February 21, 2017
=man transform’d: or, the artificiall changling historically presented, in the mad and cruell gallantry, foolish bravery, ridiculous beauty, filthy finenesse, and loathsome loveliness of most nations, fashioning and altering their bodies from the mould intended by nature; with figures of those transfigurations. To which artificiall and affected deformations are added, all the native and nationall monstrosities that have appeared to disfigure the humane fabrick. With a vindication of the regular beauty and honesty of nature. And an appendix of the pedigree of the English gallant. This book was written by John Bulwer and first published in 1650. The second edition in 1653 had added woodcuts. Here is the author from the front page of the second edition looking suitably authorial dressed in one of those artistic cloaks that artists seem to like (maybe it gives good reason not to paint all those messy costume details) with a plain falling band (spot the overlapping edges) and a nice decorative tassel on his bandstring.
John was a doctor, but took a sabatical to write several books exploring the body and communication by gesture which was a particular interest. This tome as the title suggests is all about how the body can be altered from its natural state by clothes, tattoos, body adornments etc. Some of his information came from Dutch colonial settlers and the work has been described as one of the first studies in comparative cultural anthropology. The fronticepiece is very interesting and some of the characters depicted appear later in the book. For our purposes the lady bottom centre is worth studying as not many rear views appear in contemporary illustrations. You can see the petticoat gathers, the cut of her bodice and the rear of her kerchief. I also quite like the guy on the left with a face in his bum. Perhaps literally talking out of it?
Anyway, what drew the book to me was this image of a girl in a tight laced bodice and the descriptive text. It’s in chapter 20 (he calls them scenes); Dangerous Fashions and desperate Affectations about the Breast and the Waste. The girl is wearing a linen coif on her head, a tightly laced bodice with sleeves and a nice layered kerchief.
John is pretty forthright in his opinion. He says: ‘Another foolish affection there is in young Virgins, though grown big enough to be wiser, but that they are led blindfold by Custome to a fashion pernicious beyond imagination; who thinking a slender waste a great beauty, strive all that they possibly can by streight-lacing themselves, to attain unto a wand-like smallnesses of waste, never thinking themselves fine enough untill they can span their Waste. By which deadly Artifice they reduce their Breasts into such streights, that they soon purchase a stinking breath; and while they ignorantly affect an august or narrow Breast, and to that end by strong compulsion shut up their Wasts in a Whale-bone prison, or little ease; they open a door to Consumptions, and a withering rottenness.’
Good advice I say. There’s a lot more to look at in this book, particularly the appendix on the English Gallant. I shall return,
February 10, 2017
Another unnamed portrait by an unnamed artist, this time in the Berwick Museum and Art Gallery. The canvas is dated 1638 and the title it’s been given says she’s a puritan. This was the catch all title for the collection of independent protestant sects, all slightly different from the next that grew up in the first half of the seventeenth century and exploded during the turmoil caused by the war. However she could just as easily be a member of a more established church group, or even a (gasp) catholic, there’s no way to tell from what she’s wearing how she worshipped.
The fine details show her double layer linen cuffs and the layers of fine see-through linen that comprise her neck covering. It’s up for debate, but around this time it could have been called a kerchief or a partlet. Both terms were in use, we just don’t know what (if any) distinction there was between the two. The layers however are so thin that you can see her smock beneath the fabric. The details of her bodice (or maybe waistcoat) are tricky to see as it has been painted so blackly there are no details. She has a coral bracelet on her wrist. These were worn as good luck charms and also were thought to have healing properties. Her hair seems to be undressed. but she has covered it with a magnificent broad brimmed hat.
April 10, 2014
An epic poem by John Quarles published in London in 1658. Slightly beyond our time, but this picture caught my eye today because of the cap being worn by the cavalry trooper in the foreground.
He is dressed in a short jump coat with slashed sleeves, breeches and riding boots. On his head he is wearing a montero cap, a woollen peaked cap with skirts that fold down for protection in bad weather. There aren’t many of these caps in illustrations from England, though they do appear in literature and seem to have been reasonably common for soldiers of the period. Nice simple sword too. The lady he is menacing has free flowing hair, often a sign of distress and a petticoat and bodies. The cavalry in the rear may also be wearing montero caps, though it’s tricky to tell.
October 10, 2013
One of a set of prints engraved by William Marshall and published in 1637, this image shows a high class woman, though seemingly (from her expression) not quite as sad as the title would suggest.
The verse below says:
“When I am forced to work my Shoulders droop, for I am tall and doe not like to stoope”
I can’t see anyone forcing this lady to work and anyway in the boned bodies she is wearing it would be almost impossible to bend very far. The tabbed bodies she is wearing are attached to a large set of slashed sleeves on top of which are some over-sleeves fastened at the elbow. Her cuffs and the rather old fashioned layered and stiffened collar are edged with wide lace. Her under petticoat is embroidered, certainly as far as we can see and she has a second petticoat open at the front and fastened around the waist with a tie, possibly a matching ribbon. © The Trustees of the British Museum
In this detail of her upper body, you can see how low the fashionable neckline was and notice the edge of her smock visible at the top of her bodies. This smock obviously doesn’t have a collar!