Hallowe’en season is here! To commemorate spookiness’ return, I’ve adjusted my blog theme to feature Daniel Gardner’s “Three Witches from Macbeth.” This pastel triple-portrait from 1775 features Lady Elizabeth Lamb, Viscountess of Melbourne; Georgiana Spencer Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire; and Mrs. Anne Seymour Damer, the artist, portrayed as the famous witches from Shakespeare’s play.
The famous Duchess of Devonshire was about eighteen years old when she posed for this piece. It was created not long after her marriage to the Duke, at around the same time she became a rising star in Britain’s most fashionable set, the bon ton. Following in her friend Lady Melbourne’s footsteps, and owing to her marriage into a powerful family of Whig partisans, she would also become the most celebrated political hostess in England.
Because I love Greco-Roman antiquity, I needed to make myself a chiton. Because I’ve performed Lady Emma Hamilton’s famous, classically-inspired tableaux vivants twice in the last twelve years, I needed to make myself a chiton. Because chitons are awesome and I like them, I needed a chiton.
By this point in the blog post, you might be asking yourself, “What the heck is a chiton? Who is Lady Hamilton? And those “tableaux” thingies?” I know it sounds like a strange combination of ideas, but it’s honestly not as complicated as it seems. In fact, the chiton – a very simple women’s (and men’s!) garment originating in ancient Greece and widely used as a basic dress or underdress for women in Roman eras – is extremely easy to make and wear. But I’ll get to that in a second.
Emma, My Inspiration
First, the Lady Emma part of the explanation. Our English Regency society puts on various events dealing with events and culture from the late Georgian period of British history. In the course of preparations for a ball honoring the great naval hero Lord Horatio Nelson, I somehow got roped into playing a role. And not just any role; I would be recreating Lady Emma Hamilton’s famous “attitudes.” Lady Emma performed these silent tableaux from 1787 through the 1790s and into the early 19th century, sparking several high-profile imitations and influencing modern dance and other forms of performance art over a hundred years later. Now, this was 1999 and I was crazy busy trying to finish my last year of law school. The last thing I probably needed on my plate was a performance of some sort, but for Emma Hamilton I made an exception.