If you know me personally you will be aware that I am utterly fascinated by the Middle Ages. I spent a considerable period of time at university studying both English and French literature of the period, and wrote my capstone thesis for my French degree all about a Medieval stained glass window. Oddly enough the fictional series of mysteries, Cadfael, written by author Ellis Peters are partially due credit for this fascination. I watched the film adaptations of these novels on Mystery religiously as a child.
Based upon the tenacious and incredibly intelligent former knight of the crusades turned monk, Cadfael, these mysteries draw inspiration from events and cultural phenomenon of the Middle Ages. A beautiful set of perfume samples* that Mandy Aftel was kind enough to send me from her line, Aftelier Perfumes, were the inspiration for this post. Incredibly natural and beautiful in color these fragrances remind me of Brother Cadfael's way with herbs and medieval medicine, two arts that contributed to our modern understanding of fragrance. My small collection of Aftelier Perfume sample vials remind me of Cadfael's workshop, both in color and fragrance.
In terms of shades of cosmetics, Ellis Peters Cadfael mysteries immediately call to mind the beautiful and bold colors we so often associate with the Middle Ages. Stained glass and texts from the period are both examples of the medieval affinity for bold colors. Due to strict Sumptuary laws, social classes were restricted to wearing certain shades and styles of clothing. For this reason, I cannot help but associate vermilion, cobalt blue, amber and deep evergreen shades with specific characters featured in the Cadfael series. Rich browns, for instance, will forever remind me of Cadfael himself due to the habit he wears, whereas hunter green seems synonymous with sheriff Hugh Beringer.
(Clockwise from top left): Rouge Bunny Rouge Abyssinian Catbird Eye Shadow, MAC Dark Diversion and Avenue Fluidlines, MAC Sketch, Antiqued, Hocus Pocus, Greensmoke and Club Eye Shadows
Given the deadly nature of the Cadfael mysteries, deep red seems to be a must. The crimson shade so often featured in Medieval glass windows has always been a source of inspiration for me. Often used in stained glass addressing more sinister motifs, the shade suggests a certain amount of danger coupled with sexuality that suits the theme of the mysteries Cadfael often finds himself unraveling.
(Left to right): MAC Keep it Casual, NARS Mounia Blush
Though cosmetics were, of course, not commonplace I cannot help but associate full, red lips with Medieval beauty ideals. Though many centuries old notions of beauty seem alien to us now (high hair lines and little to no eyebrows), I believe it's safe to say that women have long sought to darken the natural shade of their lips by any means. Deep red would evidently not have been available or permissible at the time, but many of the noble ladies featured in the Cadfael mysteries have subtle rosy pouts.
(Top to bottom): NARS Autumn Leaves Lipstick, NARS Dolce Vita Lipstick, Lipstick Queen Medieval Lipstick
Have you ever read or watched an Ellis Peters Cadfael mystery? Which is your favorite story?