I felt like I was living in the movie A Night at the Museum on Sunday. Accompanied by the mistress of the shop and our lovely journey woman, the two summer interns (c’est moi and one other) journeyed to Washington DC to study extant items. The best thing about having me at an Art Gallery is that you don’t need to bother with a tour guide. Just give me a clipboard and call me Julie the Cruise Director!
This photo was quickly taken as we ran to the Castle to make sure we made it in before closing. We didn’t but it didn’t matter since had permission to be in after closing time. As my father would say: pics or it didn’t happen.
At the American Art Museum I’m afraid that my original major might have shown through just a teensy tiny bit. There may or may not have been a moment when I had a conversation with the bust of Tennyson. I’m sure everyone slinks into a room and says “Well fancy seeing you here Mr. Tennyson?” That’s completely normal for me :D
At the The National Museum of Women in the Arts we were able to catch The Royalists to Romantics exhibition (which if you are in the area GO SEE IT) where I was able to get my symbolism nerd on. It has to be said that Napoleon was one handsome bloke. As I stood in front of his painting I gave an impromptu lecture on the symbolism of Bees in the portraits of Napoleon and I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Seriously this man was the master of expressing power through subtle and not-so-subtle use of symbolism.
On the topic of the NMWA, I might have gone a little teary eyed when I stood in front of Lavinia Fontana, Portrait of a Young Woman from 1580. I had so many conversations about the zibellino (flea fur) during my internship with the Tudor Tailor and it was so lovely to see one in real life.
Unfortunately I can’t talk about most of the highlights of that night but I can say that I’ve never toured an art gallery as fast as I did at the National Gallery in DC. We had the five minute tour since we had a timeline to keep (which didn’t matter since we were in the museum well after it had closed anyway). While everyone else was on a pursuit of English Art I had no problems running after the French art. It’s not everyday you get to see The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuilerie (cue more bee symbolism). I’m not picky when it comes to Art. French or English, throw it at me.
Finally, I can cross “stay in a museum well after it’s been closed examining extant garments” off my bucket list.
Isabelle de Borchgrave – Isabella de’ Medici, 2006
“Isabelle de Borchgrave based this piece off of another painting by Alessandro Allori, that is part of the collection of the Palazzo Pitti in Florence. The portrait is of Isabella de’ Medici, and what is perhaps the most interesting, is her rather grotesque zibellino. A popular fashion accessory during the 15th and 16th centuries, and a predecessor to fox furs, zibellinoswere the fur pelts of either ermine, sable or marten. Some were plain, while others were fitted with jeweled eyes and faces. Historians have often referred to zibellinos as “flea-furs”, suggesting that they were worn to attract fleas away from the body of the wearer.”
If you were ever to visit the tomb of the Duchess of Milan Beatrice d’Este ( who was either my age or a year older when she passed away) you would see that women took zibellino to the grave.
1) “Portrait of Dona Isabel de Requesens” by Raphaël (Museum of the Louvre) 1518
2) ”Portrait Of A Lady” by Moretto da Brescia (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum) 1535
3) “Portrait of a Noblewoman” by Lavinia Fontanai 1580
Portrait of Bianca Ponzoni Anguissola, by Sofonisba Anguissola
“A flea fur was made from the pelt of a small furry animal like a mink, an ermine, or a ferret. It was worn about the neck in the hopes that the fleas would prefer the thick and smelly fur of the animal to the smooth and smelly skin of a human. Wealthy people added ornaments to their flea furs, including jeweled clasps and golden chains. It is unknown whether poor people wore shabbier flea furs made from the pelts of rats and other less desirable rodents or simply endured the flea bites.”
“Zibellino were used as status symbols, and as symbols of fecundity. Zibellino fetched an astounding price. They could be heavily embellished. Marten and sable zibellino were connected to fecundity and were popular wedding gifts, and featured in dowries. Lynx zibellino were associated with chastity. Artists of the time used the symbolism of the zibellino in their work for patrons to convey messages.”
Eleonora Gonzaga wears a black gown with puffed upper sleeves. A “flea fur” with jeweled gold face is suspended from her knotted and tasselled girdle. She wears a partlet with a high collar and small ruff, and her hair is confined in a black cap, 1538.
Portrait of Claude de Châteaubrun de Beaune dame de Gouffier One of the ways that sixteenth-century Europeans combated fleas was with flea fur, which was worn about the neck in the hopes that the fleas would prefer the thick fur of the animal to the skin of a human.
Portrait of Claude de Châteaubrun de Beaune dame de Gouffier
One of the ways that sixteenth-century Europeans combated fleas was with flea fur, which was worn about the neck in the hopes that the fleas would prefer the thick fur of the animal to the skin of a human.
“More than any other garment, the flea fur helps us to understand just how different living conditions were in sixteenth-century Europe. People of the period did not bathe very often, and they rarely washed their clothes or bedsheets. The conditions were perfect for infestations of fleas, small bloodsucking insects that live on the bodies of warm-blooded animals like humans. Even the wealthiest people had to endure frequent bites from fleas. One of the ways that they combated the pests was with flea fur.”
1) Portrait of a Roman courtesan by Parmigianino, 1530-1535
2) Portrait of Countess Livia da Porto Thiene and her Daughter Porzia by Paolo Veronese (Italian, 1528-1588)
“This jeweled marten’s head is nearly identical to that attached to the fur held by the countess in Veronese’s portrait of Countess da Porto (Walters 37.541) and is displayed here in a similar way. The animal was associated with childbirth, and wearing its fur was believed to increase a woman’s fertility and protect her during pregnancy. Since antiquity, the marten had been thought to conceive through its ear or mouth (and therefore chastely). The dove on the creature’s nose may be a symbol of the Holy Ghost and further allude to Mary’s miraculous conception. This would add to the amulet’s protective powers.”
Early portraits show zebillini hung from the girdle. They could were also seen over the shoulder, documented as usually right shoulder, though pictorial evidence shows also the left shoulder, or held in the hand. The cameo of Eleanora di Toledo and her children show her wearing zibellino over shoulders.
1550s; Carved rock crystal marten head (zibellini) Thyssen Collection, Zurich
1500s; Marten head with gold ears and glass eyes London Museum and Gallery
“The ‘girdle chain’ could be attatched from a ring in the mouth (from the British Museum, picture 2) etching by Erasmus Hornick: “Two muzzles and one fox-paw; from a series of twenty etchings of jewellery designs. 1562.“ or from the neck ‘collar’”