|The Bacchant Children of the 2nd Earl Gower|
Visiting British stately homes is
my favourite summer pastime. It is fascinating to see how the source of the
money (usually mining, slavery or imperialism in India) was systematically
obscured. Financial capital was exchanged for cultural capital in a
neoclassical idiom, including Palladian architecture. Having your child painted
in an antique fancy-dress costume was a particular obsession of mine-owners,
planters and nabobs who fancied themselves as Hellenistic philosopher-kings.
I have amassed a large
collection of images of benighted children of plutocrats dressed as Hermes,
Diana and Julius Caesar. Here are the top three in my collection, in ascending
|Future Slayer of Irish Rebels|
First, Master Watkin Wynn
(1772–1840), fifth Baronet Williams-Wynne, as the infant John the Baptist. I do
not know whether his parents had remembered their theology: John may have said
cute things about lambs but he ended up beheaded. In the event, Master Watkin grew
up to amass a cavalry regiment and play an enthusiastic role in putting down
the Irish rebellion of 1798.
|Apollo or Ascanius?|
Second place goes to the portrait
of an unknown boy, said to be dressed as Apollo, at the Treasurer’s House in
York. It is not just the Arcadian landscape, the gorgeous tomato-coral silk
mantle, the faux-antique boots and the elegantly curving bow. It is the arrogance
of the posture and facial expression, the patrician glossy ringlets and that
bossily pointing finger. I wonder whether he isn’t intended, rather, to be
dressed as Ascanius, the hunting son of Aeneas to whom so many crowned heads of
the European Ancien Regime traced their ancestry.
The winner until this week was this
baby girl at Wimpole Hall, Cambridge, dressed as Venus in a chariot drawn by
doves. The logistics of getting such a small infant to sit still in that
costume make my maternal mind boggle: when our own progeny dressed up as Darth
Vader or Cat Girl they instantly became hyper-active.
|Sex goddess-appropriate role for a toddler?|
But even the diminutive coy Venus has now been trumped by the costume worn by the Countess of Westmoreland
to the Duchess of Devonshire’s ludicrously lavish 1897 ball: she went dressed as Hebe, goddess of
youth and Olympian cupbearer, with a REAL STUFFED EAGLE attached to her
shoulder to represent Hebe’s father, Zeus. From now on I’m going to extend my
brief to toff adults in classical fancy dress as well as those of toff tots.
Post a Comment