Elizabeth Hawksley

A week or so ago, I was invited to the preview of the V & A’s terrific new exhibition Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear. Lucky me, I thought,  at last I shall be able to see exactly what a Regency Buck wore underneath his skin-tight pantaloons and superbly-tailored coat.

39 Brass bra & Harem pants 1970

Brass bra and harem pants, 1970

Fortunately, the hunky cameramen wielding tripods and cameras were more transfixed by the 1970s brass bra and harem pants, not to mention the sexy silk satin and lace negligée as worn by Bérénice Marlohe, the femme fatale Bond girl in Skyfall, than by the Regency male underwear on display. The woman standing next to me raised her eyes to the ceiling and muttered, ‘Typical!’ So I was able to study the Regency Buck undressed in peace.

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The Queen’s Gallery has two exhibitions on at the moment. The larger exhibition space is showing  Scottish Artists 1750-1900: from Caledonia to the Continent which I also saw at the Bloggers’ Breakfast preview last week. All the pictures come from the Royal Collection and the exhibition’s subtitle is well chosen – Sir Walter Scott’s phrase ‘Caledonia stern and wild’ comes to mind. I’m concentrating on just four of the paintings which George IV, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert bought that show their love of Scotland.

Deborah Clarke talks

Deborah Clarke talks about the exhibition

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On Friday, I had the great pleasure of being invited to the Bloggers’ Breakfast at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, to a preview of the new exhibition, Maria Merian’s Butterflies. We had to be there by 8.30am – something of a shock to the system as I discovered that, even at 7.45am, it was standing room only on the Victoria line. Fortunately, a choice of tea, coffee or fruit juice and a variety of delicious pastries awaited us on arrival. There was time to meet the other bloggers, together with the curators of the exhibitions.

1. Bloggers breakfast

Bloggers’ Breakfast

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In June 1529, Queen Katherine of Aragon came in person before the legatine court at the Dominican Priory of the Black Friars. At stake was a divorce proposed by her husband, Henry VIII. Henry was desperate to marry Anne Boleyn and sire a male heir and needed his marriage to Katherine to be nullified. He wanted the case to be heard in England. Katherine did not agree.

Catherine_aragon

Katherine of Aragon

The situation was designed to intimidate her. The room in the Dominican Priory was, by definition, exclusively male, and the men she faced carried the full authority of the Catholic Church: Archbishop Warham, six other bishops, and the duplicitous Cardinal Thomas Wolsey who hoped to broker the deal. His line was that he was impartial and well able to deal with the case in England.

Court room general

The Court Room

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A Child’s Day through the Ages by Dorothy Margaret Stuart was one of my favourite books as a child. I particularly liked the story A Garland Over the Door, set in Athens in 438 BC, about the arrival of a baby brother to ten-year-old Ageladas and his little sister, Doricha – and it inspired me to try out something dangerous ….

Syracuse Mus pottery lion

Greek children’s toy: pottery lion

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Sometimes, when visiting a famous monument, I find that what attracts me most is the visual. Take the Cutty Sark, one of the last tea clippers to be built on the Clyde in 1863 and now permanently on display at Greenwich. There’s something about the interconnected intricacy of the rigging and masts, together with the elegant shape of the ship’s hull, which I find aesthetically deeply satisfying.

1 Hull

The hull

From this angle, it looks like some futuristic butterfly, and the shape of that curving hull is just beautiful.

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It’s March and I’ve decided to get on with one of my New Year resolutions.. I am going to have my front hall properly carpeted and, in a moment of madness, I decide to include the cupboard under the stairs: The Cupboard of Doom. In October 1940, a massive bombing raid destroyed the houses opposite, so there isn’t a right-angle in the house. Try to put a nail in the walls of the Cupboard of Doom and chunks of plaster fall down. It has housed at least four sets of gas and electricity meters, plus pipes and wiring and there are holes everywhere. The cupboard door doesn’t fit and icy draughts whistle under it in winter.

1.

Looking into the Cupboard of Doom

Heaven knows what’s in the depths of the cupboard. I certainly don’t. However, it’s got to be cleared in time for The Carpet. I begin to think that must be mad. Why did I ever start this? I put on my oldest jeans, T-shirt and bath cap (there are spiders’ webs) and track down my mother’s old garden kneeler.

2

What is this?

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When I was a child, one of my favourite books was Adventures in Archaeology. I was thrilled by Schliemann’s discovery of Troy; Sir Arthur Evans’ of Knossus, and, of course, Howard Carter’s spectacular discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb. There was something very exciting about digging and finding something which has been hidden for hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of years. And I longed to see these places for myself.

And I confess to still feeling that same delight now I’m grown up – or, perhaps, not so grown up. So when I actually saw the spectacular Bronze Age horses and chariot burial which made World News in 2008 under the Karanovo tell in Bulgaria, I assure you that the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.

Karanovo horse burials

Horses and chariot burial

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What makes people want to own something that once belonged to someone famous? Is it a desire to acquire some quality of the deceased by a sort of spiritual osmosis? Or is the object more akin to a relic, something to be venerated. Or, more personally, perhaps it reminds the new owner of a precious memory of the loved one, as with the 19th century fondness for locks of hair incorporated into mourning rings, brooches, and so on.

Henry WEllcome

Henry Solomon Wellcome (1853-1936) by Hugh Goldwin Rivière, 1906.

I was pondering this question when I visited the Wellcome Collection in London, founded by Sir Henry Wellcome, pharmaceutical entrepreneur and also founder of The Wellcome Trust which funds medical research. He was an obsessive collector of things medical and his collection is wide-ranging, not to say eccentric. It includes a number of objects only tenuously connected with medicine which once belonged to famous men – and women.

Napoleon's toothbrush

Napoleon’s Toothbrush

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The V & A’s exciting new exhibition Curtain Up: Celebrating 40 Years of Theatre in London and New York celebrates the creative cross-fertilization between Broadway and London’s West End theatres since 1975. The exhibition rooms have been transformed into a backstage space, full of mysterious shadows and bright ever-changing lights in neon blues and reds. The V & A wants to entice you into a world which is larger, brighter and more glamorous than ordinary life. And, on this chilly February day, it’s more than welcome!

Exhibitiion entrance

Exhibition entrance

Theatrical spectacle is all about creating the right effect: everything is bigger, bolder and more glitzy than in real life, and there’s nothing like seeing the actual costumes from big hits to be struck by their impact.

Phantom 1

Michael Crawford’s suit for Phantom of the Opera

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