Monday, August 16, 2010

On the History & Art of Parasols & Umbrellas

It has been raining here (& there!) recently, and my thoughts have turned to umbrellas. The Victorian paintings we have been examining recently are filled with parasols. An umbrella or parasol is a canopy designed to protect against rain or sunlight.

Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919). Woman with a Parasol 1872

The term parasol usually refers to an item intended to protect people from the sun. Umbrella refers to a device more suited to protect them from rain.

Jacques-Joseph Tissot (1836-1902) Summer

Usually the difference is the material; some parasols are not waterproof.

John Singer Sargent (1856 - 1925). Group with Parasols

Some parasols & umbrellas are meant to be fixed to one point, often used with garden furniture or at the beach.

John Singer Sargent (1856 - 1925). Eleanor Brooks

Both umbrellas & parasols can be exclusively hand-held, portable devices.

Frederick Frieseke (1874-1939) In the Doorway (Good Morning)

Both umbrellas & parasols simply can be held as fashion accessories & not used for protection from sun or rain at all.

John Singer Sargent (1856 - 1925). Madame Roger-Jourdain

"Para" means stop or shield and "sol" means sun.

Emanuel Phillips Fox (1865 -1915) The Arbor

The word "umbrella" evolved from the Latin "umbella" (an "umbel" is a flat-topped rounded flower) or "umbra" meaning "shaded."

Frederick Frieseke (1874-1939) Woman with a Parasol

In the sculptures at early Nineveh, an ancient city on the eastern bank of the Tigris in ancient Assyria, the parasol appears frequently.

Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919). Young Woman with a Japanese Umbrella

In Persia, the parasol is repeatedly found in the carved work of Persepolis, the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire (ca. 550-330 BCE).

Camille Pissarro (1830-1903). Woman with a Parasol

In some sculptures in Persia, the figure of a king appears attended by a servant, who carries over his head an umbrella.

Frederick Frieseke (1874-1939) The Japanese Parasol

In other Persian sculptures on the rock at Takht-i-Bostan, supposed to be not less than 12 centuries old, a deer-hunt is represented, at which a king looks on, seated on a horse with an umbrella held over his head by an attendant.

Jacques-Joseph Tissot (1836-1902) The Traveller

In ancient Egypt, the parasol is sometimes depicted as a flagellum, a fan of palm-leaves or colored feathers fixed on a long handle, resembling those depicted in several Victorian paintings.

Claude Monet (1840-1926). The Walk, Woman with a Parasol 1875

Another Egyptian engraving depicts an Ethiopian princess traveling through Upper Egypt in a chariot with a sort of umbrella fastened to a stout pole rising in the center.

Jacques-Joseph Tissot (1836-1902) A Portrait (Miss Lloyd) 1876

The umbrella was generally used throughout Egypt, partly as a mark of distinction, but more for its useful rather than its ornamental qualities.

Frederick Frieseke (1874-1939) Two Young Women in a Garden

In some paintings on an Egyptian temple wall, a parasol is held over the figure of a god carried in procession.

Charles Courtney Curran (1861-1942) Lotus Lilies 1888.

In Greece, the parasol (skiadeion), was an indispensable adjunct to a lady of fashion in the late 5th century BC.

Claude Monet (1840-1926). Detail Camille Monet in the Garden 1871

Aristophanes (446-386BC), a much acclaimed comic playwright of ancient Athens, mentions it among the common articles of female use which could apparently open and close.

Frederick Frieseke (1874-1939) The Garden Parasol

Geographer Pausanias (d. 470BC) describes a tomb near Triteia in Achaia decorated with a 4th-century BC painting ascribed to Nikias, Plutarch's Slave of Fear d 413BC, depicting a woman, "and by her stood a female slave, bearing a parasol."

Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919). Woman with Parasol

Its use seems to have been confined to women. For a man to carry one was considered a mark of effeminacy. In Aristophanes' Birds, a 415BC Greek comedy, Prometheus uses one as a comical disguise.

Édouard Manet (1832-1883) Woman with a Parasol 1881.

It had also its religious signification. In the Scirophoria, the feast of Athene Sciras, a white parasol was borne by the priestesses of the goddess from the Acropolis to the Phalerus.

John Singer Sargent (1856 - 1925). Simplon Pass The Lesson

In the feasts of Dionysos, the god of wine, the umbrella was used, and in an old bas-relief the same god is represented as descending ad inferos with a small umbrella in his hand. Dionysos inspired ritual madness, joyful worship, ecstasy, carnivals, celebration and was a major figure of Greek mythology.

Jacques-Joseph Tissot (1836-1902) Detail Mrs. Newton With a Parasol

In the Panathenæa, the daughters of the Metics, or foreign residents, carried parasols over the heads of Athenian women as a mark of inferiority. In Rome, the umbrella seems to have been commonly used by women to shade themselves from the heat by means of the Umbraculum, formed of skin or leather, and capable of being lowered at will. There are frequent references to the umbrella in the Roman classics, and it appears that it was a post of honor among maid-servants to bear it over the heads of their mistresses.

John Singer Sargent (1856 - 1925). A Morning Walk

Allusions to the parasol are reasonably frequent in the poets Ovid, Martial, & Juvenal.

Claude Monet (1840-1926). Detail Woman in a Garden

The Roman umbrella does not appear to have been used as protection from rain.

Frederick Frieseke (1874-1939) Sun and Wind

The umbrella appears frequently on Etruscan pottery, as also on later gems and rubies.

Edgar Degas (1834–1917) Mary Cassatt at the Louvre

One gem, figured by Pacudius, shows an umbrella with a bent handle, sloping backwards.

Claude Monet (1840-1926). Woman with a Parasol 1886

From China's Terracotta Army, a carriage with an umbrella securely fixed to the side appears from Qin Shihuang's tomb, c. 210 BCE.

Edgar Degas (1834–1917) Lady with a Parasol, 1870-72

In written records, the oldest Chinese reference to a collapsible umbrella dates to the year 21 A.D., when Wang Mang (r. 9–23) had one designed for a ceremonial four-wheeled carriage. The Chinese character for umbrella is 傘 (sǎn) and is a pictograph resembling the modern umbrella in design.

Jacques-Joseph Tissot (1836-1902) Detail In the Sunshine

The Chinese & Japanese traditional parasol, often used today near temples, remains similar to the original ancient Chinese design.

Frederick Frieseke (1874-1939) Lady with a Parasol

A late Song Dynasty Chinese divination book that was printed in about 1270 CE features a picture of a collapsible umbrella that is exactly like the modern umbrella of today's China.

John Singer Sargent (1856 - 1925). Two Girls with Parasols at Fladbury

In India, the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata (about 4th century) relates the following legend: Jamadagni was a skilled bow shooter, and his devoted wife Renuka would always recover each of his arrows immediately. One time however, it took her a whole day to fetch the arrow, and she later blamed the heat of the sun for the delay. The angry Jamadagni shot an arrow at the sun. The sun begged for mercy and offered Renuka an umbrella.

Childe Hassam (1859-1935) A Rainy Day, New York

In 17th-century Ava in India, it seems to have been part of the king's title, that he was "King of the white elephant, and Lord of the twenty-four umbrellas."

Jacques-Joseph Tissot (1836-1902) In an English Garden

In 1855, the King of Burma was called "His great, glorious, and most excellent Majesty, who reigns over the kingdoms of Thunaparanta, Tampadipa, and all the great umbrella-wearing chiefs of the Eastern countries."

Martha Walter - Summer Sunshine

According to a 1687 account of Siam, the use of the umbrella was granted to only some of the subjects by the king. An umbrella with several circles, as if two or three umbrellas were fastened on the same stick, was for the king alone. The nobles carried a single umbrella with painted cloths hanging from it.

Jacques-Joseph Tissot (1836-1902) Detail Portsmouth Dockyard

The district of Tenochtitlan called Atzacoalco of the Aztec Empire was reported to have used an umbrella made from feathers & gold as its pantli or flag. It was carried by the army general.

Frederick Frieseke (1874-1939) Through the Vines

Scarce allusions to European umbrellas throughout the Middle Ages probably indicates that they were not in common use. Apparently Europeans depended on cloaks, not umbrellas, for protection against storms.

Winslow Homer (1836-1910) Young Woman at Large

The general use of the parasol in France & England was adopted, probably from China about the middle of the 17th-century, when depictions of umbrellas are frequently seen.

John Singer Sargent (1856 - 1925). The Pink Dress

John Evelyn, in his Diary for June 22, 1664, mentions a collection of rarities shown him by one Thompson, a Roman Catholic priest, sent by the Jesuits of Japan and China to France. Among the curiosities were "fans like those our ladies use, but much larger, and with long handles, strangely carved and filled with Chinese characters," which is evidently a description of the parasol.

Edgar Degas (1834–1917) Mary Cassatt at the Louvre

In John Florio's "A World of Words" (1598), the Italian word Ombrella is translated "a fan, a canopie. also a testern or cloth of state for a prince. also a kind of round fan or shadowing that they use to ride with in summer in Italy, a little shade."

Charles Courtney Curran (1861-1942).

In Randle Cotgrave's "Dictionary of the French and English Tongues" (1614), the French Ombrelle is translated "An umbrello; a (fashion of) round and broad fanne, wherewith the Indians (and from them our great ones) preserve themselves from the heat of a scorching sunne; and hence any little shadow, fanne, or thing, wherewith women hide their faces fro the sunne."

Claude Monet (1840-1926). Victor Jacquemont Holding a Parasol 1865

Kersey's Dictionary (1708) describes an umbrella as a "screen commonly used by women to keep off rain."

Emanuel Phillips Fox (1865 -1915) The Green Parasol

Daniel Defoe's (c 1661–1731) Robinson Crusoe constructs his own umbrella in imitation of the ones he had seen used in Brazil. "I covered it with skins," he says, "the hair outwards, so that it cast off the rain like a pent-house, and kept off the sun so effectually, that I could walk out in the hottest of the weather with greater advantage than I could before in the coolest."

Edgar Degas (1834–1917) At the Races

Explorer Captain James Cook (1728-1779) in one of his voyages, mentions some of the natives of the South Pacific Islands, with umbrellas made of palm leaves.
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