Lizzadro Museum Of Lapidary Art

There is a dazzling museum, so very special, that I visited with my folks a few years ago on a lovely spring day. We fell upon it by chance while perusing an outdoor craft fair nearby and on a whim decided to step inside…

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The Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art in Elmhurst, IL has an incredible display of worked stone. Lapidary is an art where the cutting and polishing of stone and gemstones create something magnificent

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I’ve come to really adore small museums focusing on a particular theme, or part of history. It allows you to explore a topic in greater detail and gain a better appreciation for one subject. Look at all the different types of stone these little bottles are carved from! I wonder what was once kept inside each of them?

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There were lots of little scenes to view, with the characters all carved from stone. I was so delighted, and completely in awe of the artists that make such careful, thoughtful creations…

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Such delicate little baby birds of stone! I wonder how long it took to carve this precious family of robins? I can hear them singing the songs of spring, see them hopping around in the dirt in search of earthworms…

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These antique cameos are so wonderful! So much of stone crafting is using the natural colors and uniqueness of each stone to produce certain effects. For instance, these are made of agate (which have different layers of color). Each cameo is made from one piece of stone, cut so that the darker colors create the background while the white images come alive at the front!

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What divine detail in this rendering of The Last Supper, carved from ivory. I could never be a lapidary artist. How do they carve all those tiny little plates and hands without marring and chipping each one? They must be the most patient people on the planet…

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There are so many one of a kind pieces to admire in this museum. In spite of its modest size, you could find yourself spending quite a bit of time pondering each miniature display. I was absolutely amazed! I encourage you to visit this gem (pun intended), or to support one such local museum where you live. What wonders are out there to experience! Enjoy the adventure!

A Message Of Peace Upon The Shore

I have the good fortune to live just a few blocks from the beautiful shoreline along Lake Michigan. There are beaches for people, and beaches for dogs. You can rent a boat or picnic in the grass, and even take in the view of Chicago…

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I quite enjoy a summer’s day at the beach, and I go prepared with fizzy water and snacks, a comfortable chair and an oversized sun hat. It is my time to catch up on reading, and the soothing sounds of the lake’s waves sound every bit as powerful as ocean waves…

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And just down the block is Northwestern University, where many a youth is filling their head with intelligent notions. I love school. If I could make a career of taking classes, I would…

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But along this wonderful shore, upon land owned by the university, there is a curious sight. Hundreds of enormous rocks, decorated with colorful messages…

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Out on those rocks, people lounge in the sun, eat their lunches, and even fish…

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And if you get close enough to read what is written, you will find interesting quotes, marriage proposals, individual memories and tributes. They are entertaining to explore (though somewhat precarious to walk upon)…

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There are many rocks that make me smile and warm my heart…

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And I find it a complete wonder to consider how many folks have trudged down to the lakeshore with paint buckets in hand over the years!

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Some were decorated so long ago, that the messages are fading away under the elements…

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There is much love to be found upon the rocks, which a community can never have too much of…

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And writings that are very wise indeed…

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We of course cannot leave out messages that instigate a giggle or two, for what is life without laughter?

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Here’s wishing you a place of nature and beauty to enjoy, wherever you may live. Here’s wishing that you’ll visit it often and be filled with peace and happiness!

Good Tidings From Bristol!

How we enjoyed our first weekend as The Quill and Brush at the Bristol Renaissance Faire this past weekend, sharing our fantasy and historical fiction books and art! The weather was lovely and the opening weekend wondrous!

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The highest privilege was sharing in the numerous conversations with the energetic, warm and amazing patrons as well as the kind and creative vendors. The faire is truly a magical place, for both its creators and visitors make it so!

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Lita hand-painted our sweet sign and I adore it! What a finer flag for the author and artist?

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Lita’s colorful art put smiles on a lot of faces and delighted the wee ones! Her nature illustrations were befitting the beautiful place around us and were quite admired…

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And I so enjoyed sharing summaries of my tales with the kiddos. Their eyes often grew wide to hear them. I sincerely hope that they enjoy reading them, and keep memories of their day at Bristol in their hearts, just as I always did as a child…

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A special thank you to my step-dad Charlie for his helping us with the labors involved with such an undertaking, and to our family and friends who visited us this past weekend and showed their support for our little business…

A sincere thank you also to each and every one of the wonderful folks who selected a piece of art and/or one of my books. Your patronage means the world to us and we hope you’ll delight in our works, which we joyfully bring to you.

Here’s to 8 more exciting weekends yet to come at Bristol! We hope to see you there!

Lady In A Green Dress

This one was called the green dress, for the light olive color. It was a beloved gown (and still is, though there is no way I could squeeze into it nowadays). I wore this one for two seasons as a courtier in the Bristol Renaissance Faire’s Guilde of St. George when I was 20-21 years old…

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Lita, artist and designer, has a way of making elegant creations without the showy additions. Simple is often the most beautiful. How much fun I had running around Bristol’s enchanting outdoors in that dress!

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Lita is also quite the milliner, having made this hat from scratch. Oh yes, this woman has ninja milliner skills. Using plastic cross stitch canvas, she cut out the parts of the hat with precision (how does she do it? I’m not even sure I know how to use a measuring tape properly), then did the same with velvet fabric, and then handstitched the entire thing. She measured my head so that it would fit like a glove. It still does all these years later (for I guess heads don’t get bigger over time the way waistlines are apt to do).

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I danced a lot of courtly dances in that gown, and still remember the sway of the skirt as it swished over the farthingale. How merry!

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I also had a jolly time tripping over dozens of inanimate objects, like that hapless cushion there on the ground. I did it gracefully however, as if I hadn’t a care in the world…

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I also often swung on an enormous swing in that dress, an attempt to get a breeze in the 90 degree weather!

And, I remained dutiful in my role as a maid of honour to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth I. She is there at the front of the line wearing her noble purple. Oh heavens! How much fun, and how much history I learned. The memories of my days in that green gown are priceless…

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Lita (artist) and I (author) are still working diligently to prepare for this year’s opening day at the Bristol Renaissance Faire! We will be getting to know our tented shop this very weekend, considering how we will delight guests with our displays of historical fiction & fantasy books and art. We are The Quill and Brush and you will find us on King’s Landing at the perimeter of Lake Elizabeth. Opening day is July 9th! We can’t wait to see you there!

Mitchell Museum of the American Indian

The behemoth museums that regularly have dazzling new exhibits and thousands of visitors each year are of course fun! The Field Museum here in Chicago has a very special place in my heart (I’m especially nuts about their permanent insect exhibit). Lately however, when taking the opportunity to go to a museum, I’m leaning toward the smaller gems…such as Evanston’s Mitchell Museum of the American Indian!

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I took a pleasant bike ride over to this informative and precious museum this week and toured it in about 45 minutes. If I’d read more of the plaques that shared all of the history of each piece, it would have taken a little longer to get around…

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So what did I enjoy? First, the beadwork. Have you ever felt beadwork in your hands? The cool, slinky weight of it is so different from anything else.

Glass beads were first introduced to American Indians by European settlers. Before that, the use of bone, porcupine quills, shells and seeds were more common for decoration.

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Papoose! I was struck by these. I stood staring at them imagining a more natural life out-of-doors with a baby on my hip and no crib or fancy stroller. These hearty women strapped in their plump-cheeked cuties and went about their work.

What I really found interesting is that these weren’t meant to just wear on the back or prop up against a tree. They could also be tied higher up on a post of a dwelling, or to the side of a horse. Can you imagine being a little dude in a papoose riding on the side of your mother’s horse through the plains? What an adventure!

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I really liked the art pieces that depicted different American Indian cultures throughout the U.S. Sadly, movies (and especially old westerns) aren’t regularly true to history (and are even stereotypical and offensive) about native American culture. It’s important to visit museums to view precious collections (like this one) and learn the real history. Illustrations like these were an extra boost, giving me a better idea of how differently people lived depending on climate and region. These would be especially good for kids to check out!

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I delighted in these weaved pieces. I’m so used to seeing thick weaved baskets, that the teeny-tiny weave on some of these had me wondering how they did that. No little grains or treasures have a chance of escape from one of those. Incredible!

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This photo is for you jewelry/turquoise lovers. Ogle away!

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I swooned over the dolls, which like the paintings, illustrated daily life. I thought they were very special!

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And so cool…goggles made from leather! I learned that hunters needed these to help with the intense glare of sunlight projecting off of the freezing white landscape in our blustery northern region. I grinned back at the man in that photo!

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Thank you to all of the people who work so hard and with such great care to bring us such wonderful displays of history. Everything you do is appreciated and important!

For those folks who live in or are visiting Chicago’s North Shore, fit a visit in for this gem! And for everyone else, don’t forget to check out those smaller exhibits in your local community! I find that they offer such excellent and selective displays on individual histories and topics. What a treat!

Beds Bequeathed, Linens Lost

Take a moment to imagine something special that you own, something that you’d like to pass along to someone close to you after you’re gone. Is it a precious piece of jewelry or a fine watch? Is it an antique car or unique collection that took you years to build? Well, if you lived in the Renaissance, one of the things at the top of your list would have been your bedding

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I have a bed sheet that’s just worn through from regular wear and washing, gaining a large rip beyond repair. In this case, what can be done but to put it on the shopping list that a new one is needed. This got me thinking about some research I’d been doing lately…

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As I’ve been doing a little writing about settings within noble Renaissance homes, I needed to be careful not to assume that the beds looked anything like the fancy ones I would dream up for a wealthy lord and lady of the 16th century, or the humbler nests I’d assume their household slept upon. I had to ask, what were beds really like?

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If you were indeed very wealthy, a large and sumptuous bed might have been a reality. Mattresses filled with downy feathers, soft sheets and a bolster (liken to our pillows but a long tubular one to be shared). Richly fabrics might have hung around it (used to keep out the cool draft and give the sleepers some privacy).

These beds however, and the linens and hangings around them, would have been considered one of the finest things you owned. Further, the area where this bed would have been displayed was far more likely to be viewed publicly, in a room where your guests might look upon it. You would have been proud for others to see these luxurious furnishings. Further still, an honored guest might even sleep in it so that they would be comfortable during their stay…with you. Further, further still, you and multiple family members might sleep in it altogether. And in your will, scribbled out with your quill and ink, you’d be certain to pass these goods on to the most beloved of those near to you. These items were regularly passed along through multiple generations.

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The household (servants) of those affluent families, had a different reality, one much like cottage dwellers. You might all find a place near the fire in the kitchen, sitting or laying where there was a spot to be found, on a handful of grasses or hay. You might have had a pallet (thatched grasses and hay). Or quite often, you may have simply slumped where you could find a seat, snoozing upright. You were fortunate to own a good cloak, or covering of that nature, for you weren’t likely to own a coverlet and it would act as one.

This would of course, not have been very comfortable at all. Vermin were rampant (and historically speaking, this was even true for the nobles’ bedding, no matter how fine). So, you’d have fleas, bedbugs, little mice too. If you lived in a cottage, leaks and bird excrement and insects would drop on you as you slept (and at all hours of the day), for all of nature would have lived in your grassy roof. Things would have been damp, drafty, dirty, uncomfortable…

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Knowing my own temperament, I can say that I would have been miserable living during the Renaissance as concerns this topic. My need for 8 hours of undisturbed, comfortable, quiet sleep each night, would have been foiled. I’d have been one grouchy lady.

Researching the topic has been fascinating however, even looking back at different centuries. For instance, during the 18th century in Europe, affluent people regularly treated their bedrooms like meeting rooms. Sit in bed, have your meal, with all your visitors hanging around. Venice’s treasured 18th century artist Pietro Longhi documented such scenes on canvas…The Morning Chocolate:

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I was very intrigued too, when I read Casanova’s memoirs. They told of his day-to-day dealings and during these memoirs, you see how quickly people fell from money into complete destitution. People commonly sold their belongings as a means of survival and when bill collectors came calling, there was always the possibility that they’d act upon the law to collect a few of your furnishings to settle what was due. Casanova repeatedly sold his belongings, regularly linens, for his own survival.

Nowadays, I couldn’t get hardly a dime for my bedsheets if I needed to. Things have changed. Unless you own priceless art or gilded furniture, in most cases the public doesn’t look upon your furniture (and especially not your bed and linens) as a part of your ‘estate’. No, it is more likely land/house/cars, that show what you’re *worth*.

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If I lived during the Renaissance, I’d march my butt upstairs right now and pull out a needle and thread and start fixing that sheet! There would be no tossing it out, and running down to the store for a new one. For its worth, would have been viewed very differently.

Check out my previous post about people’s relationship with their things in history. I twitter about how acutely different our reality is from those people of the past, as regards to our stuff. It makes you think a little differently about why and how we value what we own.

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When I lay my head down on my pillow tonight, and snuggle up beneath the soft sheets and blankets, I’ll be taking a moment to remember how very rich I am, for once upon a time, these items were considered the greatest of luxuries. Even to sell them during hard times, might have delivered me and put food on the table, when I needed it the most. I may not live in the tempestuous times of the Renaissance, but for all the comfort these items give me today, I value them still…even if they’ll only give me a penny for resale!

A Very Special Announcement

Hello dear friends! I have a very special announcement! Stop into my hobbit house while I tell you a tale…

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Once upon a time, there was an Author and an Artist who loved to weave tales of magic and mystery with their words and with enchanting images upon paper and canvas…

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Every summer, they hopped in their carriage and rode off to the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin where a magical festival was always to be found, and where many amazing merchants dazzled the merrymakers with their incredible crafts. The Author and Artist were inspired, hoping that one day they too might share their books, crafts and art, on a delightful festival day in Bristol…

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In the meanwhile, the Author and Artist went on a great many adventures and wrote down the tales and drew the characters that they met along the way. There were dragons and fairies, elves and queens, princesses and enchanted forests, will-o’-the-wisps, knights and mermaids too! They soon had a delightful collection to share…

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With that, I am incredibly excited to announce that the works of this Author and Artist, Michelle and Lita, will be a part of the 2016 Bristol Renaissance Faire market place! Weekends only, July 9th through Labor Day Monday, September 5th!

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You’ll find our magical tented shop on King’s Landing (look for this lane on the faire map…it’s close to the front gate), where we hope to bring joy to readers and amuse all with whimsical art and other delights! We can’t wait to see you there! More updates to come, please share the news!

In A Tizzy For Tulips

Something very valuable just bloomed in my front yard. Or at least, if it was the year 1637 and I was living in the Netherlands…

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If I had a time machine, I’d snatch my tulips and zoom back in time. Riches would await me, and you’d see me sumptuously dressed and painted into one of the scenes on Rembrandt’s canvases…

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…for once upon a time during the 17th century, during the Dutch Golden Age (when Dutch achievements and advancements were making them the rockstars of Europe), there was a bizarre economic bubble.

Economic bubble: When you’re selling something worth a small sum for a lot of cash. Eventually the situation gets out of control, there is a crash, and everyone is financially ruined.

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At the height of what history has now coined tulip mania, some of these precious tulip bulbs were being sold for what it would take most regular folks to make in ten years. What?! Yes, a single tulip bulb in exchange for what you earned in a decade.

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Once when I was living in New York City, in the early evening in the spring, I spied a man stealing tulips planted by the city along the sidewalk. I was looking out over my balcony and had a clear view.

In the darkening light of dusk, the man physically laid down along the sides of parked cars when other pedestrians happened to walk by. He was hiding. When they had passed, he’d pop back up and clip some more tulips. He had quite the bouquet before making a run for it. I was both speechless and amused. And really grossed out; you do not want to lay down on a New York City sidewalk.

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Perhaps the man was Dutch and from the 17th century. He’d hopped into a time machine to zoom ahead in time to steal his fortune.

Tulip mania. Proof that real life is stranger than fiction.

Fur For Fleas

It’s fun to be wrong, at least when it comes to research. It allows you to be surprised, delighted and to learn new things!

Having always loved history, costuming and even participating in Renaissance re-enactment, there were ‘facts’ that I’ve never questioned. Learned people told me so, and I’d read so, so it must be true! Well that isn’t always the case. Take the flea fur…

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Oh heavens, look at those pearls! I digress. (If you love pearls as much as I do, don’t forget about Inspired by Venice‘s pearl earrings giveaway!)

Above is Isabella de’Medici (Italian), from 1558. At her side, you can see a special accessory. It is a zibellino or flea fur, adorned with gems.

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And here is Bianca Ponzoni Anguissola (Italian), 1557. She too has a flea fur, gilded, a head of gold, gems for eyes.

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And here, a flea fur at the collar of this woman (England, mid-1500’s).

You can find many, many portraits of nobles and their flea furs. Of course, people have been wearing furs for forever. But this particular way of wearing them (perhaps for looks, and displaying their riches) is noticed starting in the mid-late 1400’s.

I had always read, and been told, that the flea fur also had a practical purpose. It was to attract biting fleas from off of bodies. Even nobles crawled with fleas, money meant nothing when these creatures infested bedding, infrequently washed clothing, pets, etc. Nobles were said to place these furs on their person, so that the fleas would gather on the fur and then they could shake them, or beat them out.

Makes sense, only, it isn’t true. It was first surmised that this was the purpose for the pelts in the 1890’s, though no evidence has shown that the flea fur was anything but an accessory.

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Another noble lady holding her fur, Italy 1515. It’s fascinating how easily fiction becomes fact, this particular one developing in the late 19th century, and still a misdirected belief today. It reminds me to be careful to not take what people write or say, to be truth (even though in this case, I want to believe it!). Flea furs, held in the hand, hanging from the waist, laying over the shoulder, pinned to the breast, were just a vain display.

Oh well. I can still imagine this noble lady, frustrated with fleas, running outside to fling her flea fur about. Fiction perhaps, but amusing!

The Costumer, The Artist, The Inspiration

My mother is a very talented costumer and artist. I’ve had the great fortune of watching her sew all of my years, and being able to wear some dozens of her creations: just for fun, in theatricals, and for historic reenactment. And though I am going to share a great many photos of her spectacular works on Inspired by Venice, I wanted you to first, meet the artist!

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This is Lita, my precious mother and best friend! Here she is wearing one of her own 18th century style day dresses in Venice during the Carnival.

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She wore a silk hair net covered in gold corded weave, with a gold mask and veil. The Venetian Carnevale tends to run at the end of January through the start of February, so it can be pretty chilly. Thankfully the sun shone beautifully that day, so a shawl and hand muff kept her warm enough while we took a stroll.

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We soaked in the sun with coffee in Piazza San Marco. The air was crisp and fresh, with a hint of the sea.

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On another sunny walk, she wore this piece, covered by a beautiful cape. If I’d had the sense, I would have gotten some closer photos so that one could really see some of the detail; the perfect pleated fabric over the small hip panniers, the feathered headpiece and veil, the lace at the elbows.

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Even now, I remember what it felt like to be able to walk about the city of Venice in costume (this excursion was in 2005). For me, it is the ultimate excitement to pretend for a moment that I’m visiting the 18th century and going about my business. For every occasion that I could actually wear a costume in public and ponder what it might have been like to live in another time, it is such a treat!

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Though we’d traditionally have worn a mask at all times, we sometimes went without. Our Carnival visit was also a tour of Venice, and we wanted to see everything (which a mask can sometimes hamper). I had a particular thing for veils at the time. But next time, I’m going to wear an enormous pompadour and a glitzy mask! We kept things very simple; Lita’s designs allowed us to walk about the city and enjoy the cafes without cumbersome costumes.

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We paced slowly over bridges and down lanes, peered in windows and walked by the lagoon. We laughed a lot and chattered like birds. It is rare to have the time of loved ones all to yourself for a whole week, it was lovely!

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We enjoyed each other’s company to the fullest in the midst of a mesmerizing Carnival and one beloved city. If it hadn’t been for this beautiful artist, who makes every part of the costumes I’m going to share with you (often even the jewelry), I would never have been inspired about history the way that I am, and I would never have written Venice.

Venice is dedicated to Lita, for being such a patient and generous person who taught me to be creative, be joyful, and to be inspired! Thank you!

Taking Inventory

Today I am pondering things. As I finish writing Veleno, a thought has me curious…would the 16th century characters in my novel react the same way to their things as I do with my own in the 21st century? The answer is no, which changes the way I need to write about them and their relationship with their stuff.

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There is this scene I recall in the 2003 film Girl with a Pearl Earring. The movie is an artful rendering of Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer’s life at the time when he painted Girl with a Pearl Earring in the 1660s. Now, we aren’t sure who the ‘girl’ in the painting really was, some say one of Vermeer’s 15 children. But for the film, it is portrayed in a romantic way to be one of his household servants.

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The scene that struck me entailed Vermeer’s wife Catharina discovering that her husband allowed said servant to wear her pearl earring to pose for this famous painting. Catharina freaks out in an almost animal-like breakdown before her husband. It was an uncomfortable scene that had me wondering…why would she flip out like that? Goodness woman, it’s just an earring! Your husband just borrowed it for his work, which provides your house income!

Now, the actress or director may have been simply illustrating marital jealousy. But I think they were showing us both jealousy and a historically real reaction someone may have had about their things.

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As a voracious reader of history, I’m continually discovering how precious, status bearing and sacred personal and household items were for people in previous centuries. Common sense would say that the reason for this is that you couldn’t come by more things all that easily (no chain stores offering cheap deals), and that money was harder to secure.

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The real-life Catharina during the 17th century would have had the role of manager of her house. Part of the job was to keep precise inventory of all household belongings. And there would have been far stricter rules about who could use what, many things kept locked up. She’d have been proud and serious about maintaining all boundaries. Plus, ladies of elevated social status didn’t (or legally were not permitted to) earn their own money. She’d be pretty careful with what she personally owned.

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Catharina wouldn’t have left her pearls out. She wouldn’t have had many pairs. She would have considered that pair precious and would have ensured it was kept somewhere safe. She would have cared for them, and just owning them would have been lifting to her status…after all, few people could afford pearls and owning them showed her importance.

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Though we do see plenty of wealth from history’s aristocrats, I think when we look back in time, we don’t realize how few and far between those cases of utter riches were. When you think of 15th century England, do you imagine knights, lords and ladies? The truth was that it was peasants, peasants and more peasants owning no valuable possessions at all. And even if you had more than others, you still took care of and coveted what you had because that was the culture of the time. It wasn’t just fine gems and good furniture that folks kept a careful eye on either, it was all of their things. Again and again, I trip over inventory lists in my readings. And on those lists are written even the smallest, most mundane things, whether brand-new or used. When was the last time you wrote a list like that? I never have. Why not now…

Michelle’s Inventory:

1 pair $4.99 pharmacy eyeglasses, red plastic rims, scratched in left eye.

1 orange hairbrush, used, a patch of bristles missing.

1 pink toothbrush, used.

2 pair black cotton winter gloves, used, hole in pinky on one.

1 pair brown leather boots, new.

3 decorative cheese plates, chipped.

6 copies of Venice, new.

1 wooden writing desk chair, broken legs.

Tiddo’s (the cat) Inventory:

1 catnip stuffed mouse toy, used.

2 grey cat boxes, used.

1 feather-on-a-stick toy, used.

1 window stool covered in cheetah print faux velvet fabric, used.

Now imagine I kept this list around, and routinely checked if I have what I’m supposed to have and kept my list updated. Everyone would think that I was a weirdo or miserly, or that I seriously have nothing better to do and needed to find a hobby. But in history, my lack of record-keeping would be considered lazy and I, careless for not having higher regard for my things.

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This didn’t make them miserly however, it was simply normal and good economy and often a lifesaver. Take for instance Renaissance Venice. [Noblewoman gets married and brings along a portion of wealth with her to the marriage. She cannot legally get a job to earn money. Her husband turns out to be abusive and she is granted a divorce. She can take back what she brought to the marriage and is free to keep it to live on.] This is a good example of why even the quantity of the used linen handkerchiefs she owned, mattered. It could make a difference for her survival.

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When reading Casanova’s memoirs, I was baffled to see how often he sold his personal goods to survive from one day to the next. Today, when we trot down to the pawnshop, it is interpreted as humiliating desperation. But back in Casanova’s time, you could resell your belongings for far better returns than you get for used goods today (again because the value of goods was taken more seriously), and it was common, and it was what you did. You wouldn’t throw away a soiled hanky or an undershirt the way we would today, even the worst items were sold to a rag-gatherer.

I’d bet if most of us had a conversation with even our grandparents about reuse, caring for our things, fixing our things, spending, etc., we’d see a generational juxtaposition on this topic. Now imagine the shock someone from some centuries ago, would express at our general waste. My guess is that they’d also be far more territorial over their personal possessions, and for good reason.

This last spring, I lost a gold band set with a pearl and two diamonds. I took it off to wash my hands and left it in my pocket with some tissue. I then forgot and threw away the tissue with the ring (or so is my best guess). I can see Vermeer’s wife Catharina right now. I was very disappointed, but I could see her having an epic outburst over the loss. I don’t think I could get away with that…

Naughty Nunnery Parlors

Below, Pietro Longhi’s The Visiting Parlour in the Convent.

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Do you know what Veronese means? It means you hale from Verona, much like Venetians come from Venice. Just as I am an Evanstonian living in Evanston! I’m a sucker for these little worldly details. What are folks from your town called? Share it in the comments!

Giuseppe de Gobbis was a Veronese painter who spent some time in Venice between 1772 & 1783. Some find his works reminiscent of Pietro Longhi (see previous post here). View this work by Giuseppe: A music party in the interior of a Palazzo. This painting is so rich with details about Venice’s late 18th century. See the caged canary hanging from the ceiling, the spectacular capturing of the clothing, the gold mountings below the large mirror, that couple carrying on a rendezvous behind the gentleman’s tricorne hat? Where’s my magnifying glass?

With a chapter written in my book Venice about the enclosure of noble ladies in the nunneries over the centuries, and my applause for Virgins in Venice by Mary Laven, and also having read Casanova’s retelling of his visits to nunnery parlors in his memoirs, I am also intrigued by this painting by Giuseppe de Gobbis: Parlatorio delle Monache (The Parlor of the Nuns).

Comparing the two, I think many may find it ironic that both of the paintings seem so festive (one without the nunnery, one within). How so, when nunneries were a place of enclosure and pious, careful behavior? True to history, I think it really depended on the decade and the nunnery itself. Some Venetian nunneries closed in the ladies so rigorously, that they would brick off even the slightest view a nun may get of street life. And it was also in those places that you would only be allowed a visit from a proven female relative, say your mother, with still an extreme partition between you both, and a devout nun would be keeping watch. A little too much gossip and giggles and you might be chastised! Ugh!

But then, we also find many accounts of scenes like Longhi’s above, and Giuseppe’s. Perhaps the later 18th century was more lax, but again, it depended on the nunnery. There are plenty of accounts where rules were bent. Say, on festival days when your whole family would come (men and women) and you’d share good food between far less oppressive grates. Musicians would be hired to keep the nuns merry. Games would be played. Only, it was at such times where one nun may begin flirting with another nun’s visitor (say a brother), and then the intrigue and sneaky behavior and passing of secret letters began…perhaps even an exchange of a kiss between those grates. You get the picture, laxity got a bad wrap and allowed for naughty behavior. Casanova knew this, and took advantage. Certainly, this type of romance had serious challenges, but that made it more interesting for a man like him, and plenty of others. We’ve got the written proof.

This week, I’m going to share another one of my favorite books…Forbidden Fashions: Invisible Luxuries in Early Venetian Convents by Isabella Campagnol. Her excellent research in this particular history proves not only enclosed nuns’ need for independence, personality and beautiful things, but also something to grab attention…say on that festival day in the nunnery parlor!

Virgins in Venice by Mary Laven

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Above, Saint Catherine Receives the Stigmata by Plautilla Nelli (1524-1588). Painter Plautilla Nelli was a Renaissance nun in Florence who came from a wealthy merchant family. She was enclosed together with her sister in the Santa Caterina da Siena convent. She taught herself how to paint while living in the nunnery. She is the first female painter in Florence to be documented during the Renaissance.

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As promised, another book that delves into a particular detail of Venetian history, specifically Renaissance, is Virgins of Venice: Broken Vows and Cloistered Lives in the Renaissance Convent by Mary Laven. Fascinating! I read it twice in a row, and used a highlighter to mark half the book, and I’m not even a student. Yes, I’m a nerd. Nerdy for Venice! This work inspired a chapter in my book Venice; I had to write about this part of Venetian women’s history.

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In a nutshell, for hundreds of years in Venice (and all over Europe), women were forced into nunneries. Specifically here: noble born ladies. The rich and powerful families wouldn’t marry all the daughters they had. If they did, all their wealth would become watered-down within a generation or two. Instead, they’d marry one daughter, sometimes two. For the rest, to the nunneries they went. Marriages were about money, power, politics…usually everything but love. So for those gals who were married, they may not have had a grand time of it either, being wed to men not of their choosing. However, they were at the very least free from the convent.

Now of course, some ladies chose a pious, cloistered life. However in Venice, evidence leans toward the conclusion that most were threatened, forced and tricked into going. Imagine being a very young girl, entering a nunnery one day, and never going out again. Living within for a lifetime while the world forgot about you…just like prison. Yes, this book retells a history that will make you very sad.

Ms. Laven’s extensive research gives us insight into just what that may have been like. We are able to see what this enclosed life would have been, from the moment these ladies entered the nunnery, to the people and surroundings within, the rules, the schedules, the activities, the arguments, the deceit, the rations, the regulations for visits, the rule-breakers…the escapees. Oh man, oh man, oh man! Or should I say oh lady! Shut away women against their wills and they will find a way to aggress it, to continue reaching for life, love, dignity and freedom. Read this book and you’ll see why history will ever be more moving than fiction!

Venetian Noblewomen and their Terrace Living

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This painting is Vittore Carpaccio’s Two Ladies on a Terrace, painted in 1500. When I first saw this painting, it immediately inspired the first chapter of my new novel. I envisioned a group of noble Venetian ladies from the Renaissance taking their ease on the roof of a palazzo along the Grand Canal, playing games, laughing. In today’s Venice, affluent or not, ladies go wherever they please, dressed how they please. But in Renaissance Venice, aristocratic women did things a little differently.

According to Patricia Fortini Brown’s Private Lives in Renaissance Venice, young noble ladies, should they be out on the street, would have been covered in a veil. They didn’t run around the city just for fun, face uncovered. And in their homes, general visitors likely wouldn’t bump into one of these ladies; they would have been kept away to more private chambers furthest from the front door. For the most part, male servants kept to men’s quarters and female servants to the ladies’ rooms. Now, as for married Venetian noblewomen, they were far more seen and far less veiled, though still would have remained modest in dress and behavior.

So where did all the aristocratic women, married or unwed, go for fresh air and fun? The altane above their houses and palazzos! An altana was a covered roof terrace, though many terraces were also uncovered. Eat, play games, get some sun, sing, dance, tend to plants and play with your pets. Girl party!

I love this painting because it gives us a little glimpse into this sort of Venetian setting, from 1500! The lady that is sitting tall is said to be a newlywed. How do we know? Young brides wore those strands of pearls. Don’t ask me how you’re supposed to differentiate the long-time wedded from the newlyweds…as didn’t all Venetian noblewomen drip in pearls? We’d have to ask a historian. Look at those slashed sleeves, look at those six-inch chopines (those red healed clog shoes at the left). Look at the pearls beaded around the necks of their dresses. I wonder what that missive laying on the ground says. I bet it is an intriguing letter filled with scandalous gossip! What are they doing with so many pets altogether? Wouldn’t that toothy dog take a bite out of that parrot? Love it!

Crazy for Cookware!

One of my favorite pastimes, especially during the colder months, is to go to the flea market and the antique shops. I say the flea market, because there is only one locally that I have ever visited. It’s the Kane County Flea Market in St. Charles, IL and it’s enormous. There are so many vendors under tents, and inside re-purposed long barns, that you can’t see everything unless you spend an entire day, and even then you still won’t see everything.

Last time, I had a blast digging through tables of old cookware from one vendor. You know what I’ve noticed? When women spy a pile of junk, and there are a whole bunch of other ladies around that table of junk, they’ll hurry over to see what the fuss is about. Before you know it, there are 20 ladies getting a little pushy over the junk. They get competitive about who’ll find the best junk deal first! He-he! I love it! I am guilty! I’ll dig in the junk with you gals any time! I came home with more vintage jars, ceramic and glass cookware than was necessary on that particular outing. I don’t think my boyfriend knew what to say when I showed him all that I brought home….as I grinned like a crazed flea market monster with her treasures.

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Though there are lots of things I like to look at on these outings (cookware, vintage pearl jewelry, antique books, embroidered handkerchiefs, historic photographs and albums, etc.), I wanted to share these two lovely little compacts. All I know is that they were produced in what was then West Germany in the 1950s & 60s. They used a variety of prints from 18th century paintings. You can see a great many more on etsy and ebay, but I personally love to hunt for them at the antique shops! I adore these two!

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Interestingly, though these are your average compact size, they also come in a larger size (about like a softball). I found one once in a teeny-tiny antique shop and bought it for a steal! But then, I accidently threw away the bag it was in with other empty bags and it was lost forever. I still sniffle when I think about it.

Venetian Artist Pietro Longhi

Much of my book Venice illustrates events, people and lifestyles from the 18th century. As the novel centers on a visit to present-day Venice during the Carnevale, where costumes and masks from the 18th century would be seen in abundance, it was important to share histories from the 1700s. Many serious participants look like they just dropped out of the Baroque era. It’s fabulous!

I love looking at clothing from history and I love exceptional costumes that mimic those long lost styles. Whether you are interested in Venice, 18th century history, or costuming, there is an artist whose work you must peruse. Pietro Longhi, Venetian painter, 1701-1785. His works are just amazing! Pretend you scampered around Venice during the 1700s, through the calle and into people’s homes and snapped a great many photos…Longhi’s works have given us a very special glimpse into the lives of Venetians of that century and he was a prolific painter, so he covered a lot of ground. If you are in Venice, be sure to visit the Gallerie dell’Accademia to see a few of his pieces up close.

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Here above is Longhi’s The Tailor. I could spend a lot of time zooming in the view, just to get an actual understanding of the finer details. What’s on that maid’s serving tray? What is that child taunting that puppy with? How did the lady fashion her hair? Love it!

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And here, The Dancing Lesson. Look at how wide the panniers! Look how lush the sitting woman’s fur trim! Look at that man’s wig! And, imagine the music.

If you would like a compilation of all of Longhi’s paintings, I suggest finding a copy of Longhi by Terisio Pignatti. I could page through my copy all day!