Friday, March 7, 2014

A Single Shoe by Georgian Cordwainer James Davis, c. 1760s

This c. 1760s white silk shoe is labeled James Davis, Shoe Maker, near Aldgate, London. Numerous elegant examples of Georgian shoes by James Davis alone, and in partnership with Thomas Ridout, are found in North American collections including those at the Royal Ontario Museum, the Peabody Essex Museum, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, The Warner House, Historic Deerfield and Strawbery Banke Museum. The images here are all from the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession #1976.96.1

This particular shoe may have been a wedding shoe. It reflects the transition from the earlier Rococo to the Neoclassical. The smooth silk provides the perfect ground for bright floral flourishes at key visual points – toe and heel. Measuring 9 inches (22.9 com) from heel to toe, they would be roughly equivalent to a women’s size 6.5 (USA), 4.5 (UK) or 37 (EUR) today. In other words, these could be worn today. When I look at the shoe, I imagine the pair as they were originally, but a close look will reveal a fragile state: in several places, the silk is abraded and shattered, and threads are unraveling. If you look closely at the downturned tongue in the third image, you will note many small pinholes resulting from the use of buckles.

 James Davis and Thomas Ridout, affixed labels to their shoes by the mid-18th century. The label notes that the shop location was near Aldgate, located within the heart of the Ward of the Cordwainer. Indeed, Ridout and Davis were probably at the height of their production, when, in 1763, the late Medieval Aldgate was taken down.

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