Monday, 11 March 2013

Painted pomp

This small, but excellent, exhibition at the Holburne Museum, Bath, looks at costume, particularly lace, in the reign of James I from 1603 to 1625. It is based on seven of the Suffolk portraits, thought to have been commissioned by Katherine Howard, Countess of Suffolk, of members of her family. The exquisite portraits, all full length, were painted by William Larkin and they shown the costumes and lace in great detail, in fact in such detail that you could make an exact copy of the lace. As well as the sumptuous portraits, Heather Toomer has lent some of her early lace to the Museum including cutwork, needle lace and bobbin lace borders as well as a punto in aria collar. The exhibition also includes a leather punched folding fan thought to have been made from dog skin, a tiny pair of white leather arch heeled shoes and several pairs of beautiful gloves with exquisite embroidery and pearl work, embellished with early silver gilt bobbin lace and spangles. There is also an embroidered woman’s jacket similar to Margaret Layton’s jacket in the V&A and two men’s shirts, one embroidered with fine blackwork and the other with insertions of needle lace. As well as these items from the seventeenth century there are two modern reproductions of costumes of the period made for actors at the Globe theatre including handmade bobbin and needle lace. Jenny Tiramani, the costume researcher and designer has done a lot of work on the dress of this period and a bonus of the exhibition is a video of her showing how the complete costumes would have been put together. Seeing her linking items of clothing with ties and aiglets, ribbons and pins, and knowing the lace only remained stiff as long as the starching did not get wet, was an excellent contrast to the paintings in which the aristocrats pose at ease in their finery.

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