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Many of the most amazing historical crowns were destroyed during the tumultuous hurly-burly of history. This is a reproduction of the crown worn by the infamous Henry VIII, the powerful plus-sized king with many wives. The original was made either for Henry VIII or his father Henry VII and was worn by subsequent Tudor and Stuart monarchs up until it was broken apart & melted down at the Tower of London in 1649 under the orders of Oliver Cromwell (when the monarchy was abolished and replaced by the Protectorate). The original crown was made of solid gold and inset with various rubies, emeralds, sapphires, spinels, and pearls. After Henry VIII’s schism with the Catholic Church, tiny enameled sculptures of four saints and the Madonna and child were added to emphasize the monarchy’s authority over the Church of England.
Although the reproduction was not made with solid gold or natural pearls (which would be prohibitively expensive) it was painstakingly crafted by master jewel smiths using period techniques. The jewelers were able to recreate the original crown in great detail because many paintings and descriptions are available, including the amazing picture of Charles I by Daniel Mytens above. Charles I lost his head and the crown with his obdurate insistence on the absolute authority of the monarch—a point of view which Cromwell sharply disputed.
From the era of Frankish Kings until the French Revolution, the kings of France were crowned with the so-called Crown of Charlemagne, a circlet of four gold rectangles inset with jewels. The crown was made for Charles the Bald, the Holy Roman Emperor who lived in the ninth century (who apparently needed an ornate head covering for some unknown reason). Four large jeweled fleur-de-lis were added in the late twelfth century along with a connecting cap ornamented with gems. A matching crown for the queen of France was melted down by the Catholic League in 1590 when Paris was besieged by the Protestant king Henry IV (before he was, you know, stabbed to death by a zealot when the royal carriage was stuck in traffic), yet the crown of Charlemagne survived France’s religious wars & was used in coronations up until 1775 when Louis XVI was crowned. The crown vanished during the French revolution and has never been seen since. A certain Corsican monarch crafted a replacement: the second Crown of Charlemagne was completely different and will be the subject of a subsequent post.
In ancient Egypt the sky was a gleaming blue, the sacred lotuses had blue petals, the pharaoh’s battle crown was blue, beautiful women wore chokers made of blue stone, and, above all, the life-giving Nile was blue. The ancient Egyptians needed azure pigment to portray these essential elements of life within their sacred art, but the only natural blue pigments were from turquoise and lapis lazuli—semi-precious stones which were rare and expensive. To provide a sufficient supply of blue pigment for painting, jewelry, and sculpture, the Egyptians therefore invented the first synthetic pigment which today is appropriately known as “Egyptian blue” (well, it is also appropriately known as calcium copper silicate–CaCuSi4O10 or CaO·CuO·4SiO2—but I’m going to keep calling it Egyptian blue).
Egyptian blue was synthesized in the 4th Dynasty (c.2575-2467 BC) when the newly created pigment was first used to color limestone sculptures, beads, and cylinder seals. Its use became more prevalent in the Middle Kingdom, and then increased again during the New Kingdom when blue was used for the production of numerous everyday objects. Throughout the Hellenic and Roman age, Egyptian blue was a mainstay of the nascent chemical industry, and it found its way into all sorts of art, jewelry, crafts, and artisan wares. Then, in the fourth century the secret of its manufacture was lost. Only in the beginning of the nineteenth century did interest revive as the English and French pioneers of the chemical trade rushed to synthesize useful compounds. As one might surmise from the fact that the manufacturing process was lost for a millennium and a half, the method to make Egyptian blue is surprisingly involved. Citing a British Museum publication, Wikipedia describes it thus:
Several experiments have been carried out by scientists and archaeologists interested in analyzing the composition of Egyptian blue and the techniques used to manufacture it. It is now generally regarded as a multi-phase material that was produced by heating together quartz sand, a copper compound, calcium carbonate, and a small amount of an alkali (plantash or natron) at temperatures ranging between 800–1000 °C (depending on the amount of alkali used) for several hours. The result is cuprorivaite or Egyptian blue, carbon dioxide and water vapor…
The Egyptians were clearly people who took their pigments seriously, and thankfully so–the blue tints they crafted have lasted for thousands of years (and helped us find our way to synthesized pigments). It is strange to think of the subtle ways that the Nile still flows through our lives.
When I was younger and happier I worked as a drudge in an Investment Bank. Actually, remove the happiness from that first sentence—the place was one of the most toxic & unpleasant environments ever. Nobody there was happy. The bank sucked away human life force…and so I destroyed it from within! It’s gone now. You’re welcome, world.
That all sounds pretty bad-ass, but unfortunately this story reads less like a John Grisham thriller and more like a Russian folktale about a slow witted bumpkin who kills a sorcerer by accident. Although I worked at the investment bank, I was in no way an investment banker (thank goodness). The bankers and analysts were all stressed-out type-A personalities who spent 14-18 hours a day currying favor and staring at columns of numbers. A great many of them were hooked on amphetamines or other drugs.
I worked as a temp in the legal department where my job was to redline legal documents–a sort of grown-up “spot-the-difference” puzzle where one compares two nearly identical legal documents to see if the opposing bank has treacherously slipped new provisions into the contract (legal jobs tend to involve this kind of drudgery). I also helped update and distribute officers and directors lists—a task which was especially onerous since the officers and directors changed with blinding speed. Also the bank was really dozens of different legal entities and shell-corporations, each of which had its own board and officers all of whom overlapped considerably. I completed these monotonous tasks in a freezing cold plastic workstation visible to everyone from all sides. My only joy was to surreptitiously cut arctic animals out of post-it notes with a pair of office scissors. I had an entire Siberian ecosystem by the time I left.
The bank was on a 30somethingeth floor of a dull 80’s skyscraper in midtown. The bankers were forever trying to modify the office to suit the whim of the latest leaders (who were always changing—see above), so what should have been a simple series of embedded corridors was instead a shifting warren of slate-green upholstery, sharp glass edges, faux mahogany, injured egos, and construction detritus. The only constant (other than cold and fear) was an arrhythmic grandfather clock, which wheezed away the interminable hours. Once I was sent to deliver a document to an obscure department on the far side of the bank. On the way back, I got lost in a newly created hallway swathed with plastic sheets and plywood. As I scurried along the passage I heard loud impatient footsteps behind me. I turned and was horrified to see the president of the bank, a cold bossy woman, walking immediately behind me. Why was she walking so fast? How could I escape her? Then it occurred to me: there should be a doorway to the kitchen/breakroom ahead. I flung open the door to escape, but the president had ceased her rapid walking and was staring directly at me, her mouth hanging open in an “O” of surprise. With a touch of élan, I opened the door wider in order to let her pass (I was surprised she knew about the shortcut through the kitchen) and then I noticed the room beyond the door had pink tiles! It was the women’s bathroom! I screamed shrilly, dropped the door, and ran away down the hall. It was not my best career moment… fortunately a new president was appointed shortly afterwards, and then another new president after him!
Anyway you want to hear about the destruction of the bank.
Above the little cubicle I was stuck in, there was a big air vent. It roared incessantly all day, continuously delivering a stream of cold stale air on my shoulders. One day, when the legal department was unexpectedly empty, I decided to try to do something about the vent. Balancing precariously on top of my workspace I reached up into the evil grate and found a tiny rusted lever which would not budge, no matter how I pulled at it. Desperate not to be caught, I swung my whole weight at the lever. There was a rusty scream, a shower of dirty particles and a great dull “BOOM”. I sprang down into my chair and looked busy, as martinets in pinstripes manifested from nowhere, but I heard an alveolar shift up inside the ducts of the skyscraper. The hateful cold air was now directed somewhere else!
My moment of triumph it was short-lived. The top boss of the legal department (famous for OCD & prickly disposition) came back to find that her fancy office was unbearably cold. A normal person would have summoned the building engineers–who probably would have traced the problem back to the closed vent. Fortunately that was not the way she did business. Her first action was to have her paralegals find the contract with the building and flag the engineering/maintenance section. Armed with contractual righteousness, she called the property firm and ordered them to raise the temperature on the floor by 15 degrees.
The legal department was on the cold dark side of the building. The important bankers and financiers were portly men with window offices on the sunny side of the skyscraper. While the rest of the bank suddenly became hot, their offices became ovens. To lower the temperature, the bankers started working their way through successive levels of workmen, technicians, and engineers (I heard the angry conversations in the lobby) only to find that the temperature had already been changed by the legal department. Both sides then began a violent squabble about the thermostat.
One day I just didn’t go back to the bank—in fact that was the only job I quit outright with no other prospects. Later on I found out that, a few months after I left, the bank was gobbled up in its entirety by a huge New York capital management firm. Perhaps it is wrong not to assume that some other factor was responsible for that place’s demise (its dysfunctional office culture or rapidly changing leadership, for example…or maybe the wave of banking mergers in the nineties) but I think anyone who has worked at an office where everyone is fighting about the temperature can correctly assign credit to me.