Clothing Art: The Visual Culture of Fashion, 1600–1914 by Aileen Ribeiro - review by Shahidha Bari

Shahidha Bari

Best Dressed

Clothing Art: The Visual Culture of Fashion, 1600–1914

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Yale University Press 572pp £55 order from our bookshop
 

A strikingly handsome fellow appears early on in Aileen Ribeiro’s weighty new book, Clothing Art. Quite how handsome you can judge for yourself at the National Gallery, where the Italian artist Giovanni Battista Moroni’s painting Il Tagliapanni (‘The Tailor’) quietly hangs. He is neatly bearded in the rakish Renaissance way, dressed in a patterned doublet of pinkish cream, a high-necked ruff and puffed (or bombasted) hose the colour of rust. He stands at a worktable, a pair of tailor’s shears grasped in one hand, a mass of dark fabric gathered in the other. Moroni positions his head bent to his task but with his face tilted to meet our gaze evenly. Tailoring, Ribeiro observes, was ‘serious work’ in the 1570s because cloth could be costly. When Moroni’s tailor soberly stares out at us, he means business.

Ribeiro’s book is businesslike too: it is a serious-minded compendium that recalibrates the relationship of clothing to art by tracking its depictions through European painting over three hundred years. ‘Clothes in the past’, she observes, rather severely, ‘are nothing like the ones of today and cannot relate to them in

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