This morning I was reading was reading in the Good Weekend about Keith Austen’s visit to London’s Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. Although I’ve been to London, I haven’t been to this museum and it was simply something interesting to read about while having my morning cup of tea and bowl of porridge. Unfortunately, coffee’s verboten as part of my daily ritual these days and I restrict myself to cappuccinos in cafes once or twice a week, where I also allow myself two spoonfuls of sugar, which are also outlawed. Mind you, just to be deliciously inconsistent, chocolate in whatever guise it arrives in, is allowed free reign. I mightn’t have the most agreeable digestive tract and I might be generously proportioned, but I’m not on life support yet. I deserve a few of life’s simple pleasures.
In between mouthfuls of porridge and sips of tea, I read about what could possibly the world’s most tragic tribute ever produced by a grieving parent. Following the death of his infant son Patrick, famed English doll maker, Charles Ernest Pierotti, made an incredibly life-like replica which is on display in a glass case at the V & A.
“To me the creepiest exhibit is also one of the most beautiful. It’s a pecularly life-like doll which lies in state in a glass cabinet, a wonderfully realized baby boy with curly blond hair and pale blue eyes. He is wearing a simple, embroidered christening gown. Then, you read the label: “Wax-headed baby doll, about 1900. Patrick Enrico Pierotti died as a baby. His father, the English doll-maker Charles Ernest Pierotti, made the dollas a portrait of him.”
A quick Google search, took me straight into the V&A vault and I could almost reach out and and hold baby Patrick. Feel the weight of a thousand tears and their family’s grieving hearts. Most of us know someone who has endured the grief of losing a baby, or perhaps we have been there ourselves. It’s a shocker…an angst without end.
Interestingly, however, the online catalogue describes the doll in clinical detail without a drop of emotion:
“Wax portrait doll of a young male caucasian child, with blue glass eyes and blonde human hair curls inserted into the wax. It has a pink poured wax shoulder head, with a stuffed cloth body. The doll is dressed in in a long white cotton gown, with ribbon and a whitework trim and rows of tucks. There is also a cream carrying cape of cream patterned cotton, lined with cotton, trimmed with lace and ribbon ties. Long petticoat of coarse linen and whitework, a second petticoat of cream flannel. The chemise is of white linen.”
That I found creepy.
I needed to give this baby more than just a name. At the very least, a start and finish and if I could possibly ever find out, a cause of death. While child mortality was commonplace at the turn of the century, when it came to baby Patrick we have a such a life-like replica which is still in mint condition 118 years later, that I felt he deserved a word story as well as just an image.
Above: Dolls made by Charles Ernest Pierotti Photos: V & A Museum.
So, I put on my researchers cap and headed off in search of a date of birth, a date of death, which I fully expected to find during that period. However, I found nothing. Nothing official to acknowledge that baby Patrick Pierotti was ever here.
I have to admit, that I’m a bit surprised, especially when this doll made in his very likeness is in the public eye. Surely, I’m not the only one who has probed a little further and asked these questions? So, now I’m off to contact the V & A Museum of Childhood and see if they can shed any light on it, and I’ll keep you posted.
There’s something for you to digest over your breakfast or whichever meal is next on your agenda. It’s rapidly creeping towards dinner time here and I still don’t feel like I’ve fully woken up yet. It’s a miserable, rainy Saturday and after doing my morning errands, I returned to my PJs and had a balmy nap with my electric blanket on. Life is good. That said, it could be a bit more productive.
PS While researching this story, I came across an excellent post at Diyala’s blog regarding Momento Mori: What is it? where she’s produced a very haunting piece of art featuring this baby doll.
When the Textiliste was researching how weaving is involved in death memorials such as the Mexican Day of the Death celebrations we spent happy hours in places like graveyards looking at designs of memento mori on gravestones. Fascinating what people do.
It’s also interesting how an interest in something like textiles can take you on all sorts of physical and intellectual journeys and really expand your outlook.
I bought myself a day of the dead ring after I finished my April A-Z series this year. It as made of resin and has a skull and tiny little real flowers preserved in it. I thought it put a more uplifting slant on death and after all those words, I felt I deserved a reward. I also managed to buy it just down the street. A shop had a collection of Day of the Dead things.
Hope you’re having a great weekend. Just ,made us some cupcakes with butter icing for dessert after reading a post last night. Yum.
The doll is very life like, something about those eyes, he captured the child’s spirit. What I love about your post, it sends me to google to do some looking around at sites I would never visit, thank you for that, always makes life better to learn something new everyday. Its early Saturday morning here and I am on here getting a little more out of the wifi before I whisk it away. Happy week my friend. XXXX
While it is beautiful, I do feel, as one who has lost a child, that it was macabre and would have given me nightmares in addition to the ones I already had.
Now, as for the chocolate, it is a basic food group and the darker chocolate, that with the most actual chocolate in it, is actually good for you. Bon appetit!
Something here does tug at the “creepy” lever, but I think I’m going to chose not to presume to understand the depth of this father’s grief. Men are rarely allowed to be authentic with our emotions (which may help explain why we’re so bad at it) that when something this big overtakes one of us, I think I’ll just stand near by and offer to get him a drink, let him cry, shout or curse as his heart leads. There will be time later to wonder about that doll. Perhaps his motives are creepy.
Now you have introduced a train of thought that will keep me distracted most of the rest of my work day. If he had only done the doll up as a clown, it would all make sense. Clowns are creepy. Please pass the hot cocoa.
All the best Rowena.
I’m glad you shared this, Rowena. I suppose it was a natural tribute for a doll-maker. I was about to say that they thought so very differently than we do today. …Then I remember that some people have their beloved pets stuffed. Or spend fortunes having them cloned… Maybe we aren’t so different at that… Intriguing post. Hugs.
Thanks, Teagan. Thought you’d appreciate it. I think we’d probably be more accepting of someone getting their pet stuffed than some of the things the Victorians did when a loved one passed. I am quite intrigued by the photos they took of dead loved ones, but when you think about how rarely they took photos, it’s understandable. I also think a bit of grief and a period of mourning is better than our current thing of just get on with it.
I went to an incredible garage sale today put on by three local artists who were also selling their works. There were so many antiquey bits and pieces and suitcases. Out the front, there was a laminate table with aluminium trim and orange chairs. It was straight out of my early childhood and perhaps a hangover from the 50s or 60s. I’m not sure. Took a few photos.