Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Festooning the Bust of Hymen

It would seem pretty sacrilegious if young virgins of English nobility really decorated the bust of the god of marriage before their marriages. The depiction of them doing so, however, was a popular theme in portraiture. Not only was it a Romantic notion but also a nod toward the Classical.

Hymen or Hymenaios was usually depicted as wearing flower garlands, which may of had something to do with the ritual of decorating his term to gain his favors. Eighteenth century ladies would be depicted in such form to commemorate their marriage. When a term of Hymen was not to be had women, such as Lady Harrington, would pay tribute in their marriage commemorations by being portrayed with a garland. Lady Keppel's portrayal is probably the most well-known of these depictions. She was a lady of Queen Charlotte's and is portrayed in the gown she wore at the coronation, or perhaps wedding (I can't remember specifically!). The results are always a stunning result of motion and color displaying the sitters at their best, to show the triumph of the future bridegroom in snagging such a great catch!

Joshua Reynolds, Lady Elizabeth Keppel, 1761

Joshua Reynolds, Ladies Adorning a Term of Hymen, 1773

Benjamin West, Lady Beauchamp-Proctor, 1778


  1. Keppel's dress was worn for Charlotte's wedding. It would have been worn with the proper undergarments for the wedding, but they were left out in this painting.

  2. Thank you! I couldn't remember which event it had been used at off the top of my head.

  3. What a great post - and an interesting wedding tradition that I wasn't aware of! Many thanks for sharing!

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  5. The lady in the last picture reminds me of a young Sara Gilbert {i.e Darlene in Roseanne}.