forgery / chastity-belt
Chastity belt; iron; fake. Constructed of two separate elements: The openwork oval plate is pierced for attachment all round the edge; to this have been added hinged narrow bands forming a belt.
- 18thC-19thC (?)
- Length: 23 inches
Text from Jones 1990, no. 49:
There is evidence for the existence of chastity belts from the beginning of the fifteenth century onwards. E. J. Dingwall in 'The Girdle of Chastity' (London 1931) concludes that they were invented in Italy around 1400 and were in actual use, albeit occasionally, right into the present century. The evidence for their use in the Renaissance period, however, is largely anecdotal or in burlesque fiction. It is probable that the great majority of examples now existing were made in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as curiosities for the prurient, or as jokes for the tasteless. This object is of uncertain date but may be an eighteenth- or early nineteenth-century concoction: it was presented to the British Museum before 1846 by Sir Henry Ellis, then Principal Librarian, after it had been sent to the Earl of Aberdeen, President of the Society of Antiquaries.
Literature: J. J. Brunner, 'Der Schlüssel im Wandel der Zeit' (Bern & Stuttgart 1988), pp. 214-15.
Information supplementary to Jones 1990:
Closely similar concoctions are held by a number of other museums, for example: the Science Museum in London (inv. no. A641277, illustrated on the their website); the University Museum in Bologna, its date of acquisition unknown (seen on display there by J. Rudoe in 2001); the Palazzo Falson, Malta, see M. Galea and F. Balzan, 'Palazzo Falson. Historic House Museum', Malta 2007, p. 21 (with illustration); the Doge's Palace in Venice (illustrated on Wikipedia Nov 2011).
A number of 16th-century satirical prints of women cheating on their husbands show the women wearing chastity belts, for example: P&D 1868-6-12-1556 and 1880-7-10-342. Such images may have inspired these later inventions.
See also: D. Gaimster, 'Sex & Sensibility at the British Museum', in 'History Today' 50 (9), 2000, 13; and D. Gaimster, 'Under Lock and Key: Censorship and the Secret Museum', in 'Sex: The Erotic Review', ed.by Bayley, Stephen, 2001, p.133-134.
For a more recent account, see the website of the Semmelweis Museum of the History of Medicine in Budapest, for text and images from the exhibition 'The Secret Histories of Chastity Belts. Myth and Reality', Varga Benedek, 2010 (www.semmelweis.museum.hu)
Not on display
1994 01 Mar-15 Sep, Sweden, Stockholm, Naturhistoriska Museet, Sex, Plague and AIDS
Presented before 1846 by Sir Heny Ellis, then Principal Librarian, after it had been sent to the Earl of Aberdeen, President of the Society of Antiquaries.
Britain, Europe and Prehistory
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Object reference number: MCN2143
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