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Amelia Soth

Amelia Soth

Amelia Soth is a Wisconsin-based writer. She also writes and edits for Mouse Magazine, and more of her writing can be found at ameliasoth.com.

A view of the outlet of the Cloaca Maxima by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, ca. 1776

Venus of the Sewers

The Roman sewer, the Cloaca Maxima, was presided over by a goddess whose shrine stood near the Forum.
Etching: A wet nurse breast feeding the Duke of Burgundy, grandson of Louis XIV

Source: https://www.jstor.org/stable/community.24839779

How Wet-Nursing Stoked Class Tensions

“[N]o man can justly doubt, that a childs mind is answerable to his nurses milk and manners.”
Peter the Great cutting a Boyar's beard

Peter the Great’s Beard Tax

Why did the Russian tsar seek to ban beards?
An anatomical machine of Prince Raimondo di Sangro

The Anatomical Machines of Naples’ Alchemist Prince

Rumor had it that these machines were once the Prince’s servants, whom he murdered and transformed into anatomical displays. Scholars showed otherwise.
Intricate Paper cutting of a hunting scene by Dutch artist Joanna Koerten

Joanna Koerten’s Scissor-Cut Works Were Compared to Michelangelo

And then, snip by snip, she was cut out of the frame of Renaissance art history.
An illustration of claqueurs from an 1853 issue of Harper's Magazine

When Paid Applauders Ruled the Paris Opera House

Professional applauders, collectively known as the “claque,” helped mold the tastes of an uncertain audience.
Handstone with model mine

The Princes of Saxony Collected These Kitschy Miniature Mountains

Struck with “Berggeschrey,” or “mountain clamour,” early modern nobles of Saxony dolled up the dirty and dangerous work of the mines with gold and glitter.
claude glass

The Claude Glass Revolutionized the Way People Saw Landscapes

Imagine tourists flocking to a famous beauty spot, only to turn around and fix their eyes on its reflection in a tiny dark mirror.
1837 Merchant's Exchange Hard Times Token

“Hard Times Tokens” Were Not One Cent

The counterfeit currencies issued in response to 1837’s coin shortage were worthless—or were they?
Drawing of the funeral procession of Elizabeth I of England

Her Majesty’s Kidnappers

In the 17th century, Nathaniel Giles had the right to conscript young singers into the British royal children’s choir. He and a business partner went a step further.
Yellow Jacobins

Our Long-Running Love Affair with Pigeons

Through crazes of pigeon-fancying, these birds have been reshaped into a dizzying variety of forms.
Aurora Borealis by Frederic Edwin Church overlaid with The Battle of Culloden by David Morier

When the English Witnessed Battles in the Sky

Some claimed the battles were so fierce they could smell the gunpowder.
The New Perfume by John William Godward, 1914

When Royals Perfumed Themselves with the Excretions of Musk Deer and Civet Cats

In the era of Louis XV, it was fashionable to drench oneself in “animal scents.”
People visiting the morgue in Paris to view the cadavers

The Paris Morgue Provided Ghoulish Entertainment

With its huge windows framing the corpses on display, the morgue bore an uncomfortable resemblance to a department store.
Tremolite asbestos from the Aure Valley, French Pyrenees

When Asbestos Was a Gift Fit for a King

File under: “don’t try this at home.”
The Visit, 1746, Pietro Longhi

Socially Sanctioned Love Triangles of Romantic-Era Italy

Eighteenth-century Italian noblewomen had one indispensable accessory: an extramarital lover.
Superbarrio

Superbarrio: The People’s Superhero

Defender of the poor tenants and evictor of the voracious landlords, a masked lucha libre wrestler rose from the ruins of Mexico City’s 1985 earthquake.

Martin Luther’s Monsters

Prodigies, or monsters, were opaque and flexible symbols that signaled that God was sending some message.
Girls' Beating the Bounds' at a fence near St Albans in Hertfordshire, 1913

“Beating the Bounds”

How did people find out where their local boundaries were before there were reliable maps?
An abbey cellarer testing his wine. Illumination from a copy of Li livres dou santé by Aldobrandino of Siena, late 13th century

When Monks Went Undercover to Steal Relics

Because relics were understood to be capable of working miracles, any relic that was stolen must have wanted to be.
The Last Day of Pompeii by Karl Brullov

Pompeii Mania in the Era of Romanticism

Nothing appealed more perfectly to the Romantic sensibility than the mix of horror and awe evoked by a volcano erupting.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Schreibzeug_(Nürnberg).jpg

How Renaissance Artisans Turned Live Animals into Silver

Lifecasting was the renaissance art of making sculptures using molds taken from real-life plants and animals.
A 17th century standing cup

These Bizarre Ivory Cups Were Carved by Princes

The royal houses of Europe felt that it would be good for their sons to learn a manual trade. Artisans taught nobles to carve ivory on a lathe.
Design for Necklace with Brazilian Beetles, ca. 1900

Insect Jewelry of the Victorian Era

The wing-cases of gold-enameled weevils hung from necklaces; muslin gowns were embroidered with the iridescent green elytra of jewel beetles.
Sultan Mehmed III of the Ottoman Empire

Why Ottoman Sultans Locked Away Their Brothers

Fratricide among rival princes was legal and widely practiced until 1603, so confinement to the palace was actually an improvement.