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Splendiferous subtext, if you ask me, and, concomitantly, one of the greatest biblical metaphors ever to be taken from the patrimony of  ancient civilizations without other alteration except that concerning the context.

I strongly recommend to muse about it, let it settle gently on your membrane of intellectual sensibility, allow it to make connections with previous thoughts and ruminate until the tangency it has with several impossible-not-to-relate-to issues least comes to reveal a path towards full understanding.

Can the blind lead the blind?

NO?

If so, why does our magnificently well- structured society permit such immense a mistake and to which effect, really? How do we still fall under the influence of utterly false gurus, all information to prevent it being internationally available?

To which extent to we plunge in that pit?

There’s a tangible truth in Proust’s quote, the sort whose veracity  each of us can test in relation with our most intimate perception of paradise and the first experience of loss, which somehow comes right down from John Milton’s famed poem but also, somehow, doesn’t. To explain it would mean the beginning of a baffling, perplexing row of philosophical reasoning I’ll refrain unleashing here although, at the same time, it needs mentioning.

Subliminally, congenially, we’re all subjected to nostalgia over a period of life (that often seems to be our enchanting and enchanted childhood), whether consciously or less, to which we associate divine proportions and images distorted positively. In this regard, our judgement is no greater than a child’s, affected by the tendency to aggrandize. Interesting to remember the above statement belongs to one who lived amongst the patented masters of megalomania, the haughty, highly dramatic Parisians, in a century itself grandiose. I don’t think it changes anything substantially, though.

Don’t you find we’re as prone to do it now, modern as we are,  this exaggeration of the past/paradise time’s elapsing made us lose?

I have never regarded history as being a sterile chronicle of things past and therefore peremptorily obsolete. We’re history too, after all, and how pathetic would be considering oneself a living, breathing fossil with no purpose except making some future successors yawn? Exceedingly, I assure you.

That’s partially why I though of sharing, every gloomy Monday from now on, a quotation which contributed to my feeling the old days thoroughly, vividly animate. It should be amusing and witty or utterly, bitterly ironical and bring a sense of modernity in the historical context from where it was extracted, although you’ll be the ultimate judge of its value.

So I’m expecting comments on this week’s choice:

I have never made a secret from my numerous peculiarities, not ever refrained sharing them if the opportunity emerged, hence I trust the subject in which  I’m about to decree, today, right here, I have utterly reveled, should not rise any doubts about  my mental health for I’m neither a satanist nor an apostle of the Marquis de Sade, just so you know. And hopefully, since this matter is now settled, you’ll also better understand the reason behind my depicting how quite perfectly impressed I was by the horrid acts a certain Gilles de Rais man became (in)famous for a mere 600 years ago. Hopefully.

Because this post, “concocted” 15 minutes before my realizing it’s vital to walk out the door if I plan on attending school, is quite short of arguments to sustain why a gruesome child murder transfixed me thus. Extensive explanation are going to come from Huysman’s exquisitely written “Là-Bas” in electic quotes that, during one white night, wildly incited the more macabre parts of my imagination.

So here it goes:

“Gilles de Rais was born about 1404, in the château de Mâchecoul. We know nothing of his childhood. His father died about the end of October, 1415, and his mother almost immediately married a Sieur d’Estouville, abandoning her two sons, Gilles and René. They became the wards of their grandfather, Jean de Craon, ‘a man old and ancient and of exceeding great age,’ as the texts say. He seems to have allowed his two charges to run wild, and then to have got rid of Gilles by marrying him to Catherine de Thouars.

Gilles is known to have been at the court of the Dauphin five years later. His contemporaries represent him as a robust, active man, of striking beauty and rare elegance. We have no explicit statement as to the rôle he played in this court, but one can easily imagine what sort of treatment the richest baron in France received at the hands of an impoverished king.”

He fought alongside Jeanne d’Arc and was named Marshal of France, at the age of twenty-five.

“What is certain is that Gilles’s soul became saturated with mystical ideas. His whole history proves it.

He saw the Maid fulfil all her promises. She raised the siege of Orléans, had the king consecrated at Rheims, and then declared that her mission was accomplished and asked as a boon that she be permitted to return home.

At any rate, after losing track of him completely, we find that he has shut himself in at his castle of Tiffauges.

He is no longer the rough soldier, the uncouth fighting-man. At the time when the misdeeds are about to begin, the artist and man of letters develop in Gilles and, taking complete possession of him, incite him, under the impulsion of a perverted mysticism, to the most sophisticated of cruelties, the most delicate of crimes.

For he was almost alone in his time, this baron de Rais. In an age when his peers were simple brutes, he sought the delicate delirium of art, dreamed of a literature soul-searching and profound; he even composed a treatise on the art of evoking demons; he gloried in the music of the Church, and would have nothing about his that was not rare and difficult to obtain.

He was an erudite Latinist, a brilliant conversationalist, a sure and generous friend. He possessed a library extraordinary for an epoch when nothing was read but theology and lives of saints.”

And now brace yourselves.

“There was no transition between the two phases of his being. The moment Jeanne d’Arc was dead he fell into the hands of sorcerers who were the most learned of scoundrels and the most unscrupulous of scholars. These men who frequented the château de Tiffauges were fervent Latinists, marvellous conversationalists, possessors of forgotten arcana, guardians of world-old secrets.

To sum up: natural mysticism on one hand, and, on the other, daily association with savants obsessed by Satanism. The sword of Damocles hanging over his head, to be conjured away by the will of the Devil, perhaps. An ardent, a mad curiosity concerning the forbidden sciences. All this explains why, little by little, as the bonds uniting him to the world of alchemists and sorcerers grow stronger, he throws himself into the occult and is swept on by it into the most unthinkable crimes.

Then as to being a ‘ripper’ of children—and he didn’t immediately become one, no, Gilles did not violate and trucidate little boys until after he became convinced of the vanity of alchemy—why, he does not differ greatly from the other barons of his times.

He exceeds them in the magnitude of his debauches, in opulence of murders, and that’s all. It’s a fact.

And assuredly, the Marquis de Sade is only a timid bourgeois, a mediocre fantasist, beside him!”

To give an illustrative example:

“Vampirism satisfies him for months. He pollutes dead children, appeasing the fever of his desires in the blood smeared chill of the tomb. He even goes so far—one day when his supply of children is exhausted—as to disembowel a pregnant woman and sport with the fœtus. After these excesses he falls into horrible states of coma, similar to those heavy lethargies which overpowered Sergeant Bertrand after his violations of the grave. But if that leaden sleep is one of the known phases of ordinary vampirism, if Gilles de Rais was merely a sexual pervert, we must admit that he distinguished himself from the most delirious sadists, the most exquisite virtuosi in pain and murder, by a detail which seems extrahuman, it is so horrible.

As these terrifying atrocities, these monstrous outrages, no longer suffice him, he corrodes them with the essence of a rare sin. It is no longer the resolute, sagacious cruelty of the wild beast playing with the body of a victim. His ferocity does not remain merely carnal; it becomes spiritual. He wishes to make the child suffer both in body and soul. By a thoroughly Satanic cheat he deceives gratitude, dupes affection, and desecrates love. At a leap he passes the bounds of human infamy and lands plump in the darkest depth of Evil.

He contrives this: One of the unfortunate children is brought into his chamber, and hanged, by Bricqueville, Prelati, and de Sillé, to a hook fixed into the wall. Just at the moment when the child is suffocating, Gilles orders him to be taken down and the rope untied. With some precaution, he takes the child on his knees, revives him, caresses him, rocks him, dries his tears, and pointing to the accomplices, says, ‘These men are bad, but you see they obey me. Do not be afraid. I will save your life and take you back to your mother,’ and while the little one, wild with joy, kisses him and at that moment loves him, Gilles gently makes an incision in the back of the neck, rendering the child ‘languishing,’ to follow Gilles’s own expression, and when the head, not quite detached, bows, Gilles kneads the body, turns it about, and violates it, bellowing.”

He was eventually discovered and sentenced to death, not unexpectedly and certainly not undeserved. But, passing over the horrid slaughter he had conducted, don’t you find him starkly intriguing? He was the average good fellow and the next thing history records, Gilles decimates innocent children! What do you think of this leas crazy situation?

Hellbrunn

September 23, 2012

Just look at it, a relatively simple, unadorned Renaissance-inspired  facade of a palatial size villa inducing its constant visitors and probably its long-dead owners (asking them would be somewhat troublesome) the coziest sensation of  having broken up with worldly chores into one soothing vacation-land. That’s unarguably the first impression one gets when entering Hellbrunn domain, a baroque, luxurious albeit intimate wellness center you’d expect making an appealing  brochure cover. But rest assured, your tour couldn’t possibly be more different from all the others typical to similar historical places. Just wait.

Schloss Hellbrunn, situated in Salzburg’s vicinity, was built in the early 1600’s by the renowned Prince-Archbishop of the Salzburg district, a rather unconventional Markus Sittikus von Hohenems, as a more or less accurate replica of a castle he took a liking to during his school years in Italy. Designed to be a day-residence fully supplied by water springs in the summer, the villa has no bedroom: the Prince Archbishop & comp. would arrive here before noon, enjoy the informal atmosphere with numerous concerts (a room was particularly destined to sustain high acoustics), parties, society games or whatever the naughtier spirits might’ve been up to in such permissive circles (let your imagination do its work), have their presumably well-deserved break from the court’s rigor and dutifully return by midnight, satisfied and refreshed. So far so good. No shocking debauchery to equal Versailles’, no historically essential event held between the villa’s amber walls…

Until you’re introduce to the marvelous world of the trick fountains.

Nobody explained us, the information-avid tourists, what exactly gave Sittikus the crazy ideas on which a series of water-powered objects have been craftily introduced to the garden decorations  though it’s crystal clear deriding his acquaintances was a prime purpose. Now, whether it had a connection with the age’s wellness treatments or exclusively the ridiculing folly, it’s quite hard to extract from the remaining historical resources. What remains, the fantastic products of Sittikus’ whims, are fine examples of sheer eccentricity:

A feasts stone table with an obvious wine cavity right in the middle, surrounded by 9 fixed stools, was the place where drinking heavily happened and not in the ordinary way.

Imagine the scene, centuries ago: smug, filthy, wigged aristocrats getting drunk around this very table, partially unconscious in blatant inebriety, laughing with their host, when a spring of beverage coming literally from under their buttocks propels them all off the chairs! All save the guffawing Sittikus, a man with a peculiar yet keen sense of humor.

Through the entire garden one can’t anticipate where hidden water channels stream, soaking you every five minutes or so from head to toe:  ornaments (like the reindeer above), stairs, perfectly cut hedges, sometimes even wall bricks are to be avoided if you don’t plan on making a quick bath.

But of course there’s no chance leaving the trick-fountains garden dry and sound with this many distractions luring you in Sittikus’ traps:

Uncountable figurines at each step, all water-powered, singing, motioning on defined routes like the more intricate toys of a grown up kid whose money have no other purpose than providing for a residence of ingenious albeit childish amusements.

A small grotto chockfull with marble statues depicting mythological figures of Germanic origin, sacred animals and few heraldic symbols belonging to the noble families of the region  is at the same time a ‘perilous’ area: many of the adornments you might stop admiring can get you wet in a second. And if that’s not so remarkable a surprise, do remember you’re a victim of practical pranks devised 300 years ago by a man in skirts.

Neptune’s Fountain…

…and one hilarious detail poking its tongue out at you through a once again water-operated mechanism.

Another beguilement, a heavy metal crown representing supreme authority, is being pushed up and down by a jet with a cadence imitating the rise & fall of power in a really brilliant style. Look at it for long and sprays of water directed from behind will jerk you out in a sec.

Out where a water tunnel awaits.

Every minute of the tour I couldn’t help feeling somehow enthusiastic about numerous ingenious fabrications impossible to compare with any other historical estates ever build on European territory. Louis the Swan King’s Linderhof Palace might come close in eccentricity but couldn’t have a more different approac as the period, the architecture, the structure, the whole concept is essentially dissimilar. One’s a rococo enchantment with golden stucco and garnishes galore, the first a classic fun house concentrated on  scoffing the lucky guests. In this regard, Hellbrunn is utterly unique.

To end this introduction, here’s the last diversion to which we fell victim: a music-playing theatre based on a water-organ, all vivid colors of the 1750’s,  with over 200 miniature characters mostly in locomotion to recreate a fragment of city life in those ages. Suave Mozart music as soundtrack, evidently.

Impressions?

Recently, that is a few days ago, I’ve finally laid back and conscientiously started to tick titles from my list of movies I once, long ago, at the beginning of this horribly torrid summer, planned to see. And seen them.

Summarizing, that’s how I ended up engaging in a 6 hours marathon of French films from which “My little Princess” was by far the best and most dramatic, especially considering  (a thing I would come to find ensuing the actual watching) the script based on the real traumatic experiences of director Eva Ionesco, who, between brackets, has Romanian roots just like myself (and I’m not the patriotic type).

Naturally, a distorted vision of he life proving insufficient to my appetite, I had to do a little searching only to find a story I’m undecided whether to  classify as outrageously interesting or disturbingly sick giving its interpretable components. After omniscient Wikipedia, Eva Ionesco, now an accomplished full grown woman, was lured by her own mother in the world of pornographic pictures at a very tender age, posing in baroque-style postures most inappropriate that can easily have one’s mind fly to Lolita’s icon. Barely 11, she made the cover of Playboy October 1976 Italian issue with a nude pictorial featuring her in provocative positions on an empty terrace close to the sea, a true scandal. The Spanish edition of Penthouse also contained a selection of her photographs, all signed by Eva’s bizarre mother, Irina Ionesco. Which normally lead to a huge controversy never truly ended.

Well, it’s a bit shocking and definitely against the norms, even a devastating adventure for the influenced child yet confronting with these pictures’ aesthetic value, isn’t it still art, flagrant, indeed, but art nonetheless?

It’s one of those rare occasions when I can’t surely express an opinion.

Despite the prejudices, I utterly like a great deal of Irina’s work, including the part with Eva as leading model since it’s beautiful, arresting, a delight for the impartial eye.

Although it’s impossible to ignore the damage they produced to Eva’s immature mind, a torment she alone describes throughout the movie, culminating in the still unquenchable hate towards Irina.

No wonder she vehemently refused to meet the cause of her humiliation again after suing her for harassment. In many of the interviews preceding or following the movie she exposes only the legitimate attitude of a woman abused both morally and psychically, eager to escape an image she has never approved to show and depict her side of the drama (“the dimension of a Greek tragedy”, if we quote Eva) as revenge.

Everybody should be on Eva’s side, of course, but what’s your opinion? What is history bereft of such events?

Having been completely absorbed in a vortex of personal business and family duties and artistic urges to materialize with calculated dexterity a series of projects in charcoal on paper and long writing labors to transform a novella finished some months ago in a good novel, I admit I might’ve ignored the blog. A little. More.

So today, while browsing through albums of black-and-white photographs which recently became the number one source of inspiration for most of my drawings praying to discover a gripping portrait, a dramatic closeup, a wildly seducing cheesecake, an intriguing candid, whatever may turn in one graceful, expressive theme, I rediscovered the Cecil Beaton magic. The named Cecil Beaton being after Wikipedia’s description an English fashion&portrait photographer, diarist, painter, interior designer and an Academy Award-winning stage&costume designer for films/ theater, quite a complex, keen bisexual gentlemen if you’ll ask my rather personal opinion.Who had a high taste of fashion and an indisputably amazing eye for beauty, evidently (it’s not like one could get on the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame without the mentioned qualities – and he’d be the man to tell you that).

Since my first incursion in the monochrome world of silver-screen stars and interbellum personalities I was simply fascinated by the flawless, misty, charismatic figures depicted in the works of photographers such as E.O. Hoppé, Paul Tanqueray, Yousuf Karsh and, of course, Beaton, my special favorite.

His varied subjects,his way of capturing the perfect angle to enhance the elegance of the lucky poser, his minute decorum and the atmosphere built around it, all delicacy and smartness, have the most wonderful visual power over the viewer any age, as you can see for yourself through my compilation of Beaton’s best images.

The haughty Mademoiselle Gabrielle Chanel inside her Parisian home.

And Coco once again, wearing her signature multiple-row pearl necklace.

Now Audrey Hepburn for “My Fair Lady” in a Belle Epoque costume designed by Beaton.

A marvelous Marlene Dietrich displaying her equally splendid profile and the hands whose shape and fluidity never failed to exert a great deal of fascination to me, regardless how odd it may sound.

A Katherine Hepburn I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t recognized from the start, the set capturing my attention firstly. What I like most about this particular photograph and the artist intended to also, is this fine allusion at Kate’s qualities in the placing of Athena’s statue beside her, a goddess of great intelligence but a beauty nonetheless.

Then we have Gary Cooper, the charming Hollywood dandy…

…and a deliciously young Marlon Brando reminding me of his looks as the fiery Stanley  in “A Streetcar named Desire”.

By the way, his costar, Vivien Leigh, was captured by dearest Beaton too.

For Vogue, a few times. A coupe of times.

Middle-aged Joan Crawford in the 50’s.

One of Grace Kelly’s iconic pictures, 1954.

Following, Liz Taylor’s vixen profile a whole generation of men loved…

… and Marilyn, the fake-blonde of the century, in her avowedly favorite photo of herself, 1956, at the New York Ambassador Hotel. The assignment Beaton had taken in her that year contributed to Monro’s campaign to redefine her public image of stupid beauty or pin-up girl by exposing a rather more sophisticated part, a mature seduction the audience hadn’t suspect she was capable of, as reflected in Cecil’s work.

“Miss Marilyn Monroe calls to mind the bouquet of a fireworks display, eliciting from her awed spectators an open-mouthed chorus of ohs and ahs …” was Beaton’s description of his model.

But apart from movie stars ( recall the variety I prized at the beginning), he also made an amazing job  immortalizing the celebrated faces of high-society…

…where outrageously wealthy and equivalently unhappy heiress Barbara Hutton played a major role…

…or those of musical elite represented by Onassis’ lover, soprano Maria Callas…

…remaining not to forget the literary figures (here T.S. Eliot)…

…the prodigious painters (behold Andy Warhol)…

…the wacko Dali with enchanting Gala …

…and the political titans.

Royalty, in its turn, passed before Beaton’s objective throughout his impressive career and he had thus the opportunity to meet personally noble personages from history books, including the Queen Mother of Romania, Sita Devi of Kapurthala, Princess Margaret and the outrageous exiled couple the world never ceased to gossip about:  Edward, with his beloved Wallis.

Not to mention the Queen herself, Elisabeth II, in diverse poses of certain periods.

Guess to whom belongs Lilibet’s magnificent coronation portrait?

Decidedly, his life was a gripping adventure, traveling across Europe and beyond its margins, accessing an assortment of entourages and classes, contributing to the building of uncountable legends in publishing their photos or dressing their bodies… Between banging Fred Astaire’s elder sister, Adele, writing extensive diaries and playing some minor parts on English stages, Beaton certainly succeeded to catch a glimpse of immortality…

What do you think? Wouldn’t you just adore to interact with worldwide celebrities, style icons, geniuses?  I know I definitely would.

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?

 

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