Saturday, January 21, 2012

Coffee Tales - The sexual revolution in 18th-century England & her colonies

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Queen Anne Silver Octagonal Coffee Pot made in London c 1711 by Thomas Folkingham

I woke up this morning, to find a fine artilcle in yesterday's newspaper The Guardian about a little known sexual revolution in 18th-century England. It was written by Faramerz Dabhoiwala in anticipation of the publication of his forthcoming book, The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution.

Here are a few snippets. "Since the dawn of history, every civilisation had punished sexual immorality. The law codes of the Anglo-Saxon kings of England treated women as chattels, but they also forbade married men to fornicate with their slaves, and ordered that adulteresses be publicly disgraced, lose their goods and have their ears and noses cut off. Such severity reflected the Christian church's view of sex as a dangerously polluting force, as well as the patriarchal commonplace that women were more lustful than men and liable to lead them astray...

" When the Massachusetts settler James Britton fell ill in the winter of 1644, he became gripped by a "fearful horror of conscience" that this was God's punishment on him for his past sins. So he publicly confessed that once, after a night of heavy drinking, he had tried (but failed) to have sex with a young bride, Mary Latham. Though she now lived far away, in Plymouth colony, the magistrates there were alerted. She was found, arrested and brought back, across the icy landscape, to stand trial in Boston. When, despite her denial that they had actually had sex, she was convicted of adultery, she broke down, confessed it was true, "proved very penitent, and had deep apprehension of the foulness of her sin … and was willing to die in satisfaction to justice". On 21 March, a fortnight after her sentence, she was taken to the public scaffold. Britton was executed alongside her; he, too, "died very penitently". In the shadow of the gallows, Latham addressed the assembled crowds, exhorting other young women to be warned by her example, and again proclaiming her abhorrence and penitence for her terrible crime against God and society. Then she was hanged. She was 18 years old.

"That is the world we have left behind. Over the following century and a half it was transformed by a great revolution that laid the ground for the sexual culture of the 19th and 20th centuries, and of our own day. The most obvious change was a surge in pre- and extramarital sex. We can measure this, crudely but unmistakably, in the numbers of children conceived out of wedlock. During the 17th century this figure had been extremely low: in 1650 only about 1% of all births in England were illegitimate. But by 1800, almost 40% of brides came to the altar pregnant, and about a quarter of all first-born children were illegitimate. It was to be a permanent change in behaviour."

The article, actually a review of  Dabhoiwala's book, then goes on to explore the reasons for this sexual revolution. You can find the article here.


Detail from The Bed, etching, engraving and drypoint by Rembrandt (1646). at the British Museum
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Monday, January 16, 2012

American Colonial Era Artist Benbridge 1743-1812


Henry Benbridge (1743-1812). Margaret Cantey (Mrs. John Peyre).

Henry Benbridge (1744–1812), early American portrait painter, was born in Philadelphia, the only child of James & Mary (Clark) Benbridge. When he was 7 years old, his widowed mother married Thomas Gordon, a wealthy Scot. The boy's artistic talent was encouraged, as he made decorative designs for his stepfather's drawing-room.

Henry Benbridge (1743-1812) Gordon Family (his stepfather & mother Mary Clark Benbridge Gordon) 1763-65

When he was 21, Benbridge was sent to Italy, where he studied with Pompeo Batoni & Anton Raphael Mengs. From there he journeyed to London before returning to Philadelphia. Like other young Americans he was encouraged by Benjamin West. He wrote, on December 7, 1769, to his stepfather: "Upon my arrival I waited upon Mr. West who received me with a sort of brotherly affection, as did my cousin, Mrs. West." He left England in 1770, bearing from West the following note of recommendation to Francis Hopkinson: "By Mr. Benbridge you will receive these few lines. You will find him an Ingenous artist and an agreeable Companion. His merit in the art must procure him great incouragement and much esteem. I deare say it will give you great pleasure to have an ingenous artist resident amongst you."

Henry Benbridge (1743-1812) Mrs Charles Coteworth Pinckney Sarah Middleton Benbridge 1773

In Philadelphia, Benbridge married & was admitted to membership in the American Philosophical Society in 1771. Suffering from asthma & the cold of Philadelphia, he moved to Charleston, South Carolina, where he succeeded Jeremiah Theus as the region's popular portrait painter. Around 1800 Benbridge relocated to Norfolk, Virginia, & made frequent visits to his native Philadelphia. At Norfolk he gave Thomas Sully his first lessons in oil painting. Earlier in Charleston, he had instructed Thomas Coram. Sully described his master as "a portly man of good address–gentlemanly in his deportment."

Henry Benbridge (1743-1812) Archibald Bulloch Family 1775

Benbridge, who had certainly seen the lastest opulent fashion trends, as he studied in Italy with Pompeo Batoni & in England with expatriate Benjamin West, had a distrust of the trendy fashionable. In 1770, when his sisters were nearing marrying age, Benbridge wrote his mother from London, that his sisters "should not refuse a good plain honest Country farmer if such a one should offer himself with tolerable good estate, for one of the town who perhaps may have a better taste for dress, but not more merit, if perhaps as much."

1784 Henry Benbridge (1743-1812). Rachel Moore (Mrs. William Allston II).

When Benbridge had returned from Europe settling in Charlestown, South Carolina, to make a living painting portraits, he wrote to his sister Betsy in 1773, "Every kind of news here is very dull, the only thing attended to is dress and dissipation, & if I come in for a share of their superfluous Cash, I have no right to find fault with them, as it turns out to my advantage."


1790 Henry Benbridge (743-1812). Mary Boyer (Mrs. Robert Shewell).

In 1785, Benbridge, who loved the simple pleasures of gardening, was still worried about the too fancy dress of his son, Harry, whom Benbridge lovingly called "my little fellow." He wrote to his sister that he felt that his wife was dressing him in "too good things for a boy like him to wair, & likewise too many of them at once; he can't take care of them when he is at play & more common & Strong stuff in my Opinion would answer much better, & not fill his head with foolish notions of dress, which perhaps may be his bane."

1780s Henry Benbridge (1743-1812). Elizabeth Allston (Mrs. William H. Gibbes).

It is not surprising that Benbridge painted many of his female clients in dignified classical gowns looking serious, thoughtful, & restrained.

Henry Benbridge (1743-1812). Lady of the Middleton Family. 1780s

Henry Benbridge (1743-1812) Enoch Edwards Family 1779

Henry Benbridge (1743-1812) Mrs Benjamin Simons 1771-76

Henry Bendridge (1743-1812). The Hartley Family. 1787

Henry Benbridge (1743-1812). Sarah White (Mrs. Isaac Chanler). 1770s

Henry Benbridge (1743-1812 The Tannant Family 1770s

Attributed to Henry Benbridge (1743-1812). Rebecca Lloyd (Mrs Edward Davies) 1770s

Henry Benbridge (1743-1812) Mary Bryan Morel and Her Children c 17773

Henry Benbridge (1743-1812) Allegorical Portrait of Sarah Flagg c 1774

Henry Benbridge (1743-1812). Mrs. Mumford Milner (Elizabeth Brewton) b 1786

Henry Benbridge (1743-1812) Rebecca Gordon (his half sister) 1770s

Henry Benbridge (1743-1812) Elizabeth Ann Timothy Mrs William Williamson c 1775-85

1770s Henry Benbridge (1743-1812). Charlotte Pepper (Mrs. James Gignilliat).
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