The miniature Sacré-Cœur inside the Sacré-Cœur

Cuz I have a thing for tiny things inside bigger things…

You might remember that I once wrote about a miniature café inside a café in Paris. Well, I found another unexpected tiny treasure while taking my French sisters-in-law on some sight-seeing adventures this week. The girls, 15-year old twins, had never been to the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris, despite growing up only an hour and a half outside the city. So I decided to change that.

A view of Montmartre, with the Sacré-Coeur Basilica at the top

Montmartre has a history steeped in art and culture. In the start of the 20th century, artists like Salvador Dali, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, and Vincent van Gogh had studios or worked in the area. The iconic Sacré-Cœur, sitting at the highest point in Paris, is a cultural and political landmark whose construction lasted from 1875 to 1914. Tourists inevitably pack the stairs leading up to it, even on a chilly, overcast day in February (pro tip: don’t go to Paris in February).

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Photo I took from the top of Montmartre
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A more inviting photograph of the Sacré-Coeur Basilica in summertime, via ThousandWonders

The twins, still grumbling slightly about the amount of stairs they just had to climb, sat in the back pews on their smartphones while I began my solo tour of the interior of the church.

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The inside of Sacré-Coeur in summertime, via ThousandWonders

I soon ran into the only modern, non-religious item there: an awesome miniature replica of the Sacré-Coeur.

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I called the girls over and they decided it was the coolest part of the church. Sight-seeing success! woo hoo 🙂

 

P.S. Do you know of any other tiny things inside their bigger counterparts? Let me know – laviemini@gmail.com

Why did the Brontë kids make miniature books?

“These tiny books help to evoke the whole experience of the Brontë children. Here they are, living in a somewhat isolated parsonage in Yorkshire, having only themselves as playmates and needing to entertain each other.”  -Leslie Morris, curator at Houghton Library.

All four of the Brontë siblings – Charlotte, Patrick, Emily, and Anne – wrote teeny tiny books as kids and adolescents. Most of Emily and Anne’s creations, which centered around a fictional island called “Gondal,” have not survived. Of Charlotte and Patrick’s, on the other hand, Harvard holds nine, the Brontë Museum owns several, and the remaining are scattered among museums and collectors.

Stitched together from paper scraps, the books contain endless poems, stories, songs, maps, illustrations, and even building plans.

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Charlotte and Patrick’s stories often revolved around the “Glass Town Confederacy,” a world created for Patrick’s toy soldiers. The following introductory passage from “The Silver Cup: A Tale” by Charlotte, written in October 1829, describes a man who lives near Glass Town.

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Patrick also created a fictional “Branwells Blackwoods Magazine,” seen below.

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Charlotte sometimes wrote from the perspective of Lord Charles Wellesley, such as in “The Poetaster: A Drama in Two Volumes.”

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Juvenilia, or work an author produces as a child, can help academics shed light on the author’s professional development and inner life. The fact that the Brontë kids mimicked published literature is particularly telling.

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The books were in such a fragile state a few years ago that Harvard specialists undertook a restoration and digitization project. In order to tease and paste down individual fibers “about the width of a human hair”, the team used fine surgical instruments. One woman admitted to holding her breath to prevent “fragments of paper from blowing away.”

Bronte Books

 

So… why did the Brontë children make such tiny books?

Though no one knows for sure, an expert from the Special Collections at Missouri University sums up the theories like this:

One (possibility) is that the children may have been trying to hide their imaginative plays from their stern and religious aunt Elizabeth Branwell, their mother’s sister, who did not encourage their literary pursuits. “Aunt Branwell,” as they called her, seems to have been a somewhat forbidding and authoritarian figure for the children. If secrecy was the motivation, Charlotte and Branwell were probably successful – most people cannot read the manuscript without a magnifying glass.

Another possible explanation is that the children wrote to the scale of the toy soldiers that played such an important role in their imaginary world. Their fascination with the miniature may have played a material part in the mythos they developed around the world they called Angria.

However, it may have been that Charlotte and Branwell had simply developed a habit of writing in extreme minuscule. It is known that the Brontës produced tiny handwritten books and magazines from an early age, even before they came up with the Young Men’s Play; Charlotte’s earliest surviving manuscript is a miniature book she made at the age of ten for her sister Anne.

Whatever the motivation, it’s clear that Charlotte, who went on to write Jane Eyre, treasured her childhood works and kept them well-preserved. After her death, her husband sold the volumes to a private collector, who then gave them to poet Amy Lowell. Lowell donated the set to Houghton Library in 1925, where you can still visit them today.

 

Via Harvard, Buzzfeed, and Missouri University

 

The strangest items from #Museum101

The stuff of nightmares

Someone had the brilliance to get museums all over the world to dig up their weirdest, creepiest, and ugliest items in their collection – you know, the stuff that never sees the light of day because it makes children cry. Dolls, as you might guess, are overrepresented. Here are some of my favorites shared with #Museum101:

The otherworldly beauty of antique figurines in the heart of Paris

Silent Partners and Cage Dolls

Tucked away in a square in Paris near the Boulevard Saint-Germain des Prés is a store called Yveline Antiques.

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Crossing the threshold means transporting yourself not just back in time, but sideways into a world of figurines and mannequins with their own stories to tell.

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The store’s namesake, Yveline, opened the antiques shop in 1954 to sell her furniture, objects, paintings, and curiosities – objects that “instilled in the gallery rooms an aura of poetic wonder.” Today, Yveline’s granddaughter Agathe continues the work.

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Agathe is also the photographer behind the store’s popular instagram account, where most of the photos in this article come from, and where I first fell under the spell of Yveline Antiques.

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On a recent visit, Agathe took me on a tour of the gallery rooms, carefully explaining the history behind her figurines. Many of them, like those below, were used by artists as “Silent Partners,” or models for their paintings.

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During the Renaissance period, painters began to move away from religious depictions and toward a vision of the human body that was more anatomically correct. The Silent Partner was born out of a need for subjects that could remain still for long periods of time.

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According to one observer, the Silent Partner added a “layer of intrigue – an otherworldliness, an uncanniness and a fetishized stillness.” Oskar Kokoschka, an Austrian artist, even commissioned a life-sized doll of the woman he loved, following her marriage to another man. According to the story, he beheaded the mannequin after the completion of his painting…

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The use of Silent Partners flourished well into the 19th and even 20th centuries. Over time, their makers gained reputations as talented artisans working hard to optimize the mobility and veracity of their creations.

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In the gallery rooms of Yveline Antiques, the Silent Partners sometimes assume the role of the painter.

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The “Cage Doll” or “Santos Doll,” seen below is another frequent inhabitant of the store. Taking their name from the Spanish word for saint, the dolls were created as copies of 17th century carvings by priests.

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They served in the 18th and 19th centuries as at-home altars in areas where distance or war made it difficult to travel to church.

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Spanish settlers also brought Santos dolls to Latin America as a tool to convert native populations to Christianity.

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Yveline Antiques boasts plenty of other curiosities in its catalogues, including Crèche figures, which are associated with nativity and crib scenes, and paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries.

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Still, its the imposing presence of the larger mannequins that stuck with me. Their gaze left me with the impression that I was a guest in their house, a place of artistry and imagination where they, truly, are the masters.

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Via Yveline Antiques.

Don’t forget to follow their instagram account!

Can you guess what these tiny European paper samples from 1966 really are?

Today I came across an odd miniature book for sale at Bromer Booksellers called “Paper Samples,” published in 1966 by William Cheney.

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Photo courtesy of Bromer Booksellers

Cheney made 150 copies of this dollhouse-sized book in which he documents the paper samples collected by Glen Dawson during his trip through Europe.

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Each location of where the sample was collected is written on the lefthand side. Establishments include popular streets, high-end bookstores, museums, upscale restaurants, and fine shops.

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Here’s one from the art museum in Vienna:

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From the Piccadilly Circus:

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And from a cricket field in England:

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Can you guess what they really are?

Yup, toilet paper.

Photos via Typesticker

A night guard at the Louvre takes photos of his model cars between shifts

The history of the French automobile industry set to iconic Parisian backdrops

Félicien Michaut sometimes brings his model cars to his workplace, the Louvre, where he describes his job as “Ben Stiller in ‘Night at the Museum.'” Michaut also holds a degree in photography, which he puts to good use documenting the items in his collection.

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While artwork like the Mona Lisa and the Winged Victory of Samothrace (pictured below) may be more accustomed to taking center stage in a photograph, Félicien Michaut prefers them as backdrops to his tiny cars.

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A model Citroën Type A

Noting that he never takes his photos during work hours, Michaut explains that his goal is to highlight the French car industry and its history. He doesn’t focus on sports cars or flashier models, but rather cars of particular importance to France, its social movements, and its ordinary citizens. The Citroën Type A shown above, for example, was the first model conceived of by André Citroën and the first car in Europe to be mass-produced from an assembly line. It was sold between 1919 and 1921.

Below is a short video of a “Citroën Traction”, a car manufactured in Paris between 1934 and 1957. The car holds an important place in French history as it was an iconic car during World War II, used by the resistance movement, collaborators, and even the Germans.

 

Another one of Michaut’s favorites is the Citroën DS, a beautiful car unveiled in 1955.

A model Citroen DS, photographed at the Colonnes de Buren in Paris

The Citroën DS also has the distinct pleasure of having saved the life of President Charles de Gaulle. As the story goes, twelve gunmen opened fire on the presidential Citroën DS in 1962 but failed to kill anyone. The driver was able to get away because of the car’s well-made suspension that kept it level, even with deflated tires.

The presidential Citroen DS, photo courtesy of Jalopnik

Félicien Michaut’s work often highlights cars that were and are familiar to everyday French people. Here are some from the 1970s and 80s:

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A model Peugeot 205, manufactured from 1983 to 1998, hanging out at the Louvre
A Peugeot 205, symbol of the 80s, next to some Parisian street art
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A model Renault 25, built during the 80s, hanging out on the Seine 
A Peugeot 505, which you could also find in many taxi stands in the US, hanging out at le nouveau forum des Halles in Paris
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One of Michaut’s favorites, the Parisian bus of the 70s and 80s (Saviem/Renault SC10 U), hanging out next to la Comedie-Française

 

Michaut turned his photography last year into a protest against France’s labor law.

 

 

And here he is at the Louvre:

Photo taken by Céline Thiault-Michaut

Félicien Michaut’s facebook page and instagram account boast thousands of photographs of model cars next to Parisian landmarks.

 

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🙂

Via Félicien Michaut: facebook and instagram

French kids in the 1800s learned to gamble with miniature lottery wheels

Take a gander at these antique “loteries parisiennes”:

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“Loterie Parisienne”, photo courtesy of Theriault’s

Inspired by a popular game at French carnivals or “fêtes foraines”, miniature lottery sets remained popular through much of the 19th century.

 

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Photo courtesy of Theriault’s
Photo courtesy of Theriault’s
Photo courtesy of Theriault’s

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The games included prizes such as dolls, figurines, miniature cars, various dollhouse furniture, and other tiny curiosities.

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Photo courtesy of Theriault’s
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Photo courtesy of Theriault’s
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A just-sold “Loterie Parisienne” from Ruby Lane
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Photo courtesy of Theriault’s

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Photo courtesy of Theriault’s

For comparison, here’s an old photograph of the real-life version:

In 1912, a Paris orphanage held a raffle to raise money. It wouldn't be that weird -- if the prizes weren't live babies.

 

Haha. Yes, a Parisian orphanage really did hold a raffle for babies… Different times, folks.

 

Lead image from Theriault’s

Why is the vintage Polly Pocket market exploding?

The 90s kids want their toys back…

Does the following ad make you want to get on Ebay right now and buy all of the Polly Pockets? If yes, then you probably grew up in the 90s and we have something in common.

Maria Sozopoulou is a fellow millennial, Plato expert, Hellenic philosopher, and Greek Polly Pocket collector who runs a highly popular youtube channel. Her oddly soothing videos, set to classical music, show her prodding various toys and movable objects in her collection.

Maria received her first Polly Pocket at the age of 10 and became instantly obsessed. Because she lived in Greece, however, they were expensive and difficult to obtain, leading her to give up the hobby altogether in 1998. She returned to Polly Pockets many years later when, in 2010, she noticed them being sold at the market for as little as one Euro.

Since then, Maria has amassed an impressive collection, which, though huge, is still incomplete. And because history has a funny way of repeating itself, she’s recently found herself in the same position she was in as a 10-year-old girl: Polly Pockets are too expensive. Not because of import taxes and undervalued currency this time. Today’s culprit is millennial nostalgia.

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Polly Pocket ring, courtesy of Bustle
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A Polly Pocket necklace, courtesy of LovePollyPocket
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Photo courtesy of lovepollypocket

 

Heidi from Flanders, Belgium, is another collector who finds herself suddenly less able to afford these tiny plastic wonders. After being diagnosed with cancer a few years back, a forced hiatus from her outdoor activities led Heidi to take up a new hobby: Polly Pockets. She runs a beautiful instagram account, where she showcases her favorites.

 

Heidi and Maria agree that that skyrocketing prices of vintage Polly Pockets are due to a general wave of nostalgia for vintage things, mixed with greater purchasing power of 90s kids. Today, you can find Polly Pockets on Ebay for upwards of $700. This Polly Pocket “Musical Dream Wedding,” never opened, is currently on sale for $500:

 

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Currently on ebay

Maria often receives emails from young parents hoping to buy the same toys for their children that they themselves played with as a child. When I asked her why she thinks this is, Maria’s response is that toys today simply aren’t the same. Peeling open a Polly Pocket, layer by layer, reveals little surprises and moving parts. There are few toys so creatively designed, beautifully colored, uncontroversial, and…well tiny on the market today for kids. Maria’s so convinced of this, she’s even thinking of starting a petition to get Mattel to bring Polly Pocket back in her original version.

 

If you were a 90s kid like me that played with Polly Pockets, now is the time to ask mom and dad where they stored your old toys. With any luck, we’ll all make a quick 600 bucks.

 

Via Bustle (a great cure for a case of nostalgia) and onlypollypocket.com (the Polly Pocket collector’s Bible)

The clamshell paintings of kai-awase, an ancient Japanese matching game

This game sounds hard

Japanese aristocrats during the Heian Period (794-1185) developed a game of matching using beautifully-painted clamshells. Called kai-awase, or “shell matching,” it was popular chiefly among women and children.

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The artist polished the outside of the clam halves and painted intricate, identical scenes on the insides.

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A game of kai-awase was played by displaying half the shells on the floor, painted-side down, then choosing shells one-by-one from the remaining pile to search for its mate. In the traditional version of the game, players sought to match shell halves by the ridges and markings on their natural sides. There were a total of 360 pairs of shells, making this task seem, to me, rather difficult.
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A reenactment of the game

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To check whether a player had correctly chosen a match, she would try to put the two parts of the shell together. If they fit, and the paintings on the inner portions were identical, then she won the shell.

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19th century Gold maki-e on lacquered wood, courtesy of the MET
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Painted shell, courtesy of the Australian Museum.
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Painted shells, courtesy of the Museo d’Art Orientale di Cà Pesaro.

Japanese nobility stored their games in elaborate containers. During the Edo or Tokugawa period (1603-1868), the sets were often given as part of a woman’s dowry. Receiving a kai-awase as a marriage gift was considered good luck, as the joining of clams symbolized the joining of a wife and husband in marriage.

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A Kimono fragment from the late 18th-early 19th century, housed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art
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19th century Shell-Game Boxes (Kaioke) decorated with pine, plum, and bamboo.

Today, the tradition is not forgotten. The miniature paintings of Ogoshi Kimiko are a testament to its continued cultural and artistic influence

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And if you’re interested in buying some kai-awase shells, I found this beautiful set for sale on Ebay:

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Check it out here.

Via Liza Dalby