I’m in a Springlike, flowery mood and when I went through my big box of Victorian trade (advertising) cards today, I found this series from The Liebig company, entitled “Les Sylphides.” They were mythological spirits of the Air, first named and described by Paracelsus in the 16th century. A number of creative people have been inspired by the idea of Sylphs and there are several different romantic ballets centered around this theme.
Until I researched the name for this post, I thought they were merely fairies but apparently Paracelsus himself visualized them “rougher, coarser, taller, and stronger than humans.” You can see that the Liebig illustrator was more in tune with my theory of the ladies as nymphs or fairylike beings!
(Liebig by the way, was an 1800’s purveyor of extract of meat, and renowned for their beautifully illustrated sets of trading cards on just about any subject you can imagine. The company continued on into the 20th century in a variety of corporate incarnations.)
“She’s the only sylph I ever saw, who could stand upon one leg, and play the tambourine on her other knee, like a sylph.” Charles Dickens
Oft when the World imagine Women stray,
The Sylphs thro’ mystick Mazes guide their Way,
Thro’ all the giddy Circle they pursue,
And old Impertinence expel by new.
To draw fresh Colours from the vernal Flow’rs,
To steal from Rainbows ere they drop in Show’rs
A brighter Wash; to curl their waving Hairs,
Assist their Blushes, and inspire their Airs;
Nay oft, in Dreams, Invention we bestow,
To change a Flounce, or add a Furbelo.
Both quotes from Alexander Pope’s poem The Rape of the Lock