Friday, January 22, 2010

Recently I've been thinking about our relationship with garments in portraits. It seems that they are usually viewed as objects of significance, an example of wealth and status, an indication of broader trends within the fashion of an era. How do you separate a representation of a garment from the context that an art historian or curator of paintings places it in? Perhaps we can start to think about these images in the context of clothes that are worn rather than objects that were owned. This is easier said than done because we live in a society that values possession so much. Most people when thinking about garments, when looking at adverts for designer clothes, see something that they like and contemplate what it would be like to own rather than wear such an item. There are schemes that allow you to borrow designer garments and accessories for an evening or two but these exist because the items are out of people's purchasing capability. This focus on buying and possessing now makes it more difficult to consider the act of wearing clothes in the past. Status is always a pressing concern when examining portraiture because those types of paintings (as opposed to representations of religious, historical or fictional scenes common during the Renaissance or in the Pre-Raphaelite movement) are so often portraits of the rich or aristocracy but this should not dissuade people from considering the act of wearing such clothes or thinking of them as garments on bodies because even one off coronation clothes have been worn once.

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