Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Marriage a la Mode, Part 4: The Toilette

When we last left off in Hogarth's series, it seemed the viscount had run into some trouble with a venereal disease or two. What has become of his wife? We rejoin her in her morning toilette. Toilettes or Levees were something only the extremely rich could afford, they made a party out of waking up in the morning. And why not? Life is a party! Our unfortunate wife is now a countess (the old earl must have died), as indicated by the coronet above her bed. This explains why she can afford such frivolities such as a morning levee. A large array of visitors are part of this party and are entertained by a singer and flautist. One woman seems to be in raptures over the music, a macaroni appears unaffected as he sips his tea, a man in the back yawns. The mistress of the house is not paying attention to the music at all. Instead she is engrossed in conversation with the lounging lawyer, Silvertongue. Remember him? He smiles and invites her to a masquerade as indicated by his gesture towards her screen depicting a masque. The countess seems bemused; her hairdresser: totally engrossed in the scandal about to unfold. Masquerades were known for their scandalous implications. Under disguise, much debauchery could take place, especially affairs.

To further hint at the outcome of this situation, Hogarth, once again, dresses his composition with clues. The paintings hanging in the Countess' bedroom not only tells us how obscenely rich she is, it also contain messages. Correggio's Zeus and Io hangs above her; a highly eroticized depiction of Zeus' seduction of the nymph, Io by impregnating her in the form of a cloud. On the adjacent wall is a painting of the abduction of Ganymede, in which Zeus falls in love with a young man and brings him to Mount Olympus, in the form of an eagle, to be the cup-bearer for the gods. Above Silvertongue hangs a painting of the biblical story of Lot and His Daughters, who attempted to seduce their father. In the foreground, a young African page unloads a collection of curiosities. He holds in his hands an statue of Actaeon, the unfortunate huntsman who spied on Artemis bathing and whom she punished by turning into a stag. In this case, it is not the story that Hogarth is referencing but the actual image of Actaeon: a man with a stag's head. The allegory of a cuckold is a man with horns, usually that of a deer. If things continue to pan out as they seem to be, the countess will be making a cuckold of her husband.

Next, Part 5 >>

Marriage a la Mode Part 1
Marriage a la Mode Part 2
Marriage a la Mode Part 3


  1. I love these posts. I've never paid so much attention to a print in my life.

  2. Thank you! I think Hogarth really keeps you on your toes which is great. His work is like a Where's Waldo, where you notice something different each time!