Swans, they are rather elegant aren’t they? beautiful in fact, as every girl whose read the Ugly Duckling knows. The stuff of fairy tales and ancient myths. Swans are devoted, mating for life. One of Venus’s symbols is the swan, representing love, purity, grace and a duality: water and air, masculine and feminine. There’s a lot to draw on….and from Ancient Rome to now ‘the swan’ has only become increasingly multi-layered, her flight path echoing down the decorative time line.
In 1965 they found the Dunstable Swan Jewel:
A livery badge from 1400 asserting the wearer’s loyalty to his liege, look closely and you can just see the crown collar.
In Medieval England several noble families claimed they were descendants of a legendary swan knight, who arrived (sword in hand) naturally in a swan-drawn boat to rescue ‘the fair lady’. An era when the Duchess of Gloucester’s Westminster tomb was engraved with a swan and her will contained a treasured, precious book: a so-called ‘swan romance’.
Fast forward to the Baroque when ‘berocca pearls’ were popular and here is a ‘swan’ jewel made in 1490 and now at the hermitage museum.
I am rather taken by the silver swan, an automata produced in the 18th century.
As the music begins the swan glances about, preens and then catching sight of a silver fish appears to bend, catch and swallow it.
But swans really came into thier own ‘decoratively’ in an era that was all about establishing power though symbolism. ‘Empire’ when parvenu Napoleon sought to assert his position through visual references to the powerful Roman emperors and who chose the ‘bee’ as his personal insignia: a symbol of immortality and resurrection, specifically chosen by Napoleon to link his new Empire to the very origins of France.
Josephine: stylish, cultured, consort, wife, Empress, divorced, regime survivor made the swan her emblem.
Malmaison was her private home, its interiors remain intact with their ever-present swan motif: symbolic of her enduring love and grace. Josephine was laid aside by Napoleon in his quest for an heir and a dynasty, however after his fall from power she continued to represent France as a hostess for state occasions. Enduring grace.
Josephine’s bedroom with swan motif at the centre of the circular rug and with wings raised on her bed post.
I am very taken with the Swan’s realistically produced in porcelain, and now sought after in 1st Dibs land.
Meissen and Sévres: tureens and/or lamps.
The 20th century has continued to celebrate swans from Art Nouveau through to Mid century design heroes, fairy tale fashion shoots and beyond.
The Swans seem both to guard and invite you into: Old Swan House. Once inside, choose your seating:
a step forward into art deco elegance or a step back to turn of the century charm:
Upstairs, I don’t think many of us could make like Mae West in a swan bed:
but I would happily swivel on the mid century classic, the swan chair…
Can’t quite see the water for the reeds? why not don a pair of swan glasses à la Man Ray’s widow- naturally a gift from Peggy Guggenheim:
and I would certainly enjoy sharing tea with Nonagerian Mrs Hitchcock who lives in considerable style with her swan planters:
In fact after that I might rush home and buy one from Rockett St George …
To keep ‘Delilah’ company who currently glides over an ikat river. (I think she should be a Christmas centre piece one year, but let’s not get distracted)
No swan ode would be complete without the black swan?
Swan Lake’s powerful story transcends time and artistic re-invention: from Pavlova to Portman, beauty, darkness, tragedy in grace.
Let our Swan-Song return us to the beginning, a duality the ancient myths encourage…
Swans immortal in their grace and beauty, inspiring man’s creativity and wonder. Ode complete.
Images: Tim Walker photographs, final shot Laetitia Casté by Mario Testino. Pinterest boards ‘Swan’, ‘Cygnet’ and ‘Automata’. World of Interiors. Fox pictures.
*occasionally swans that have built a next are unable to proceed off spring, only then do they separate, nature’s way