Monday, April 25, 2016

Medieval high fashion in the art of Giovanni di Benedetto

You may think that Medieval times in Europe were drab and uninteresting; with sex relegated to an unfortunate necessity, closely watched by the always alert catholic church. Well, that may have been true for most of the period we call "Middle Ages". But take a look at the image above. It was painted around 1380 by Giovanni di Benedetto da Como, miniaturist active during the second half of the 14th century. Isn't it fantastic? Look at these ladies: they wear splendid dresses in silk brocade; something that once was reserved only for emperors and kings. Look at their decolletage, at their hairdos, at their posture, at how these dresses enhance the ladies thin waists and their breasts. Look at how the two ladies on the right raise up their gowns to show the even richer dress they wear underneath.

That's all the more interesting if you compare it with the way of dressing that was common a few centuries before. You can see the evolution of medieval fashion in a very interesting site: "" The fashion during the 11th century was completely different; for instance:

Move onward of a century, and you start seeing a hint of decolletage, but just a hint.

With the 13th century, you start seeing the decolletage appearing, and also the gesture of raising up one's dress to show the dress underneath:

And then, there comes the "explosion" of the 14th century, well interpreted by Giovanni di Benedetto da Como. Here is another example of his work. This image is the cover of the Albin Michel Edition of Marguerite Porete's "The Mirror of the Simple Souls".

It is supposed to represent the martyrdom of a saint (it has been modified with respect to the original, where she is also being stabbed in the neck), but this lady, really, is a high fashion model!

The way fashion evolved over time could tell us a lot about the evolution of ideas and of the way of seeing the world. But it is a field that's not so much studied; so, today, we can only look at these ancient dresses and wonder how the people wearing them would think and behave. And admire the art of Giovanni di Benedetto da Como, unfortunately so little known today.

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