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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tartan Fever at the de Young

The de Young museum is currently displaying art from the National Galleries of Scotland. Naturally, some of the art includes portraits of Scots in their full tartan clothing. For example, these two portraits are on display and were painted by Sir Henry Raeburn (1756–1823).

This first painting shows Colonel Alastair Ranaldson Macdonell wearing his tartan costume of the Gaelic culture from head to toe,

and next to it, is a portrait of Sir John Sinclair, 1st Baronet in his full Tartan attire.

The thing you should be aware of is, this display at the de Young museum has your eyes level with the crotch in both of these paintings.

So, what does one obviously focus on and think about when gazing at these paintings?  The crotches, of course. How could you not?

So obviously, the next question is, "What the hell is that hairy thing covering their crotches?"

Wikipedia calls this hairy thing, a "sporran" (which is also an interesting word, don't ya think?) It is NOT a loin cloth. It is not fur. It is not hair. It is a male purse and has nothing to do with crotch protection.

But, what you should REALLY focus on when you see these two portraits is not the Sporran, but the history behind these paintings. These men had been living in an era when wearing their clan attire was illegal. Yes, Highland dress (including tartan plaid or a kilt) was made illegal in Scotland in 1746 as part of a way that England would gain control of the clans (it was later repealed in 1782).

So now, seeing these portraits of men in full Highland dress, changes the thoughts around these two paintings. These men were in full Tartan attire and very proud of the symbols they were displaying because it showed strength and defiance, as well as unity to their family clan.

It also reminds us how silly many of the laws have been throughout history.