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Friday, October 31, 2014


High above the Seine in Normandy stands the ruins of a fortress built in 1196 by Richard the Lionheart, aka King Richard I of England and Duke of Normandy (1157-1199), Chateau Gailliard.

Chateau Gailliard, les Andelys, Normandy
On a recent trip to France, I took the challenge of walking up this steep -- I mean REALLY steep hill to the ruins of the Chateau Gailliard.  I almost gave up when the paved path ran out and we had to negotiate several paths that were no more than pebble-filled dry gullies. But I kept going, taking a breather with many of the others trudging upwards.

Eventually we managed to reach the summit, breathless from the climb and from the fantastic view of the river below.  This fortress was designed to be siege-proof and was amazingly expensive. According to Wikipedia's entry on Richard I, it cost £15,000 to £20,000 in 1196-1198.
Statue of Richard I in front of London's Parliament
Richard I (1157-1199) was the son of King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine.  As a side note, remember the great film Lion in Winter, starring Peter O'Toole as Henry and Katherine Hepburn as Eleanor? Originally a stage play by James Goldman, the film was released in 1968 with a young Anthony Hopkins as Richard.  Portraying a Christmas meeting between the estranged Henry and Eleanor in 1183, the film won three Oscars and was nominated for four others.  If you haven't seen it lately, do yourself a favor and find a copy. 
In his short lifetime of just 42 years, Richard I gained a worldwide reputation.  He became the Duke of Aquitaine in 1171. As one of Henry's three rebellious sons, Richard allied himself with Phillip II of France, and eventually defeated Henry II, who died a few days later in 1189. Richard became Duke of Normandy and was crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey.

Richard LionHeart and Phillip led the Third Crusade, against Saladin, with mixed results. On his return to Europe in 1191, Richard was captured and imprisoned by the Duke of Austria and held by the Holy Roman Emperor.  He was released in 1194 after payment of a large ransom.

View of the Seine from the Chateau

Romantic vision of Richard
Involved in many more battles with family, assorted enemies and former allies, Richard was shot by a young bowman. His wounds were fatal but he lingered for several days, settling his bequests and pardoning the bowman (who was nevertheless executed after Richard's death)/.
Chateau Gailliard
After a 7-month siege, the Castle fell to Phillip of France in 1204. Once Gailliard was no longer a strong defense, the rest of Normandy fell to the French later that year. The fortress changed hands several more times during various wars, and though it has long been in ruins, one can still understand why it was such an important strategic location.
The panoramic picture below, from Wikipedia, gives a more complete view than I was able to catch either from below or above. 
Richard LionHeart

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Death Becomes Her: 
A Century of Mourning Attire

October 21, 2014-February 1, 2015

The Costume Institute’s first fall exhibition in seven years, is on view in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Anna Wintour Costume Center from October 21, 2014, through February 1, 2015. The exhibition explores the aesthetic development and cultural implications of mourning fashions of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Approximately 30 ensembles, many of which are being exhibited for the first time, reveal the impact of high-fashion standards on the sartorial dictates of bereavement rituals as they evolved over a century.

With the reopening of The Costume Institute space in May as the Anna Wintour Costume Center, the department returns to mounting two special exhibitions a year, once again including a fall show, in addition to the major spring exhibition. This is the first fall exhibition The Costume Institute has organized since blog.mode: addressing fashion in 2007.

“The predominantly black palette of mourning dramatizes the evolution of period silhouettes and the increasing absorption of fashion ideals into this most codified of etiquettes,” said Harold Koda, Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute, who is curating the exhibition with Jessica Regan, Assistant Curator. “The veiled widow could elicit sympathy as well as predatory male advances. As a woman of sexual experience without marital constraints, she was often imagined as a potential threat to the social order.”

Exhibition Overview
The thematic exhibition is organized chronologically and features mourning dress from 1815 to 1915, primarily from The Costume Institute’s collection. The calendar of bereavement’s evolution and cultural implications are illuminated through women’s clothing and accessories, showing the progression of appropriate fabrics from mourning crape to corded silks, and the later introduction of color with shades of gray and mauve.

“Elaborate standards of mourning set by royalty spread across class lines via fashion magazines,” said Ms. Regan, “and the prescribed clothing was readily available for purchase through mourning ‘warehouses’ that proliferated in European and American cities by mid-century.”

The Anna Wintour Costume Center’s Carl and Iris Barrel Apfel Gallery orients visitors to the exhibition with fashion plates, jewelry, and accessories. The main Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery illustrates the evolution of mourning wear through high fashion silhouettes and includes mourning gowns worn by Queen Victoria and Queen Alexandra. Examples of restrained simplicity are shown alongside those with ostentatious ornamentation. The predominantly black clothes are set off within a stark white space amplified with historic photographs and daguerreotypes.

Related Programs
In conjunction with the exhibition, a Halloween event on October 31, 6:30–8:30 p.m., will encourage visitors to chart their own path through the galleries and join drop-in,
interactive experiences with art.  Ms. Regan will give a Friday Focus lecture, Women in Black: Fashioning Mourning in the 19th Century, on Friday, November 21, at 4:00 p.m. Musical programming includes a special pop-up concert featuring Icelandic cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir on October 17 at 6:00 p.m., and a performance by vocalist Theo Bleckmann on February 7 at 7:00 p.m.
The Museum’s website, www.metmuseum.org/deathbecomesher, features information on the exhibition and related programs.

Click here for a review of the Death Becomes Her by Elle Magazine

Harper's Bazaar reviews the show here and includes a 
slideshow of the best mourning costumes in film.