to watercolor except with a higher pigment to water ratio and a chalk-like substance added to the mix.  This creates opacity and a high degree of reflection, making the colors stunning.  The ivory sticks aren’t quite as decorative as fan 2, but the village scene therein is precious.

The additional fans are closed and therefore not very interesting.  So then, the Marie Antoinette Vigee-Lebrun. As a side note, did MA actually read? I’m not so sure!

Hogarth’s Harlot’s Progress Plate 6

After a long journey entailing bawds, degenerates, and harlots, Moll has found her inevitable.  She’s 23.  As of September 2, 1731, she’s also dead.  A plate atop her coffin records this, but we can be assured that outside the minds of harlots nothing will remain of her memory.  After all, she is in a room with the soon-to-be dead–women marked by syphilis or the hangman’s noose.

(click to enlarge)

One woman in the plate stares out, making eye contact with us.  Her name: Elizabeth Adams.  Her execution date: 1737.  Her crime: theft.  She sits in perfect composure as a clergyman worms his hand up her skirt.  Indeed, she is the only composed person in the room, her expression one of sardonic resolution.  She knows her fate and yet she doesn’t resist it.  The clergyman, meanwhile, is tingling with pleasure, his flute spilling suggestively upon his lap.  The other mourners are similarly pursuing their own ends.

Moving counterclockwise we see Moll’s child, chief mourner of the ceremony.  He leans against his mother’s casket, spinning a top in his fingers.  He may as well be alone in the room for all he is disengaged.  The wretched procuress directly to the right is moaning, her heel kicked up as if in pain–probably from facing another lost source of income.  The bottle of Nantz (or brandy) beside her bears a grim, theatrical face.  Is this in reference to the tragicomedy of the scene?

The undertaker pursues a harlot whose outstretched hand points toward Moll as he adjusts her glove.  Although it is difficult to see, she is plucking from his pocket the harlot’s most coveted accessory: a pocketwatch.  Despite the properly observed mourning customs–the white handkerchiefs, the sprigs of rosemary (once thought to prevent contagion)–nothing is as it should be.  Nobody acts as one would assume.  The funereal atmosphere is tempered by conceit.

 A moon shines behind a window and a reflection hovers in a mirror.  The harlot inspecting her face has good reason for vanity; a spot appears and with it, anxiety.  The “progress” continues.

Among the remaining mourners, we have four unidentified harlots in pairs.  The pair nearest Moll appear to grieve, most likely for their own fate, but amidst this grieving one harlot complains of her finger pain.  The two garbed in black are in full mourning.  As one sips her drink, the other wrings her hands.  But there is something about them that looks conspiratorial.  Perhaps they were foes of Moll and regard her death with both defeat and triumph.  It could be my flawed modern sensibility, but with their dark cloaks, they look a little like witches, their heads arched together.  A witches hat and twigs did appear in plate 3 and I can’t help but wonder why Hogarth would distinguish them from the other harlots by putting them all in black.  They are also fairly centered on the plate, in view between the two figures sympathetic to Moll, and by contrast I’m not entirely convinced they are, in fact, maudlin.

To the left we see Moll’s maid again, no longer protective but still disapproving.  She’s disgusted by the clergyman’s sinning, and appears to be clearing a plate and flute from Moll’s casket lid.  But really, is there a better use for Moll’s casket than a bar?  The youngest harlot thinks so.  Hogarth placed her as the sole truly touching figure in the plate.  She stands just to the left of Moll’s country hat, hung up for the last time.  As she lifts aside the lid, her fingers poised as if in surprise, her face is gentle.  She’s curious, perhaps having recently crossed over to the opposite side of innocent, and we can almost hear her thoughts: “Is this going to happen to me?”

The answer, of course, is yes.  It is unlikely Moll’s diseased corpse dissuades the young harlot.  Moll herself could not be dissuaded and neither will the thousands who continue after her.  The clergymen can’t save them.  The men who quench their needs upon them won’t.  And so we continue.

Missed previous A Harlot’s Progress Plates?

Hogarth’s Harlot’s Progress Plate 5

We’ve come a long way with Moll so far and in Moll’s case, it shows.  Recently sprung from the gaol, she’s back to her dreary lodgings and considerably worse for wear.  Syphilis has come knocking at her door, or shall we say teeth, as the medicine’s side effect has made itself known by now.  Moll’s head is wrapped, her teeth presumably loosened beyond repair, and she looks to be moaning in pain.  Gone are the silks and jewels of the harlot.  Her entire body is now shrouded in cloth, no longer accessible, her desirability but a memory. 

Much to the chagrin of her maid, Moll’s doctors–one of them Dr. Jean Misaubin, a renowned French quack–are arguing about the proper way to proceed.  The options?  More mercury pills, maybe a little cupping, a little bloodletting?  Trouble is, Dr. Richard Rock, whose advertisement for anti-venereal pills lies on the floor (much like the pastoral letter of Plate 3), is as useless as the quack.  There’s no cure for Moll but death and I think we can all agree that’s not a very good one.  Treating syphilis with mercury pills was primary until the 20th century, although in truth it made the pox a more difficult condition as symptoms were heaped on top of symptoms.  Tooth loss, diminished sensory perception, and neurological damage were just some of the painful side effects.    

Moll’s overwhelming misfortunes aside, she does appear to have recouped a few protectors.  One is her maid—the same who turned devious when they were suffering in the gaol in Plate 4.  But the past is now resigned to the past.  Moll shares her maid’s condition, indeed Moll is in greater decline, and maybe this explains the maid’s renewed defense of her mistress.  The landlady, or bawd, is presently the one taking advantage of Moll, availing herself of the room’s untended possessions.  Notice in particular the shoes to the left of the bawd’s knee.  They appear to be the same pair that Moll’s maid donned in the gaol.  How’s that for full circle?   

Moll’s second protector is noticeably absent.  Remember the Jewish merchant from Plate 2?  A Passover biscuit, or honeycombed circle above the door multitasking as a fly-catcher, suggests that he’s been for a visit.  In her current state, it is doubtful Moll would have the funds to pay for her lodgings and/or her medical care.  Has her former protector taken pity on her then, perhaps thanking his lucky stars he got out from between her thighs when he did?

Plate 2 & Plate 5 Comparisons

Plate 2 and Plate 5 have similarities worth pointing out.  First, the table in the center of the plate is being knocked over, but this time not by Moll.  At this stage, her arrogance is gone.  In fact, she is barely conscious.  The table in Plate 5 much more resembles the table in Plate 3, the beginning of her demise. 

Children also appear in both plates, but their presence is remarkably contrasted.  At Moll’s height in Plate 2, the child is an exotic slave kept for the sole purpose of flaunting her wealth.  By Plate 5, the child—misbegotten by a prostitute and a patron—is anything but prestigious.  For one, he’s squatting on the floor like an urchin; two, he’s scratching his head and playing with the fire absent any supervision.  Is this suggestive of the “evils” that befall those who sin?  Do the sinners perpetuate societal problems in the most inevitable way—through their progeny? 

A harsh assessment, but one Hogarth is going for.  If you recall the details in Plate 4, the indebted card player had a daughter who possibly suffers from Down’s syndrome or another syndrome that affects cognitive functioning.  With his round face and absentminded expression, the little boy in Plate 5 may be similarly afflicted.  Given that mental disorders and even disease were once thought of as a punishment for sin, I think we can logically apply this here.  Moll’s prostitution has led to illness, but who is the true perpetrator of society’s ills?  Moll?  Her patrons?  The hypocrites who purchased Hogarth’s works just to prove their virtue?  

This is the best part about Hogarth.  He made his living by mocking society.  He doesn’t put much faith in the Church, the judicial system, or his time’s social police force, the Society for the Reformation of Manners.  Indeed, he suggests those who make highly public shows of decency and morality are the most immoral of us all and leaves us wondering: is this true?

Missed the previous plates?