Detail from a portrait of Anna Margareta von Haugwitz, 
by Anselm van Hulle, Almost perfect, but, alas, her chin is hanging double…


Some Observations on the Criteria for Beauty

While doing research for our next book “Skyehag,” I found a charming book written more than three hundred years ago.  By now, my eyes automatically replace what looks like an “f” in original manuscripts, with an “s” so I have copied it verbatim, and hope it will make you smile…or sigh…as I did when I read it.  When Skyehag is completed, you will find that I have used it to delineate two of my characters.  The book gives great insight into both male and female thinking of the time, since it is a compilation of the writings of both.  The following was written by a man.


The Ladies Dictionary:

Being a General Entertainment For the Fair Sex

Published in London in 1694

Perfect Beauty. To make a perfect Beauty is required a Smooth Complexion, white and red, and each colour be truly placed, and lose themselves imperceptibly the one in the other; which some ladies would express by the new French Phrase, demeflee.  Full Eyes, well made of a dark or black color, graceful and casting a lustre. A Nose well made, neither too big nor to small.  A little Mouth, the upper-Lip resembling a Heart in shape, and the under some what larger, but both of a vermilion colour, as well in Winter as Summer: and on each side two dimples easily to be discerned in their moving upward, which look like a kind of constant smile.  White teeth, very clean, well ranged in order, of an equal bigness, neither short nor long, but very close set.  A forked Chin, not too long and hanging double.  A full round, or oval Visage.  The Temples high raised.  As for the colour of the Hair, opinions are various.

One the fair hair, another brown admires.

A third a colour between both desires.

But, herein all concur and do rest

The colour o’lb’ lov’d object is the best.

Therefore tis indifferent to me which of the three they be, provided the Hair be very long, and thick, loose, cleanly kept, and a very little frizz’d, or curled in rings; but above all that it be not red nor come near that tincture. For it were disadvantageous to them to have all the other species of Beauty if they are of that color. I have a natural antipathy against it insomuch that I oftentimes betake myself to my heels, when I spy it; not but they are usually accompanied with a pure skin, for which I have a great inclination; but for the aversion I have for the one, makes me abandon the other. But to return to the Ladies, to whom beauty de jure belongs. I am acquainted with some who by their damned Art destroy the most beautiful works of Nature.  I am sometimes to incensed against them, that I desire to go and rub their cheeks with the little end of my finger, to give them to understand the artifices wherewith they endeavor to abuse them.  For I phancy no beauty but what is natural, which I have framed; and am an enemy to those kind of disgaises, that in vain strive to imitate the naturals.  But as the Lover cannot take the same liberty as my absolute Empire over all that is beautiful furnisheth me with, to reform all abuses that are committed, that he may do is take the Lady he waits upon, and suspects to be guilty of such artifice, when she riseth out of her bed.  Tis then that the paint box hath not as yet plaid its part, unless by a neat foresight she made use of it the lait night.  In this case he must address himself to the waiting Gentle-woman, as to an Oracle, that can only clear all his doubts.  But if he will oblige her to relate the truth, he must open his purse, for that incloseth the most mysterious secrets. He shall no sooner produce certain Guests, that dwell there, which they call Guinnies but they will unriddle him the most obscure enigmas, not only upon this, but any other subject whatsoever, that his curiosity prompts him to understand.


The writer is arrogant, opinionated, and has a passionate dislike of red hair that makes the reader wonder.  Mayhap I shall address that in Skyehag.  One thing has not changed; the belief that money will unlock all secrets.


My gratitude to:

2 thoughts on “Beauty

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