Fashion in Art

Fashion in Art
Dress from the time of the Egyptians to Tudor England are known primarily from the art left behind for future generations. Fashion dates paintings and identifies artists. I will explain.

In ancient Egypt, as in other cultures, the mode of dress was based on socio-economic conditions. The men wore linen kilts mostly, and occasionally animal hides. These scenes can be seen in the tombs of pharaohs. The quality of the material and adornment of clothing was based on social ranking.

"Ladies in Blue" is a fresco from Crete, dating from 1500 BC. The women are believed to be from the upper class of Minoan society. A reproduction can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

The Middle Ages spanned from the 5th century – late 15th century. There weren't any military uniforms, so the soldiers' clothing consisted of pants, tunic, shoes, and a soldier's badge.

The women of the time wore long gowns with sleeveless tunics. The art and architecture of the Middle Ages timestamp the social mores.

The Tudor and Stuart periods in modern England were from 1485-1649. The Tudors were from Wales, the Stuarts from Scotland.

During the Tudor period of King Henry VIII (1491-1547) and Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), the wealthy wore expensive handmade clothing decorated with gold and jewels. The poor wore practical clothing made from wool.

Hans Holbein the Elder's "Portrait of King Henry VIII" (1536-37) records the dress du jour. An important portrait of Queen Elizbeth I is called "Darnley" portrait, named after its previous owner.

Fashion from the Stuart era depended on one's social class. The poor wore practical clothing, whereas the wealthy copied that of King Charles I and his young Queen Henrietta Maria by wearing silk brocade with handmade lace edgings.

In 1500 Florence, Italy the clothing trade flourished. Their wealth derived from manufacturing and trading of cloth – mostly wool, imported from England and Iberia. Textile workers in Florence processed the wool and wove it into cloth.

Dutch artist Rembrandt dressed casually in work clothes, as seen in his "Self Portrait" (1655). He owned and used historical clothing and costumes for his models, but because of the economic depression in Amsterdam in 1650, Rembrandt was forced to sell these.

Rembrandt painted models wearing garments with fallen collars and ruffs. His "Portrait of Young Woman with Fan" (1633) shows a fallen collar, whereas "Portrait of Woman" (1632) is of woman with ruffs. In "Man in Oriental Costume" (1635) Rembrandt shows his interest in the Near East culture.

In the 17th century the word robe meant 'robe de cour' or a dress in French. It was a two-piece court dress, made of expensive fabric and ornamentation. One titled "Mantua" can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, NY.

In 17th century Southern Netherlands, artist Peter Paul Rubens dressed fashionably. His "Man in Korean Costume" (1617) is executed in black chalk with red chalk on the face. The model wears a silk robe and headdress. It can be seen at the Getty Museum, CA.

A portrait of Louis XIV, King of France was commissioned by Hyacinthe Riguard in 1701 to commemorate his coronation.

During 18th century Europe, the guilds of Paris controlled the garment industry by accepting/rejecting applicants and controlling the number of positions. The guilds would disappear in the early 19th century.

Belgian Surrealist Rene Magritte first worked in commercial advertising. He dressed the same every day, in a suit and tie, when he painted in a corner of his living room. He wore a bowler hat, as seen in his famous painting "The Son of Man" (1964).

Blogger Sean Yang's article "The Disruption in Contemporary Portrait Painting" from April 2022 sums up the lack of continuity in today's portraiture.

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This content was written by Camille Gizzarelli. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Camille Gizzarelli for details.