The bishop, the dancer, and THAT dress
In 1798, James Gillray published a cartoon entitled “Operatical Reform; or la Dance a l’Eveque,” which shows three dancers, one of whom is Rose Didelot, holding between them a long rose-garland, and vaguely arranged in the manner of the three graces. All are wearing diaphanous costumes, with a modest apron over each dancer’s modesty. However, there is no mistaking the revealing nature of the rest of the costume, or indeed, the poses; the centre dancer has her left leg held horizontally (at the same time exposing some of her leg) while Didelot is apparently dancing away from the group, but in doing so, is trailing the rose garland suggestively over her shoulder. There are figures to the right and left of the proscenium, a satyr (to stage right) holding a mask not over his face but over his crotch, and (to stage left) a version of an embarrassed Venus de Medici.
The diaphanous clothes brought a vigorous protest from Shute Barrington, Bishop of Durham, who protested against French opera dancers as emissaries from France to undermine morality, and this paper explores the accusation, the responses, and the related caricatures, which represent an important moment in dancing costume and style.