Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Tableaux of Life Unfolds Before My Mask

An 18th century English fan mask

Hmm, the mask and all its uses remind me that the number of costumed festivals has dwindled to Halloween and the pre-Lenten festivities.  Even by the eighteenth-century the sets and costumes that Inigo Jones created for the masques of Charles I were gone, although that being said, one of the last great masques occurred in the middle Georgian period and left us with the song Rule Britannia.  The mask certainly remains in use to the present day, but it would seem that the 18th century used it most effectively for both the masquerade and evening festivities at the pleasure gardens of Europe.  If life is a theatrical experience, then anonymity has its uses. 

Carlo Scalzi, circa 1735 By Charles-Joseph Flipart (1721-1797)

It has been remarked that during the Georgian period members of society understood the theatrical nature of their lives. Certainly in an age delineated by patronage all members of society needed to understand their role and how it must be acted. Today we all network to enhance our positions, but at some level we believe that our talents will carry the day, at least some of us believe this.  However, in a world controlled by patronage the rules are more sharply defined, or at least the consequences of one’s actions are more sharply defined.  You may well ask, “What does this have to do with fashion?” It has to do with expectations.  We need to reflect that what is odd to us was not as odd to the Georgians, particularly if we view some of the fashions not only as trends but as costume, meant to create a an impression regardless of the opinion.  An actor, whether professional or amateur, uses costumes to establish or disregard convention.  The image at the top of the blog is that of the 18th century castrato Carlo Scalzi, and while it is over-the-top as everyday wear, it is in fact merely an extension of prevailing fashions of the 1730s with flared coat skirts.  The mask on the table while flamboyant would hardly have been out of place at a masked event at Vauxhall or Versailles.  

Vauxhall Gardens, London by Canaletto 1751
As Halloween approaches a new book on fêtes, Magnificent Entertainments, Temporary Architecture for Georgian Festivals, by Melanie Doderer-Winkler, is due in the stores and perhaps I shall see a copy under the tree at Christmas.  

Jeffrey Hopper is an editor, author and museum professional who blogs about men's wear and related topics. You can reach him at this site.

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