Cultural Context

Nineteenth Century White Dress Nineteenth Century White Dress

With no concrete birthdate for Anna, there is only mere evidence that suggests that she was born sometime between 1800 and 1810 in Braunschweig, Germany. This would put her childhood during the Confederation of the Rhine. Formed in 1806, the Confederation of the Rhine was made of sixteen German states that decided to ally with Napoleon Bonaparte and France, forcing the abdication of Frances II of the Holy Roman Empire. The Confederation provided a “physical barrier against enemies on France’s eastern border;” it also provided significantly more troops for the Napoleonic military force (Moore). This was a time when Germany was experiencing tumultuous social and political changes, such as the end of the Holy Roman Empire and the beginning of Napoleonic occupation. Established in 1806, the Napoleonic Code would have been in full effect during Anna’s childhood. The introduction of the Code, which gave men stronger authority over their families, “deprived women of any individual rights and reduced the rights of illegitimate children” ( Staff). Men were also given equal rights under the law, especially in regard to religious dissent. In some parts of Europe, colonial slavery was even reintroduced, but not, however, in Germany. Napoleonic Code “forbade privileges based on birth, allowed freedom of religion and specified government jobs should go to the most qualified” (“1800s”). The Code would have granted her father freedom but denied Anna and her mother most civil liberties and rights, not that they had many prior to this time.

Some cultural influences on Anna’s life include the publications of Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, which were in the height of their popularity in 1812. Also, the Battle of Leipzig, which included over 600,000 soldiers, took place just one year later in 1813 (“Battle of Leipzig”). This was the largest war to occur in Europe prior to World War 1 and would have had a profound influence on Anna’s childhood. Another influence on Anna’s early life was the resurgence of Greek and Roman interest, which would have immersed her childhood in the Neoclassical movement.

Many important women of Anna’s time were painted wearing gowns made of imported Indian muslin. Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister-in-law, Elizabeth Patterson, wore a wedding gown made of Indian muslin and lace that supposedly could fold small enough to “fit easily into a gentlemen’s pocket” (Gontar). A portrait created by Francois Gerard of Madame de Tallyrand shows her dressed in “the iconic white gown evocative of the classical world”—a white muslin gown with a scandalously low neckline (Gontar). Other famous people to wear the pseudo-Grecian style of muslin gowns were Jane Austen’s heroines in Pride and Prejudice as well as Marie Antionette, though she was well ahead of the fashion curve for her day. The women who wore gowns of white muslin were women of class and understated elegance, embracing their femininity through simplicity.