Lord Elgin and the Marbles

The Parthenon by Lusieri; Wikimedia Commons

Andrea here. There has been a hiatus in my self-published Lady Arianna Regency mystery series, but I’m delighted to announce that a new book will be releasing on May 14th! (It’s up for pre-order now.) The adventures of Lady Arianna and her husband, the Earl of Saybrook revolve around political intrigues of the era, which is fun for because it allows me to set stories in different countries during interesting events—past stories have been set at the grand Peace Conference in Vienna, Paris during the Allied occupation after the Battle of Waterloo, and the Imperial Russian court in St. Petersburg.

One of the Elgin Marbles; photo by author

I also enjoy working in cameo appearances of real people, and exploring controversies that created social and political tensions One of the things that has always struck me as I do research into a specific topic is how many of the things that matter to us today  as resonated with people in earlier times. (There is that old French saying, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose—which roughly translates to “the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Having traveled to Greece last year, I really wanted to set a book there. And luckily, history provided me with a perfect story—one that is still stirring emotions today.

In 1816, known as the Year Without A Summer because of the massive volcanic eruption of Mt. Tambora, Lord Elgin asked the British government to purchase his breathtaking collection of decorative marbles—known then and now as the Elgin Marbles—that he had brought back to Britain from their original home as integral elements of the magnificent temple known as the Parthenon, which crowned the Acropolis in Athens.

How did Lord Elgin come into possession of these Marbles? Well, it’s a long story.

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The Exuberant Art of Crayon Painting

Bouquet of Flowers-Odilon Redon; courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Andrea here, musing about art today. I made a recent visit to the Metropolitan Museum in New York City—one of my favorite places in the world!—to see a show on Literary Posters (more on that in a future blog.) But as usual, I took a stroll through a number of the other galleries just to enjoy the heady buzz of creative energy that always swirls through any venue showcasing art.

As I took in some of the marvelous works by the Impressionists, I was reminded that this past Christmas, I gave a set of pastels “crayons” to an art-minded friend—and also decided to gift myself with a set, too! I have very fond childhood memories of exuberantly scribbling away with the huge set of colorful sticks that my artist mother let me use in her studio. The colors are much richer than regular crayons, as they are actually fashioned with ground pigments, just like oil paints.

That got me to thinking about the art of pastels, and how it has an odd niche in the pantheon of artistic mediums.  It doesn’t get as much respect as one might think—perhaps because, like me, many children use pastels in school art classes because of the rich colors, and so it doesn’t have the same mystique as oil painting. So, history nerd that I am, I decided to do a little research into the subject . . .

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Happy Feet!

Andrea here, musing on footwear. There is a specific reason—but there will be some meandering hither and yon before I reach my ultimate destination.

First, let’s take a stroll through a Regency drawing room . . . I’ve always thought that the era’s fashions are attractive. The gowns of  the ladies offered a stylish array of cuts, colors and fabrics. And the attire for gentlemen was equally elegant—breeches or tailored trousers, waistcoats, where color and texture could a pop of individuality, and a variety of styles for evening coats.

But I must say, the footwear strikes me as less than ideal. Fragile and delicate slippers for the ladies provided little support and cushioning for the ladies. Hessians or heeled pumps for gentlemen were both fashioned on a straight last, meaning that the wearer had to break them in to form the right and left foot. Ouch!

The working class of course needed practical study footwear for all manner of activities, so there was a wider variety. But still, the museum displays I’ve seen have me mentally limping.

When you think about it, comfortable—I mean, really comfortable—footwear is a rather recent development. All the high-tech fabrics, rubbers, gels and space-age cushioning, combined with CAD design and cutting edge engineering, have provided the ability to fashion shoes to fit most every imaginable activity.  (Well, maybe not every one. . . but close!

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Let Them Eat Cake!

Andrea here, still digesting a very large and very yummy slice of birthday cake from yesterday. Which got me to thinking about when the tradition of birthday cakes came into being. So, history nerd that I am, I decided to do a little research . . .

There are actually a number of online sites that discuss this! Not surprising, one of them is the Sugar Association (a substance dear and dear to my heart!) I confess, I wouldn’t have guessed that ancient Egypt earns credit for the origins of such sweet celebrations. Apparently, pharaohs were “reborn” into a god on their coronation, and so the “birthday” celebration was festive food, including a sweetened pastry called a khak, which was made with flour butter, sugar, nutmeg, vanilla, cinnamon and milk. (it’s still popular today in Egypt.)

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Ex Libris

Andrea here, musing today on a topic that combines two of my favorite things—art and books. I became fascinated  with bookplates as a child when my mother showed me a very old book that belonged to her father. Affixed on the inside page was rectangular piece of paper with an elaborate illustration and below it, the words “Aus der Bücherei von Ernst P. Münch,” which my mother translated from German into English: From the Library of Ernst P. Münch.

I loved the idea of a special “signature” style  (other than a simple scrawling of one’s name to proclaim ownership of a book. And I seem to recall that I promptly fetched colored paper and crayons and made some of my own. (Sadly, none of them seemed to have survived.)

In college, I discovered a magical place in the stacks of the main library called The Arts of the Book Collection, which was this amazing set of rooms filled with samples of  marbled paper, bookbinding examples, hand made books and all sorts of of ephemera, including a large collection of bookplates from over the centuries.

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