The Queen of Dress exhibitions this summer

Mary Duchess of modena wife of James II of england, 1675, Royal col, UK
Mary Duchess of modena wife of James II of england, 1675, Royal col, UK

Here is an exhibition which I am craving to see
In fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion (the catalogue)

It’s on at Buckingham Palace (yes really!) London and it is an exhibition about the fine clothing represented in portraits of the 16th and  17th century held in the Royal Collections. What is so remarkable about this exhibition is the fact that it is being held at all. In which other country does such a prestigious gallery hold an exhibition from the perspective of the dress of the sitters rather than their identity or more commonly the identity/fame of the painter? The curator of the Royal Collection, Anna Reynolds is an art historian but ALSO a dress historian and I feel proud that she has gained such respect for our field to be asked to organize this show (this is not a personal plug despite the same Alma Mater and the fact that Ms Reynolds is the president of our Association of Dress Historians).

So why did I choose this painting in particular? well for one she was italian, not english, and that interests me as she would have been wearing very different clothing before her marriage. But what intrigues me here is the ambiguousness – in terms of gender  – given by the fact that she is wearing male clothing. Nothing shocking per se, this would have been defined as a portrait in riding dress (we will return to the question “Why have western women always dressed like men to go horse riding?” at another time as it is a long and complex topic). the male attire coupled with her rather challenging gaze, I feel is saying more than just “I am off riding in the park”. She was a queen and as such her behaviour/thoughts would have been seriously kept in check by a rigid court culture. When looking at this portrait I get a sense of inner rebellion coming from the sitter. I may be wrong but I like that idea a lot.

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