LGBT London: Who was princess Serafina?October 31, 2012 About my museum job, Blogs, Community, Learning
This month we looked at London’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) history. This was initiated by Gary, who has been collaborating with the museum for several years now and is a key face of the inclusion programme. Gary is interested in how visible LGBT history is in the museum’s permanent galleries and set us the challenge of finding as many LGBT objects on show as possible. What did we find? What can you find? And who was princess Serafina? All answers revealed below…
A search of the Museum’s Collections Online lists 18 objects linked to LGBT London. Of these 4 are printed ephemera, 1 is an outfit and 13 are badges. All of these are from the twentieth century and they are all on display in the World City gallery. For more info about the badges you can search our Collections Online and for the outfit below, please click here: http://bit.ly/SvwXll
So these are the objects that the website gives us but Gary was interested in whether our eyes would yield any other results. So we went looking… The first item someone found was this fine fellow:
This is a copper alloy dupondius coin of Emperor Hadrian, ruler of the Roman Empire, AD 117-138. Although it was not uncommon for his predecessors to have gay lovers (alongside their wives), Hadrian was the first Roman emperor to be publicly ‘out’. This depiction of Hadrian sparked lots of discussion about homosexuality in ancient Roman and Greek culture, particularly with regards to the military. Gary told us that both empires encouraged homosexuality in their armies. They saw that soldiers fighting to defend someone they were in love with would fight twice as hard as those defending their friends and colleagues. After chatting about this, we continued our search. In the Expanding City gallery, someone pointed out the classical images on the Selfridges lift, some of which could be seen as homo-erotic.
Sadly, despite a continued search we didn’t find many more objects in the galleries that we saw as being linked to LGBT history and culture. I’d love to hear from you though, if you have spotted objects that we missed. Maybe this lack of obvious objects is something for us at the museum to think about. We do have lots of other items in storage, which may one day make it to the galleries. These can currently be viewed using Collections Online and include, among many other things, the below booklet.
Gary, however, has an impressive personal archive of LGBT objects, images and quotes, which we had the great pleasure of rifling through. Please see some of these below and at the bottom of this blog post. After exploring the galleries, Gary led us in making jumping jack style puppets in celebration of all open-minded Londoners past and present. We took these on a gay pride march around the Newgate Prison Door and Well close prison cell – much to the entertainment of the on looking visitors! Here are some of them:
So all that’s left now is to explain about Princess Serafina. She was London’s first recorded drag artist, working in London in the mid-18th century. Since her death she has continued to make appearances around London and yesterday she was with us all day, as Gary led the workshop in character, and costume! This definitely encouraged us all to have a laugh. But he stayed true to character by not just having fun but having a serious message too, one informed by lots of reading and lots of brain. Thank you so much for such a memorable workshop Gary.
Here’s to the promotion of love, for everyone, everywhere.
Previous LGBT exhibitions at Museum of London
Quotes and Images
‘Be yourself, everyone else is taken.’ Oscar Wilde
‘Surely there can’t be any such thing!’ Queen Victoria, on Lesbianism
‘The whole trouble with western society today is the lack of anything worth concealing.’ Joe Orton
‘I cannot regard my sexual feelings as unnatural or abnormal, since they have disclosed themselves so perfectly and natural and spontaneously with me.’ Edward Carpenter, 1897