The Masque’s Slipt’

Let’s once more explore that enigmatic art form – the dummy board figure and slip back into the early 17th century when windows were smaller and less transparent, houses were darker, candlelight and firelight were all that was available after dark.

A party! We have been invited to a party! Not just any old party but a MASQUE!

Masque involves music and dancing, singing and acting, with elaborate costumes and stage get ups which generally presents a deferential allegory flattering to the patron.That is – being nice and flattering the person who has paid for it! Professional actors and musicians have been hired for the speaking and singing parts. And the masquers who shan’t speak or sing- are to be -US! We shall parade around in fancy costumes, posture a bit, eat drink and make merry. Bit like theatre only more so. Many of the themes chosen for masques are mythological. So we shall be given a costume that is appropriate for the theme.

Ah..here is mine just being delivered now….

O my giddy aunt! I can’t wear that…it’s got no….. it’s indecent. And besides…she’s got no bosom! I am a lady of architectural frontage, I can’t go about with no visible means of support, like a cantilever staircase!

I won’t be the only one I can assure you….. Ah well….maybe….

So I don my costume and off we go. The masque is being held in a very large house, almost a palace, on the river so many will be arriving by boat. This will allow for special effects as a backdrop to the masque and firework barges kept on the river for later entertainment, when the sun goes down. These events can go on all day and night.

We head for the refreshments pavillion. ( of course!)

Now if you are thinking that we will be indulging in the King of beverages, the Greatest of all some would say…Champagne…well no… it hasn’t been invented yet, though it won’t be long. Another few years and we will be seeing it as a slightly thin bubbly and pale pink drink which the makers think is undrinkable! They are at this stage trying to get the bubbles OUT! We shall have to content ourselves with nice reds and sweet whites.

Drink in hand we mingle.

There’s a handsome fellow polishing the glasses. Name of Tommy. Friendly chappie, listing a bit to starboard,  looks like he’s had one to many already! 🙂

Tommy, mid 18th century dummy board at the Museum of York. By kind permission of the Castle Museum.

So let’s take a look around and see how many faces we recognise.

There’s Mme. Fullbosom, Countess Risqué, Baroness Indelicate.

Baroness Indelicate. The figure known as Vanity in the V&A. Early 17th century.

She hails from  some posh place in France I believe. Came over with the Queen, Henrietta, who is herself French. Indeed, I am not the only one showing a lot of bosom ! Baroness Indelicate is wearing the latest court fashion. A see through fichou ( scarf) across the bosom which leaves nothing to the imagination, as the bodice is cut extremely low. However, I have to say, I shall be appearing in the masque as a nymph of the train of Diana and so am allowed to be somewhat scantily clad. Besides, now, I am decorously covered with a floaty little number across the bosom….I had heard she was vain but this is a bit……….

Good Lord!

Indeed…Lord- young Lord Hardly Teething. He is only about three years of age. What is he doing here? It’s not right he should be involved in the goings on. I know he came into his title on the death of his father last year but…really! He is such a sweetie.

The head of the Angus girl....though it could be a boy. 17th century possibly. One of those that might be a cannibalised canvas portrait dummy board of the 19th century. By kind permission of the National Trust for Scotland.

Masque goers are getting younger and younger each year. { Or is it that I am getting older and older…. too old!- No. Don’t answer that- it’s rhetorical!}

The Groussay Girl France 17th century.

Here is another girl in Court dress. More cleavage and bosom! She is standing by the grand fireplace trying to look inconspicuous and failing. I know her. It’s the mistress of the Masque Master,the famous Indigo Bones*. She is Dutch and her name, I believe is Willyng OOpfront, or something like that. She has a starring role in the masque of course.

A servant with a candle is beckoning me forward. Ah the Masque is about to begin. I’d better take my place.

Girl with Candle. English mid 18th c. in private collection in the U.S.A.

I am to wear a fantastic wig and elaborate makeup which is a kind of disguise and of course, my see through frock with the < ahem> low neckline. And of course I shall wear a MASK! Thank heavens…no one will recognise me….

So off we go.

We firstly have an entrance… a stately procession, then a sprightly little dance. The music is cheerful and loud, tuneful and rather repetitious. We trip around delicately. More a walk really with a lot of twirling of the hands and fiddling with the feet. No jumping allowed. No gyrating of the hips, no pouting, no sexual innuendo. ( Oh how different from modern dance and music ‘entertainment’). For a taste of the sort of thing on offer go to Early Dance

Then we have a declamation and a song.

"What a rapture is in this call to the
masquers to begin the dance ! 

" Shake off your heavy trance ! 

And leap into a dance 

Such as no mortals use to tread : 

Fit only for Apollo
To play to, for the moon to lead, 

And all the stars to follow !"

Yes…well… great poetry it is NOT. That’s that bit done then. I can go and have something to eat now. I wrap myself up again, take off my mask and let it dangle fashionably from my wrist.

I wend my way through the throng. I can still hear the masque going on outside but my little part is almost finished…I appear again at the end.

I could do with a slice of that nice Boar’s head.. to keep my stomach from grumbling.

The double sided Boar's head dummy board by Maggi Howard.

I’ll  pinch an apple as I pass. Three goes and I manage to get one that is not trompe l’oeil!

Aha! there is a game of cards going on in a quiet corner. Not everyone is enamoured of the grand entertainment.

I see that there is a lot of money on the table.

The Compleat Gamester: A manual for indulging in every kind of game or pastime.

*1 And standing in the fireplace? Is that a dummy board figure of a fashionable gentleman or is it just a rather inebriated party goer, pouring his wine onto the floor. If we could just get a little closer we might be able to tell, but the press is close here and I am liable to be crushed. I pass on.

Behind the firework stage there is an illegal cock fighting game going on. The rabble always manage to creep into these events, not least because they are required to do the heavy and menial work, to make the Masque go with a swing. They are the artisans who heave the scenery around, man the machinery for the stage effects and light the fireworks.

There are a pair of Danish soldiers, the guard for a visiting head of state, lurking around in the corridor. They are a bit drunk and jostle me as I pass. They want a look at my costume. Cheeky knaves….

Two danish soldiers..not quite cut out. Probably early 19th century.

I give one of them a biff around the head with my ( quite heavy ) papier mache mask. It knocks his hat off. Whilst he is scrabbling to retrieve it, I plant my foot on his backside and send him sprawling. The other one, laughing at his mate, makes a grab for my coat. ” Oh no you don’t!  ” My nice little pointy shoes with the substantial heels, connect with the part of his anatomy that he thought might come in very handy tonight.  😉 Sorry to disabuse him.

The nice little pointy shoes of the mid 18th c. Chertsey Girl By kind permission of the owners

I beat a hasty retreat!

The fireworks are about to start.

Beautiful blue and green whorls light up the sky and are reflected in the lake. Red and green streamers follow with a loud whooping sound. ( rather like the Danish soldier’s response to my dainty kick!) Huge Catherine wheels spitting white fire turn ponderously out of sequence with the music, ( the musicians are on a floating barge ) specially composed to accompany them.

Oh no… the white doves that were to be in the final act of the masque, played before the firework background across the lake, have escaped the basket container where they were housed and are wheeling around in the garden getting in the way of the firework men. The Chief Pyrotechnician, a fat little Italian man, Signor Claudio Smoak, is waving his hands about and screeching at the top of his voice. In Italian. Of course only the Nobles can understand him and the ladies are shocked by the language!

Someone screams as a larger bird wheels across the night sky and makes a pass at a dove rather close to the toppling wig of one of the Masquers.

19th century Tole ware owl. yes... not one that would chase doves I know... but for the sake of the story......

Not to worry the Falconer has him under control in a jiffy.

19th century falconer France. ( sorry for the image...it's very old. )

The doves scatter.

One of the ladies lap dogs has escaped too. It’s cavorting around biting everyone in sight.

19th century little lap dog... it wouldn't bite I know!

It bites fat Signor Smoak. He throws his hands in the air and screams.

Signor Smoak perhaps?

The pyrotechnics men think this is the signal for the final act. Cannon fire is heard.

Specially made tinder wood boats which have been moored on the lake under the cover of darkness, suddenly disgorge fire and fireworks. BUT, there are still people towing the boats into place, making them secure and rowing back to the shore. There are cries of “Too soon…too soon!”

This is the cue for an Italian tenor, (needless to say his name is Rushiero Toosoon ) to break into the final song.

This is also in turn, the cue for the massed ladies of the court ( dressed as Grecian nymphs …me included, ) to progress to the stage and artistically mob the central character, a mythical Admiral, victor of the ( now raging ) battle on the lake. The little waves froth with activity and the boats bob up and down dangerously. Many participants fall in the lake ( not too deep however ) and can be seen wading ashore in the most dishevelled of states, makeup running, wigs agley, flimsy costumes hugging their shivering bodies. ( Perhaps the first instance of the Miss wet t shirt competition?)

I haven’t thank goodness made it to the stage, for after a moment of heaving and groaning, the weight of the massed procession, tips the flimsy structure into the drink. Just in time to meet the wave of drowned sailors who are trying to drag themselves up the bank. Chaos!

I saunter to the provisions tent, to grab a morsel. There is a nasty looking tramp fiddling about in the food.

A 19th century dummy board...not sure what he is but it's probably for the theatre

I send him on his way and beckon to a servant with a broom to come and sweep up the mess.

The Castle Howard sweeper early 18th century Castle Howard Yorks.

What a day! I’m going home.

I reach the room assigned as a changing room for the ‘nymphs’. My clothes…my DAY clothes…..my ordinary clothes, are missing. As are a lot of the other participants’. Not to mention that but our pocket books are also missing. I bet it was that nasty tramp. He could get a tidy sum for the quality clothes he might be able to stuff into the bag he was carrying! How am I to get home without money to pay the chair man? I can’t wander the night streets dressed like this! Oh my!

^Anyone got a bed I can share for the night?

OH my…WHAT AM I SAYING?

*Inigo Jones…..of course the famous Masque creator of the early 17th century, transparently disguised as Indigo Bones.

*1. The Compleat Gamester. It is said that this is the first instance in history, of an illustration of a dummy board. I’m not convinced.

^ Actually bed sharing was common practice in the 17th century. And before. No hanky panky was indulged in…….mostly. 😉

Might catch something nasty!

Read all about it!


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4 Responses to “The Masque’s Slipt’”

  1. Sandra Says:

    Really interesting post Sue.

    My favourite ever Hammer Horror film is Masque of the Red Death, in which the masked ball is a visual delight.

  2. pastmastery Says:

    Edgar Allan Poe isn’t it?
    Yes I know it…

    Hope it made you smile.My post that is…..
    x

  3. bonsmots Says:

    Risqué business, that! I reread it this morning and giggled all the way through. You are too funny, Suzie!

  4. Blogs Aygualas.com | Accueil Says:

    […] failing. I know her. It’s the mistress of the Masque Master,the famous Indigo Bones*. …More Here filed in bosom | Tags: bosom, cleavage, court dress, fancy costumes, grand fireplace, masques | […]

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