Costume in art

In modern societies, only the poorest wear clothes solely to get protection from elements. All other social groups treat clothes as a medium to send a message to others about one’s identity, social status and aspirations. People are free to wear what they want and they often use that power to engage, seduce or provoke. Governments regulate only what its agents wear although strict penalties apply to breaches of regulations on uniforms worn by the police and the army.

In Europe, the erotic element of dress can hardly be overestimated and clothes have always been worn as much to cover the body as to reveal it. Eroticism of costume is even present in religious art which provides evidence of Christianitas being close to humanitas. It is quite surprising to see so much nudity in pre-Reformation religious painting. What is being celebrated here, the divine or the human?

the-holy-family-academy-of-fine-arts-vienna-by-joop-van-cleve-c-1515

 

Joos van Cleve The Holy Family, about 1525 

 

In traditional societies, strict rules apply to what one can wear in public. In such societies, costume is believed to have magical qualities. Individuals do not have discretion as to what to wear as the rules related to dress were supposedly declared once and for all by God. You are what you wear and no dissent is tolerated.

Traditional Judaism and Islam are iconoclastic and they have prescriptive and proscriptive rules on dressing of particular severity. As there is no divine sanction for colour, embellishments and patterns from nature, people often wear clothes covering almost all their bodies, and only white and black colours are acceptable.

 

pro

 

 Lucien Levy-Dhurmer Evening Promenade, 1930

In Europe, art bifurcated at Reformation and costume also reflects this phenomenon. Rococo, with its extravagant skirts and barely covered bosoms, is limited to Catholic countries. With the exception of the Calvinist Dutch Republic, Reformation – being iconoclastic – stifled artistic expression in visual arts. Pre-Raphaelites are no match for Impressionists.

Reformation introduced puritanism into people’s lives. Paradoxically, even today some paintings from several centuries ago would be considered too risqué even in our permissive times.

 

Jean_Honore_Fragonard_Young_Woman_Playing_with_a_Dog

 

 Jean Honore Fragonard Young Woman Playing with a Dog, between 1765 and 1772

 

In the second part of the seventeenth century and in the eighteenth century, extravagance in costume reached absurd levels. In England, during the Restoration, women used the seductive power of costume to its full potential. James Robinson Planché writes in History of British costume that

Charles II’s beauties were the very reverse of their mothers in dress as in demeanour. The starched ruff, the steeple-crowned hat, the rigid stomacher, and the stately fardingale were banished with the gravity and morality of their wearers. A studied negligence, an elegant deshabille, is the prevailing character of the costume in which they are nearly all represented.

Puritanic sobriety and austerity gave way to ostentatious display and flamboyancy in shapes and colours but it all ended with the ascendance of the Prince of Orange, a Protestant, to the throne as William III in 1689.

In France, frivolous gaiety took many shapes, including elaborate pastoral simplicity of noble men and women pretending to be shepherds and shepherdesses. The French Revolution destroyed this world. It all started with Rousseau who initiated a new trend in culture and politics by claiming that civilisation has corrupting power. His ideas became reality during the French Revolution. Gone were fetes champetres and fetes galantes, replaced by republican austerity and simplicity. Napoleon chose to copy the Romans in costume, furniture and architecture. The end of feudalism marked the end of the world as theatrum mundi and people behaving as if acting in a play, with appropriate costumes.

 

the-toilet

 Francois Boucher The Toilet

 

dancing_camargo_ed

 Nicolas Lancret La Camargo dancing

Revolution in politics was also a revolution in costume. King Louis XVI was executed wearing the simplest possible garment. He was stripped of all the vestiges of power and died as citizen Capet.

king

 

The standard simplicity of masculine costume worn today dates from the French Revolution, writes R. Turner Wilcox in The Mode in Costume.

The nineteenth century was a period of conservatism in costume and mores, particularly in England while the beginning of the twentieth century was also the beginning of a period of costume becoming simpler, more practical and more functional until almost everyone wore denim trousers. Jeans are nowadays worn by men and women, rich and poor, and young and old.

James Laver writes in The Concise History of Costume that a fundamental change occurred in the 1960:

[young men] no longer care about formality and are no longer concerned to “dress like a gentleman”. In other words, the idea of gentility which kept men’s clothes almost static for the last 150 years is no longer accepted; and this represents a real revolution in manners.

 

Costume plays a special role in art because it gives the artist an opportunity to show his craft. For that reason, the history of art is also the history of costume and this phenomenon can be illustrated by the following paintings and other art objects:

 

 

200px-Venus_von_Willendorf_01

Woman of Willendorf, between 28,000 and 25,000 BC

sumerpriest2

Sumerian Statuette, from the Temple of Abu, Tel Asmar, c. 2700 – 2600 BC

persian archers

Persian Archers, Susa, fifth- fourth BC

tumblr_m6dw6vqdtp1ryfivao1_1280

King Tut and his wife Ankhesenamun, c. 1332–1323 BC 

snake

The snake goddess, from the palace of Knossos, c. 1600 BC

athenapacifique

So-called Athena Pacifique, c. 130-90 BC

woman_archaic

Girl from Verona, Italy. Roman copy of a Greek original, 1 century

bikini

Mosaic from the Villa Romana del Casale, fourth century AD

rawenna
Mosaic of Theodora’s Procession with Retinue, San Vitale, Ravenna, c. 546 CE
4_Gift_Bringers_of_Otto_III
Sclavinia, Germania, Gallia, and Roma, bringing offerings to Otto III; 990.
 Les_Très_Riches_Heures_du_duc_de_Berry_avril

Limbourg brothers The Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry c. 1412 and 1416

 

eyck5

 

Jan van Eyck The Arnolfini Portrait, 1434

 
the-mass-at-bolsena-detail-1512
Raphael The Mass at Bolsena (detail), between 1512 and 1514 
francois-clouet-portrait
François Clouet King Charles IX of France, 1566.
  06henry8
 Hans Holbein Henry VIII, 1509
 800px-Elizabeth_I_(Armada_Portrait)
Unknown Portrait of Elizabeth I , 1588
 800px-Elizabeth_I,_Procession_Portrait
Robert Peake the Elder (attributed) Procession portrait of Elizabeth I of England, c. 1600
Peter_Paul_Rubens_Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_The_Artist_and_His_First_Wife,_Isabella_Brant,_in_the_Honeysuckle_Bower
Peter Paul Rubens The Artist and His First Wife, Isabella Brant, 1610 
300px-Cavalier_soldier_Hals-1624x

Frans Hals , Cavalier soldier, 1624

portrait-of-a-woman-1632

Rembrandt Portrait of a Woman, 1632

a8c5c14842ea31cf387529704f5092c5
 Anthony van Dyck Portrait of an Unknown lady, 1634-35
800px-Sir-Anthony-van-Dyck-Lord-John-Stuart-and-His-Brother-Lord-Bernard-Stuart
Anthony van Dyck Lord John Stuart and his brother Lord Bernard Stuart, 1637/8
 
portraitdelinfantemargueriteenrobeblanche

Diego Velázquez Infanta Margarita Teresa in White Garb, 1656

 

regent

 

Frans Hals Regentesses of the Old Men’s Almshouse, 1664

tiepolo

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo Young Lady in a Tricorn Hat, c. 1755/1760

Fragonard_-_swing
 Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Swing, 1767
Gainsborough_1748-9_Mr+Mrs-Andrews

 

Thomas Gainsborough Mr and Mrs Andrews, 1750

 
4recamie
Francois Gérard Madame Recamier, 1802
Philipp_Otto_Runge_003

 

Philipp Otto Runge, The Hülsenbeck Children, 1805-06

spitzweg

Carl Spitzweg, TheWidower, 1844

 

 

Dominique_Ingres_-_Mme_Moitessier

 

 

Dominique Ingres Mme Moitessier, 1856

 

whistler13

 

James McNeill Whistler At the Piano, 1858–59

 

 

 

 

Mother and Children

 

Pierre Auguste Renoir Mother Strolling with her Children, 1875

1280px-Frith_A_Private_View
William Powell Frith, A Private View at the Royal Academy, 1883
1024px-A_Sunday_on_La_Grande_Jatte,_Georges_Seurat,_1884
Georges Seurat A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, 1884
800px-Gustave_Caillebotte_-_Paris_Street;_Rainy_Day_-_Google_Art_Project
Gustave Caillebotte, Paris Street, Rainy Day, 1877
music-in-the-tuileries-gardens-1862
Edouard Manet, Music in the Tuileries Garden, 1862 
300px-Cottonexchange1873-Degas
Edgar Degas, A Cotton Office in New Orleans, 1872-73
800px-Pierre-Auguste_Renoir_023.jpg
Pierre Auguste Renoir, La Loge, 1874
japan-s-camille-monet-in-japanese-costume-1876_jpg!Blog
Claude Monet La Japonaise (Camille Monet in Japanese Costume), 1876
260px-Van_Gogh_-_Portrait_of_Pere_Tanguy_1887-8
Vincent van Gogh Portrait of père Tanguy, 1887
margot-in-blue-1902
Mary Cassatt Margot in Blue, 1902
Boldini,_Lady_admiring_Fan
Boldini, Lady admiring Fan
miro
Joan Miró Portrait of Enric Cristofol Ricart, 1917
grosz9
Grosz Grey Day, 1921
the-praying-jew-rabbi-of-vitebsk-1914
Marc Chagall The Praying Jew (Rabbi of Vitebsk), 1914
tamara-de-lempicka-portrait-of-the-duchess-de-la-salle-1925-1348059646_b
Tamara de Lempicka Portrait of the Duchess de la Salle, 1925
 
charleston-couple_jpg!Blog
Erte Charleston Couple
 balthasar-klossowski-de-rola-1908-2001
Balthus Thérèse Dreaming, 1938
nazi
Adolf Wissel, Peasant Family from Kahlenberg, 1939
Rudolf%20Hermann%20Eisenmenger-Heimkehr%20der%20Ostmark%20(teil)%20(1941)%20Detail%20of%20a%20mural
Rudolf Hermann Eisenmenger ?
Self_Portrait_with_Jewish_Identity_Card_-Felix_Nussbaum_-_1943
Felix Nussbaum Self Portrait with Jewish Identity Card, 1943
portrait-of-natasha-gelman
Diego Rivera Portrait of Natasha Gelman, 1943
conference-at-night
Edward Hopper, Conference At Night,  1949
brack-mens-wear

John Brack Men’s wear 1953

 
 Hockney_clark-percy
David Hockney, Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, 1970–71
Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s