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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?

Hogarth’s Harlot’s Progress Plate 4

(click to enlarge full size)

Moll is fast coming to a grave end.  She’s been apprehended by Sir John Gonson, imprisoned for her profligate ways, and thrown in the hemp workhouse with the rest of “her kind” (presumably said with a sneer and a slimy smile).

Sneering, indeed, was the chief way Moll achieved her fame with the living, breathing public that consumed her.  The public loved her–and by her I mean every country girl turned whore by ill luck and toes up fate.  She was an object of derision, of pity and glances staying only so long as to see her rise and meteoric fall.  What was Moll but just another low woman treading the worn path of death?   One foot into the Bell Inn and her destiny was already shaped, be it through the usual killer, the pox, or by hanging once her fading looks forced her into thievery.

Either way, Moll’s one ladybird that ain’t gonna fly long.  She’s found her cage.  Bridewell.  On Fleet River.  It is better than the flogging room where before hemp and beetles women were beaten as a proper punishment:

In addition to the pillory and sign behind her reading “Better to work than to stand thus”, Moll’s got a lot to worry about.  The gaoler is singling her out, demanding she press on harder while his wife is greedily plucking at Moll’s neckerchief and winking at her husband.  Moll looks a trifle alarmed standing there in her floral pettitcoat, partly because she’s nervous it’s going to be ripped off her and partly because she’s wondering, “how the bloody hell did I get here?”

Although Bridewell was mainly a prison for women, the gentleman to her left gained his hemp duty due to cards.  They’re on the floor, shredded in half near the relaxed dog that seems to mind not the least the beating of hemp.  The woman and two girls to his left are likely his family, imprisoned alongside him until they’ve earned back his debt.  The larger of the two girls doesn’t look entirely fit for the workhouse, perhaps suffering from a physical condition or a mental illness, but neither she nor the pregnant woman further down can expect full reprieve.

Going round the room, Moll’s servant is relishing this moment, we might say with schadenfreude.  Instead of sympathizing with the her mistress’ plight, she’s grinning while adjusting Moll’s worn stocking on her thick legs.  While also sitting.  What earned her this privilege (or is Moll just the bigger fish?) and why is the  mobcapped woman beside her occupied with scraping Moll’s lace?

Aside from the unfortunate persons populating the room, another aspect of interest–which unfortuantely fails to show in the picture–is the rudimentary hangman drawing beneath the window.  The name “Gonson” is written nearby.  Gonson, if you remember, was the magistrate from the Society for the Reformation of Manners.  He hauled Moll in and if we are to infer anything by his cartoonish state, the prisoners, notably harlots, blame him for their current predicament.

A placard stating “The Wages of Idleness” (translation: how all the prisoners got here), takes another aim at Moll’s real sin.  For the first time since her arrival in plate 1, she’s wearing her work apron.  The hemp she’s forced to beat is just one of the various tasks in the workhouse, but it may have further signifance because hemp was used for the hangman’s noose.  Not only that, it’s tough, lacerating the neck when used to choke or hang someone.  Given that Moll’s outlet outside prositution is thievery as suggested in her association with James Dalton in plate 3, would she possibly have pounded the hemp that would one day end her life?  Circumstances lead her elsewhere but like everything Hogarth, there’s a little irony involved, isn’t there?

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Hogarth’s Harlot’s Progress Plate 3

The night after and oh, how many night afters there have been!  How many nights, must Moll ask herself, of pilfering and faking it?  How many nights of having the world by the nether regions, only to have it pool like refuse around her feet?

The bed curtains are falling down.  The bored boys, her generous nabobs and cits and aristos, have scented the first whiff of disease and fled.  Her faithful domestic, a maid in worse condition than she, remains steadfastly by her side, but serves as a reminder that the-day-soon-comes.  This is the future Moll, her nose wasted to a snub, her skin mottling with spots and decay.  There is no hope now for that sparkling future as a high courtesan, only indigence and pluck to while away the time.  Moll’s fingers, however, are still quick enough to work their way into a pocket to fish out the possession every whore desires: a silver or gold pocket watch.

Remember Mother Needham, the bawd, and the precious watch that swung near her waist?  Moll’s got this area of her income covered, probably by the pile, sold by the kilogram.  But the curious thing is Moll’s holding her piece in a speculative manner as it sways like a pendulum.  Time’s a ticking and never with more poignancy than now.

So what’s Moll been up to since we last saw her? 

Hacking about London with her best instrument (sorry!), she’s landed in Drury Lane.  Inevitable, indeed.  No longer snug in the throes of her wealthy lover, Moll is scraping to survive under cover of cloak and night.  Where once silver and polish abounded, a mere single candlestick is stuck in an empty wine bottle.  Earthenware has replaced china; a silver kettle turns to tin; and hauteur confronts the real likelihood of a downward tumble.  Hope is not entirely lost, however, as the miniature portrait of the Virgin Mary peers from beneath the broken window, but one gets the sense of Hogarth mocking religion and its inadequacies in this modern day Sodom and Gomorrah.  A rather large sense.

In a portrait at the upper left of the print we (barely) see Abraham offer his son, Issac, in sacrifice.  A valiant angel interrupts Abraham, but fate is not so kind to dear Moll.  Beneath the window are two other portraits, one of Dr. Sacheverell of the Perils of the False Brethren in Church and State fame, the other of Macheath, the highwayman from the Beggar’s Opera.  These are suggestive choices by Hogarth of which I will only skim here but take these few lines from Act 2 of the Opera as spoken by Polly, Macheath’s betrothed and coincidentally, the daughter of a very disappointed thieftaker who hunts Macheath:

If I allow Captain Macheath some trifling Liberties, I have this Watch and other visible Marks of his Favour to show for.”

Virgins are like the fair Flower in its Lustre … when once pluck’d, ‘tis no longer alluring,/To CoventGarden ‘tis sent, (as yet sweet,)/There fades, and shrinks, and grows past all enduring,/Rots, stinks, and dies, and is trod under feet.”

Speculation also lies above the canopy bed where James Dalton’s wig box rests.  In 1728, Dalton, a highwayman and all around bad guy, was sentenced to death after a particularly violent robbery.  By contrast, the constables, who are just entering the room, are supposed to be the good guys—a relative term, we’re learning.  Leading the way is Sir John Gonson, brothel buster extraordinaire.  It might be just me but for a man who’s sought out all sorts of sordid as THE LAW, what is the scourge of Drury Lane doing with his fingertip raised to his lips?  Pausing tenderheartedly over the scene of yet another fallen woman?  Disagreeably or agreeably titillated by Moll flashing her wares?

Well, he’s going to arrest her anyway so who really cares, but isn’t there something like “let he who is without sin cast the first stone?” The stone, of course, being THE LAW in this case, but fair punishment wasn’t exactly up to snuff like it is today.  Hogarth doesn’t put much faith in two of the largest institutions of the day.  Besides repudiating representatives of justice, religion was a topic of special mockery to him.  Along with the distracted clergyman from plate 1, we again see the removal of any spiritual guidance through the misused pastoral letter on the table in front of Moll and the maid.  Pastoral letters written to parishioners were often allocated as waste paper.  For Moll, it’s holding a slab of butter, a breakfast wrapper being its best use.

Everything else in the print, from the witches hat/twigs (S&M?) to the stretching kitty, you are going to have to extrapolate on in your own time—which you’ve already charitably given to me by now!  If you haven’t had enough of Moll’s Progress yet, the prologue in The Secret History of Georgian England (aka London’s Sinful Secret) nicely dissects the plates.  I will also post on plates 4-6 sooner than later since I’ve dawdled mightily between posting plates 2 and 3.  For an older resource with slightly different interpretations of the plates, see pages 61-79 in the Works of William Hogarth.


Missed the previous posts?

Hogarth’s The Harlot’s Progress, Plate 2

Oh, how greatly Moll has fallen since arriving on London’s doorstep.  Such was the way with most 18th century prostitutes, rags to riches and back again, except that rags the second time around were death shrouds.  But we’ll get to that later.  For now, Moll has glided into glory, her slippered feet barely entertaining thoughts of touching the ground.  For a country girl with few prospects or hopes of luxury, she is living the dream, but it’s already begun to crumble.

Despite the tumultuous milieu, Moll is at her peak here.  She’s snagged a Jewish lover (notice the thick, black eyebrows!) and although he seems to have given her everything her heart desires, she’s already cavorting with other men.  In the background, her young lover sneaks by on stockinged feet, Moll’s maid holding his buckled shoes, and we have only leave to assume he slithered out of the drawn canopy bed moments before.  Her affluent lover is a bit disconcerted by the scene he’s unknowingly interrupted, mostly because Moll is kicking over the table and making a petite moue at him in her cheeky way.  With the expression on his face, he has to be wondering what’s got hold of his pretentious ladybird.  “She used to be so sweet, so innocent,” he groans. His silent lamentation is the beginning of the end for Moll.

Instead of the shy, new-to-London chit we saw in the last plate, Moll is all about wanton sophistication.  She’s wearing a patch on her forehead, the sign of a haughty or majestic demeanor.  She knows how high she’s risen in a short period and although she seems secure in regard to her fine furnishings and person, she is anything but. Her life has turned into one big, rollicking farce.  She’s a masquerader, her true self concealed beneath so many layers of paint, and at this point, she’s enjoying it.  Her tea is spilling, her pots of rouge and paint breaking, but it’s all in good fun.  Moll finally has tenuous power over someone and she’s exploiting it just as others have exploited her.

Paintings and Appurtenances

As a fallen woman existing on the margins of Christian morality, Moll bears a kinship to the men in the two portraits behind her.  The paintings are of  Thomas Woolston and Samuel Clarke, English freethinkers who placed rationality and nature above doctrine.  The question begs to be asked: as with the larger canvasses above, do the portraits simply belong to her patron or does Moll sympathize with their sitters, judging herself as acting in accordance with the natural order?  For what, she might ask, could be more natural than sex?

The two remaining paintings in the plate recall scenes from the Old Testament.  Like everything else in the house, they are presumably owned by the man who is affording Moll this extravagant lifestyle.  Her gown now has the effulgence of Mother Needham’s in Plate 1 and matches the upper part of the coat on her very own slave.  During this period, ladies were known to hire black boys to serve them tea, a tradition taken from colonialism, and carried out with great pretension back in England.  His presence is highly suggestive of the process of creating wealth that in turn provides for Moll’s lifestyle, but at the same time, he is dressed to mock it.  Like the monkey, he is Moll’s exotic toy, just as she is the exotic toy of her patron.  Indeed, all of Plate two centers on deceit.  But we’re left to wonder . . . who’s fooling who here?

A Family Affair: Mozart’s Sister

Eclipsed by her brother’s prodigious talents, constrained by the limitations placed on her sex, and fueled by her passion for music, Maria Anna Mozart’s forgotten story is positively brimming with conflict. 

Or is it?

As the eldest child, the woman her family affectionately called Nannerl was originally the family star, but she soon took a second seat to her  brother.  In the 18th century, women didn’t compose; they performed.  Likewise, they were restricted as to which instruments they were permitted to play, including the violin–what her father calls a “boy’s instrument.” 

Nannerl pursued her music, regardless.  At an early age, she became accomplished at the harpsichord and the fortepiano, but no matter her talents, social impediments prevented her from what might have been a distinguished talent.  Marriage was of the utmost importance to Nannerl’s future, and she was expected to fulfill her obligations like every other woman alive.  That pesky little problem aside, Nannerl’s relationship with music was a source of joy in her life.  Mozart looked up to his big sister, from childhood desiring to be like her, and they enjoyed a close relationship for many years.  Sources disagree as to whether this mutual adoration continued until Mozart’s death in 1791.

Talent-wise, evidence of her composing is mentioned in her letters to Mozart, but these informal compositions would not have been approved of for a public concert.  As her work has withered out of existence, we can no longer know the true scope of her talents, but the film allows us to imagine Nannerl being dragged across European courts, playing second piano as it were, and experiencing a full spectrum of emotions of which we shall only have to guess.  I personally think the lady looks like she’s got a bit of moxie beneath that mischevious smile.

A lush period piece, Mozart’s Sister is an imagined portrait of Nannerl, the question being “what if?”  The film is in French and currently has a limited U.S. release .  If you can’t wait for the dvd, there have been a number of books published, including Mozart’s Sister by Rita Chabonnier, Mozart’s Sister by Nancy Moser, and In Mozart’s Shadow by Caroline Meyer (YA). 

Watch the movie trailer

Watch the exclusive clip


Hogarth’s The Harlot’s Progress, Plate 1

Wherein Moll Hackabout, a country miss, arrives in London and pauses at the Bell Inn off Cheapside, a thoroughfare just east of St. Paul’s Church, which westward past Drury Lane and southward to St. James’s connects the primary area’s of the London sex trade.

As with all five plates, Hogarth uses plenty of rich imagery, leaving much to be dissected.  Moll and Mother Needham stand at center stage but beyond them, the dense figures and bustling scenery dim, giving us the impression of the workings that will bring Moll to her downfall.  What we are seeing here is Moll’s first foray into debauchery except she doesn’t quite know it yet.  Mother Needham is gesturing to her with a kindly posture, presumably offering assistance to the confused girl.  Moll’s trunk, bearing her initials MH, sits to the right in the street beside a dead goose with a tag strung around its neck saying: “my lofing cosen in Tems stret in London”.  Thames street, which runs parallel to the river, is home to Moll’s relations, where she is likely headed for a visit, but instead she has been waylaid by the bawd, promised God-knows-what, with the rakish Colonel Charteris looking appraisingly on.

(click for larger view)

Mother Needham and Colonel Charteris

Both historical figures, Mother Needham was the procuress of the most exclusive bawdy house in 18th century London.  Her clientele numerated among the aristocracy as well as the merchant rich, and she would go to any length to acquire new girls.  Trickery was a means of daily profit.  As in Moll’s case, she preyed on girls fresh from the country who had likely come to London to gain domestic employ.  The wagon to the left of Moll, where two girls nervously sit, brought goods and on occasion passengers into town.  All Mother Needham need do is convince them of their good luck in acquiring a post, thereby negating their journey to the intelligence office.  Similar to the vague explanations given to Fanny in Fanny Hill, these girls would have thought themselves ahead of the game as country misses looking to work in the city were a dime a dozen.  Once the seemingly proper Mother Needham conveyed them back to her establishment–Park Place, St. James–she would have arranged a quick debauchery and indebted the girl to her sordid service by means of outfitting the girl in new gowns paid by the Mother herself.

Colonel Charteris,  known at the “rape-master general”, had a reputation for hiring young female dometics for the sole purpose of luring them into his bed.  Even before his trial for the rape of Anne Bond, he solicited girls to work in his household using an alias for fear that if they recognized the infamous Charteris name, they would avoid him at all costs.  His trial in 1730 resulted in a capital felony and a death sentence.  The then 70 year old rake was carted off to Newgate prison, but two months later, he was pardoned by King George II at the insistence of, among others, his victim, Anne Bond.  Charteris, however, was a very rich man and was known to throw his money at important political figures when his foulness ran him aground.  Anne Bond, disgraced by the trial wherein the defense accused her of immorality and thievery, was rumored to have received an annuity from Charteris which would have secured her a steady income where otherwise she would’ve greatly suffered from lack of tolerable employment.

The Background

A few additional details in plate one are worth noticing.  Clockwise from the left of Moll are two toppling baskets, suggestive of Moll’s imperiled virtue.  Above the baskets are the two country girl’s, witness to what may very well await them at the next wagon stop.   On a horse that’s blithely eating hay we have a clergyman who, instead of rescuing Moll from Mother Needham, is cocking his head in persual of a letter or perhaps a list.  To the right of the clergyman’s hat a woman hangs a pair of stocking–undergarments–out to dry.  Eight pairs of hands are shown throughout the plate, each relaying an emotion.  Charteris is fishing around in his overcoat pocket, his fingers alarmingly near the fall of his breeches, whereas the pimp, John Gourlay, is crossing his hands in a speculative manner.

Back at the plate’s foreground with Moll and Mother Needham, Moll is arresting her wrist, the palm of one hand gesturing toward the bawd and, further on, the men.  Mother Needham lays a gentle hand on Moll’s chin, a slight smile on her patched face as she tilts Moll’s face to full inspection.  To the inexperienced, Mother Needham would have appeared respectable.  She is wearing fine fashionable clothing, the expense apparent in the manner her silken gown falls and catches the light.   The numerous patches on her face, although suggestive of degeneracy in our eyes, were a common indication of pock marks.  When used to a lesser degree (although some ladies did wear seven or eight), they announced a deliberate flirtation or lack thereof (see To Patch or Not to Patch).  Mother Needham’s additional accessories–gloves, a fan, and a pocket watch–were also ordinary.  The taking off of one glove for skin to skin contact, the pointing of a closed fan, and the visible watch to suggest a careful keeping of hours, however, were anything but.

Fragonard’s La Giambetta

Who is this lady and when was she painted?  I can’t quite find out.  “La gambette” is the familiar word for leg in French.  La Giambetta = leggy girl?  

She is an alabaster wonder, perhaps the unachievable female standard in paleness for the time.  Fragonard, in particular, paints skin in the prettiest style and his use of light, white rather than golden, complements the lady.   The salmon-pink background also appears to be a sensual allusion to the way skin flushes and gives the impression of skin, all around.  Very appropriate for the boudoir, I think!


Thomas Lawrence’s Pinkie (the girl, not the finger)

Sarah Goodin Barrett Moulton, the daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, was painted in 1794, a year before she died of whooping cough.  Her family nickname was Pinkie, which owns for the painting’s name and the pale pink ribbon she wears.  Her gown is perfectly girlish, a sheer lawn in the style of Marie Antoinette–airy enough to survive the sweltering Jamaican heat.

I adore the fluid movement of her gown and her proud expression, but what do you suppose she’s doing with her left hand?  Catching the ribbon?  And is it just me or does the bottom right corner of the painting look to have a paved road twisting around a bend?

Isabelle de Borchgrave’s Paper Gowns

Yep, one step out into the rain and these stunning dresses would dissolve into wood pulp.  They are made 100% out of paper.  Hard to believe, right?  At a passing glance, even the close up can almost fool a costume enthusiast.  Looks like very stiff silk.

Isabelle de Borchgrave, painter by training turned costume artist by passion, wields rag paper with the lightest touch, stenciling, shaping, and voila!  18th century costume that nobody can wear.  All the more delightful, I say.  I love unusual art and this is no exception.  Working with textile designers, de Borchgrave also recreates Medici and Elizabethan costume, as well as various other periods, including recreating looks from paintings like Van Dyck. Her work was most recently shown at the Legion of Honor is San Francisco, but unfortunately, the exhibition ended a few weeks ago. Watch the video below if you’ve 11 minutes of concentration to spare.

Otherwise, here’s a couple more 18th century lovelies:

Court dress with panniers

Men’s waistcoats, coats, and lace cravat/jabot

For more pics and info:

Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco

Pulp Fashion: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave

Exhibition Video

Singerie a.k.a The Monkey Craze

The monkey craze was born out of orientalism, a close relation to chinoiserie, the other craze of the 17th and 18th centuries.  Like many aesthetic obsessions of the time, it manifested from western Europe’s fervor for all things exotic and first cemented its mark in France.  Today we can thank Claude III Audran, a designer working at the Chateau de Marly, for entertaining us with his notion that monkeys can and should sit around a table just like us humans.  Or at least, they should in paintings.  This idea of Audran’s was most likely inspired by 17th century aristocrats’ penchant for dressing their pet monkeys in outfits where the monkeys would then perform tricks for the amusement of courtiers at Versailles.

Unfortunately Audran’s designs have gone the way of the chateau, but we can the work of his successors.  Jean Berain, the Elder, a rococo artist who painted arabesque wall decorations f0r the Sun King renewed enthusiasm for the style when he added monkeys to his engravings in 1711.  I’ll leave it up to you to decipher what business the monkey is up to here.

The artist Jean Baptiste Siméon  Chardin is a also notable contributor with his singe paintings, the most famous being Le Singe Peintre (below) but many influential artists of the time dabbled in the style, including Antoine Watteau and Nicolas Lancret.

In art, as well as textiles and home furnishings, singerie eventually became the term for the humorous depiction of monkeys imitating human behavior.  Often, these simians were fashionably dressed in oriental attire and were depicted engaging in playful pursuits.  In fact, that’s where singerie comes from.  In French, it translates as “monkey trick.”   


The greatest surviving example of a room decorated in the singerie style is located in the Chateau de Chantilly.  From 1643 to 1830, it was owned by the Bourbon Condé family, cousins to Louis XIV.  For an up close look, visit Le Grand Singerie.  The images above are part of the wall paneling.  The whole of the room, formerly believed to have been painted by Watteau, is now credited to Christophe Huet.  He also painted Le Petit Singerie which functioned as a small room between the apartments of the Duc and Duchesse of Bourbon. 

For further information on singerie, see:  NY Times’ Chateau’s Monkey Room is Lovingly Restored

Liked the post?  Check out 18th Century Chinoiserie