When I’m having trouble focusing on cataloging our collection, promoting our special events, or pondering how to keep historic house museums relevant in the 21st century, I like to take my mind off such these weighty topics by doing some reading. And as if I needed any more encouragement, recently the Metropolitan Museum of Art launched a new site that makes many of their exhibition and collections catalogs available online. I’ve been busy ogling the pictures in several of the catalogs from the Costume Institute’s exhibitions featuring eighteenth century clothing. I highly recommend “The Ceaseless Century: Three Hundred Years of Eighteenth-Century Costume” and “Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the Eighteenth Century.” And one of my favorite dresses of all time, an American roundgown from the 1770s, is featured in “Our New Clothes: Acquisitions of the 1990s.”
Silk damask round gown, made in America ca. 1775, from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
I have a busy day planned, but I may just have to make some time to start reading “The Eighteenth-Century Woman,” to learn more about the women who wore gowns like this…
Since Hurricane Irene knocked out my power, I spent a lot of time reading by candlelight last weekend. It seemed only appropriate to read a book about an era in which they had no choice but to use candlelight. “The Courtiers: Splendor and Intrigue in the Georgian Court at Kensington Palace” by Lucy Worsley was an amusing as well as educational way to while away the hours without TV or Internet. Its topic is the era during which the Kings George (primarily Georges I and II) ruled England and, more particularly, the minutiae of life in the royal court at Kensington. Rather than focusing on the lives of the rulers themselves, Worsley endeavors to unearth the lives of the courtiers who tended to, amused, and worked for the kings and their families. While the early Georgian era discussed in the book predates the Hammond-Harwood House, it helped to illuminate for me exactly what our colonial forefathers and mothers were rebelling against when they threw off English rule. The detailed descriptions of the hierarchical structure of court life, the overwhelming attention to manners and appearances, and the ways in which people were used as amusements for bored rulers made it clear that the American colonists had manifold reasons for desiring a more equitable and democratic society.
As well as Lucy Worsley’s book, I also recommend checking out her website. Worsley has the great luck to be the Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces and so has amazing access to fun places in England, and writes articles and makes videos about royalty and the court in the Georgian and Regency eras. She seems to have a sense of humor, which is one of my favorite qualities to find in a historian.