Assuming that you’re all acquainted with my peculiar infatuation with young, effeminate and excruciatingly gorgeous males, an aesthetic propensity I think I’ve previously expressed in my post about Oscar Wilde’s splendid lover, bawdy poet Bossie Douglas, my yet again developing a fascination for a historical pretty boy should not imply any trace of surprise on your behalf.

Allow me to repeat for better understanding: I have contracted, so to say, a great interest in the very foppish main character I bet you’ll also adore to this extent  if watching the really worth watching film “Stage Beauty”. In an age when, after the Greek inherited tradition, roles like Juliet’s or Desdemona’s had to be interpreted by adolescent lads (that is, until Margaret Hughes imposed herself in the domain during the Restoration), Edward Kynaston, my virtual crush, made the moast graceful lady, pretty talented and surprisingly flexible as he could play both a King and a Queen in the same act. Though this remarkable trait is omitted in the movie so to create a more intense drama, which doesn’t diminish its juiciness, Kynaston could fairly be considered an interesting person, not short of appeal and definitely not of theatrical aptitudes.

No wonder he was a high member of Rhode’s company at the Royal Cockpit, situated not far from the Whitehall Palace, thus very frequented by aristocrats. Edward’s portrayal of Shakespeare’s Henry IV brought him to join the King’s (Charles II) company.

His contemporaries, naval administrator Samuel Pepys and the actor-manager Colley Cibber prized Edward’s intriguing capacities, noting his most brilliant she-roles in renaissance productions as Ben Johnson’s “Epicoene” and John Fletcher’s “The Loyal Subject“, being clear that he was quite a sensational figure in 17th century London (he was born around 1640, commencing the acting career in his early 20’s ).

I find extraordinary the simultaneity with which he enacted characters of the two genders, like in the winter of 1660, when he filled the role of Otto in “Rollo Duke of Normandy” having played   Arthiope only the previous week. Such accurately managed shifts fascinate me; he must’ve possessed a huge imagination and a lot more psychological equilibrium to balance the characteristics of the two sexes inside him, pulling out the needed one at command, with awing credibility nonetheless.

Quotations of his coevals underline the strange ability, asserting that he had fabricated “a Complete Female Stage Beauty” who “performed his Parts so well, especially Arthiope and Aglaura” and “has since been Disputable among the Judicious, whether any Woman that succeeded him so sensibly touch’d the Audience as he” (Downes, “Roscius Anglicanus”).

He also finds appreciation in Pepys’ now notorious diary.

Saturday, 18 August, 1660     Captain Ferrers, my Lord’s Cornet, comes to us, who after dinner took me and Creed to the Cockpitt play, the first that I have had time to see since my coming from sea, “The Loyall Subject,” where one Kinaston, a boy, acted the Duke’s sister (Olympia), but made the loveliest lady that ever I saw in my life, only her voice not very good. After the play done, we three went to drink, and by Captain Ferrers’ means, Kinaston and another that acted Archas, the General, came and drank with us.

Monday, 7 January, 1660/61    Saw “The Silent Woman.” The first time that ever I did see it, and it is an excellent play. Among other things here, Kinaston, the boy; had the good turn to appear in three shapes: first, as a poor woman in ordinary clothes, to please Morose; then in fine clothes, as a gallant, and in them was clearly the prettiest woman in the whole house, and lastly, as a man; and then likewise did appear the handsomest man in the house. (between brackets, I would’ve judge this way too 😉 )

Monday, 1 February, 1668/9    We find no play there; Kinaston, that did act a part therein, in abuse to Sir Charles Sedley, being last night exceedingly beaten with sticks, by two or three that assaulted him, so as he is mightily bruised, and forced to keep his bed.  (part which appears in the movie too, making me flinch as I have horror of attractive persons venturing into fights that may cause them lose their natural pulchritude; it’s nothing sadder to me than being deprived of a particularity thus addictive)

Tuesday, 2 February, 1668/9   At the King’s playhouse,  “The Heyresse,” not- withstanding Kinaston’s being beaten, is acted; and they say the King is very angry with Sir Charles Sedley for his being beaten, but he do deny it.

Tuesday, 9 February, 1668/9   Saw “The Island Princess” which I like mighty well, as an excellent play: and here we find Kinaston to be well enough to act again, which he do very well, after his beating by Sir Charles Sedley’s appointment.

A part I have further enjoyed was his travesty carriage-trips with the “Ladies of Quality” who “prided themselves in offering him a ride through Hyde-Park” just to see with their own goggled eyes the testimony of his virility… by slipping a bold hand under his many skirts. Really an awkward scene but doubtlessly pleasurable for the naughty Kynaston boy.

He did have big on and off stage success.

Even I, the girl from the future, was charmed by his ambiguous personality.

What do you think about him?

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Once upon a time, approximately a century plus relatively 20 years ago, when Lady D and Grace Kelly had yet to become international royal icons, fascinating generation after generation with their undeniable and utterly awing charisma, Europe celebrated as divine exponents of , well, a sex-appeal cumulated with fantastic physical charm, two renowned sovereigns contemporaries of elder and less prettier Queen Victoria. Empress Eugenie de Montijo (shortly named Doña María Eugenia Ignacia Augustina de Palafox-Portocarrero de Guzmán y Kirkpatrick, 16th Countess of Teba and 15th Marquise of Ardales) and Bavarian wacko, Empress Elisabeth of Austria (or Sissi), were, judging by the public opinion which papers never ceased to express, the crowned dignified beauties of late 19th century (otherwise somehow inferior to the peculiar pulchritude of a Lola Montez or a notorious Countess di Castiglione). Noble dames followed their fashion, copied their hairstyles, queued to steal their secret tricks and ultimately spread conspicuous rumors regarding the eccentricities so much talked about in journals across the old continent. A week couldn’t pass without both nasty and flattering news being published all over the Austrian, French, English or German Empire, constancy which eventually lead to their defining as legends, to the shared dismay of their husbands. To gossip on topics concerning the beauteous Empresses was an irresistible occupation of aristocrat high-put ladies while at quite tedious court balls, and, through this jealous rivals, the two made the elevated scandal of the day.

No wonder that, despite the tensed political circumstances and the wrong presumption of natural rivalry between elegant style icons, they developed a friendly relationship originated in an official meeting with the occasion of the Salzburg  reception offered to Napoleon III by Franz Joseph after his younger brother’s, Emperor Max of Mexico’s death on foreign lands. Agreeably not the most proper setting yet nonetheless an opportunity for the enchanting women to get in contact.

The city of Salzburg competed in comparing the two so to realize who was most loved by Aphrodite and the state affairs passed to the second position on the common scale of interest as Elisabeth and Eugenie were placed in the center of everybody’s attention. One witty, emanating confidence, the other sensitive, even timid; one blessed with symmetric features, one decidedly the owner of magnetizing allure: to chose a winner troubled the referees of this indirect contest. Implicitly, they were believed to be unquestionable enemies, still weren’t.

A funny anecdote recorded by the rich Count Wilczek unveils the intimacy shared by them in that short  period. He reports how Sissi, habitually traveling incognito, visited the French royalty in the evening to “speak of certain things” while he was supposed to guard the room entrance to prevent the prospect of someone interrupting them which proved justifiable when Napoleon III himself insisted on seeing his spouse. The Count was then obliged to “cross two empty chambers of the apartment, even the bedroom, to reach the boudoir whose entry had been carelessly left ajar. Before it was placed a cheval glass and the couple of Empresses were treating the door beneath which I remained with their backs, busy to measure, with some ribbons, the probably most beautiful legs in Europe.” He was never able to forget that unimaginable scene until the end of his days… Lucky man!

Today I was browsing through some charming old magazines which have mysteriously piled up near my desk the past few years when I found this incredibly ingenious and obviously purely French pictorial of Yves Saint Laurent Rives Gauche (meaning “for men” branch of the exquisite fashion house) from 1998, proposing an artsy way to broadcast the then newest (and implicitly hottest) winter collection, something exclusively the Parisian designers could come up with (if we remember the Chanel parfume commercial with sensuous Vanessa Paradis posing as one of Ingres’ girls).

I liked the ideas so much I just had to put it here, comparing the original painting with the distorted and modernized vision which seems to exploit the very essence of our society through the light of the previous, sharp, smart, fine, luxurious but nonetheless glazed with a foam of sexuality meant to attract, to spellbound the potential viewer. Well, this and the generous resolution to serve you the names of the YSL team’s original inspiration.

Le Dejuner Sur L’Herbre (1863) by one of the most brilliant innovative figures in the quite innovative itself 19th century, Monsieur Eduard Manet, whose present equivalent suggested in the YSL representation I have elected to become my own inspiration for a thematic drawing I suppose I’ll show in a future post with the condition of coming up well. It’s too much a harem assembly for me to resist sketching it my style.

Olympia (1863), also by Manet, the outrageous icon of the expression succes de scandale.

Les Trois Graces (1792), relatively dull painting in comparison with Boticelli’s three beauteous girls (but, hey, the French are highly chauvinistic about art, as Deborah Davis once said) by Jean Baptiste Regnault

Rockby Venus (1651) by an admirer of curvacious women, Spanish prodigy Velasquez.

Jeune Homme au Bord de la Mer (1836), little romantic work done by Hyppolite Flandrin.

Gabrielle d’Estrees et la Duchesse de Villars (151594), an extremely tasty Louvre masterpiece whose symbolism vies conventional translation, leaving the intrigued spectator  weave his own, profoundly personal, story relating to the weird hand-gesture the dark haired noble does… I know I have my imagination titillated by it…

Le Sommeil (1866), the pronouncedly erotic Goustave Courbet painting somehow brought to a less morally-offensive state in the eyes of heterosexuals, if you know what I mean.

Finally, an Ingres baigneuse happily thinner and with the additional long-haired sexy guy tossed in a ritzy bed. Really nice!

There was also a Latour inspired photo of the following “Fortuneteller” yet its size was terrible and  the resolution so poor that I couldn’t decide on putting it here, amongst the others.

So I assume I’ve made my opinion pretty clear by testifying that I’m presently going to draw the first Manet sample but what do you think? Which has the honor of having captured your attention best?

I’ve always though of the renaissance French nobles as illustrative epitomes of bawdiness mixed with incomparable lascivious tastes draped in luxurious silk and velvet, never short of nightly lecherous affairs or adulterous depravations inspired by the Holly Pope’s own bed adventures. They seemed to me quite a colorful exponents of a highly artsy and bohemian world where culture tangled with unrestrained vices as naturally as the members of debauched lovers. So yesterday, when I ‘ve stumbled across this very delineative paragraph on the less innocent revels at Francis I’s court in my current reading revolving around Henry VIII’s second foxy wife, notorious Lady Boleyn, titled “Mistress Anne” by Carolly Erickson, my favorite biographer of the Tudors personalities, I knew I just had to reproduce it here.

It’s a juicy story about a vulgar goblet passed from hand to hand and table to table with a very specific meaning…

Everywhere they looked the courtiers saw reminders of sexual passion- even in the platters they ate from and the goblets from which they drank their sugared wine. One goblet in particular was handed around at the French court as a sort of touchstone of sexual sophistication. The goblet’s interior surface was engraved with copulating animals, and as the drinker drained it he or she saw, in its depths, a man and woman making love. It amused the prince who owned the goblet to have his servants present it to various women to drink from, so that he could watch their reactions. Some blushed, others whispered to one another in mild astonishment, still others tried to keep their eyes closed while they drank- while at the same time trying to ignore the loud laughter of the prince and the other men present.

Newcomers to court, or the youngest and most innocent women, Brantôme recorded, “maintained a cold smile just at the tips of their noses and lips and forced themselves to be hypocrites” about the goblet, realizing that they had either to drink from it- for the servants refused to serve them from any other- or perish of thirst. But those who had been part of the courtly circle for even a short time laid aside their scruples and drank from the titillating chalice  greedily enough. And often it was those who protested vehemently over the unseemliness of the goblet who were observed to take longer and deeper drinks from it than anyone else. “In a word,” Brantôme wrote, “there were a hundred thousand jokes and witticism tossed to and fro between the gentlemen and the ladies at table about the goblet,” and no doubt it served to when the appetites of all present for the love play that went on after the banqueting was over.

(Carolly Erickson, “Mistress Anne“, 1984)

Isn’t it charming?

 

The Renaissance art, historian Giovana Galli said, “in its power to pursue imaginative effects and bizarre, often lingered in research and in the representation of parties strange, exotic, able to inspire the awe and the amazement, so sought after” at the respectable courts of preposterously affluent monarchs, a propensity inherited from the late Middle Ages currents if we drop an eye on Bosch’s  highly fantastic paintings. Rich nobles fought to collect the oddest creatures to complete their households in the most intriguing manner: having an unusual animal or a scarcely (to totally) different looking human being as your companion was the 16th century equivalent for owning a Ferrari today. It proved one’s impeccable taste and money all together. No wonder teratology, the study of abnormalities of physiological development (aka monsters or freaks) had become wildly popular in the period, its fascination inciting the minds of uncountable artist to create that “extensive gallery of paintings” we can admire even nowadays, portraits of arresting characters like dwarfs, women with beards, two-headed men, obese or deform, albinos, etc. The mythological part of the real fauna.

So amongst the random courtiers present at banquets and slightly licentious parties mingled the eerie persons and Petrus Gonsalus, the founder of a top strange family, who suffered from a rare skin disease (Hypertrichosis universalis congenita) which covered all his face with fuzz, turning him into a living and more civilized yeti, made no exception. In fact, he had acquired quite a reputation across Europe, his presence being requested at the French Royal Court of Henry II (the one with the pretty-witty older lover, Diane de Poitiers, always disputing her monopole with the plump Italian Queen Catherina de Medici). There, performing as a walking exhibit of the exotic, he was maintained and educated, taking part in the jolly festivities  (agreeably less extravagant than those managed by Francisc I) where the fiery sangue francais was best observed. Food and drinks galore, Gonsalus represented the main attraction. And I assume he had his share of fun before the King died and he, under the insistent invitation of Margaret of Austria, migrated to the Flemish.

There, exerting his charm, he found a wife, got married and didn’t hesitate to produce offspring who bore their father’s malformation.

As you can obviously see in this 1580 image of our Petrus from the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, he was quite an eligible man considering his possible usually boorish and hideous rivals. Perhaps his woman even loved him.

The couple followed their patron, Margaret of Austria, to Italy, where she was to marry Philibert of Savoy, then moved to Parma, causing many artist to paint miniatures, portraits or woodcuts depicting members of the hairy family. For example, Gonsalus Henry (son of Petrus) features in master’s Agostino Carracci’s “Hairy Arrigo, Fool Pietro and Dwarf Amon” , momentarily at the Museo di Capodimonte, Naples.

I’ve found it all in an Italian article intituled “Strano e’ bello” (after seeing  the second picture beneath in an art book while casually browsing through the appealing volumes of  my fav library) which further says:

“the codex “Monstrorum historia” (1624) of the scholar Ulisse Aldrovandi, who founded the first chair of natural sciences at Bologna and considered the precursor of naturalistic observation, contains four woodcuts representing as many family members Gonsalus: Peter and three children, 8, 12 and respectively 20 years old. In this regard, it should be noted that Aldrovandi theorized the absolute importance of the figure as a tool of investigation and study of natural reality, so as to create a body of about five thousand pictures in tempera, often used as prototypes for the woodcut illustrations of its printed works, commissioned a group of artists who worked under his direction. It ‘s likely that one of these artists was Lavinia Fontana (Bologna, 1552 – Rome, 1614). She ‘s in fact the author of a painting, dated between 1594 and 1595, which – from the Musée du Chateau de Blois –  shows the infant Antoinette Gonzaga (Italian variant of the Gonsalus name).

“The Celestial Gallery”, at Palazzo Te and Palazzo Ducale, also present illustration of the girl.

Yet the most known work in which the little monster appears is by far Lavinia Fontana’s “Bambina Pelosa”.

“Lavinia Fontana, who began his career under the guidance of her father Prospero (really a Shakespearean name) , one of the protagonists of the late Mannerist culture in Bologna, was elegant interpreter of the models by Raphael, Perugino and Zuccari, and found his own portrait in the best kind of expression.

Having been found in the notebook of a delicate painter drawing in red pencil, depicting the face of a hairy girl, and whose date has been indicated in the late eighties and 1594-95, it was deduced that Antoinette’s image had been made by Fontana during a trip to the city of Bologna after the Marquise de Soragna, in which the child was examined, as is documented, by dall’Aldrovandi. The authenticity of the painting, the French museum acquired in 1997 by a Venetian antique dealer has never been questioned, not even the identity the effigy. It ‘possible that Lavinia Antoinette had had the opportunity to meet on several occasions, or that the painting is a reworking of the design, done at the request of the client, taking inspiration from other images of the girl then in circulation. Gonzaga, a fashionable courtier, evidently fetched natural “wonders”, so it is not strange that in his art collections appeared a portrait of one of Gonsalus kids. It ‘s possible that Vincenzo Gonzaga has requested it directly to the author, or all’Aldrovandi, since these in turn, frequent visitors to the Mantuan court had asked Gonsalus’ permission to take pictures of his precious  beasts.”

What do you think about this peculiar family?

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