Fashion in the Middle Ages
May 31–August 14, 2011 at the Getty Center
Clothes are far more than a physical covering to protect the body from the elements; they can reveal much about a person. An evening gown, a doctor's white coat, cowboy boots—today these can all be clues to social status, profession, or geographic origin.
In the Middle Ages, clothing was integral to identifying one's place in the world. Medieval people were highly skilled at reading the meaning of fashion, which is reflected throughout the painted pages of illuminated manuscripts.
In Philosophy Presenting the Seven Liberal Arts to Boethius, female personifications of philosophy and the seven liberal arts are portrayed in a range of late medieval fashions.
Themes in this exhibition range from the extravagant cost of clothing worn by the elite, to styles and fabrics permitted by custom and law, to the inventiveness that embellishes historical depictions of fashion.
While at times containing fanciful or idealized images of clothing, manuscript illuminations often reflect the actual styles and fabrics of the Middle Ages, as well as the economic factors behind them.
For the medieval viewer, color and material provided essential information about the social status of the figures on the page. For example, scholars wore red robes that carried the additional prestige associated with the high cost of crimson dye.
Peasants wore cheap, undyed wool in shades of brown and gray. Such distinctions offer valuable insights into the world of fashion, allowing us to imagine what the books' makers and owners might have been wearing and why.
In an image in which he is shown kneeling in prayer, Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, wears a fabric of gold thread that, in the 1400s, was usually made by wrapping gilt-silver foil around a core of silk. Gold cloth was the ultimate status symbol in medieval clothing.
Dressing the Part
Manuscript illuminators used...
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