30 September 2009

How To Take A Bath


Recently, I was looking at a photograph of the Emperor's salle de bains (bathroom, like so many words, sounds more impressive in French) in Napoleon's grand apartment at the Chateau Fontainebleau. The striated white marble walls and black-and-white diamond patterned tile floors looked familiar. Even the bidet, although not a standard fixture in American homes, was self-explanatory. The galvanized tub on its raised platform, edged with an organdy ruffle, did look a bit like a baby's bassinet but the four chairs arranged along the walls brought me up short: the Emperor didn't bathe alone.





As a child, I learned from my mother that, if there is one thing a busy modern woman craves in her bath time, it is near monastic solitude. June liked nothing better than to close the door and sink into a fragrant bubble bath with a good book. (There was a southern window in our bathroom that provided plenty of light.) If a child knocked on the door, she called out her usual advice: "Go read your book."
There are other ideas on how to take a bath. The caricature (at right) was included in a letter from Dante Gabriel Rossetti to Jane Morris, wife of architect William Morris. It shows Jane in the bath tub, apparently drinking a glass of wine, as her husband reads to her. Rossetti captioned it: "To drink bath water is better than to listen Morris read the 7 volumes of his new book The Earthly Paradise." (1868) The glasses lined up by the tub look inviting, though.
The two well-muscled 'mer-men' holding up Aphrodite look charming in Georges Barbier's illustration for the book, Aphrodite: Antiques Moers (1928 edition) by Pierre Louys, but it takes a goddess to relax so imperviously, above it all. I'll take the solitary bubble bath.

Image: Leonardo Cremonini - Les Parenthese de l'Eaux, 1968, Pompidou Center, Paris.

7 comments:

Aida Costa said...

I'm with you - solitary baths all the way. To think of having an entourage standing around while one bathes is horrifying to me! I would think royalty would have *wanted* some privacy now and then?

Neil said...

Wonderfully funny Rossetti sketch. Have you seen the Desperate Romantics television skit on the pre-Raphaelites in the USA yet? Pedants may scoff, but I think Rossetti at least would have enjoyed it. And so interesting to see the Cremonini, I've found very little information on him.

femminismo said...

Oh I love those Mer-Men. And the lady sipping bath water - ugh! But it's a funny illustration. Wonderful picture of the lady scrubbing her back. The place looks "gauzy" like it might be a bit steamy there.

Jane said...

Aida, sometimes in historical narratives, you read about royalty conducting meetings with their advisors while they bathed or dressed. Apparently, the sense of private time is quite flexible.

Jane said...

Neil, I like the sound of "Deserate Romantics." I'll look for it. As to Leonardo Cremonini, he is from Bologna and, after World War II ended, lived in France, including at least one summer in Brittany. Born in 1925, his work caught the attention of Peggy Guggenheim around 1949-1940, when he was in Venice, and gallery shows in New York followed. An entire room at the 1964 Venice Bienniale was devoted to Cremonini's work. Most commentators, including Umberto Eco, point to the ambiguity built into his paintings, often hinting at distraction or sexuality. I see in some pictures echoes of surrealism.

Jane said...

Jeanne, isn't it interesting that Barbier uses (mer) men as decorations, a role usually filled by women in art? Jane Morris may have been "sipping" bath water but thanks to her architect-husband, that's a rather modern bath tub for 1869. As for Cremonini, who likes to uses mirrors and their reflections in his paintings, the detective in me noticed that the bathroom mirror is inexplicably NOT steamed up.

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