Archives for posts with tag: fur

El Greco. (The lady in a fur wrap), 1580 Glasgow mus e galls.

El Greco, Lady in fur, 1580s, Glasgow museums and galleries, Scotland

El Greco’s enigmatic lady is wrapped up in a black cape, with a thick fur lining and generous collar – probably a traveling cloak.

A post on fur has been a long time coming. I have been so wrapped up (!) in other projects – including research into the wearing of fur – that I have been silent far too long. Today I want to dedicate this post to the warmth of fur.

For the past 50 odd years the wearing of animal fur has ignited much controversy, but  despite that, the industry has continued to exist and even flourish in certain decades. Today we could say that there has been a democratization process around the fur discourse. You like it you wear it, if you don’t you don’t.  Simple. Being political in fashion is not so cool right now. The social history of fur is rich and fascinating and I hope to explore some of its aspects in this and other posts.

I have little doubt that humans started wearing fur for warmth. (The fact that you had to be really strong and fearless to kill the animals that would yield the fur, and the implications of that within the social group is also interesting but I will discuss that in a later post about the social significance of the wearing of fur).

I have selected a series of images which, I hope, will reflect the need (and dare I say the pleasure) of wearing fur in really cold climates.

The 16th Century is THE century for fur fashion. Quality fur was a status symbol and it was a hugely lucrative business with well-established trade routes – the luxury furs coming west from Russia. But as fur became increasingly popular, local industries emerged, farming all sorts of animals which brought onto the market a great range of different furs in terms of colour, appearance and of course cost. By the later 1500s most people could afford to line a cloak or a coat with fur. So as well as being a status symbol, fur was also a fashion and lastly it was wonderfully warm.

Italian Renaissance artists took great pleasure in representing fur by 1500, just as the portrait genre began to acquire new psychological depth and attention to realism of detail. Enveloping – male or female – sitters in rich furs was a way of showing their wealth but also the technical capacity of the painter. The fur, along with the clothing, accessories and jewels, added importance and significance to the portrait.

The Venetian and the Lombard artists were particularly good at doing fur:

Moretto da Brescia Bonvicino Alessandro, uomo forse Fortunato Martinengo Cesaresco, 1522, nat gal lon

Moretto da Brescia, gentleman, 1522c, National Gallery, London, UK

artista lombardo,gentiluomo,1540c,met NY

Lombard artist, gentleman, 1540c, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

Thick linings for over garments in velvet, silk or wool were worn by both men and women during the century – the collar and lapels turned over to ‘show off’ the inside.

Moretto da Brescia Bonvicino Alessandro, donna come Sta Agnese, pc Svizzera

Moretto da Brescia, Lady as saint Agnes,1550s, p.c.

These gowns were not necessarily for wearing outdoors, but also to keep warm inside the scarcely heated palaces of the time. We get to see these fur-lined gowns in some of the more ambiguous portraits of the time. Portraits of young brides on their way to the nuptial bed or courtesans?

1506 Giorgione (Giorgio Barbarelli from Castelfranco 1477-1510) Portrait of a Young Woman, Laura

Giorgione, young lady, 1506c, Kunsthistoriches museum, Vienna, Austria

Tiziano, ragazza con soprabito pelliccia,1535,KM Vienna

Tizziano, young lady wrapped in fur gown, 1535, Kunsthistoriches museum, Vienna, Austria

These loose-fitting over gowns were known as ‘night gowns’ in England. Queen Elisabeth has several of them made throughout her reign. The name comes from its original use as a bed chamber  ‘dressing gown’, but by the 1550s it had become acceptable wear around the palace for less formal occasions. Queen Elisabeth I was very receptive to foreign fashions and at this point long loose gowns were being worn all over Europe as well as Muslim countries, in her inventories we find Italian, French, German, Spanish and even Polish gowns.

Frances Sidney, Countess of Sussex, 1565c, Sidney Sussex college cambridge

Anon, Frances Sidney Countess of Sussex, 1565-70c, Sidney Sussex college, Cambridge University, UK

Countess Sussex (Queen Elisabeth’s Lady of the bed-chamber) here wears a more formal version of the fur-lined gown. It is made of silk velvet displaying the family’s heraldic motif. This would have been a garment made for a  specific formal occasion in deep winter and is therefore lined in warm fur. The fur is ermine which was of course a symbol of royalty/aristocracy.

Northern artists were a little less enamoured with the tactile aspect of fur compared to the italians, but made a good job of representing it.

In the 1600s  the Dutch artist Peter Paul Rubens brought together the Italian cinquecento tradition and his own Dutch roots in this powerful portrait

Rubens, The fur, 1630s, Kunst, Vienna

P.P.Rubens, the fur, 1630s, Kunsthistorisches museum, Vienna, Austria

Here the pale pinky flesh of Rubens’s lover contrast with the dark velvet and fur of the gown. An intense, even erotic combination which leaves no doubts as to the nature of their relationship.

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fratelli Limbourg,t.r.h.d.Duc de Berry,gennaio,part,1412-16,MC Chantilly

Limburg brothers, Les Tres Riches Heures de Duc de Berry, (detail : Duke John de Berry in blue and fur hat),1412-16, Musée Condé, Chantilly, FR

Once again we return to the 1400s to talk about men and hats. As I mentioned in the previous post, this was a particularly creative moment for hat makers throughout Europe. In this post I want to explore a symbolic “statement piece” of the male wardrobe – the fur hat.

Jan van Eyck,uomo con garofano,1435c,MS Berlin

Jan van Eyck, Man with a carnation, 1435c, Staatliche Museum, Berlin, Germany

Petrus Christus, man with falcon,1445-50c,Stadel Museum, Frankfurt

 Petrus Christus, Man with falcon, silverpoint on paper, 1445-50c, Stadel Museum, Frankfurt, Germany

 The painting and the drawing above show realistic examples of a most fashionable type of hat for men in northern Europe during the 1400s. it was large, shaped and made of fur. Fur was not the novelty here – fur had been around for thousands of years of course – what was new was that artisans now had the technology and skills to produce such large, free-standing (i.e. structured to hold the shape) headwear.

So why use fur? Just like today fur was expensive and exclusive. It was a status symbol in western society. It is significant that this type of fur hat becomes fashionable in Burgundy/the Netherlands , since the northern ports of this region were international fur trading centres. Cargos of precious furs came through  (for example the most exclusive of furs, sable, would come from Russia) and be sold on to merchants from the major cities of North and South Europe.

Not only do we see these fur hats in male portraits during the 15th Century, but we also find saints and other males who populate the religious paintings of the Netherlandish school  wearing fur-lined “costumes”, including hats.

Dieric Bouts, Martydom of st Erasmus, detail

Dieric Bouts, Martydom of St Erasmus (detail), 1458c, St Peter’s church, Leuven, Belgium

Here the central figure wears a fur-lined cap, the brim of which has been turned over and pinned back, giving it a strange exotic feel. The two-tone fur is probably mink.

 The Big Fur Hat trend soon petered out  and eventually gave way, in the early 16th Century, to the Big Fur Cap trend.

In northern Europe especially, these are often made of rare and expensive fur such as sable (rather than local fox or rabbit).

Hans Maler,Sebastian Andorfer,1517,met NY

Hans Maler, Sebastian Andorfer, 1517, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

This gentleman wears a large cap (originally known as a Milanese bonnet or bereta) with a wide, segmented and upturned brim. What is unusual is that instead of being made of felt or velvet, it is made of Russian sable.  Once again a true statement to the man’s wealth and social status. We must, however, concede to the need for warm headwear in the rigidly cold winter months  of countries like Germany, where this gentleman lived.

From the 17th Century onward fur in its natural state falls out of fashion in favour of the use of fur felt. Fur hats seem to be relegated to the sphere of extreme weather conditions and certain cold-weather sports. In the 20th Century for example, with the appearance of the first automobiles,  warm hats were required as cars had no overhead covering or windscreen.

male hat, wool and fur, 1900c, met ny

 Man’s wool cap trimmed in fur, possibly for motoring, American, 1900, Metropolitan museum , New York, USA

Today men still wear fur hats in extreme weather conditions; placing this accessory in the sportswear category rather than fashion. However men’s fashion designers have recently returned to the idea of fur for men. This winter’s collections were full of fur in all shapes, sizes and colours. Possibly the most bizare use of fur was at Moncler’s Gamme Rouge catwalk show – it will be interesting to see if we spot any item from this collection in the streets of New York, Paris, London or Milan by Christmas time….

Moncler Gamme rouge aW 13.14

Moncler Gamme Rouge, fur outfit, A/W 2013-14