Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Images of the Sinti, circa 1800

I'm working on a scene in MAGGIE with a brief appearance of French gypsies in it.
I don't know whether the scene will stay in the manuscript.

The Sinti / Manouche / Bohemians / Roma / gypsies
are HARD to research in this period. There's just about no solid history on them.

The good part is I get to make stuff up.
The bad part is I have to make stuff up.

Here's some images.

I don't have a date on this one. The clothing is interesting. Striped skirt, unbound hair, long scarf over head and wrapped around, some sort of quilted shawl over shoulders and pinned in the front. There's something with sleeves under the shawl.

This is late C19, so I can't use it for details of clothing. But it's interesting.

We get -- lookit -- see the dishevelled, curly hair of the girl children. This appears in many pictures.

Here's 1750 London. See the loose red cloak. I find this red cloak over and over again for the whole century. I'm begining to think this may have been a long-term commonality.
The fortune teller is casting coffee grounds. I mean, how weird is that?

Close up view of the picture is here.

This one is from 1764. The print is Amsterdam, but I don't know where the scene is. It shows both male and female gypsy dress. And we got a cloak and head scarf on the woman. Hat with brim on man. Larger picture here.

Here's one from 1855. German, I think. The clothing is really irrelevant, so far from my date, but we got the hair loose. This seems to be a commonality, that long dark loose hair. Close up here.

Here's one from before 1818, probably in the north of England. This is very close to my target date of 1794.

And we got some cloaks, including two red ones, and the wide-brimmed, flat-crowned hats that we keep seeing. And we got dogs and a donkey.

The clothing, aside from the hats and the cloaks, looks pretty much like ordinary English country clothing of the period.
One can get a closer view here.

I took a look at Pyne's Microcosm. (I'll see if I can scan in pictures some time.) That dates from 1806. Microcosm shows English gypsies in the clothing of English country laborers.

In this painting we got a gypsy woman in England in 1839. This is sentimentalized and therefore not reliable as to clothing, but ... see the red cloak and the stripes and the loose hair. These would seem to be the stereotype that says 'gypsy' to sentimental painters.

For upclose here.

Another British painting here,
This one I can't copy to the blog, but you can track it down. We got with the donkey and the baskets on the donkey and, yes, a red cloak.
Nice set of period donkey baskets on this one.
And this cloak seems to have fringes on it.
Takes all kinds.

Moving along ...
This one was painted in England fairly close to the period. Red cloak again.

And lookit, lookit, lookit! see the baby strapped to the back under the cloak.
Oh my, yes. Good.

(They do this all over Africa today. It's how I used to carry the kid around when I was in Africa. Now I know the Rom did it. Yes! Lovely detail.)

Closeup view here.

The 1794 gypsies would have used 'bender tents'. here.

Here's a bender tent in use. This is loooong after 1794, of course, but the photo shows the form of the tent in detail.

These bender tents are typically shown in C18 and early C19 paintings with the fire built next to the entrance. There's a couple of paintings on this posting that show the tent and the fire next to it with a tripod and a pot.

They could also put the fire inside, which seems counter-intuitive.
(I had a period picture with a flap on top of the tent so the smoke could escape. My blog seems to have lost the image for me. I'll try to find it again.)

Here's a photo from 1910 or so with a 'double bender' tent on either side and the fire in between.
View of a two-wheeled cart as well.
Original here.

Here's a painting, England, 1797, so it is right on the dot in time. Red cloak. Turban sort of hat on the woman. A donkey.


The traditional painted-wood, curved-top, live-in gypsy wagon described so well by Dickens in 1840 evolved roughly between 1810 and 1830.
(It's fairly easy to find exterior shots of late C19 vardos, but I haven't seen any C19 interior photos. It's after my period a good bit so I haven't pursued. One could start here, if fascinated.)

Before the 1830 wooden vardo, they had cloth- (canvas?) topped wagons.
These canvas-covered wagons were in use right up to C20. Canvas-tops and wood vardos were used by the same groups.

Here's a sentimental, undated painting, place unknown, but it looks European. Might be 1790 to 1830, going by the gentleman's outfit. And we got ourselves a canvas-covered wagon with four wheels. A larger version of this here.

These canvas-covered wagons were not 'living spaces' with windows and doors, stoves and built-in beds, like the vardos. The 1794 wagons and carts would have been enclosed from the rain and would have been used, along with the bender tents, for sleeping.

This is Czeck and far far later than the period, but it's how the cloth-covered wagons would have been used. See a larger, clearer version here.

In this painting from Van Gogh, 1888, we have both the traditional wooden vardo and a canvas-covered wagon.

And another mid C19 painting that shows a canvas covered wagon. Larger version here.

Here's an illustration from Guy Mannering, showing -- not very clearly -- a line of gypsies and their wagons. Publicaton date of the novel was 1815, but I don't know the date of the illustration.
Again, this is sentimentalize, so I distrust the details.

And here's a modern version of the canvas-covered wagon.

What's interesting about this photo ... the cart is two-wheeled. It's operating in a context of good roads. This implies that a four-wheeled cart is neither necessary nor universally desirable.

Now, am I justified in giving my French gypsies covered carts in 1794?

I have English gypsies with cloth-topped carts in the period.
So some gypsies had these carts.
And I have paintings of C18 French farmers with just exactly this type of two-wheeled covered cart.
So the technology was there.

But there's a plethora of pictorial gypsies without any carts at all.

Now, these are the Romantic paintings of 'Gypsies in a Woods' or 'Giving Alms to the Gypsies' and they tend to have a picturesque donkey curled to the side and no clutter anywhere and I just don't trust them on the workaday details at all.
(Pyne also doesn't show carts, but I think that's because he's concentrating on human figures at work.)

In the end, I have to make some guesses.

I'm also going to assume prosperous groups or large groups would have a cart or two. Small, poor families might not have carts.

I'm going to go with the assumption that French Rom had pretty much the same technology as English Rom and German Rom, etc.

(Records from the period show that about one-third of Gypsy men
condemned to the French galleys in C18 had been born outside France. So there was obviously much to-ing and forthing across borders.)
So I'm going to give my people carts.


  1. Will Annique be with these gypsies? :D

  2. Hi Moth --

    One can assume nothing at this point.


  3. Jo,
    You really have a gift for searching out these pictures. I've always admired that ability, but these pictures of gypsies really stand out for me. I've spent a lot of time myself looking for gypsy photos for my own WIP. I have a binder full, but will have to say that I don't have any (except maybe the Black and White photo) in my collection.

    Would you be willing to do a technical topics sometime on the art of finding photos used to research details for your books?

  4. I second Jenny!

  5. Joanna, excellent post on the gypsies. What a fabulous researcher you are! Coincidentally, I've blogged about gypsies today, the original ones from India.

    I'd love to see the inside of a vardo. Were the wooden insides just as colorfully painted as the outside? Is blue a predominant color not just for the caravans but also for clothing?

  6. Joanna, I just stumbled across this blog. No wonder your books are so rich and full of detail when you do this much research! I'm a sucker for prints/engraving/genre paintings, any manner of image that's *real.* I've enjoyed your previous books, and I'm looking forward to the new one -- thank you so much for sharing what inspires you. :)

  7. Anonymous10:07 PM

    It seems to me that you have enough imagery to conjure a gypsy world in your story. I look forward to reading it.

  8. Hi Jenny and Moth --

    I don't do anything special ... just the Google image search.

    But I will maybe get my act together sufficiently to talk about researching and organization as a technical topic.

    This post -- like the ones on clothing -- is really me making notes to myself. A blog is a great place to store your links and pictures.

  9. Hi Keira --

    I saw your blog on India. Just beautiful. And I envy you your trip.

    As to the inside of a vardo ...
    I haven't gone looking at this, and haven't chanced across any images of antique interiors.

    I did drop one ref into the middle of the posting because it looked promising. It leads to some antique vardos.

    Or take a glance here

    Dickens says,

    One half of it... was carpeted, and so partitioned off at the further end as to accomodate a sleeping-place, constructed after the fashion of a berth on board ship, which was shaded, like the windows, with fair white curtains... The other half served for a kitchen, and was fitted up with a stove whose small chimney passed through the roof. It also held a closet or larder, several chests, a great pitcher of water, and a few cooking-utensils and articles of crockery.

    (Description of Mrs Jarley's van from Charles Dickens, Old Curiosity Shop (1840) ch. xxvii).

    As to blue ... I don't see period paintings using blue for the clothing of gypsies.

    Here's what the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, January 1890, says.
    (It's in Google books if you want to track it down, but I've reproduced the whole.)

    Gypsy Colours.

    In a recent correspondence with one of our fellow-members, some reference was made to the distinguishing colours of the Gypsies. These my correspondent has been accustomed to regard as red, black, and yellow. " About the Gypsy colours," he writes, in answer to a special inquiry, " I have no authority whatever, except that at a Gypsy wedding procession in Spain, of which I was a witness, many of the women wore yellow skirts, red bodices, and black jackets, and several of the men had bunches of ribbons of that tricolour in their hats. There is also the fact, for what it may be worth, that these colours have been adopted by the / Zingari Cricket Club. I once asked a Romany chal in Spain if the red and yellow of the Spanish flag were not his tribal colours, and he replied,' Falta el negro, cabalUro.'" These are good grounds for the belief, and the Spanish Gypsy's tacit recognition of these three as his tribal colours is very distinct. Moreover, the rhyme quoted by Mr. Leland—

    " Red and yellow for Romany,
    And blue and pink for the Gorgiee,"

    goes two-thirds of the way towards endorsing this opinion. On the other hand, there is the conflicting evidence given by Dr. Solf with regard to the German Gypsies (as quoted in our number of July 1888, p. 51), to the following effect:—" Each tribe has its own banner and symbol. That of the Old Prussian tribe is a fir-tree upon a black and white ground ; that of the New Prussian tribe a birch-tree upon a green and white ground ; that of the Hanoverian tribe is a mulberry-tree upon a gold, blue, and white ground. . . . The favourite colour, both with men and women, is green, which they regard as the colour of honour." Again, in Simson's History of the Gypsies (London, 1865, pp. 213-215), it is stated :—"The male Gypsies in Scotland were often dressed in green coats, black breeches, and leathern aprons. The females were very partial to green clothes. . . . The males [of the Baillie clan] wore scarlet cloaks, reaching to their knees, and resembling exactly the Spanish fashion of the present day."

    After reading these various and contradictory statements, one is puzzled to know whether there ever was any distinctively Gypsy colour. Perhaps some of our members can add something more definite upon this subject.

    I'm going to go with red cloaks, I think. Red was a common 'country color' for cloaks and coats in 1794, in both France and England.
    ... And I got a good deal of backup for this in period paintings.

  10. Hi Susan Scott --

    Thank you so much for the kind words.

    The problem with research is that there is just no end to it ...

  11. Hi Cathy --

    This is just one little scene I need this Rom information for. Nothing big and complex.

    But I wanted some good visuals.

    I did some of this searching a while back for Anneka, so I knew where to look.

  12. Joanna, thank you for that glorious look-see into gypsy vardos. You know those Enid Blyton books that always had gypsy caravans in them? I've been fascinated since by their interiors.

  13. I saw a lot of red, too, as part of that huge wedding and just on the streets. Not a brick- or blood-red, but more vermillion or reddish-brown.

    India means the yellows tend towards mustard. And the black (especially headscarves) are worn to honor that first gypsy ancestor.

  14. Hi Keira --

    Oh my. Oh yeah.
    One of the girls at St. Claire's was a Gypsy.

    Criminy, but I loved those books when I was -- what? -- nine?

    There's a character in the Chrestomancy series by Diane Wynne Jones. It's a highly magic young girl from an alternate universe who desperately wants to come to England and go a girl's boarding school just like the ones in the books -- very obviously the St. Claire's books.

    And, oh, yes. Absolutely. You're right about the shade of red at a wedding.

    'Blood red' wouldn't be used, ISTM. It's magic and dangerous and connected to death and menstruation, both marimé. Seems to me the traditional red of a Rom is going to be burgundy or deep madder. Brick red, as you say.

    I'm listening to what you say about the yellow. Yes. I've seen that exact shade of mustard yellow a thousand times across the Middle East.

    (jo, thinking how she can use this colour info in the scene she IS going to write -- with the gypsyies, finally -- just as soon as she unsticks herself from the scene she's stuck in.)

  15. Ooh. As girls, my friends and I would imagine ourselves away at St. Claire's or Mallory Towers. Once I had a job and started by book collection, one of the first things I ordered were a few Enid Blytons from the UK. I still find myself reading one every so often. To me, no author comes close to the sheer variety in imagination Blyton has.

    Good luck getting unstuck.