Friday, May 20, 2011

lluminating Fashion: The Morgan Library

I often think about the semiotics of Fashion and Clothing (not exactly the same thing), so I'm champing at the bit to see Illuminating Fashion: Dress in the Art of Medieval France and the Netherlands, an exhibit at The Morgan Library which opens today. In it, they purport to chart the evolution of fashion in (of course) France during the Medieval Era through illuminated manuscript illustrations.

So rarely do so many of my obsessions come together in one exhibition! Illuminated manuscripts are some of the earliest European illustrated books, mostly rendered in egg tempera, one of the hardiest mediums known to man. The surviving pictures are still as bright and fresh as they day they were painted.

For many hundreds of years, one was able to tell precisely where a person fell on the social scale just by glancing at them. Strict sumptuary laws prevented any but the entrenched nobility from wearing certain fabrics and colors and styles. It wasn't until the rise of the prosperous merchant class in the Renaissance that these laws began to be stripped away. Nearly all of what we know about what people wore in pre-modern times is from art as textiles rarely survive so long. Because of this, our understanding of undergarments is minimal. Fashions moved slowly in a time before travel was common and before Mr. Gutenberg invented his remarkable press. Great world events influenced dress remarkably - the Crusades and the opening of the East brought silks and velvets and brocade to Europe, and the shapes of clothing changed as well. The corset became de rigueur in the 14th century. So, needless to say, I'm looking forward to seeing what the curators of this exhibition have put together.

For information about visiting The Morgan Library and Museum, go here. The exhibition runs from today through September 14th.

1 comment:

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

I insist on reading the third paragraph sentence as "Fashion moved slowly before time travel was common," that I may better picture visitors from the future introducing people of the Renaissance to leisure suits and shoulder pads.