Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Medieval torture devices: Which one is right for your toddler?

This "timeout" thing is not working. My two year old simply enjoys it too much. Yesterday while in timeout, she reenacted a whole play using her hands as puppets. When I told her that her timeout was over, she gleefully informed me that she was "not done yet". Other times, she sings Old MacDonald at the top of her lungs thereby making timeouts far more torture for me.

I need to up my game in parental diciplanary action. I need a toddler version of the pillory and stocks.

The pillory (shown above) was a wooden frame usually mounted on a post where the criminal would place their head and hands through the holes. Sometimes the offender's ears were cut off and nailed to it as a public service announcement to all the village hoodlums. Crimes that could get you in the pillory included libel, cheating, stealing, forging, vandalism and even selling underweight bread or bad meat. (If you had ever had food poisoning then this seems like an appropriate punishment.) 

I used to think the pillory and stocks were the same thing, but there is a distinction. The stocks (shown above) were a wooden frame with holes for the ankles. Clearly, you can see that this medieval torture device is not going to put an end to hand puppet plays. I recommend the pillory for your toddler.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Going to the Chapel – Renaissance Style

In August of 1447, Alessandra Strozzi wrote to her son, Filippo about the upcoming marriage between her daughter Caterina and the wealthy silk merchant, Marco Parenti. In this letter she wryly tells her son, “He who marries is looking for cash.” (1)

I have never understood why couples re-enact Italian Renaissance marriages for their wedding when a typical marriages was about as romantic as haggling with a used car salesman. They were long, expensive and often resulted with the poor bride stuck with a lemon. If you have ever had to plan a wedding or been stuck in a bridesmaid’s dress resembling a puffed pastry then you will feel for the poor darlings of Renaissance Italy. Here were the steps to tie the knot:

Step 1
Negotiations begin
Informal inquiry was made usually by a sensale (the professional match maker of their day) or by relative or patron. The job of this intermediary was to determine how much money the girl's family could throw down and make sure she was not missing any limbs or other deal breakers.

Step 2
The dowry is drawn up
Today, we start saving for college funds at an early age, but in the Renaissance, parents would start saving for a daughter’s wedding as soon as she popped out. For most aristocrats, the whole process could start in infancy and not be finalized until the girl was a teenager.  The parents also needed time to come up with that much cash. By the 16th century, a noble girl’s dowry could be well over 1000 Florins. And then there were more extreme examples. Pope Alexander VI sent his daughter Lucrezia Borgia’s off into matrimonial bliss with Giovanni Sforza with a dowry of 31,000 ducats. By the time she was on huband #3 Alfonso d’Este, Alexander had to up the kitty to over 200,000 ducats. (Her reputation was getting a bit tarnished by then.)

Step 3 
Impalmare - The shaking of the hands
This step took place in a church between a mediating notary and representative from both families. This was the time to raise any objections because after it was done the couple was now legally bound to marry. Unfortunately, the bride was not present so she had little say.

Step 4
The wooing begins
You might think those window scenes during Romeo and Juliet were a bunch of fluff, but typically the groom would begin his courtship below his bride’s window. After the impalmare, grooms would bring his bride presents usually in the form of jewelry and clothing. In turn, the bride would throw from her window to her groom tokens of her esteem such as scarves, flowers, fruits, nuts or chunks of salami. (2) The groom usually paid for her cassoni (wedding chest) and also sent some trinkets in the form of dresses, jewels and headdresses. During the marriage negotiations of Caterina Strozzi and Marco Parenti, he gave her a gown of crimson velvet and silk along with a garland of feathers and pearls which caused her venal mother to note that, “When she goes out she’ll have more than four hundred florins on her back. “ (3)

Step 5
Sponsalia or sometimes called the Anellamento, Matrimonium or ring day
Now it was time for the big day.  This ceremony typically took place in the bride’s house and was witnessed by family members from both sides. The couple wore their best clothes with red being the most popular color for brides. (Often the bridal dress was designed by the groom. )

You think grooms get bridal jitters today, you should have seen what those crazy Renaissance kids from Rome had to endure. During the ceremony, a big sharp sword was hung over the heads of the soon-to-be happy couple just so they wouldn't get any last minute indecisiveness. A notary would then ask the appropriate questions prescribed by the church and then the groom would take the right hand of woman and place nuptial ring on her third finger. (It was believed a major vein went from the third finger to the heart.) Gifts from the husband were then given to bride and his in-laws.

The couple was now considered man and wife….almost.

Step 6
Nozze - The big party.
The shenanigans that followed the Sponsalia could last several days or even a week. The bride’s cassoni was carried through the streets to her husband’s house and placed in the couple’s bedroom. The bride was either carried through the streets or rode on a white palfrey to be formally welcome into her new home. If you lived in Rome, grain and vegetables were thrown out the window (much harder than rice if you get bonked on the head) and the public would heckle the groom with the old Renaissance version of “ball and chain” jokes.

The music, dancing and banquet that followed could be pretty lavish often involving over 300 guests. Eventually, the extravagance for the banquets got so out of control that sumptuary laws had to be enacted to control spending.

Step 7 
The Consummation
During the consummation a bride and groom would retire to their chambers while a notary recorded the event. This event didn’t always take place right after the Nozze. Sometimes, the bride continued to live in her father’s house, especially if the dowry had not been fully paid. For example, Cosa Guasconi's marriage took three years to be consummated because her groom, Paolo Niccolini was waiting for her dowry to be fully paid. 

Step 8 
La messa del congiunto 
After the consummation, men in Renaissance Italy could not just roll over and fall asleep. A religious ceremony had to be said after the deed was done in order to bless the union. So much for privacy.

Wheeeew. Writing this post has been exhausting, so you can imagine how tiring it must have been to be the bride and groom. Of course, If a young couple wanted to circumvent these steps and run away all they needed to make the marriage legal were two mutual consenting live bodies. Clandestine marriages were common enough that by 1563, the Council of Trent put into law the above required steps for a legal wedding thereby killing the last bit of romance in Renaissance Italy. 

(1) p. 31 Biblioteca Italiana, Volume 9
(2) The Salami was a joke. I am just really hungry right now.
(3) (p. 31 Biblioteca Italiana, Volume 9 ).

Sources and Further Reading:
‪ Macinghi Strozzi, Alessandra and Gregory, Heather. Biblioteca Italiana, Volume 9‬, University of California Press, 1997.
‪ Dean, Trevor and Lowe K. J. P. Marriage in Italy, 1300-1650‬, Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Images from the Heilborn Timeline of Art History and Courtauld Museum
Love and Marriage in Renaissance Florence - exhibition at the Courtauld Musuem

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Raucous Royal of the Month: Cesare Vecellio and the Renaissance Runway

History is indebted to Cesare Vecellio and his 16th century best-selling book of costumes. Vecellio’s gossipy commentary not only catalogs the clothing customs from Italy, France, Germany, China, India, Africa, Middle East and New World, but also gives us a glimpse into marriage customs, architecture, morals and perceptions of beauty.

Cesare was born in Cadore, a northern town of Venice in 1521. He was most likely apprenticed to Titian’s brother, Francesco Vecellio and then later worked for Titian. (Titian was his cousin once removed) Cesare drew upon numerous sources including wall paintings in Padua, old frescoes and portraits in private houses, various Venetian painters, booksellers and his own travels.

In The Clothing of the Renaissance World by Margaret F. Rosenthal and Ann Rosalind Jones, Cesare’s commentary is translated and beautifully printed into one breathtaking, gigantic 560 page work of art. This book is crack for Renaissance lovers.  If you are a costume designer, Renaissance author, illustrator or just fascinated by the clothing of this period, I strongly recommend that you get this book. (Link below)

Here are some of my favorites:

Does this hat make my head look fat?

 Lady Gaga has nothing on the Balzo headdress. This Renaissance version of the beehive was composed of a willow or metal frame and then covered with hair, fabric, ribbons and jewels. tres glamorous!

Oh, no. My large intestine is on my head!

The Dogalina was worn by nobleman and was distinguished by its ridiculously wide sleeves. You have to imagine that these sleeves would often end up in your soup. Cesare fails to comment on the hat.

Don’t Laugh. You would overcompensate too if you were wearing these pants.

Freud would have had a field day with this Persian foot soldier. Vecellio described his costume as, “ practical and worn by people who have to fight in situations calling for agility and speed.” (1) But the phallic hat must have slowed him down.

Darn it.  Botticelli made this look so easy.  

If you think today’s beauty standards are hard, you should have seen what the Venetian lovelies had to go through. Going blonde in Renaissance Venice was de rigueur for every young lady, but those Botticelli locks didn’t come easy.  Women would sit on special rooftops designed just for dying their hair called a terrazzo. They would then wear a large brimmed hat with a hole in the center called a solona and soak their hair with sponges dipped in liquid (composed of quick lime and other noxious ingredients.) The process took all day and Cesare was not a fan of such vanities.

Girlfriend….Pants are so last century.

It may seem like this young Venetian lad is showing a bit too much buttocks, but his look was the epitome of virtue. How do we know this?  The circlet of gold he wears around his head was only worn by virgins.

p. 506, Jones and Rosenthal

Sources and Further Reading: 
Rosenthal, Margaret F. and Jones, Ann Rosalind. The Clothing of the Renaissance World, Thames and Hudson, 2008

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Bastille falls, 120 Days of Sodom follows...

This post has adult content

This week in history, Revolutionary Paris fell upon the fortress/prison Bastille setting free its seven prisoners.  The Bastille had become a glowing beacon in a dark night of monarchial ideals and the peasant class was determined to put out the light. They didn’t just demolish the Bastille. They dismembered it brick by brick in their frenzied pursuit for ammunition.

But they also had another intent less written about. People wanted souvenirs. One of these stolen souvenirs, was the infamous book, 120 Days of Sodom written by none other than, 18th century bad boy, Marquis de Sade.  (The man who gives us the word “sadism”) Arrested for descecrating church property, poisoning some prostitues, sodomy and various other sexual acts to heinous to repeat, Sade had become the Bastille's most famous prisoner. It was during his stay at the Bastille, that he penned his masterpiece on a 5 inch wide scroll in miniscule type and then wedged it in the walls.

120 Days of Sodom tells the story of four wealthy libertines who lock themselves up in a medieval castle to torture 46 harem girls. The book proceeds to describe their quest for sexual gratification in such exaggerated detail that it becomes almost tedious. Sade described this work as a “magnificent banquet” where a reader could choose the dish that suited him best. (1)  (Sort of like a Pu Pu platter of sexual abherrations.)

When the Bastille fell, 120 Days of Sodom disappeared into the dust.

When Sade realized his crowning literary achievement had become a victim in the melee, he “wept tears of blood.” Unfortunately, it really was his fault that his pet porn project was lost. Ten days before the storming of the Bastille, he was screaming obscenities below his prison window and trying to incite the locals into tearing down the towering edifice. Always a creative man, Sade had employed a ingenious tactic to get his voice heard throughout the surrounding area. He took the tin funnel used to channel his bowl movement into the sewage below and employed it as a megaphone. That Sade could be so cheeky,

Well, the prison guards just couldn’t have their most famous sexual terrorist disturbing the peace so they moved him to the far less posh Charenton asylum where he couldn’t scare the kids.

Somehow, 120 Days of Sodom showed up in Germany in 1904. Then in 1935, some enterprising editor had that eureka moment and said, - hmmmm.....these tiny scraps of pornographic drivel would sure make one heck of a book. Let that be a lesson to aspiring writers with a stack of rejection letters. Sometimes it takes years to get your book into the right hands.

The Marquis de Sade - A Misuderstood Moralist?
Today, 120 days of Sodom is banned in most countries as one of the most obscene works of literature every printed. Most people see it as the morose ramblings of a sexual deviant with a deep-seated rage toward humanity. Still, even Sade has his defenders. Author Simone de Beauvoir (Must we Burn Sade?) spun Sade's writing as superbly illustrating the innate struggle between good and evil that can only be conquered through destructive impulses. When I am feeling naughty, I break out a chocolate bar. It's a lot less messy than whipping my husband with a cat o' nine tails.

Either way, if it had not been for the storming of the Bastille, 120 Days of Sodom might not have ever been printed.

Happy Bastille Day to my French readers!

p. 351 Schaeffer

Sources and Further Reading
Schaeffer, Neil. The Marquis de Sade : a life Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard Univ. Press, 1999.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Horned Damsels

Madame Dimanche makes you feel really guilty about bemoaning occasional acne flare ups. Born in early 19th century Paris, “The Widow Sunday” grew a dark brown horn resembling an overcooked sausage straight out of her forehead and down past her chin. According to the medical reports, Dimanche’s horn started off as a small wart above her right eyebrow and then just kept on growing.

By the time Dimanche reached the ripe old age of 82, she decided that having a horn on her head wasn’t getting her any dates and had it removed by Dr. Souberbeille. Miraculously, she lived another seven years. How her dating life improved after the cosmetic surgery is left for history to ponder.

Today, A waxed cast of The Window Sunday’s famed horned face can be seen in the Mutter Museum. (shown here)

Sources and Further Reading:
Extracts from the Records, Boston Society for Medical Improvement, Boston, 1853-83.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hot new Book Releases and giveaways

The new Raucous Royals book of the month is Heart of Lies by M.L Malcom. Lately, I really try to read fiction books from eras that are not beaten to death. This one takes place in post-World War I Europe. From the publisher:

"Leo Hoffman was born with a gift for languages. When his dreams for the future are destroyed by World War I, the dashing young Hungarian attempts to use his rare talent to rebuild his life, only to find himself inadvertently embroiled in an international counterfeiting scheme. Suddenly Leo is wanted across the European continent for a host of crimes, including murder. Left with no options, he must escape to Shanghai with his lover, carrying with him a stolen treasure that could be his salvation . . . or his death warrant. But the gangsters who control the decadent Asian city have no intention of letting him outrun his past. And when the Japanese invade, one wrong move could cost Leo Hoffman everything he holds dear.

An epic tale of intrigue, passion, and adventure, Heart of Lies heralds the arrival of a remarkable writer."

Review and giveaway coming at the end of this month.

Also coming up….

Pilgrim by James Jackson. I am really excited about this one because the children’s crusade has always fascinated me.

Boleyn, Tudor Vampire by Cinsearae S. Lately, I have not been reading many Tudor books, but I had to make an exception for one of my favorite Raucous Royals and vampires. Watch the book trailer. Anne Boleyn never looked so creepy. 

The Darling Stumpet and The Royal Miracle by Gillian Bagwell.  Gillian is going to be stopping by The Raucous Royals for a guest post for all the Charles II fans. I will also have more information about The Darling Strumpet when the book is released, but you can reserve a copy at Amazon's pre-order price by clicking the link below.

Books I wish would appear on my doorstep (because I am not giving up my copy)

 Last Judgement, Michelangelo and the Death of the Renaissance by James A. Connor

I came across this book while researching one of Michelangelo’s greatest loves – Vittoria Colonna (shown here) and their shared involvement in the Spirituali. Michelangelo's love for Vittoria was of the platonic variety, but the poetry he wrote her gives us a rare glimpse into his tormented mind. There was only one chapter on Vittoria, but I ended up devouring the whole book. A must read for anyone interested in Michelangelo and Renaissance Italy.

A future post on Vittoria Colonna and the Spirituali is coming….

Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media by Susan J. Douglas

This is not a book I would normally pick up (no history here) but Douglas’ writing style is sardonic enough to make me giggle through the usual feminist rhetoric. My one criticism is that she makes a lot of references to TV shows that I have never heard of so I didn’t have a strong point of reference for all her arguements. Still, it was interesting to see what role models might be melding girl’s minds and I would recommend this book to any authors who want to craft strong female characters with a positive message.

Only Newsletter Subscribers are entered to win books.

Publishers wishing to submit books to be considered for the Raucous Royals book of the month can contact me by clicking on the link under the scary lady.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Lorenzo Lotto and more winged babies up to no good

The above painting, Venus and Cupid  by Lorenzo Lotto depicts a naughty Cupid taking target practice on the nubile bride (represented by Venus) as rose petals cascade across her body. What could have been a romantic wedding night is wrecked by that darn cupid showing up. And clearly, you can see by Venus' pained expression that she would like to strangle cupid with her bridal wreath.

Supposedly, the painting is an allegorical love poem and is described by most art historians as “playful”.* Cupid aiming through the myrtle bridal wreath symbolizes the groom penetrating his new bride while his "playful" christening gives the new bride fertility. I just see it as yet another example of winged babies up to no good. 

*Next time I hear an art historian use the word "playful" to describe this painting, I would like to make them change my baby boy’s diaper in a crowded, restaurant bathroom....after a long drink. Then they wouldn't think it was so “playful.”

Image source:
The Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Winner of Ship of Rome

Congratulations to newsletter subscriber, D A. D A wins Ship of Rome by John Stack this month. D A - I have emailed you and will need your mailing address to get out your prize.

Ship of Rome takes the reader off the coast of Sicily onto the trireme, the Aquilla where a strained alliance is formed between Atticus, a lowly Greek naval captain and Septimus, a noble Roman legion commander. They join forces to establish Rome's first navy and aren't given much to work with - just a bunch of inexperienced sailors, some underhanded backstabbers, and not a lot of fancy gadgets to make life comfy. A good healthy dose of carnage follows when they clash with the Carthaginian empires.

Books that take place on ships generally give me bad flashbacks of being forced to read Moby Dick. But Stack combines all the intimate details of life as a Roman naval captain with a fast-paced, "ramming speed" writing style that reminds me a lot of another favorite author, Ken Follett. Within the first two pages, I was caught up in the action and political machinations of some bad ass, sweaty, military leaders caught on the high seas. I confess that I don't know a lot about this time period, but the book had me off to the library in my usual geeky endeavors to learn more about Roman military life before Caesar.

Watch for the sequel in 2011 - Captain of Rome

I have some great book giveaways for next month. More on that tomorrow...