A new exhibition with plenty of interest to historians of stained glass has opened at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York. Illuminating Fashion: Dress in the Art of Medieval France and the Netherlands uses manuscript illuminations and four full-scale replicas of some of the clothing depicted in the manuscripts to examine fashion in the two hundred years prior to the French Renaissance in about 1514. It provides interesting parallels with, and evidence about, depictions of clothing in stained glass of the same period.
Apart from supplying a commentary on changing styles and fashion, the exhibition also touches upon how artists used clothing (real garments actually worn) and costume (fantastic garments not actually worn) to help contemporary viewers interpret a work of art. The garments depicted were often encoded clues to the wearer’s identity and character. To enhance appreciation for the fashions of the era, four full-scale replicas of late medieval ensembles have been recreated, using period hand-sewing techniques and authentic materials—including silk velvet, gold brocade, linen, straw, and ermine.
Although not included in the exhibition, many stained glass windows also provide valuable evidence of contemporary fashion. Sarah Brown identified several good examples from England (not covered in the exhibition) in her 1987 book: Stained Glass in England 1180 – 1540. They include depictions of head wear such as the wimple, a kerchief enveloping the neck and breast and fastened at the sides of the head, as can be seen in a fourteenth-century window at the church of St Mary at Waterperry (Oxon), and the more extravagant ‘butterfly’ head-dress worn by one of the female donors at Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford, Suffolk, painted in the late fifteenth century [Figs 3 and 4].
For more information about this fascinating exhibition which closes on September 4th visit the website.