February 1840 Weddings
February 1840, England and the 21-year-old Queen Victoria wed her prince, Prince Albert. The Queen wore a silk satin dress and white lace veil. As like all happy couples getting married, they wanted to document the occasion. Most couples today opt for photos but being the 19th-century photography was still in its infancy. So there weren’t many photographers available so the Queen and Prince opted for an oil painting instead.
Fast forward fourteen years and technology has advanced and photography was en vogue. So what did Queen Victoria and Albert do? Well, they did what any self-respecting Instagrammer from today would do. They put back on their wedding outfits and posed for the nuptials themed studio portrait shoot.
The black-and-white image of the powerful couple staring stoically into each other’s eyes sparked a trend, which spread throughout the U.K. before heading to the states around 30 years later.
Frank Maresca is a collector and curator interested in wedding portraits from times gone. Moments and emotional intensity were masked beneath the strict guidelines of the portraits. Every image shows strangers in the typical costumes. A white dress for her, a black suit for him. Their individual love stories are hidden just under the surface. All near the identical performance of matrimony.
Maresca, the co-owner of Ricco/Maresca Gallery say ‘I am interested in the vernacular universe’. The gallery specialises in contemporary, folk and outsider art. With Wedding portraits being the majority of which were taken at ‘mom and pop studios’.
So Maresca’s hunt began for wedding photos, or to be more specific, cabinet cards. These cards and 5x7inch gelatin silver prints mounted on illustration board. Maresca managed to find them on eBay, Etsy and car boot sales! Surpisngally all similar, with a few differences to Queen Victoria’s original. Talk about setting a trend!
During Maresca hunting, some unexpected was noticed. Most of the images, dating from 1885-1900, while from big cities and small towns. All seem to come from the Wisconsin area. “The population of Wisconsin, for whatever reason, caught on to this tradition first and it became a fad.’
The 100 cabinet cards will be exhibited at his gallery this summer in an exhibition titled “I Do, I Do.” Also on show are vintage wedding cake toppers, all made between 1920 and 1960. Maresca seems most intrigued by the photos, the way they house intimacy within a shell of stoicism, they way they differ from, yet somewhat predictable, the traditions of wedding photography we follow today.
“Look at their faces,” Maresca said. “Go from husband to wife to husband to wife. See it as a film that represents marriage in Wisconsin over a period of time.”
It’s amazing how far we have come since then. Wedding photography today is so varied and we able to capture the whole day and everyone there. Even the small details. I know I’m glad times have moved forward.
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Late 19th-century brides and grooms were participating in a different kind of fad.