In Fine Style
This summer I acquired the book In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion by Anna Reynolds, illustrated with paintings from the Royal Collection in Great Britain. I always research current books on clothing and costume history even if it is not a particular period that I need to study for an upcoming theatre production. In this book I found a full-length oil painting of the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia, Archduchess of Austria, c. 1598–1600 by Frans Pourbus, the Younger (1592–1622). I remembered the Williams College Museum of Art has an identical painting on their walls. Well, not completely identical, as the WCMA painting is a full size detail of the full-length portrait in the Royal Collection.
There was another find in the same book. This was a textile fragment of a red silk voided velvet, dated 1450–1500, probably Italian, from the Victoria and Albert Museum. Each year I have my costume design class visit WCMA and the Rose Study Gallery to view samples of textiles in the collection. Some of these textiles have been fragments from a 15th century chasuble (a ceremonial garment that a priest wears while celebrating Mass) in red silk velvet with pomegranate designs in the voided areas. The velvet textile detail in In Fine Style, reminded me of the velvet pieces in WCMA’s collection. Because of these findings in the book, Liz Gallerani (Curator of Mellon Academic Programs) and I reviewed the WCMA holdings this summer. We discovered that there were about five fragments of a chasuble as well as another intact chasuble’s back with its embroidered orphrey. We made a comparison of the largest red velvet fragment, which seems to be a chasuble’s back and found that there were the remnants of stitching lines where an orphrey piece should be.
Thus the detective work goes on. This fortuitous discovery has sparked me to view more examples of early chasubles, how the pieces go together, and how the WCMA fragments might be theoretically reassembled. And in continued research, there is another portrait of the Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, though from a later period. These shared examples will be used with my future students this fall, for them to sleuth a bit when we visit WCMA. We will examine these pieces of history and art to learn about fashion, commerce, technology (such as weaving and dyeing), and so much more.
So these two images from In Fine Style have counterparts here in Williamstown, Massachusetts. We don’t have to travel to London or Boston yet to compare these examples. We can start studying the fragments and the portrait right here, at the Williams College Museum of Art.
August 7, 2013
Williamstown and North Adams, MA
Deborah A Brothers
Costume Director, Designer and Lecturer in Theatre