Archives for posts with tag: Moretto da Brescia

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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The presence of feathers in fashionable European dress does not become apparent until the 16th century. When feathers appear they are not on the dress but in the form of accessories, in particular ladies’ fans. These feathers are testimony to the growing interest for exotic objects coming from overseas as well as the ever-increasing desire for public display of personal wealth. Luxury fashion taken to extremes both by women and men.

gilt brass fan handle, 1550c, venice, V&A

Metal (gilt brass) fan handle, probably made in Venice circa 1550, Victoria and Albert  museum, London, UK

By the 1540s a new fashion trend had emerged as we can see from the portraits below, all from northern Italy (evidence of this trend elsewhere in the next post). Hand-held fans made out of a gold frame and large, soft exotic feathers. They were worn hanging from the waist on a gold chain and would be occasionally picked up and used. In the portraits of the period they were luxury statement pieces, attesting to the level of sophistication and wealth of the sitter. They were as important as the silk, embroidery and overall fashionableness of the dress worn. The feathers used tended to be ostrich, either black (see below) or white or dyed in other colours. At the same time as this trend is taking place we also have a strong presence of ostrich eggs being used by European craftsmen. Nothing wasted. Other feathers such as swan’s down were used – the important thing was the sensual tactile aspect of them.

Moretto da Brescia, lady in white,1540c,Wash nat gal USA

Moretto da Brescia, Lady in white, 1540c, Washington National  Gallery, USA

L.Lotto, Laura da Pola 1543-44

Lorenzo Lotto, Laura da Pola, 1543-4c, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, IT

A few years on and Italian artisans had become even more refined –  producing two or three tone exotic feather fans for their demanding clientele

G.B.Moroni, Isotta Brembati 1552-53 (palazzo Moroni Bg)

Gian Battista Moroni, Isotta Brembati, 1552c, Palazzo Moroni, Bergamo, IT

Bernardino Campi,cremonese,dama,fine 1560s,met NY

Bernardino Campi, Lady, 1560c, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA