A Courtier’s Guide To Social Media

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to provide some useful, practical content on this blog and limit the number of frivolous posts. I mean, how many times can you harp on dying fruit in Dutch still life painting? Who needs that? So, in this post I will address a topic that has not been given the attention it merits, namely, the best ways a courtier can use social media to gain the favor of the ladies, the prince, and his fellow members of court. The internet is a rough place for a man of such breeding and refinement, and he needs to be equipped with the right tools to handle the haters who try to bring down his stocking-ed parade.

That Castiglione did a nice job with his little manual, but the conversation format is a bit dated and, quite frankly, disorganized. In the interest of brevity, so you don’t have to wander through endless conversations to get to the point, I’ve put together eight tips that every courtier can apply to his daily rounds through the snake pit.

Album of Tournaments and Parades in Nuremberg, late 16th century; Albers Necklace and Briar Collar by Jaclyn Mayer
Handmade items to buy: (clockwise) Ring by Katri Saarinen; Cufflinks by The Fox and Fig; Laptop Bag by Lola Falk; Necklace by Sarah Safavi; Cufflinks by Emiko Oye; Studs by Rosina Beech; Pendant by Rachel McKnight; Tote by Studio Plan D

1. Don’t give too much away: The biggest mistake courtiers make when they first start using social media to shape their reputation is neglecting to establish a filter for the line between their real life and online presence. They start posting pictures on Instagram of every duck they shoot and every dinner they have with the Prince. A far more effective approach would be to cultivate the art of suggestion by giving your followers a taste of your life and allow them to imagine a greater reality behind your online output. All the most successful courtiers retain an element of mystery and their secret is this: let the imagination of others do the work for you.

2. Post with the Prince in mind: Before you tweet how vulgar the Prince’s mistress looks today, or complain about the number of riding sessions you have to attend, think to yourself: would the Prince be happy when he sees this? Let me remind you that entire careers are ruined by one careless tweet or one misplaced like. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want your greatest enemy to catch and share with the Prince in a private moment.

3. Use sponsorship sparingly: We know that the Venetian silk producer who gives you free shirts is great at what he does, but when we see that little phrase “sponsored by” at the bottom of your blog posts, it always leaves a slightly sour taste in our mouth. Keep your sponsors happy but don’t let your personality become a collection of different brands.

4. Master the effortless selfie: Try hard at not trying hard. Yes, I know it’s difficult, but remember that no one is born a courtier and don’t let those noble-borns convince you otherwise. Some of the sloppiest behavior oozes from the most pristine lineages. It’s almost impossible to define sprezzatura (if everyone could master it, it wouldn’t be so sought after, now would it?), but as a general rule of thumb, look at formal court portraiture and do the opposite.

Album of Tournaments and Parades in Nuremberg, late 16th century; Physichromie by Carlos Cruz-Diez; Square Brooch by Jesus Rafael Soto
Handmade items to buy: (clockwise) Ring by Leander D’Ambrosia; Scarf by Ayelet Iontef; Ring by Stacey; Bag by The Cul de Sac; Ring by Alex de Haro; Necklace by Indie Lab; Earrings by Bob Borter; Wrist Warmers by Liza Kolesnik

5. Create your own court: I know you’ve daydreamed about being the Prince. That will never happen but think of your followers and subscribers as your courtiers. It’s an international court, the up-and-coming English gentlemen mingling with the old Italians. With that in mind, consider the kind of courtiers you want to attract and embody those qualities yourself.

6. Don’t engage in arguments: Just as the Prince would never get involved in the petty problems of his courtiers, don’t become entangled in Twitter wars or Instagram disputes. It’s not worth it. You will only betray your cool exterior, which, as you know, is the most serious blow to any courtier’s reputation. Make it a rule never to respond except in the most polite and detached of tones.

7. Choose your channels wisely: You may think that you’re good at hunting, wrestling, riding, singing, playing the viola, and reciting ancient poetry, and you may very well be. But don’t rush to find a way to display all of your talents online unless you are certain that the majority of your fellow courtiers will not laugh at you behind your back. There’s nothing worse than watching a video of someone attempting the smooth, gliding motions of the basse dance but looking like a flailing octopus.

8. Never let your guard down: Chances are, right now, one of the nastier courtiers is hiding behind a marble column with his or her camera phone, waiting for you to blow your nose the wrong way. Don’t give them the chance to catch you in a compromising situation, or you’ll end up being #overheardatcourt rather than the one doing the overhearing. You need to graft grace and good manners into your being, unless, of course, you prefer to leave court and go back to the dirty city merchants.

Bosch Books

We’ve wandered through purple and grey labyrinths looking for printed perspective, and we continue our search guided by an erudite platypus.

• Zen Sekizawa’s Listen to the Echoes series documents Ray Bradbury’s home, or a museum of all the things – or metaphors as he calls them – that have inspired him.

• Kristiina Lahde’s Hive is a column of stacked honeycombs made from telephone books.

• Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights includes a platypus reading in paradise. Why not?

• Wasinee Cherklintaste’s Story Memory is a book sculpture filled with a shelf of small volumes, lamps, maps, and postcards.

• Benjamin’s Wall Appliques are starbursts made from the pages of novels.

• Malena Valcarcel’s Necklace strings together squares of book paper for a modern take on Elizabethan collars. Her Burn Me sculpture has a decorative pattern burned into one of its pages, and you can illuminate it by placing a LED light inside.

• Modulem’s Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow is a river of book slices, some stained with tea.

• Dorisse’s Paper Sculpture is folded from the pages of a Harry Potter book.

• Susan Hoerth’s Sunday Afternoon transforms a book reclaimed from the Salvation Army into a fantastical carousel ride.

• Keri Muller’s Africa Reinvented is a cluster of pinwheels made from old paperbacks.

Jump in the Water

If you’re nowhere near the clear waters of a tropical paradise, we’ve got other kinds of cool blues.

• The ultramarine blue of Mary’s dress in Jan Van Eyck’s The Annunciation comes courtesy of crushed lapis lazuli bonded with oil. But the blue doesn’t stay only in the folds of fabric. Van Eyck put touches of it in the stained glass windows, a subtle effect that makes the room look like it’s filled with natural sunlight.

• Katrín Sigurðardóttir’s Foundation for the Venice Biennale this year was a platform covered in Baroque tiles that livened up what used to be the laundry room of a palazzo.

• This Bowl dates back to 1st century B.C. and could be either Greek or Roman in origin. Despite its condition, the translucent cobalt blue is as vivid as the Mediterranean sea.

• Dawn Johnson’s Dinnerware Set includes a bowl and two plates glazed honey brown and matte blue.

• Vagabond’s Daughter’s Scarf is made of habotai silk shibori dyed to look like waves crashing into the shore.

• Nick Suen’s Scarf is Hagzhou silk hand-dyed in a cloud blue pattern.

• Rene Sprattling’s Bowls have a wave-like shape and blue glaze that resemble moving water.

• Julia Paul’s Cups have unique markings of brown glaze wandering through blue.

• Dianne McFarlane’s Brooch is a bouquet of blue enamel flowers on stainless steel.

• Banou’s Ring covers a sterling silver band with shimmering blue resin.

• Miriam’s Bowl has a slate blue glaze and lattice pattern carved into its surface.

Roll the Dice

Yes, I understand that a man might go to the gambling table – when he sees that all that lies between himself and death is his last crown.
– Balzac

• How do you gamble in hell? Hieronymous Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights is a hot mess that we know little about, so that leaves us only to speculate about the Netherlandish painter’s wild imagination. The right panel depicts hell and among its victims is a woman balancing a large die on her head. To her left is a game board with tiny dice and down below is a shield of two fingers holding a die with a knife piercing the palm.

• The Eco Die will tell you which environmentally friendly action you should take if you can’t make up your mind. There are also die for wellness and kind action, cheeky twists on the complicated world of self-help. Let the cute icons decide for you.

• This Ivory Die dates back to 1st century Rome, where it would have decided the fate of many gamblers. Apparently, in some parts of the empire there were oracles where people would seek advice from the gods by throwing dice.

• Bill Browne’s Die is made from solid stainless steel and heavier than most.

• Maya Geller’s Ring submerges a pair of silver dice in black enamel.

• Blue’s Ring has rolling silver dice suspended between a band covered in skulls and fleur-de-lis.

• Andrea Ring’s Earrings are a pair of red dice attached to dark silver hoops.

• Yaeli Nissan’s Earrings are lines of tiny cubes made of gold plated brass.

• Victoria Constable’s Charm is a silver die with its copy buried somewhere in England for future discovery.

• Miwako Okuda’s Necklace is a lucky die suspended from a sterling silver cable chain.

• Rami Elkhatib’s Earrings frames a pair of off-white dice with gear and insulator beads.

Girl with Cherries

So we grow together
Like to a double cherry, seeming parted
But yet a union in partition;
Two lovely berries moulded on one stem.
– Midsummer Night’s Dream

• The Girl With Cherries gets her half-smile and elegant hands from Leonardo, though the painting itself is attributed to one of his followers. The symbolism might be Biblical, but it’s more likely that it leans towards Greek myth. The female followers of Dionysus wore ivy wreaths around their heads, just like the girl in the painting. Perhaps this is a Renaissance version of a wild child Maenad.

• Paulette Tavormina’s Red Cherries and Plums is a photograph carefully constructed to resemble this Still Life by seventeenth century painter Giovanna Garzoni. Note the similar Chinese porcelain plates.

• What a pity that these kinds of cherry-ful Stockings are no longer in fashion. We’d have to go back to 1870 to see them in action.

• Leroy Coleman Jr.’s Bowl is made of maple wood with a cherry red resin rim.

• Coldwater Canyon’s Cherries are pickled in tarragon, peppercorn, and bay leaf for a rich flavor perfect with meats and cheeses.

• These Vegan Cherries are maraschinos covered in milk or white chocolate.

• Mary’s Bowl is made of cherry red fused glass.

• Julie’s Cheesecake Fudge is a decadent combination of cherry preserves, dark chocolate and Oreo crust.

• Mary Laskey’s Stacking Rings are four bands of sterling silver topped with delicious drops of cherry red, orange, yellow, and burgundy.

• Suraya’s Earrings are bundles of red and pink gems crocheted and knit with dark red thread.

• Charlie Michelle’s Truffles condense black forest cake into one luxurious bite.

Hot Legs

Before the bland trouser came along, there were tights, worn by both men and women. Taking inspiration from a 17th century portrait, we put together some flamboyant tights that you can wear.

• Daniel Mytens the Elder’s Portrait of James Hamilton depicts the Scottish nobleman without the frills and elaborate backgrounds of earlier court portraits. The red hose, with elaborate black garters tied just below the knee, speak for his status. For more on 17th century hosen and stockings, read this in-depth guide.

• The Chanel Pre-Fall 2013 Collection was an all-out Scottish affair held at the Linlithgow Palace, the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots. The modern interpretations of kilts, tartans, tweeds, and argyle look just as comfortable in a palace as the winter streets of New York.

• Emilio Cavallini’s Star Socks beg the question – can men wear tights today or should the trend stay in the 17th century?

• Dani K.’s Ombre Tights are hand-dyed with a black to fire red gradient.

• Inga and Irena’s Ivory Leggings have a quirky print of a girl on the bottom half of the leg, with her legs tucking into your boots. For a more muted look, try their Domino Leggings, printed with a dark grey and silver animal print.

• Morgan’s Tights are all silk screened with creative patterns like eye charts and barcodes.

• These Tights by Hose are screen printed with a line of light grey shells on a coral background.

• Dido Yland’s Tights have tiny red pines flock printed onto a darker red fabric.

• Lauren’s Tights are embellished with golden beetles – perfect for those who want to distinguish their usual black with a little something extra.

• Gal Stern’s Knots Tights put a modern twist on tweed fabric with a fragmented black and white print.

Royal Pearls

Try always, the cardinal says, to learn what people wear under their clothes, for it’s not just their skin.
– Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall

• Robert Peake’s portrait of Lady Anne Pope depicts her fingers running through a string of pearls, emerging from a lace collar and extending over a jacket embroidered with carnations, roses, and strawberries. These fineries were so expensive that only the highest ranking courtiers could afford them. The pearls, cherries in the background, and loose hair were all symbols of virginity, as if the status and money were not attractive enough. If this portrait was meant as an advertisement of her virginity and wealth, it didn’t work very well because she died unmarried.

• This Portrait of a Woman by an unknown British painter reflects the portraits of Elizabeth around 1600. The roses on the shoulder indicate the House of Tudor and the elaborate lengths of pearls leave no doubt that she had money to spare.

• The Alexander McQueen Fall 2013 Collection undressed the Virgin Queen a little bit, cleaned up her silhouette, and matched her love of extravagant jewelry. If she ever had lingerie, this would be it. Vests encrusted with pearls showing off bare shoulders, fishnets studded with pearls, and my favorite – black gloves that only cover the tips of fingers and end in a set of pearls.

• Aleksandra Vali’s Necklace suspends a square of dark lava that resembles a rich chocolate cake.

• Jenny Gilbert’s Ring creates a striking contrast between an oxidized sterling silver and a large freshwater pearl.

• Christine Heidema’s Beaded Necklace was inspired by the spines of a Red Pencil Sea Urchin she saw on one of her dives in Hawaii.

• Jean Hutter’s Black Magick Cuff surrounds a silver button with layers of pearls and beads in shades of black and silver.

• Jenny Gilbert’s Ring elaborates on her previous piece with lines of oxidized that resemble twisting vines, accented with four pearls.

• Sheriberyl’s Earrings are made of textured gold druzy quartz cabochons set in sterling silver bezel.

• Mimi Favre’s Pendant shows off the natural blue-black design running through light cognac colored quartz.

Dagmar’s Earrings are a pair of stylized flower petals studded with grey pearls.

Take Notes, Leonardo

• The cascading curls of Leonardo’s Drawing of a Woman’s Head closely resemble his studies of water, a comparison that he himself made in his journals. Hair, he says, has “two motions, of which one depends on the weight of the strands, the other on the direction of the curls.” In the same way, turbulent water creates eddies based on the main current together with random and reverse motion.

• Jean-Michel Verbeeck Innovates is a modern-day Vitruvian man that questions the distinction between physical and virtual reality. The flat surface of black polygons transforms into a body made of shifting configurations of light.

• This Lampshade by Spooky Shades allows light to illuminate Da Vinci’s drawings of anatomy and inventions.

• Baghy’s Journal is bound by leather hand-painted with one of Leonardo’s sketches, perhaps to inspire you to note your own observations.

• Steve’s Hollow Book Safe holds your valuables under Da Vinci’s watchful eye.

• Christopher’s Fountain Pen is made of grapevine and old oak wood that have been polished to bring out the gorgeous grain pattern.

• This Fountain Pen available at Therese Saint Clair is gold-plated and engraved with reproductions of Leonardo’s journals. Take a look at Sheila & Richard’s Style Journal for more inspiration on elegant living.

• Beverly’s Journal is wrapped in leather reminiscent of tree bark and comes with an image of the Vitruvian Man on the inside.

• Parker’s Trapper Keeper is an envelope made of leather, perfect for carrying your pen and paper on the go.

• Ray’s Wood Pen Set includes six cigar twist-style pens with custom engraving available.

• Corey’s Sketchbook is made of leather hand-dyed in rich brown and opens to a pad and set of pen holders.

Giotto’s Circle

• According to Vasari, Pope Benedict sent one of his couriers to collect samples from several artists in Italy, hoping to find one that would be suitable for completing several paintings for St. Peter’s. When the courier stopped by Giotto’s studio in Tuscany, Giotto drew a freehand circle in red paint. He got the commission. Vasari was prone to embellishment, but the fact of Giotto’s technical mastery remains evident in his work. The simplest form is the hardest to execute well. If Giotto could draw a circle, he could spark the Renaissance, too. Andrea Russo created her own Giotto’s Circle by folding paper, a process that probably took many years of practice before she could arrive at such a simple and elegant solution.

• Like all of his work, Clint Fulkerson’s Conjunction starts with a set of algorithmic rules and evolves as each new mark responds to the previous one. Like a poet working within the constraints of sonnet form, Clint creates new and unexpected networks based on a series of limits.

• Omar’s Earrings are gently curving strips of silver and black – a minimal touch that would complement anyone.

• Siavash’s Evil Eye is an explosion of lines crossing a series of concentric circles, reminiscent of the tree cross-section of a tree.

• Anna’s Place Mats are hand-printed with a playful triangle pattern in white and deep walnut brown.

• Chanee’s Pillow Cover has mesmerizing silver curves printed on brown hemp fabric.

• Jay’s Small Dishes are perfect for resting spoons on, holding tea bags, covering mugs with, and other important tasks.

• Sara’s Okapi Pillow has an intricate tribal pattern printed with water-based ink on oatmeal linen fabric.

Fish out of Water

• We’ve looked at understated elegance of François Clouet’s Apothecary, but the portrait of Elisabeth of Austria demonstrates Clouet’s skill in rendering precious jewels. The apothecary relied on his knowledge of medicinal plants, but Elisabeth’s extravagant costume was her source of power. The Chanel Spring 2012 Collection is a complete departure from that sort of piled-on luxury, with simple, lightweight materials like cotton, fiberglass, and polyester. Instead of rigid collars and strict geometry, Lagerfeld took inspiration from the organic shapes of sea shells, sea horses, and seaweed.

• Sanita’s Cuff has sixty-seven freshwater pearls of different shades forming a lace-like pattern on felt.

• Pat’s Dinner Napkins has grey lace medallions printed on white linen.

• Michaela’s Necklace wraps freshwater pearls in a net of yarn.

• Anna’s Roselyne Blouse is made of pearl grey cotton and delicate embroidery around the collar and elbows.

• Sandra’s Earrings suspend teardrop pearls from clusters of sapphires and akoya pearls.

• Sharona’s Bracelet is a tightly packed web of Swarovski crystals and grey pearls.