Friday, 28 November 2014

A Fatal Fall: Johann Peter Salomon

Johann Peter Salomon (Bonn, Germany, baptised 20th February 1745 – London, England, 28th November 1815) 

Johann Peter Salomon

Today we mark the death of Johann Peter Salomon, composer and violinist. Salomon was born in the house in Bonn that would later see the birth of a certain Beethoven, and from childhood prodigy, rose to the heights of musical excellence.

Salomon excelled as a violinist from a young age and before he was even twenty, was a leading light at the Prussian court. Not content with playing music, he was soon composing too and as his star rose, he travelled across Europe to settle in London.

It was here that Salomon found celebrity, both as a violinist and for the works he wrote for the Royal Opera to perform. Hayden came to England at the invitation of Salomon and the two men shared an enduring friendship, championing one another's works.

Salomon met a sad end in his seventieth year, just two years after he was instrumental in the establishing of the Philharmonic Society. Whilst taking a summer ride in 1815 he fell from his horse and sustained injuries that would later lead to dropsy. Confined to his bed in 70 Newman Street, the much-loved composer declined swiftly and passed away on 25th November. His funeral took place the following week, when he was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Witches and Wicked Bodies

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of accompanying Willow C Winsham to the British Museum to view their Witches and Wicked Bodies exhibition. As a blogger on all thing witchy, weird and wonderful, Willow was certainly in her element and as one who has always enjoyed the more esoteric side of things, I had a wonderful time too. It was particularly lovely to see some choice items of Georgian art with a witchcraft theme on show, perfect for me!

The exhibition gathers drawings, prints and some original literature and pottery from the British Museum's own collection, as well as a number of other institutions and private collectors. It traces the depiction of witches in art from the Renaissance to the Victorian era and features works by iconic artists including Goya, Rossetti and Delacroix.

In the evocatively lit gallery one becomes immersed in images that have become part of our folklore. Here witches ride on broomsticks and stir heavy iron cauldrons, there demonic women tempt pious men, animals spit and hiss in the thrall of their mistresses and the devil himself leers out of the pages of texts intended as a moral warning to the curious.

It was a thrill to see works by Dürer, so familiar from years of reproduction, and trace the earliest depictions of witches from tempting beauties to hook-nosed hags who have become the familiar Halloween costumes of the twenty first century. The exhibition also tells the stories of witchcraft's place in history through the ages, addressing the matter of criminality, punishment and hysteria that so often accompanied reports of sorcery. There is a strong focus on the biblical origins of witch myths such as Lilith and those of ancient history, including Medea.

It is fascinating to watch as these mythical figures of temptation go full circle through Goya's hideous hags and emerge into the nineteenth century as glamorous figures of mystery once. This is an exhibition that tells a story and one that I heartily recommend; if you are in London before the exhibition closes on 11th January 2015, don't miss it!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Captain Cook Sights Maui

We have met Captain Cook several times here at the salon. Here we have read of his trips to Botany Bay and Possession Island, learnt the story behind a famed portrait and even been present at his most gruesome death. Today we welcome the good Captain once more and though this story might have been one of another landing on foreign soil, Cook found his plans beaten by weather and tide.

In November 1778, Cook's ship, HMS Resolution, was continuing her second voyage under the Captain's command. The eventful expedition had been underway since July 1776 and would, of course, be Cook's last adventure though for now, he knew nothing of the fate that awaited on Hawaii. this was a voyage of exploration, a time to discover new lands and, in particular, the famed Northwest Passage. 

Captain James Cook by Nathaniel Dance-Holland, 1776
Captain James Cook by Nathaniel Dance-Holland, 1776
After a difficult voyage beset with illness and problems with their vessel, the crew of the Resolution spotted land on 26th November 1778. As the first Europeans to lay eyes on Maui, Cook resolved to land there and explore but found his plans vexed by nature itself. With no natural harbour and high waves, he eventually had to face defeat and abandon his plans to land. With no other option he sailed onwards, leaving Maui so that another might one day make the first landing.

That day would not come until nearly ten years later and the first European to set foot on Maui was French explorer, Jean-François de La Pérouse. He arrived on the island in May 1786, by which time Captain Cook was dead, though his name and voyages were anything but forgotten. 

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The Goose and Gridiron

Growing up in Nottinghamshire, we made regular family jaunts to Clumber Park to enjoy a picnic and take a stroll. One of the main attractions of these outings, other than weir which always fascinated me, was the chance to see unsuspecting people, not local to the area, being menaced to distraction by the somewhat fearsome geese that roamed the area. They always seemed singularly cheeky to me though and perhaps that's why this pub sign appealed to me so much!

The Goose and Gridiron tavern sign

Sign makers in the 18th century had to contend with the fact that many people who used shops and taverns were unable to read. The most beautifully written sign would be no of no use to anyone if the customers of a business were unable to read it and for this reason, sign makers naturally gravitated towards pictorial signs.

As we have already learnt, St Paul's Churchyard was home to a tavern named The Goose and Gridiron. It was here that the Grand Lodge of Freemasons had its first meeting in 1717 and had served as a meeting point for Masons long before that, under the leadership of Sir Christopher Wren. 

The inn had previously been a music-house named The Mitre and when it became a tavern, the name Goose and Gridiron was chosen. In 1878's Old and New London: Volume 1, author Walter Thornbury suggests that the name was intended as a parody of Swan and Harp, a popular name for music-houses. This seems a peculiarly specific joke and Thornhill thinks so too, offering the alternative suggestion that it is simply a somewhat earthy take on the coat of arms used by the Company of Musicians that would have hung above the door at the Mitre. To suggest that this is no longer a house of music, instead of the swan and tressure the tavern has adopted the goose and gridiron. 

Whatever the explanation, the sign perfectly suggests the name of the establishment and its purpose by simply depicting a goose and gridiron. With a wordless sign such as this , the innkeeper could be sure that customers would easily find their destination, regardless of their literacy skills!

Monday, 24 November 2014

A Sailor's Valentine

It is not unusual for the Guide to feature the occasional grisly story, with executions, crime and one to two gruesome deaths cropping up now and again. I am, however, not entirely without a heart and it is my pleasure to feature a nautical, romantic keepsake today in the colourful form of this sailor's valentine.

This valentine was auctioned in New York eight years ago for over $13000. It dates from the early nineteenth century. Quite unlike the rather more mundane paper valentine cards so popular today, this is a double mahogany frame in which dozens of shells have been carefully arranged to send a message of love to a lucky recipient. 

A Sailor's Valentine

On the left, the shells form the shape of a heart topped with a rose, a pair of symbols that can hardly be misinterpreted as anything but adoring. However, should there be any room for confusion the artist has decided to be absolutely clear in the message they wish to send and really highlights the point in the opposite frame. Here on the right, the message Forget Me Not has been carefully picked out in colourful seashells with another heart to seal the deal, leaving this is a most romantic token to be gazed at and cherished whenever the lovers concerned are parted. 

This is an utterly beguiling little artefact that marks a moment in history. Though we cannot know the story of this shell-studded valentine, I do hope it ended more happily than some of the tales I tell here at the Guide!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

A Sick Syphon

It is my pleasure to take tea once more today with Dr Dillingham of Edinburgh and hear his medical tales. I must admit that, when I first encountered the item that has caught my eye today, I was rather misled by its name; happily though, the sick syphon is not quite the gruesome instrument I took it to be!

Upon my initial reading of the name of this rather fine implement, I found myself wondering how on earth it worked. How could such a thing be used to syphon vomit form a patient? My mind fairly boggled at the many, varied and ever more unpleasant methods by which it might be employed and yet, as the good doctor quickly assured me, it has nothing to do with vomit.

In fact, the sick syphon is rather more like a very elaborate, very well turned out straw. Its shape allowed it to be placed in a vessel such as a bowl or mug and even the weakest patient could then carefully suck up whatever (mostly liquid) foodstuff was on offer.

This particular syphon is dated 1790 and was made by silversmiths Edward Robinson and Thomas Phipps. In its fine case it makes for a most unusual medical curiosity; if only it could talk!

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Victims of the National Razor

I have, it would appear, acquired something of a reputation for liking the more grisly aspects of history. Perhaps it is my prized miniature guillotine, perhaps the number of salon visitors who ended their days beneath the blade of that iconic instrument of death, I can hardly tell! Whatever the cause, these past months I have received a few queries from readers who would like an easy way to track down all the guillotine posts here at the Guide.

I always aim to help if I can and for this reason, I have introduced a new guillotine tag for just such an occasion. To make things even easier though, here are the links to all of those guillotine posts - I hope they prove ghoulishly diverting!

A model of the 1792 guillotine
A model of the 1792 guillotine

To kick us off, who better than Joseph-Ignace Guillotin? This gentleman championed the guillotine, little imagining just how often it would come to be used!

The French Court During Revolution
Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette: The iconic king and queen of France.
Princess Élisabeth of France: A loyal sister to the end.
Madame du Barry: Mistress to a king.
Anne d'Arpajon: The woman mocked as Madame Etiquette by Marie Antoinette.
Lamoignon de Malesherbes: The man who defended Louis XVI at his trial, forced to watch his family die before his own execution.

The French Revolution
Maximilien Robespierre: The Revolutionary politician who presided over the Terror.
Charlotte Corday: Assassin.
Jean-Sylvain Bailly: Architect of the Revolution.
Louis-Antoine de Saint-Just: This confidante of Robespierre died alongside him.
Georges Danton and Camille Desmoulins: Powerhouses of the Revolution who fell foul of the Jacobins.
Olympe de Gouges: An ardent revolutionary and thinker who rethought her politics as the Reign of Terror took hold.
Friedrich von der Trenck: Spy, adventurer and man of action.
Adam Philippe, Comte de Custine: The military man better known as Général Moustache.