17th 18th century

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Ballet Evolved: At the Court of Louis XIV; part of the Royal Opera House’s exploration of the history and development of ballet.

Old Babylonian Plaque with Nergal, 18th-17th Century BC

A D-shaped baked clay plaque fragment with high-relief figure of a standing god Nergal wearing tall cap, with long curly hair and heard, a pair of bull(?) ears, in left hand holding a mace decorated by a double lion’s head, two daggers secured at the belt, a pair of decoration or weapons with lion head finial to the shoulders.

Nergal was a Mesopotamian god of war, plague and negative aspect of the sun. His domain was the Underworld, where he ruled over death together with other deities and later with his wife Ereshkigal. According to one myth, she had been the sole queen of the underworld into which Nergal was sent to apologize for having offended her messenger. There, he was seduced by her, but managed to trick his way out of her realm. Ereshkigal was angry about the loss of her lover and finally had him brought back to her. From this point onward, they ruled the underworld jointly. In his astral aspect, he was connected with planet Mars. As a god of war and underworld, Nergal controlled a variety of demons and evil forces, who are particularly prominent in the myth of Erra as agents of death and destruction

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Akkadian Cylinder Seal, 18th-17th Century BC

A carved banded agate cylinder seal with frieze depicting a seated bearded figure (possibly a deity) in flounced robe holding a cup towards a standing figure  in a robe with herringbone pattern, a second figure in flounced robe, a third figure (worshipper) in tasseled robe, lamp with corrugated stand.

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Lady Frances Brudenell, Countess of Newburgh and Baroness Bellew of Duleek (circa. 1677 to 1735/6) was an Anglo-Irish noblewoman and bisexual socialite. Born to the fairly illustrious Brudenell family, she made a good match when she married Charles Livingstone, 2nd Earl of Newburgh in 1692. Charles died two years later, leaving Frances a widow in her late teens (this was around the time Godfrey Kneller painted her, pictured left). Soon after, she married the fiery and often troublesome Richard Bellew, Baron Bellew of Duleek and moved with him to Dublin. Lady Frances had always shown an interest in women as well as men and she really came into her own in Ireland, taking several female lovers. After her second husband died in 1714, Frances dedicated the rest of her life to being both the toast and scandal of Anglo-Irish high society.

By the time she was in her 50s in the late 1720s/early 1730s, she was known for ruling a social circle of tribades (a lesbian/bisexual club which, according to most, primarily focused on and took part in tribbing/scissoring, hence their name). Her primary lover was one Lady Allen who Lady Frances seems to have been extremely attached to.

Around this time, Oxford don, William King, alleged that Lady Frances owed him several thousand pounds in debt. He, unfortunately, lost the case against her and as revenge, he wrote a satire against her in 1732 entitled The Toast, in which Lady Frances is described as “a promiscuous bisexual witch and lesbian named Myra.’ The poem is notable in that it is one of the earliest uses of ‘lesbian’ in the modern sense of the word.

Lady Frances died at the age of 59 and remained one of the famous LGBT women of the long 18th century. Her circle of tribades is often used as an example of how commonplace such groups were in early modern Western Europe.

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Roman Rock Crystal Hydria, 1st Century AD

A carved crystal vessel with loop handles and palmette detailing; with later, probably 17th-18th century AD silver-gilt lid and chain. 256 grams, 12.5cm (5").

Pliny the Elder in his Natural History, mentions a number of sources for rock crystal, such as Asia Minor, Cyprus, Portugal and the Alps, though he states the best came from India. The stone was fashioned into vessels in Bronze Age Greece as well as Cyprus, Asia Minor, Egypt and Mesopotamia. The use of rock crystal for vessels fell out of fashion in Classical Greece but was revived in the Hellenistic period where it was associated with the wealthy elite in such cities as Alexandria and Antioch.

In the Roman Empire rock crystal was highly valued and according to Pliny, Livia, the wife of Augustus, dedicated a block weighing one hundred and fifty pounds on the Capitol; he also mentions a wealthy Roman woman paying one hundred and fifty thousand sestertii for a single rock crystal dipper. Suetonius mentions that Nero had two crystal cups carved with Homeric scenes that he broke when he received the news that the Senate had called for his execution. The high value placed by the Romans on rock crystal can be seen in the high degree of carving that the surviving pieces have, and their relative rarity compared to other stone vessels.