Archives for posts with tag: MFA Boston

ventaglio,punched skin leaf,ivory,1590-1600, MFA Boston

Punched leather and ivory fan, 1590-1600c, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA

Can fashion make a noise? Can what we wear and the way we wear it make specific noises?

Probably the first type of sound we associate with fashion today is some form of music. The extra loud music of fashion shows or the background melodies of department stores. Nowadays music is also an essential part of fashion advertising, it forms the sensorial backdrop that sticks in potential customers’ minds.

What about the noise that fashion items (clothes, shoes, hats, fans, etc.) actually make when we wear them? Are these sounds distinctive and recognizable? Are they instinctively associated with  a particular item or even style throughout history?

Here is a selection of items which make or made, each in their specific fashion eras, a bit of a noise:

THE 1500s

During the pre-industrial  era sounds and sound perception would have been quite different from today (just like the perception of light and darkness would have been different in pre-electricity days). So when looking at these objects we should take into consideration that the noise pollution surrounding the wearer and the listener, would have been made up of other types of sounds from those we are familiar with today.

THE METAL CORSET

corsetto metallo, lombardia 1560-80,MPP mi

Metal corset, Italian, 1560-80c, Poldi Pezzoli museum, Milan, IT

This type of metal corset was quite common amongst upper class women from the middle of the 16th Century (examples survive in museums around Europe). As we can see by looking at the right hand vertical edge, there are two sets of hinges center back. The corset therefore was front opening (it has a small clasp at the front to keep it closed). We can imagine that if the hinges were not kept well oiled,  it would have made a screechy  jarring noise on opening and closing it. Not a pleasant sound.  But then not a very pleasant fashion item.

THE FAN

Tiziano, ragazza con ventaglio,1556,G Dresden

Titian, Girl with fan, 1556c, Gemaldegalerie, Dresden

Fans were very popular in the 1500s, as they still are today in many countries around the world. Back then, women (who were wearing  those rigid corsets and tightly laced bodices) would have suffered from the lack of air in a crowded room, an overly incensed church interior or simply the heat of the  summer months. Fans were functional as well as decorative. In a previous post I mentioned 16th century  feather fans, but before and alongside these, many women used paper fans such as the one used by the young woman in Titian’s painting . We can imagine the swoosh swoosh noise as she flips it back and forth between her fingers.

 

CHOPINS (platform slippers)

These were a form of female footwear which (in one form or another) became fashionable in various countries in Europe during the 16th century. They were essentially a very sophisticated version of the wooden clog worn by peasants everywhere throughout the middle ages and beyond.

chopines, veneziane, XVI sec, castello sforzesco MI

Chopins, leather covered wood platform sole, punched leather uppers,16th Century, Civiche Raccolte Arte Applicata, Milan, IT

These chopins in the Castello  Sforzesco museum in Milan are of a moderate height (much higher ones were the norm in Venice at this time – examples can be seen at the Costume museum in Palazzo Mocenigo, Venice). Yet they are interesting for the shape of the base – it resembles an animal’s hoof (possibly an elephant’s). The wide base provided some stability to a very precarious piece of footwear. The upper is so short and the back of the heel so narrow, that one wonders just how the lady could walk in them. Throughout the wooden clog-wearing centuries, people must have been used to a certain degree of noise emanating from them. They were generally worn out of doors on packed earth roads or in some areas even  paved streets from Roman times. A common sound associated with the lower classes. If I have to imagine the sound that these chopins created, I think of a muffled thud thud noise. An aristocratic sound of covered wood gently thumping down on terracotta or tiled floors, as the lady – swiftly lifting the hem of her dress so as not to trip – walked through the halls of her palazzo.

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woman-washing-her-hair

Women washing their hair appears to be a constant subject matter in the history of art, chosen by artists worldwide over the centuries.

So why did (and do) artists return to this subject matter again and again? I may not have the answer here and now, but I have noticed that some artists prefer to show the face, others to hide it. This is a relevant aspect as it ultimately gives us a clue to the cultural context that the work is coming from.

Male artist/female model  is the predominant scenario we are faced with. When  the artist decides to hide the woman’s face, he is acting as passive onlooker . In this case,  we as viewers, are invited to share a voyeuristic,  peep from-the-keyhole moment with the artist. This leaves me (as a woman) uneasy with the work of art, however beautifully produced. The word ‘objectification’ comes to mind…

In many works however we do find a different perspective. Male artist/female model, but the model’s face is visible, occasionally even turned to look at the viewer. In this case we – male or female onlooker – are invited to watch the private ritual taking place. The turn of the head can make the difference between consuming the image and willingly sharing the moment. A moment which can be of sheer beauty (the fluid curves of the body and the pure sensuality of the tactile experience, the fingers running through the strands of wet hair) mixed with the intimacy of the act, all make for a beautiful  aesthetic experience.

A.Allori,affresco,donne al balcone che lavano i capelli, 1589, loggetta di Palazzo Pitti FI

Alessandro Allori, frescoed ceiling,1589,  Logetta of Pitti Place, Florence IT

The above image is probably the first truly celebratory representation in western art of women washing their hair.  Before the Italian Renaissance, female hair had been literally hidden from sight. It was taboo to show it, let alone represent the washing of it. Allori seems to have been very taken with women in this private and informal state, he is inspired by it for a religious painting of the following year where the Madonna is shown with her hair down and a linen towel still draped across her shoulders as though caught in the act.

A.Allori,madonna incoronata da bambin gesu, 1590,Palazzo Pitti FI

A. Allori, the Madonna crowned by Baby Jesus, 1590, Palazzo Pitti gallery, Florence IT

Documentary evidence tells us that during the 1500s high-ranking Italian ladies used to reserve a day of the week for hair washing.  A strictly female, informal, moment where women socialized and relaxed, as well as washed their hair. The hair would be dried in front of the fire while chatting the time away. The image below represents just such a moment

Guercino, two women drying their hair in front of a fire, 1636c, c.I. art lon UK

Guercino, two women drying their hair in front of a fire, 1636c, Courtauld Institute,  London UK

The fact that Guercino is there, observing, brings us back to the question  of why artists wanted to represent this subject matter. The need to know the secret, to know what really happens during this all female ritual? Or does it become an excuse to draw the female body in such an interesting position?

Japanese artists have often returned to this theme in art:

Suzuki Harunobu, two women washing their hair, 1767-68, MFA boston

Suzuki Harunobu, two women washing their hair, 1767-8, Mus of Fine Arts Boston, USA

And early 20th century Japanese artist Hashiguchi Goyo:

Hashiguchi Goyo, woman washing her hair, 1920, MFA Boston

washing the hair…

Goyo_Hashiguchi-No_Series-Woman_Combing_her_Hair-00034149-110225-F12

combing the wet hair through…

Russian émigré artist Aleksander Yakovlev:

Aleksandr Yakovlev, model washing her hair, 1929, Brooklyn mus NY

Aleksander Yakovlev, model washing her hair, 1929, Brooklyn museum, New York USA

And London artist Walter R. Sickert who paints a french model in Paris, but decides not to show us the head at all…

Woman Washing her Hair 1906 by Walter Richard Sickert 1860-1942