Monday, 3 June 2013

Courtly style: Tudor and Stuart dress

This was an interesting study day at the V&A to coincide with two exhibitions: ‘Treasures of the royal courts’ at the V&A (see my blog of 19 April) and ‘In fine style’ which I’m hoping to visit later this month. Tessa Murdoch, the curator of the V&A exhibition began the day by explaining some of the background to the show and how the exhibits had been borrowed from Russia. I found the talk by Jenny Tiramani the most interesting. She has a wealth of knowledge and imparted it in a lively style. Her theme was how the silhouettes of the courtly styles were created by hidden structures such as pasteboard and wire to hold up collars; baleen ‘whalebone’, ivory and willow to maintain skirt and bodice structures; and stuffing from horse hair, cotton, wool and straw to pad out skirts and breeches. Claire Thornton talked superficially about embellishments on clothing. Angus Patterson gave a fascinating talk about the design and embellishment of armour, which turns out to be far more complicated and decorative than I had realised. Richard Williams also gave an excellent talk on dress in paintings, explaining the change that occurred in painting styles throughout the period. The Tudor painters, Holbein, and the miniaturists, accurately showed every thread of lace for example, but Van Dyke painting the Stuart court just gave an impression of lace and ornament. Instead of ornament, Van Dyke indicated the status of his sitters by their languid pose – a pose still used today, as Richard showed us, for example by members of the Bullingdon Club. Natasha Awais-Dean ended the day by talking about jewellery and in particular her research into hat ornaments. Another subject I knew little about but will take more interest in following Natasha’s excellent introduction. It was an interesting day, giving a general overview of dress and embellishments of the period and I’m looking forward to seeing the In fine style exhibition.

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