Saturday, 5 March 2016

A sampler and a pincushion: joy and effort

As Women's International Day is coming up on 8 March here is a post on Castle Zuylen once more.

The women who lived at Slot Zuylen are plentiful and the most famous of all is of course the writer and composer 'Belle van Zuylen'. You can read all about Isabelle van Tuyll van Serooskerken on her special (English) page on Wikipedia and see a tv trail on her life on RTV Utrecht, really worthwhile having a look at - even if you do not understand the Dutch language, as it takes you back in her time.

As you do a tour of the castle the ins and outs of family members, life and history of the castle are being told. In one of the halls this painting shows the history of dramatic life and death of at least one particular family. Painters of the time were such detailed history story tellers. Alas, no close up of the painting - just go and visit the castle yourself and let the guide tell you all about it. The castle website has a special page on portraits and paintings. The link to this website is in the second alinea of this post, just scroll through the various tabs of it, and on the floor plan of the castle to peep into the rooms.

Isabelle was not too happy at the castle, which for me is a completely different experience, as I love the intimacy of the castle, the garden, the quiet, the river Vecht and its nature surroundings. Then again, there is no comparison - I never lived there, not in her time, and was free to fly out of my nest when I was ready for it and discover the entire world.
For her it was a golden cage. Her inquisitive and intellectual mind needed feedings from the outside world, in the end she went abroad.
Her private room holds personal items, the window looks out on the garden with the brick snake fence, not on the river on the other side of the castle. The golden silk screen holds a Japanse fan pattern, her bath is just behind it - covered in a sheet at the time we visited. One tries to imagine how she wrote her first book at this desk when she was young, the castle being the background of the story.

For all women of her time learning embroidery was a virtue and a must. Part of Belle's initials are in the middle of this sampler-  'I T'

The sculpture of Belle, and me taking the picture, are reflected on the glass panel in front of the embroidery
Detail of the sampler
A guide is limited in time and tries to tell as much as possible in one hour. On the guest room we were told it held many items because at the time people who would come and stay at the castle, would come from far and would stay long. It looked pretty cluttered to me. Now, there was this more than intriguing cushion on a marble top table. I quickly took a picture and it was not until I started to edit this picture in Picasa that I started to wonder hów it was made. You see tiny little holes in it, not really embroidery stitch holes. Are they pin holes? Is it a pin cushion? Is it meant as a scented sachet? Next time I will ask the guide. Whatever it is, the text is self explanatory 'Que le plaisir surpasse la peine' - 'May joy surpass the effort'. It must have been a great effort to embroider the text, to fasten the beads or pins precisely in order on the silk. It is a very special object.

The question is: who made it? Did Belle make it? Has it been made by one of the other inhabitants of the castle? The female portraits are plentiful, it could be made by any of the women represented on those. Is this not a lovely portrait? My great grandmother wore a bonnet like this when she was very young, in the late 1800's. The pearl earrings are just outrageous, no doubt showing off her wealth. Imagine the weight of them, the pain of wanting to look beautiful and impressive! The pearl fastened to the white collar is almost just as big. The portrait is on show in a newly opened up room. On another visit I shall write down her name, at the moment all I can say is that I just love the expression on her face, somewhat cheeky, somewhat surprised.

Women of our time have achieved a lot since her time. But are our looks better? Such a contrast to the way women dress today in their jeans, with short cut hair, wearing sneakers. It is gorgeous to look at this and imagine her life. By the looks of it she enjoyed her food, being middle aged maybe, with a chubby under chin. How delicious the food will have been with the ingredients from the castle garden and poultry and fowl from the countryside. In the kitchen Wedgewood pie molds are on show, no doubt used for festive cooking. Witnesses of days gone by.

Wedgewood molds

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for giving us a glimpse into Slot Zuylen...what a wonderful place that would have been to live...I dream of living in that era (in the castle of course) ; ) romantic...
    Women have come along way over the centuries!
    Sending hugs from Canada...