Friday, November 20, 2009

Today's Characters, Yesterday

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say that nineteenth century young men and ladies looked very different from people today. I disagree. Or, sure there are stylized portraits that make them look rather unworldly, and some artists have more skill than others. I’ve heard the arguments that poor dental care made mouths look sunken, or people were afraid to smile because of their teeth. Then there are those who insist that because some ceilings were lower and surviving clothing is smaller that people were a lot shorter than we are. (I shudder to think who lived in the remarkably high-ceilinged rooms of some of the country estates!) Certainly hairstyles and fashions have changed over time.

People had their portraits painted for a number of reasons: to commemorate a major event like a military victory, to announce their success in their careers, or to document their family. Recently I’ve come across a number of portraits that seem to me to be straight out of Hollywood today. See what you think.

This is the French miniaturist Francois Jean Baptist Isabey and his daughter, right around 1800. Compare him to Keanu Reeves. Ancestor, perhaps?

How about this one? Young Mr. Fleetwood is dressed for riding to the hounds, his knee hooked up over his saddle, around 1803. Shia LaBeouf, anyone?

And then there’s Elinor, either the 1810 version in this miniature or Emma Thompson’s version from Sense and Sensibility.

So, what do you think? Have we changed so much in 200 years?

Oh, and just so you know—we will have one post next week, Wednesday or Thursday, so we can spend more time with our families over the holiday. Carpe diem, my dears!


Marissa Doyle said...

Mm-hmm, I'm betting somebody had fun creating this post! :)

Well done!

QNPoohBear said...

Very interesting! I think the gentleman in the top portrait resembles Jonathan Rhys Myers!

ChaChaneen said...

I didn't really think about it like that before. Very fun post!

Regina Scott said...

QNPoohBear, I can definitely see the resemblance! Thanks for pointing him out.

Dara said...

Very interesting indeed! We often think people were so much different than us then because of the time that's passed. But essentially humanity's always been the same. Hairstyles and clothing can only change so much over the course of thousands of years; there's gonna be some resemblance there along the lines somewhere :P

People may have been shorter, but I don't think that's necessarily the case as much as we like to think. At least that's my opinion :P

Mary Witzl said...

Those are fantastic -- I can really see the resemblances! With access to good dental hygiene and better nutrition, we 21st century people all ought to be a lot better looking than we really are.