Historic Costume: Greco-Roman Chiton and Lady Emma Hamilton’s Attitudes

Me! In Ionic chiton, performing one of Lady Emma Hamilton’s Attitudes (I forgot to take off my glasses!). In some printings of Friedrich Rehberg’s sketches engraved, this is called “Cleopatra Seduttrice.” It is probably based on artistic rendrings of Agrippina offering libations at the tomb of Germanicus (suggested by John Wilton-Ely and confirmed by me). There is a priestess statue from the macellum (marketplace) shrine in Pompeii that strongly informs this pose and in its restored state includes a libation bowl in one hand. It is sometimes referred to as Agrippina.

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

Rehberg’s drawing of Lady Emma’s “Cleopatra Seduttrice” attitude, likely influenced by both Roman and modern (as in, Renaissance onward) renderings of Agrippina (or others) offering libations to the gods.

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.

Restored priestess sculpture from the macellum (marketplace) shrine in Pompeii. Sometimes referred to as Agrippina, her pose is similar to Rehberg’s drawing of Emma.

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Wrapping up Emma 2009/2010…

Well, I’m home from a lovely visit to Orange County and Los Angeles.  Yes, we went to Disneyland.  Yes, we stopped by Kiyonna.  Yes, I bought something.  One dress.  ONLY ONE. Really.

Anyway, here’s the latest scoop on Emma, which wrapped last night on Masterpiece Classic:

PBS Emma Part Two, another Twitter party, and more!

Since the first Emma Twitter party was such a success, PBS.org is presenting another for Part Two!  There will be an “east coast” party beginning this Sunday, January 31, at 9pm ET and a “west coast” party to follow at 9pm PT at Twitter hashtag #emma_pbs.

You can use the official PBS Emma TwitGrid (it’s a new one!) to help you navigate all posts to the #emma_pbs hashtag.  Check the PBS.org Emma Twitter page for details and updates.   In the works:  another quiz with Laurel Ann and me, more prizes, and special discounts for party participants at ShopPBS!

In other news, Vic explains how to make Mrs. Weston’s wedding cake (as seen in the most recent Emma adaptation).  The key tool?  A Nordic Ware Cathedral Bundt Pan!  Also, don’t miss her thoughts on Emma 2009/2010 as reviewed by print media.

Catch author and #emma_pbs Twitter Party co-host Laurie Viera Rigler’s Emma review, posted at the PBS Remotely Connected blog.

And, in Persuasions Online, Laurie Kaplan discusses negative critical responses to the latest Emma in Adapting Emma for the Twenty-first Century: An Emma No One Will Like.

Also, Style Court discusses decor in the various Emma adaptations and Austen Only covers Mr. Knightley’s Strawberries.

Emma premiere roundup: Hours One and Two air on PBS Masterpiece Classic

Now that Emma‘s part one premiere is over, a few notes:

Emma premiers TOMORROW on PBS…

Emma is nigh!  Remember, there’s a special Emma Twitter Party tomorrow, hosted by PBS, Laurel Ann, Vic, and me!  Be there from 9-11 pm EST.  That’s 6pm PST, my time!

More information here!

Also, a very thoughtful discussion of Emma and Vermeer from Vic’s “Remotely Connected” blog at PBS.

And finally, here’s a roundup of some of the latest Emma reviews: