Objects of delight
7: The archaeology of the Plumtree Court mantelpiece II
"Images, very fine, very pretty!"
Italian image vendors carried platforms of plaster-of-Paris busts about, and now and then sold one, it is to be presumed, since they went on doing it(Bennett 1924, 53)
The "Dealer in Images" in Figure 1 introduces a central element of my research1. I have recognised the significance of a commercial activity and class of decorative objects that have been granted very little attention but which were important features of working-class life during the nineteenth century. Composed of some of the "images" that people bought from itinerant peddlers in the streets of the nineteenth-century industrialising world, his legs are Tam O'Shanter and Souter Jonnie, a young Queen Victoria and Shakespeare. On the tray he is balancing on his head stand figurines that feature repeatedly in my research: Napoleon Bonaparte, Madame Vestris, Paul Pry, a parrot, a cow and a horse. The illustration may also include John Bull and Wellington. The illustration encapsulates the trade of itinerant "image-sellers", mostly Italians, who were to be found on every continent between the late eighteenth century and the early twentieth, dealing in figures made from plaster of Paris.
So familiar were image-sellers that one featured in a nineteenth-century equivalent of Google Streetview (Figure 2). About three metres along the Grand Architectural Panorama of London, published in 18492, on the corner of Regent Street and Charles Street, a tiny figure can be seen wandering along the gutter. He's an image-seller, with his tray of images on his head. It looks as if he's heading for a small crowd that's gathered on the pavement, as is the legless beggar on his trolley beside him (Figure 3). A crowd means more potential customers for them both.
This section explores the lives of those itinerants, the figurinai, their realities and the positive and negative aspects of their lives. It surveys their stock-in-trade, the plaster of Paris and earthenware objects they hawked in the streets. It notes the attitudes of those writers, journalists, poets and artists whose eyes and ears were attracted by the image sellers' street cries of "Buy My Images!" And, importantly, it also looks at their customers, the working-class people who displayed their wares on their mantelpieces, and what other objects they purchased.
This section frequently refers to the Appendices. Appendix I consists of a gallery of images that illustrate the topics discussed here. Appendix II is an anthology of texts that have been used as a source for much of what follows.
The ubiquitous image-seller
When Columbus stepped for the first time onto the shores of America, he was met by a stucchinalo or image seller from Lucca, in Italy, eager to interest the great explorer in his wares.(Ross and Erichsen 1912, 116)
The story retold by Ross and Erichsen3 was almost certainly invented to emphasise the ubiquity of the Italian image-seller, who by the middle of the nineteenth century was a familiar character on almost every continent. Yet these itinerants, their lives, what they sold and who bought their stock-in-trade are little known today4. Perhaps this is because they sold their wares almost exclusively to ordinary working people, and because those wares were prosaic, without pretention, were cheap and cheerful, perhaps even more so than much of the output of Staffordshire potteries, and were fragile, easy to break and to discard.
The home-grown image sellers selling spotted cats, whose displacement by Italian immigrants was regretted by Lloyd's Illustrated Newspaper in 18535, were perhaps the same as those of whom Bea Howe writes when she describes villagers flocking to the "Image Man" for his "gaudy and gay chimney ornaments", alerted by his cry of "My casts are formed to get my bread, and humble shelter for my head". Howe continued that: "What he sold reached their rural market only by means of his own initiative and sturdy legs. Storms, rain, and high march winds or sudden biting flurries of snow in early spring, what did the weather matter to the Image Man. For he was sure of a warm welcome at the end of his long tramp" (Howe 1973, 178-9). Although this is a colourful account, I wonder if it is entirely accurate. The two-line verse "My casts..." also appears as a caption beneath a Bewick woodcut6 and is rather a mouthful for an itinerant pedlar. Though pedlars in general sold a variety of utilitarian and other objects, I have not come across any evidence that the "Image Man" sold anything but images, the "gaudy and gay chimney ornaments" that Howe writes of.
We can learn most about image-sellers not from historians, who, apart from Paola Sensi-Isolani (1990) have merely occasionally mentioned them in passing if at all, but from the popular media of the time. For example Bow Bells, "a magazine of general literature and art, for family reading" published Buy Images!, a lengthy piece by an anonymous writer, that began:
"IMAGES! Buy images!" Such was the cry of an Italian images-seller, as he proceeded on his way down one of the narrow, ill-paved streets of a little town in the Potteries. "Who'll buy images? Vill you buy one sir?" The words were addressed to a little ill-clad boy, who gazed wistfully up at the miniature sculpture gallery on the head of the Italian vendor. The collection was made up of copies in plaster-of-Paris from old and modern statues, mixed up with Prince Alberts, Wellingtons, and Napoleons crossing the Alps. There were some of Pradier's lovely representations of soft and delicate women, Canova's dancing-girls, Venus, Isis, Apollo Belvidere, and a beautiful cast of the boy extracting a thorn.(Bow Bells 1873, 118)
We learn much from just this couple of introductory paragraphs — an Italian with a strong accent, he's daring to peddle his plaster of Paris wares in the centre of nineteenth-century ceramics manufacture. We are also introduced to some of the characters in the "gallery" on his head — Prince Albert, Wellington, Napoleon, and a host of copies of classical statues including the Spinario, or the Boy with Thorn.
In the streets of the nineteenth-century world's rapidly-expanding cities, scores of hawkers plied their wares, their cries competing in the general pandemonium for the attention of passers-by. Amongst the entreaties to buy "Rhubarb!" "Watercress!" or "Cherries, Ripe!" would be heard the cries of these "low foreigners" (Hotten 1860, 205), who would weave amongst the crowds bearing their fragile wares on boards that they carried on their heads, or in baskets slung from a shoulder (or both).
The most visible European migrants on the streets of London in [the early nineteenth century] were the Italians. John Thomas Smith, keeper of prints at the British Museum and a brilliant chronicler and illustrator of London street life before 1820, detected an increase in 'idle foreigners' at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, 'who now infest our streets with their learned mice and chattering monkeys'. 'Italian boys' sold images.(White 2011, 140)
Italian image-sellers mostly originated in the province of Lucca (see map, Figure 4), in the Val di Lima and the mid Serchio Valley (Museo dell'Emigrazione della Gente di Toscana). In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries this was a picturesque but impoverished rural area where families eked out a living farming the slopes of the Appennines.
Les petits villages de la montagne lucquois ‘'où viennent les mouleurs ont un cachet tout a fait spécial. Déjà Heine, dans ses Reisebilder, avait chante les beautés naturelles de ce petit coin de paradis terrestre, dont il disait qu'il n'avait jamais vu rien de plus beau. Entre les buissons de myrtes et les forets de chataigniers, parmi les parfums de roses, dans un cadre de lignes harmonieuses qui expriment toute une civilisation et s'accordent avec le pale azur du ciel, s'elevent des maisonnettes blanches, propres et coquettes, comme de jolies femmes poudrées.7(Paulucci 1909, 96-7)
The rise of the figurinai, the makers and sellers of figurines, appears to have followed the decline of the Della Robbia earthenware manufactory in the late sixteenth century8. While the highly-decorated Della Robbia polychrome wares had been expensive and sold to the elite, plaster of Paris offered a much cheaper method of creating ornaments (Tognarelli 2015).
My research indicates that image-sellers were certainly well known throughout Europe and beyond well before the end of the eighteenth century. They were, by the first years of the nineteenth century, already familiar enough to be the subjects of illustrations in children's books, alphabets, artists' paintings, and Rowlandson's caricatures9. Henry Geyer had been manufacturing plaster of Paris figures in Boston in the 1760s, and it is likely that the trade had been in existence in Europe much earlier10. The anonymous writer (perhaps S. Wood) of Cries of New York11, a small volume for children published in 1808 that has been described as the "first distinctly American picture book" (Anderson 2004, 40) included a woodcut of an image seller (Figure 5).
Although the accompanying text in Cries of New York restricts "images" to representations of animals, the woodcut, probably taken from another publication or a job lot, shows a good selection of human or godly figurines, including a couple of busts, with only a cat and a duck representing non-humans. The seller, who is balancing his board on his hat, no-hands, appears to be about to make a sale, as a boy is approaching, coin in hand.
This man, although his business is not so useful or necessary as some others, yet strives to please by presenting a variety of images, or representations of animals, which he carried around to sell. This is his way to get a living. They are made of plaster of Paris, which is a kind of stone that abounds at Nova-Scotia12.(Wood 1808, 37)
Emigration was a fact of life in poorer parts of Italy, and those with ambition, or simply a need to survive, left the villages in their hundreds, if not thousands, seeking El Dorado. Emigrants from Lucca took with them a skill that arose seemingly by chance in the villages of Barga and Coreglia Antelminelli:
Coreglia Antelminelli was the "capital" from which departed, through the centuries, the most significant numbers of figurinai, followed by Montefegatesi; there were centres in Tereglio, Barga, Bagni di Lucca, Borgo a Mozzano and Camaiore. In Coreglia there was a school, founded by Baron Carlo Vanni14, where he taught how to "throw in the mold" with regular courses in drawing and modeling. From that school came trainers, designers, modelers of this art all its own.(Lera 2015, my translation)
Guiliamo Lera considers that the locals absorbed culture from an early age through folk stories. He also describes people sitting in the shade of beech trees in the summer and by the fire in winter listening to readings of "poems of chivalry, the Divine Comedy, Orlando Furioso and Gerusalemme Liberata"15. He suggests that being immersed in these tales of heroes led the figurinai to incorporate these characters in their creativity, as well as familiar animals (Lera 2015).
The standard system was for a padrone or "master" to collect a small team, a compagnia, usually of young boys. According to Sensi-Isolani a typical compagnia would be made up of a capo16, later known as a padrone, under whom would be several men, garzoni, often close relatives, each destined perhaps, having acquired experience and capital, to later form their own compagnia. Moulds would be carried with them, but the compagnia often included individuals who were skilled enough to sculpt figurines or busts, formatori, who would make new moulds that would meet changing markets and gittatori who cast the figures (Anon 2015a).
The image-makers would often simply make a cast of a Staffordshire figure or similar, and manufacture cheaper plaster versions. The cast making process was called gittatura, or throwing, which referred not to the familiar throwing of clay in the making of pottery, but to the swirling of liquid plaster of Paris around the interior of the mould by the gittatori, and pouring away of any excess, to create a hollow cast. Some plaster casts were painted, usually in garish, often bizarre colours, by pittori and decoratori, while others were left white. The simplest form of decoration of the cheapest casts was simply the soot from a smoking lamp flame. Some casts were varnished, and, later in the nineteenth century, many casts were given a coating of metallic paint to resemble bronze.
Because plaster figures were both fragile and heavy, the figurinai developed a system of mobile production. At first, moulds were be created in Lucca, and taken with the "wandering Italians", who would obtain cheap plaster of Paris wherever they stopped, and would cast their stock in trade in temporary "statuaries". Initially the trade was divided into campagnie, journeys of months or years but leading to an eventual return to Italy. As trading distances grew longer, image-sellers would settle, as they did in London, for longer periods, and often permanently.
Moulds began to be made locally in temporary or permanent workshops17, which gave the figurinai the ability to meet regional demands for celebrities unknown in Italy. In the US, this has caused some confusion, with the plaster of Paris objects often being regarded as originating with the Pennsylvania Dutch and German communities, rather than being created by the peripatetic Italians living temporarily in those communities.
Thomas Archer provides a brief but vivid glimpse of life in the "image shops" that were inhabited by foreign workmen, the modellers of plaster figures, wearing green tunics, blue blouses and concertina-shaped hats and where "grimy cupids swing disconsolately from the ceilings in a dim twilight till the gas is lighted, when they vibrate like monstrous moths intent on self-destruction" (Archer 1865, 66-67). He describes "little illuminated plaster of Paris edifices which Italian image men sell in poor neighbourhoods" (Archer 1865, 45), thus supporting my contention that these artefacts were sold amongst and to working people. The illuminated building would probably have resembled that illustrated in Allis' 1941 article in American Collector magazine (Figure 7).
I have found a number of accounts of plaster of Paris manufactories. A workshop in 1883 Pittsburgh used zinc moulds that cost between $1 and $10 depending on their complexity. Air under pressure was used to force plaster into some moulds, while other figures were made solid. The company imported and rotated moulds as the market became saturated18. Another workshop in Philadelphia, recorded the same year, used gelatine moulds that cost $2 each to make and would last for 50 figures. Plaster cost $1 a barrel, enough to make 500 images. The writer calculated that each figurine cost about 10 cents to make. Better quality figures, made by "American manufacturers of images" used more expensive moulds and more skilled workers. Their images would cost about 40 cents each to make19.
A St Paul, Minnesota, workshop, described in 1885, added salt to the plaster of Paris to make the figures stronger. The journalist calculated that, allowing for the time the plaster took to harden, trimming and varnishing, it would take about two and a half hours to make a George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, to be sold for 50 cents20. In 1903, a reporter from the Indianapolis Sunday Journal discovered that a "dingy" frame building at 505 South Delaware Street was the unprepossessing location of the workshop of Erigo Gauspari, who, with two assistants, manufactured plaster of Paris "statuettes". Here amongst all-enveloping fine white plaster dust, the three "picturesque...dark-skinned image-makers" created miniatures that were to be sold in Indianapolis' department stores, "notion" stores (shops selling haberdashery supplies and other small items) or peddled in the streets. We are told that Guaspari gauged the market, deciding whether to produce "Madonnas, or Beethovens or Shakespeares". Although he despatched the "young Italian peddlers" to the residential areas of the city, he also had contracts for his "frail little images" with large department and china shops, and that "hundreds and hundreds of little statuettes that are to be seen in Indianapolis households were carefully planned and more carefully manufactured" in the "modest little workshop".
Their subjects were either reduced from full-sized statues and other artworks and, later, photographs, copied or moulded from the output of potteries, or originals were created using local intelligence. It was likely that erotic and pornographic images were easier to make in the small-scale and often back room plaster of Paris statuary than in the factory setting of a pottery. Plaster of Paris figures could be created more quickly than their ceramic equivalents, and the design abandoned more quickly should the subject fall from actual and/or commercial grace (Charton 1850, 389).
Although figurinai might stay in a particular location for some time, they often did not put down roots. Linda Villari explained this eloquently in 1885:
[The] figurinaj [sic], the plaster image men...with their trays of brittle distortions of famous statues, are to be met with in almost every part of the globe...but the Italian race being ever essentially home-loving, these Lucchesi seldom settle abroad. Sooner or later they find their way back to their native place21.(Villari 1885, 137-8)
Aside from her revealing implication that the wares of image-sellers were hardly accurate representations of great works of sculpture, Villari implies that in 1885 image-sellers were active in "almost every part of the globe". Interestingly she later mentions "sulphur-moulds", a technique described in The Penny Magazine of June 1844 (Anon 1844, 236) that involved melting sulphur and then pouring the thickening material around the object to be moulded.
The trade in plaster min iatures was a hugely significant economic factor in Lucca (Figure 8). At the beginning of the twentieth century, when the figurinai's trade was in decline, the post office in Montefegatesi, near Coreglia, still received 100,000 francs22 every year from abroad. Some of this would have originated in larger-scale enterprises set up by emigrants, but most would have come from individuals scattered across the globe. This income flow would have been correspondingly higher at the peak of the trade, about 50 years earlier.
Paola Sensi-Isolani considers the story of the emigration of the figurinai to be "in many ways unique" since for 300 years it "scattered the inhabitants of a few villages to four continents". She stresses the ingenuity of the figurine-makers and sellers, and believes that "the objects d'art and busts of culture heroes they sold help us understand the relationship between the artistic tastes of middle, upper and working-classes, and give us some indication of the historical figures they considered important" (Sensi-Isolani 1990).
Image sellers' lives, reality and romance
It was a quiet sort of petty trade(Sponza 1988, 75)
Lucio Sponza, in his 1988 book exploring Italian immigration into nineteenth century Britain, suggests that: "modellers and their street vendors hardly caught the eye of the keen observer of the picturesque among the London poor" (Sponza 1988, 75). He points out that Henry Mayhew23 appears not to have noticed them in his perambulations, but as my survey in Appendices I and II reveals, writers and artists had indeed often observed and commented on these peddlers.
For example, in 1894, late in his life, journalist George Sala looked back at his boyhood in the 1840s and remembered buying "plaster casts" from "Italian image boys" who would congregate in the portico of Hanover Chapel, Regent Street: "They were wont to loiter on week-days under the columns of the portico, and rest their burdens on the pedestals". Sala tells of their swarthy complexions and "flashing black eyes", and of the boards they carried on their heads "crowded with plaster-of-Paris effigies of the Venus of Milo, the Huntress Diana, the Triumphal Augustus, Canova's Three Graces, the Dying Gladiator, Shakespeare, the Great Duke of Wellington and last, but not least, Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria". By the time he was writing, Sala mused that the image boys were "a race who appear to me to have almost entirely vanished from the Metropolis" (Sala 1894, 228-9).
Writing in the Nottinghamshire Guardian in 1882, "Aunt Maggie" tells us that: "I have a vivid recollection of a little Italian image boy, with his brown skin and liquid dark eyes, bearing a board on his head covered with grotesque looking dolls clothed in wool, who had the assurance to ask: 'Buy a Sha'speer, Mees?' That was all the English he could muster, but it was enough for Stratford that day [the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth]" (Nottinghamshire Guardian, Friday, April 14, 1882).
Sala's recollection of the image-sellers' "flashing black eyes" and Aunt Maggie's memory of "brown skin and liquid dark eyes" are examples of a fascination with the appearance of Italian image-sellers and makers. We learn from the writer in the Indianapolis Sunday Journal in 1903, for example, that with his "twinkling black eyes", Antonio Tomeoni, an image-maker who had newly arrived in the city from Italy, was as "handsome as many of statuettes of Apollo which he makes himself" and that he and his compatriots were "picturesque". Leigh Hunt oozed in 1834: :"how many of these sun-tinted dark-eyed wanderers from the south have we not encountered, all with some individual charm, some touch of spirit their clay, as if the soul of the sculptor had animated the forms with which their pursuit had made them acquainted"24.
Writers enthused that "ITALIA's sun-burnt native" (Harris 1804, 28) might be a "black eyed, sun-burnt urchin" (Smith 1830, 12), amongst "sun-tinted dark-eyed wanderers" (The Monthly Repository 1834, 756), with his "coal-black eye...his curly locks, his sallow cheeks" (Smith 1841, 243), a "little black-eyed black-haired and dark-skinned Italian" (The Cairo Bulletin, January 21st 1882), a "handsome, black-eyed fellow" (The Indianapolis Journal, March 17th 1889) with "black hair and a sallow face" (Hardy 1895).
The "son of the sunny south" (Williamette Farmer, June 30th 1882) came from "Sunny Italy" (Anon 1845; The Graphic January 10 1874; Greenwood 1876, 111-2; The Sunday Journal, January 25th, 1903). He would miss "the sun that warms [his] native soil" (Smith 1841, 243). Leigh Hunt in The Monthly Repository, notices "their glances of expressive admiration—nay, affection—for the objects of their occupation" and asks that we "hear their eloquent description of the different works of art with which they are familiar" and then compares them with local "ragged urchins" who "infest" the streets. Never disregarding the cry of "buy images!" the writer tells of a head bearing the "weight of white beauties" (Hunt 1834, 756).
We know from a number of illustrations (see Appendix I) what some image sellers wore, though it seems that there was no general "uniform". At the beginning of the nineteenth century sellers were pictured wearing long jackets and wide-brimmed hats25. By the 1820s many image-boys appeared to have adopted a short jacketand a narrow-brimmed or brimless padded hat26. Many adult figurinai wore long white coats27. This costume may have been the result of clothing becoming white with plaster dust. An 1884 fancy-dress manual adds:
PICCOLINO. An Italian image seller. Waistcoat of scarlet cloth fastened round the waist with a sash of brown silk. Green plush knee breeches. Drab cloth gaiters. Sugarloaf hat trimmed with wild flowers. Board of images on the shoulder, the jacket slung at the back28.(Anon 1884, 69)
Leather Lane and Saffron Hill
Hosts of Italian masters also congregate in [Saffron Hill]; and the screams of the unfortunate boys, who writhe beneath the lash of their furious employers on their return some after an unsuccessful day with their organs, monkies, white mice, or chalk images, mingle with the other appalling or disgusting sounds, which make night in that district truly hideous.(Reynolds 1845, 45)
George Pardon, in his Popular Guide to London, lists "the producers of plaster casts and images in Leather-Lane, Holborn and the surrounding courts" (Pardon 1862). Richard Rowe waxes eloquent when he writes of an 1868 visit to St Alban's parish:
But a still queerer locality is the parish's eastern limit, long, narrow Leather Lane. So very narrow is its cleft-like Holborn end, that when, owing to diversion of traffic, an omnibus gets there, it seems as if it must necessarily stick, like a fat man in an arm-chair, between the forward-leaning walls. On either hand there is a shop with an Italian name on the lintel, Italian images in plaster and terra-cotta in the windows, and plaster "roses" hung like shields upon the door-posts.(Rowe 1881, 356)
Charles Manby Smith noted that in the area of London he scornfully disguised as "Lagsmanbury" lived "a various and vagabond multitude of foreigners"29. He described some of these as "poor exiles, spoiled for all useful purposes by the reception of our national bounty — starving on a trumpery pittance which they ought long ago to have learned to do without, and too proud and lazy to work to increase it". But here too were "makers and hawkers of plaster images, roaming the street by day, and modelling their wares by night" (Smith 1857, 138).
Children would be contracted, often by their desperate parents, into the charge of a master in exchange for money and/or goods. It was reported in 1890 the "parents of five little boys had sold their offspring for a bottle of olive oil and $2 apiece"30. This newspaper story may have been a racist and sensationalising exaggeration, but given the treatment that many of the boys experienced it is probably not too wide of the mark. On witnessing the treatment of image boys in 1837 London, the Italian reformer and agitator Mazzini declared that this was "a species of white slave trade" and not only formed an association for their protection and, in 1841, The Italian Free School, but also took masters to court for assaulting their charges (Zucchi 1992, 25). There were accounts of beatings well into the twentieth century: Raniero Paulucci di Calboli reported abuses meted out to Italian boys in France in his 1909 book Larmes et sourires de l'émigration italienne31.
Not everyone welcomed the increasing numbers of Italians wandering the country, often wielding parrots. Travelling in Scotland, the Chambers brothers bemoaned the fact that: "The days of highland romance are entirely gone. Instead of seeing the bonneted chieftain with his claymore, or even a kilted billy, striding down the braes, your musings are broken in upon by the apparition of an Italian image-seller, resting beneath the tufted rock by the wayside, and who is on an expedition to disseminate painted parrots and Bonapartes over the country of Rob Roy and Maccullamore" (Chambers and Chambers 1836, 309).
The lives of image sellers, whether boys or adults, were often hard, sometimes violent and occasionally brutal. Several image sellers were murdered: an Italian image boy was killed in London in 1831 in order to sell his body32, and in 1882 an elderly image seller was murdered in Dayton, Ohio, for his not inconsiderable savings. Their precariously-transported and fragile wares were accidentally or deliberately broken, and sometimes stolen, as in the 1890 case of Pietro Passarotti, who went to the Bristol home of William Mitchard, who took two busts from the Italian and put the on his mantelpiece, then Mitchard dragged the unfortunate man into his backyard, stole 15 shillings and poured dirty water over him33.
The Morning Chronicle in 1834 reported that "Antonio Caracel, an Italian image-hawker, charged a cab-driver with having committed wholesale destruction upon his stock in trade, consisting of a great number of Napoleon's and Wellington's heads, and the heads of others who were illustrious in other respects". He had about 30 heads upon his shoulders, worth about 20 shillings.
Figure 9 illustrates the plight of Aristide Borelli, who was beaten by passers by in Paris and his stock of images destroyed. Ironically, he is likely to have received a second beating from his master on returning without either stock or money. Note both his tray, with its cord edging and lack of spikes, his padded hat, his basic equipment, and the figure of Venus in the foreground.
This event, recorded in La Domenica del Corriere magazine in Italy, but probably also in France, may have provide the inspiration for the 1907 Pathé Brothers film Le Petit Marchand de Statuettes34 (The Little Statuette Seller) which told a similar story of hardship and brutality but had a happy ending. A second film35 with the same title was made in 1913, but this time the story was a romantic comedy. The 1909 song Le Petit Marchand de Statuettes, recorded by Berthe Sylva in 1938 (see Chapter 9) echoes the same theme.
L'hiver est dur, la bise est froide
Alan Rauch's suggestion that the Italian image-sellers were considered "endearing rather than threatening" (Rauch 2013) is perhaps borne out by a poem (or ballad) by a minor writer, identified only as "Upton", who reminds us of the hard life led by the Image Boys:
O, YE who can feel for the offspring of grief,
Give ear to an alien, that sues for relief,
From the cravings of hunger and outcast defend,
Bereft of a parent, relation or friend:
Pity, pity a stranger, debarred of all joy,
A destitute, wandering Italian Boy.(Upton 1826, 3)36
Another poem37, this time captioning a photograph on a French postcard posted in 1903 (Figure 10) includes the lines "L'hiver est dur, la bis est froid" ("Winter is hard, the wind is cold; See, my hand is blue and stiff").
In describing an accident involving an image-seller (Figure 11) Jerome K. Jerome wrote that: "I have seen a good deal of trouble in my life, but never one yet that did not have an Italian image-vendor somehow or other mixed up in it. Where these boys hide in times of peace is a mystery. The chance of being upset brings them out as sunshine brings out flies" (Jerome 1905, 292).
Image-boys and image-men, their personalities and the precarious manner in which they carried their wares, attracted comment, both amused and serious. In 1874, The Graphic, in reviewing Weisz's engraving A Tempting Offer, reported that: "Cynics used to assert that these itinerant vendors never sold any of their brittle wares, but that once or twice a day they used to run against a prosperous-looking benevolent old gentleman, overturn the contents of their board, and receive on the spot liberal compensation for the damage effected"38. This probably apocryphal story was repeated several times during the century and formed the kernel of a short story, An Iconoclast (Figure 12). There was a similar story circulating amongst newspapers and magazines in the mid 1800s39.
The 1907 Selig Polyscope film The Book Worm features a man who walks the streets reading a book, obliviously bumping into a variety of characters as he makes his way along and, inevitably, "he encounters an Italian image-seller, whose tray is knocked off his head and the sidewalk covered with broken images. The Dago demands pay, but not getting it, pelts the bookworm with the fragments" (Internet Movie Database).
"As many heads as a Hydra": The Romantic Image-Seller
Poets, both renowned and forgotten, took notice of image-sellers. In 1805, Wordsworth in his autobiographical Prelude, mentioned an image seller, "The Italian", in the midst of London's "hubbub":
The Italian, as he thrids his way with care,
Steadying, far-seen, a frame of images,
Upon his head; with basket at his breast41(Wordsworth 1850, 180)
Wordsworth also encountered an "adventurous boy" in 1820, a London-bound "Italian Itinerant", whilst travelling in Europe, who would, on his head:
…poise a show
Of Images in seemly row;
The graceful form of milk-white Steed,
Or Bird that soared with Ganymede;
Or through our hamlets thou wilt bear
The sightless Milton, with his hair
Around his placid temples curled;
And Shakspeare at his side—freight,
If clay could think and mind were weight,
For him who bore the world! 42(Wordsworth 1822, 33)
In her 1842 poem Lines, occasioned by seeing an Italian Image-Boy asleep on a doorstep with his face turned towards the morning sun, a minor poet, Mrs Gore (almost certainly Catherine Gore) compares the image-boy's "rugged" life in the midst of "soot-suited London's grim and harsh routine" with his Italian homeland. In London, "the dreariest city under Heaven's expanse", he is surrounded by "rumbling wheels — the cries of petty trade — the coarse rebuke of pride, in oaths conveyed," hollow laughter, ribald jests and "vulgar clamours". She hopes the sun will cheer his blood and "Italianize" his dream, with memories of "sunbright" homeland with its "sad-hued olive-grounds, the golden plain...roving vines...orange blooms…...ine woods...gleaming lakes...white-walled hamlets. She imagines that his "young brethren, pausing in their play, lift up their little swarthy hands in prayer"43. Of course, in truth, the Italian boy had escaped, willingly or not, the crushing poverty of his homeland.
Horace Smith, brother of poet James Smith, was the author of The Italian Image-Boy, a sketch published in his Midsummer Medley of 183044. In it he stalks a "black-eyed, sun-burnt urchin" along lanes near Kennington, on the way noting the boy's cargo, which "enables us to place celestials upon our shelves, and keep a Mount Olympus of our own, at the expense of a few shillings". Smith suggests that "an Image Boy", with his load of "mimic gods and goddesses", "is the last lingering remnant of Paganism". So intent is the writer in eulogising the "gush of Thessalian and Arcadian air" that he experiences as he muses over the array of plaster images, that he loses sight of his subject, who suddenly turns down "Gravel Lane", leaving the author to trudge unhappily along a footpath past a brick-kiln, in reluctant earshot of two fish-women (Smith 1830, 12-26).
Like his brother, Smith compares the Italian's "finest relics of antiquity" with the "wretched collection of painted plaster dolls, lions, monsters, shapeless allegorical nondescripts, with here and there a sprawling whole-length cross-legged Milton or Shakespeare" that English image sellers had previously hawked. He then continues to enthuse over the busts of famous authors ("busts are delightful") until the image boy reappears, crying: "Buy any image! Buy any image!" The figures on his "pantheon for the divine minds, the intellectual heroes and demigods, the inheritors of fame of every clime and epoch" include Homer, Socrates and Sappho, the statesman George Canning, Benjamin Franklin and Voltaire, Antonius, the lover of Hadrian, a "charming" piping faun "leaning against a tree", and Apollo (the author already has two Apollos, and rejects a friend's claim that the figure is effeminate)45. He pays the image boy, whose name is Nasoni (big nose), and finishes by deciding he is a descendant of Ovid and that "the gods and goddesses whom this illustrious ancestor carried in his head, the juvenile descendant carries on his head" (Smith 1830, 26).
Whilst at the beginning of the century, image-sellers were regarded with curiosity, as interesting, exotic strangers, by the mid-century they had been caught up in the general mood of romanticism. Illustrations changed from being simply illustrations, instructive or humorous, to being moody and allegorical.
An early example is Jean Henri de Coene's A la Sante de l'Ancien — A toast to the old times (1834), in which a white (plaster?) figurine of Napoleon is brandished at the brightly-lit centre of the painting46. Fendi's 1841 female Figurine Seller, young, rosy-cheeked and beautiful, is upstaged by the praying angel figure she is carrying47. The ethereal figures on the tray William James Muller's 1843 Image Seller is balancing on his head echo and perhaps contrast with the towers and roofs of the townscape in the background48. Francis William Edmonds painted an American domestic scene49 filled with light and meaning, from a Napoleon at the pinnacle of the scene, through to a bust of Washington being explained by an old man to a boy and an old lady being tempted by a bowl of brightly-coloured fruits. James Collinson's Italian Image – Boys at a Roadside Alehouse (1849) dates from his flirtation with the Pre-Raphaelites, with impassive softly-lit faces and warm colours50. His slightly later Image Boy (1858) 51swarthy, large-eyed, with well-worn clothes, stands in vivid contrast with the gleaming white bust of Clytie he is holding.
William Daniels was so taken with the idea of the image-seller that he painted himself as one, in Self Portrait with Casts (1850) (Figure 13). He gazes at us from the shadows beneath a tray full of worthies, and cradles a bust of Homer in his left arm. A goddess stands proudly at the painting's zenith, next to Shakespeare. A very different painting, Daniel's The Italian Image Seller contrasts the whiteness of figures of Clytie and Hermes with the scruffy but steady-gazed image-seller, his clothes dusted with plaster. A squall is approaching in the background, underlining the toughness of the peddlers' lives52.
Two little girls stand at the centre of Hugh Cameron's 1862 painting The Italian Image Seller. The exhausted Italian lies sleeping, gazed at by one of the girls, while the other admires his tray of statuettes, which include Walter Scott and Milton53. The French Quarter Statuette and Doll Peddler, painted in 1884 by Alfred Boisseau, is tanned and handsome. His wares shine against a dark background, in which only the seller's face glows54.
The hardship of image-sellers' lives is shown by Carl von Stetten's painting Jeunes sculpteurs sur un pont à Paris, l'ancien Trocadéro à la distance (1888)55. They lean against a parapet beside the Seine, the elder, his arms crossed, looking wearily off into a distance we cannot share, while the younger, a child, holds us in his exhausted gaze. They wear grubby coats and scuffed shoes. Evening is creeping mistily over the old Trocadero on the far bank. At the very edge of the painting a hooded, cringing figurine of Winter seems to be trying to conceal her nakedness from the attention of a large Apollo.
The romanticism of the image seller was still present in Geo Roelandt's 1924 painting Le Marchand de Statuettes, though is tempered by the drawn features of the image-seller and his direct but doleful gaze56.
As immigrants, Italian image-sellers brought with them elements of their home culture, and of course their native language. Whilst they may have conversed with each other in Italian, they were having to sell to, and therefore communicate with, potential customers who spoke a variety of languages.
The cries of image-sellers had many variations. Although I have yet to come across what image-sellers shouted in the streets of Russia or China, records of a few other cries in have survived. "Buy images!" is the most frequently reported, along with just "Images!" "Buy my images!" and "Buy any images!" Some sellers added "Very pretty!" and "Very cheap." They would sometimes announce a particularly popular figure such as "Sellee ze image! Sellee ze image! Garibaldi, George Wash!"57 In Sweden they shouted "Plaster cats!" ("Gipskatter"), in Germany "Gipsbilder!" Their strong accents might result in "Himachees!" and "Vera beautiful!" and "Vary sheep!"58 The 1856 ballad Come Buy My Pretty Images mimics the Italian accent: "dese" "de" "vill" "wid" "nevair" "noting"59. In the song Le Petit Marchand de Statuettes (1909) we hear Berthe Sylva beg "Santi belli, signor? Santi belli Signora?" a cry familiar in France and Italy60.
One of the strangest cries was that heard in 1857 Strasbourg. Seen from this century this cry appears to be either nonsense or somewhat obscene ("pippeli" is slang for penis in some northern countries). However it may incorporate forgotten nineteenth-century slang:
Do not forget, because this is one of the prettiest cries of Strasbourg, the Piedmontese who cheerfully announce their figures or statuettes: "Pippeli kof! Buy statuettes!" and who had even one day the fancy to improvise a nice song by saying: "Gäli Pippeli, grüni Pippeli, Pippeli Poppeli Pippeli kof!"(Kestner 1857; my translation)61
Whilst the Dutch beeld can translate directly as "image" in the three-dimensional physical sense, the French image, by the nineteenth century, seems to be limited to two-dimensional pictures. Like French, other languages tended to use the material composition of the figures to describe them and their peddlers; i.e. as sellers of plaster of Paris figures. I have not carried out an exhaustive survey, but there appears to be no equivalent attention to sellers of earthenware figures anywhere (see below), though in English (and perhaps Dutch) the word "image" was also used for them. In the south of France and northern Spain the cry of "Santi Belli" evolved to become "Santons," or "Santicos," a word describing the figurines still used in often-elaborate nativity scenes. So familiar was the phrase "Santi Belli!" that in France it became a general term for a plaster of Paris statuette, whatever it represented. And if you were someone who was "sans action et sans movement" you were called a Santi-Belli (Avril 1839, 413). The word "gypsum" gave rise to "gips" in several languages. The original is ancient — gypos in Greek, gypsum in Latin, jibs in Arabic, gephes in Hebrew.
Throughout the nineteenth century writers frequently made fun of the struggles native Italian speakers had with English. It was often, it seems "a broken English pronunciation of which type can convey no adequate impression"62. Antonio Tomeoni, admits that he doesn't like going from house to house on snow and ice: "I am not so vera gooda on da slip'ry"63. The Sacramento Daily Union, in 1898, having fun at an image-seller's expense, includes this doggerel:
"Dat-a Napolyun, Napolyun ze gret. Dat-a good likeness...Yaas, I mak-a dem. Mak-a de mold, too. You want-a buy dat-a piece uv Vognah, de gret moosishin. Dat look-a fin on a da piano...Dat-a Venus duh Meelo. Thirty cent-a. Dat cheap…Nah; nah! Dat-a no broken. De statute hav-a no arrums. Dah nevveh find-a da arrums. Nobody know what-a she do with her arrums. Dat no broke...I tell-a you dat no damage. Dat Statue de fines' in all de worl'. It ees wort millions dollas...Yessah. Without any arms. Dis-a good copy. Thirty cents I make it to you foh a quarter." 64
In The San Francisco Call, James Crawford's colourful report on a 1904 licencing case quotes the plaintiff, one "Signor J Pelechi" as complaining:
"Whatta da use of the artist trya ta maka da leev if he peenched when he no hava da lice? Ha, ha! Itta maka me seeck…Malatesta…Sella da stat no maka damon lack sella da feesh. Catcha da feesh—maka da stat, eh? Paya da lice an' be brok all da time, eh? Ha, ha! Notta mooch! No, sare!"65
Missionaries of art
Those...venders of images, by selling for a few pence the plaster busts of great men and casts from ancient works of art, may pretend to the dignity of traders, and even have the merit of improving and propagating a taste for the fine arts(Anon 1833, 42)
That the statuettes they sold might have an educational impact is underlined by a paragraph published in The Theosophist magazine in 1880:
An eloquent and famous American preacher once said, in an address upon the Fine Arts, that he never could see an Italian image vendor enter a poor man's cabin without feeling that he ought to lift his hat to him as to a real missionary of Art. For, rude and coarse as might be the images he carried, they still embodied at least a rudimentary idea of sculpture, and that lay latent in the mind of the poor man's son. This was a great truth that the preacher uttered, and recalls the old familiar proverb, "Despise not the day of small things".(The Theosophist, Vol. I, No. 6, March, 1880, p. 163)
The profusion of miniature representations of ancient statues along with writers, playwrights and notables could have been the result of "missionary aestheticism". As Maltz points out "a desire to teach the poor an appreciation of beauty pervades the literature of even the most practical late Victorian programs for the social reform of the working classes" (Maltz 2006, 2). The view that the working classes appreciated "art" is suggested by Charles Manby Smith, who, writing in 1857, claims that "there never was a time when [the industrial classes] would not have looked with pleasure upon a picture" but he felt that "rude images and quaint casts or carvings constituted the only sort of domestic art familiar to the people" (Smith 1857, 239-40). Leigh Hunt, ever the poet, enthuses "‘Buy images!' Who ever hears the cry now-a-days without turning to the moving miniature sculpture gallery, and looking upwards to discover what new treasure of old art has been rendered accessible to eye and pocket? ...a thorough appreciation of art of every kind is one of the surest safeguards of the spirituality of people" (Hunt 1834, 756).
A writer in the Sunday Journal considered that the craftsmen knew "more about the masterpieces of sculpture then do many of the self-satisfied art critics, and, when one comes to think of it, is not a community greatly benefited by their presence? In the pursuance of their labor they really do more to improve the general taste, to place copies of known sculpture within the reach of all, and to familiarize the public with what is good, then any school (which only a few can attend), then any gallery (which the working classes seldom visit), or any other institution in the country"66.
That these humble objects could have a positive influence even upon fertility was stressed by the "Lecturer and Correspondent on Social Purity" Ida C. Craddock who, in her 1899 book Right Marital Living (which provided advice on living "healthy, wholesome, chaste lives as husband and wife") advises her readers to "choose a suitable environment for the moment of impregnation" and to create a "temple for a sacred rite". This should not be overloaded with "gewgaws and meaningless bric-a-brac" and need not be expensive, for "you can get, from any Italian image-vendor, cheap plaster of Paris statuettes which are copies of the world's masterpieces" (Craddock 1899, 44).
"C.F.O" the perhaps advisedly anonymous writer of a syrupy sketch, published in 1852 in The Cambridge Courier (Massachusetts), is inspired by the "poor Italian boy" to gush fulsomely on "The Sense of the Beautiful":
"Images! Images!" The sound falls on the ear with a foreign accent, and there in the street, stands the poor Italian boy, with his tray balanced on his head waiting for a purchaser for his pretty wares. There are beautifully shaped vases, urns of classic mould, and various figures, among which the favorite Fisher-boy, and Samuel are conspicuous
The writer also lists a "Guardian angel" and "Friendship" ("a boy and dog") and is pleased that: "Yonder mechanic has taken in his hard and toil-worn hand that delicate image, the kneeling Samuel. His clear eye looks with pleasure on that innocent upturned countenance. He carries it home to be a joy and a pleasure to his wife, and to shed a refining influence over his simple abode".
Like other commentators at the time "C.F.O." approves of the apparent demise of earlier images:
A few years ago, cheap, coarse, red and yellow vases of fruit, or demi-figures in plaster of showy colors, or daubs of pictures of men in red coats and sky-blue pantaloons, of women in scarlet gowns, purple shawls, and green bonnets, of children robed in every color of the rainbow, and military men in coats like Joseph's of many colors — these were the attractions laid before the uneducated and unrefinedtastes of the community(C.F.O. 1852 np)
He goes on to contrast these unsophisticated images with the more tasteful "pure, white images…refined and graceful forms" that will eventually provide the uneducated with an "exquisite appreciation of the truly beautiful" (ibid)67.
Did you ever sell any? Image-seller humour
Image sellers were often the butt of clumsy and sometimes cruel humour. There are repeated references to them having their tray of fragile deliberately toppled from their heads, and much mirth at their emotional reaction to the destruction of their stock. We are told about explosions of strong language, and of tears. Sometimes the jape became a crime, as those causing the destruction directed their attention to the sellers themselves. Much of the humour originated in making fun of the Italians' lack of English or strong accents. People also enjoyed hoodwinking the Italians, though of course the Italians also made fun of the credulity of their customers.
Plaster of Paris was sometimes referred to as "chalk" (viz "chalkware" in the US) so the miniscule cartoon column-filler in Figure 14 was illustrating a simple pun. Despite its small size, we can almost identify a couple of images (a bow pot, the Borghese Gladiator), and note the usual short jacket and tattered appearance of the unfortunate image seller. A similar filler (Figure 15) and a similar pun features an image-seller struggling to "sustain" an improbably large group of statuettes.
Even reality was sometimes peculiar, with a vein of humour. At one point in his otherwise grim exploration of London, George Reynolds describes an Italian "statuary" who operated a "depository" of plaster of Paris figures. Here he found "a strange assembly of images":
Heathen gods seemed to fraternize with angels, Madonnas, and Christian saints; Napoleon and Wellington stood motionless side by side; George the Fourth and Greenacre occupied the same shelf; William Pitt and Cobbett appeared to be contemplating each other with silent admiration; Thomas Paine elbowed a bishop; Lord Castlereagh seemed to be extending his hand to welcome Jack Ketch; Cupid pointed his arrow at the bosom of a pope68(Reynolds 1845, 173)
Reynolds mischievously pairs opposing and ill-matched characters; king with criminal, bishop with anti-religious reformer, amorous Cupid and celibate Pope, Napoleon and Wellington. But in doing so he also demonstrates the range of "types" that people sought and bought; not only heroes but also anti-heroes, revolutionaries and reformers, royalty and rogues. The ordinary people of the time were happy to have heathen gods or angels on their mantelpieces, and perhaps both. Reynolds also gives us a rare insight as to how the figure modellers worked. When presented with a potential model, a young woman, the Italian quickly measured her head and then, having ascertained that he had orders booked for "a queen, an opera-dancer and a Madonna", states that he will use the model's head as the basis of all three. So much for the "images" accurately matching the actual appearance of the individuals they were supposed to represent!
A similar wry humour is at the heart of James Greenwood's observation that fact that the "images" were hollow had some utilitarian benefits beyond fixing them to the peddler's tray and hiding contraband. It was in "The Italy of Leather Lane" in the mid 1800s that he recorded something of a performance during which the lunch — part of a half-quartern sized loaf of bread — of "a ragged young native of sunny Italy" whose hands were full balancing his "head-load of chalk images and monuments" was squeezed inside "an effigy of St Paul's Cathedral" (Greenwood 1876, 111-2).
There was great interest in 1843 in the placing of the statue at the top of Nelson's column. Punch was suitably impressed:
We have since seen the statue itself, which is a very excellent copy of the large plaster of Paris figures of Napoleon. We fancied we had seen it before in the New Road, but we suspect we are confounding our own heads with those chalky productions of art we have seen on the heads of the Italian image boys(Anon 1843b, 197)
In 1849 The Public Ledger published a satirical letter written to Lord Derby, then leader of the Tory party and seen as sympathetic to the Catholic church. The letter complains that "Italian Image Boys" who, having previously sold "plaster busts" of Shakespeare, the Duke of Wellington and "such innocent subjects" were now attempting to sell "Papistical images" of the crucifix, Madonnas and "Angel Guardians," much to the annoyance of various "old maids." Carried on the heads of the image boys and in "manifest danger of being broken" these images were contrasted with the "small and large" "modest" images of the Greek Slave, Dancing Nymphs and Venuses "dressed in every way to suit the hot season of the year"69.
A negative review of the "masque" The Ruins of Athens performed (if that was the correct word for what the critic described as a "signal failure") at the Princess's Theatre, London in the March 6th 1846 edition of The Morning Post declared that "To crown the whole, the great Shakspere [sic] was represented by one of the statuettes which are hawked about the streets of London, at a shilling apiece, by the Italian image-sellers". In a similar burst of journalistic colour, Henry Mayhew shows that he must have been familiar with the subject by describing elderly chaperones at a German ball at midnight: "every one of the heads of the aged dames in black stuff nodding away, as though they were so many plaster casts of cats with movable necks arranged along the board of some Italian image seller" (Mayhew 1865, 55).
In a telling and light-hearted glimpse of the world of 1866 London, in The Boy Detective the writer, while exploring "Houses of the Dangerous Classes" bought "an old-fashioned plaster image from an Italian" and put it in his coat pocket. He then paid a visit to a house in a less salubrious area of Whitehall, and as he left "one of the occupants presented him with the figure, which had been dexterously extracted from his pocket, whether as a specimen of skill, or as a hint that the visitor had been treated with a certain amount of hospitality, was not clear" (Anon 1866, 232).
What image sellers sold
The minor poet James Smith, romantically and informatively described "The Image Boy" in his London Lyrics. We learn that the boy haunts Somerset House, has "coal black" eyes, sallow skin and curly hair, wears a plaster-dusted brown apron and carries a board of statuettes of ancient Greek characters. These are an improvement on the previous "tawdry" stock of carrot-haired Queen Victorias, milk maids, poodles, Wesleys and parrots. He lists Arthur, Milton, Locke, Heracles, Abelard and Heloise, Cleopatra, Tsar Alexander I and Napoleon as being amongst his stock.
Smith mulls the fact that the image seller might know the names of the figurines, but not their stories, and amuses us by contrasting the intellectual's knowledge of these luminaries with the Italian Boy carrying them on top of his head70. Using information from the sources in Appendices I and II, I have so far identified over 200 subjects (ignoring, for example, different types of cat — sitting, lying, standing, nodding etc). The significance in listing these (below), is that each one of those objects came with an intrinsic message provided by the makers and sellers (often, in the case of plaster of Paris images, the same people).
I discuss parrots (parrots) and cats below (cats). Other animals that are readily visible in contemporary illustrations include dogs, horses, sheep, pigs, birds, lions, chickens, cattle, rabbits and deer. The preponderance of domesticated animals amongst plaster images suggests that less well-off people were seeking links to a pastoral, or perhaps rural way of life. One that at the beginning of the nineteenth century would have been remembered by many workers who had moved to cities, but by the end of the century would have been a fantasy, a nostalgia for something never experienced. The same is true of Staffordshire figures, but these also include a greater number of wild beasts. More exotic animals are rarely mentioned as being sold by figurinai: occasionally a "giraffe"71 or a "lion" and a baboon72. This is strange, in that they copied and even made moulds of many Staffordshire originals. They were either responding to a lack of demand or these animals were simply not recorded.
Although it is difficult to judge which were "best-sellers", assuming that image-sellers reacted to the demands of the market as well as influencing it, it is significant that the majority (41 per cent) of characters listed below were celebrities, literary figures, actors and actresses, heroes and heroines and political figures. Classical figures made up some 35 per cent of characters, with religious figures trailing at 17 per cent. Given that there were fewer characters to choose from, the proportion of classical figures is highly suggestive of high levels of sales.
CHARACTERS SOLD BY FIGURINAI
Abelarde and Heloise
Alexander I (Tsar) Angels†
Cyrano de Bergerac**
De la Fayette**
Figures by Messerschmidt*
Friendship (boy and dog)
Isis Jenny Lind**
Locke Lord Howe**
Madonna (and child)† Mars*
Mrs Carrie Nation***
Nymph and Satyr*
Poodles Pope Alexander†
Samuel (praying, infant)†
Spinario (boy with thorn) Spring and Summer*
Tam O'Shanter and Souter Jonnie**
The Republic (France)*
Wesley William J Bryan**
Woman bitten by Snake (Clesinger)*
*"Classical" characters: 35%
** Literary figure, politician, hero/heroine, celebrity: 41%
† Religious (Christian) figures: 17%
Last updated December 2020
The panorama is only 115mm high, though 5.7m long.
It also appears, in French, in Paulucci di Calboli’s 1909 book Larmes et sourires de l'émigration italienne so was probably widely known (Paulucci 1909, 101).
I presented at a conference in 2015 during which two Italian academics in the audience expressed their astonishment that they had not heard of this activity.
The small villages amongst the Lucca mountains from whence come the figurinai leave a quite special impression. In his Reisebilder["Travel Pictures"], Heine sang the natural beauty of this little corner of paradise, of which he said he had never seen anything more beautiful. Among myrtle bushes and chestnut forests, surrounded by the scent of roses, in a harmonious landscape that expresses an entire civilization and matches the pale blue of the sky, are clean and tidy white-fronted houses, as pretty as powdered women. [my approximate translation]
A maker of plaster of Paris figures was also known as a gessaio or gessaiuolo. The sellers of figures were also called stuchcinai (Mattioli 1879, 680) and previously stucchini. The makers and sellers themselves preferred figurinai (Paulucci 1909).
Nova Scotia is still a significant producer of gypsum, the raw material of plaster of Paris.
Founded in 1883. Vanni lived in Vienna.
Orlando Furioso was a sixteenth century epic poem by Ludovico Ariosto that celebrated love and chivalry. Gerusalemme Liberata was a sixteenth century epic poem by Torquato Tasso that fictionalized the First Crusade.
Capo translates as "boss" or "head", garzoni as "boys" or "journeymen".
Approx €370,00 (http://www.leparticulier.fr/jcms/c_109215/conversion-en-francs/euros-constants-les-nouvelles-valeurs-2010) = approx £300,000.
Mayhew appears to have intended to include them in a later volume, but failed to do so.
"Lagsmansbury" referred to Bedfordbury, near Leicester Square and Covent Garden (Allen 1998, 166).
An aristocratic diplomat and longtime campaigner against the trafficking of children (Papadia 2014), Paulucci di Calboli nevertheless appears to have had more sympathy for image sellers than organ grinders, who he regarded as an "obnoxious plague" (Sponza 1988, 282).
The Prelude, Book VII, Residence in London.
Plumtree Court was also recorded as "Plumb Tree Court" and "Plumptre Court".
The "milk-white Steed" may have been a play on the white plaster and, perhaps, Pegasus; the "Bird that soared with Ganymede" was Zeus, in the form of an eagle; busts of Milton invariably have long, curly hair; "Shakspeare" was an alternative spelling. Busts of Shakespeare and Milton were apparently very popular; "him who bore the world" was presumably Atlas.
This is probably a reduced cast of a statuette in the Vatican museum. A plaster example can be seen in the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork.
N'oublions pas, car c'est un des plus jolis cris de Strasbourg, le Piémontais qui annonce gaiement ses figurines ou statuettes: Pippeli kof! Achetez des statuettes! et qui eut même un jour la fantaisie d'improviser une gentille chanson sur ces mots: Gäli Pippeli, grüni Pippeli, Pippeli Poppeli Pippeli kof! (Kestner 1857).
James Greenacre (1785-1837): The "Edgware Road Murderer", hanged for the murder of his fiancée in 1837; William Pitt the Younger (1759-1806): politician, Prime Minister; William Cobbett (1763-1835): parliamentary reformer; Thomas Paine (1737-1809): politician, philosopher, revolutionary and opposer of organised religion; Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh (1769-1822): statesman; Jack Ketch (d 1686): executioner.