[Fwd: [E_LIST] NYTimes.com Article: The Folds Hinted More Than They Hid]
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> THERE is something faintly subversive about "Fabric of
> Vision: Dress and Drapery in Painting," the new show at
> London's National Gallery. Instead of looking at whole
> paintings, you end up studying their component parts and,
> yes, the yards of cloth that for centuries provided the
> mise-en-scËne of most figurative art. Indeed, from the
> Renaissance to the 18th century, more canvas was devoted to
> the depiction of fabric than to anything else.
> What better place to start than the fold? Early Renaissance
> painting was religious and, as such, portrayed people in
> flowing robes. The compositions were invariably static, yet
> the folds of the cloth added life. For inspiration, artists
> turned to Greek statuary, so remarkable in depicting even
> transparent fabric as it clings to the naked body. By the
> 15th century, painters had caught on. Flawless depiction of
> the fold became a testimony to virtuosity.
> Then fabric itself took off and artists hurried to keep up.
> To velvet, satin, lace and the silk newly imported from the
> East were added gold and other metallic thread, complex
> woven patterns and fresh shades of color, all of which
> served to enliven the non-religious figurative art now
> appearing in Italy and northern Europe. Fabric meant
> fashion, and painting served as a bridge between the two.
> In "Fabric of Vision," which runs here through Sept. 8,
> Anne Hollander, the American historian of art and costume
> who wrote the seminal "Seeing Through Clothes," has gone a
> step further. Through a display of more than 70 works of
> art, many from the National Gallery's own collection, she
> sets out to demonstrate how, from the Renaissance to the
> 20th century, clothing and drapery were central to the way
> that artists expressed emotion and created drama. Fabric
> was more than dÈcor; it became part of the story.
> The story in question, for some British art critics, is
> sex. Certainly, as painting became more sophisticated, it
> was apparent that a bare shoulder, naked thigh or
> suggestive cleavage was more sexy than the saintly nudes
> and goddesses of the early Renaissance. By showing real
> clothes worn by real women, even when the depicted scenes
> were allegorical, the artist's intent to titillate was
> often self-evident.
> "It is one of the most engaging of art-historical
> hypocrisies not to admit openly that so much great art,
> from the Pharaohs and the Greeks to the present day, was
> made to serve a clear, if sometimes incidental, erotic
> purpose, and much of it had no other purpose," William
> Packer, the art critic of The Financial Times, wrote in his
> review of the show.
> Ms. Hollander, who organized this show and wrote the
> accompanying catalog, offers a wider view. For her, fabric
> in art reflects every era's fashion, power, social status
> and taste as well as sexual mores. She dwells on three
> periods - the Renaissance, early 19th-century Romanticism
> and the 20th century - yet in a sense the narrative is
> continuous. "Just as painted landscape has shown us ways to
> look at scenery," she writes, "so painted clothing has
> shown us how clothes contribute to the way human life
> The exhibition is organized into nine small sections, each
> looking at how dress and drapery related to the society of
> their day. Surprisingly, perhaps, Ms. Hollander does not
> focus on the changing techniques used by painters to show
> fabric. Rather, her interest is in the expressive role of
> painted clothing, how it acts like an orchestra whose
> function is to draw attention to the soloist. Here, the
> soloist is usually a face or a body.
> The show opens with "Nude and Mode," in which four pairs of
> paintings from four different centuries suggest that the
> nude woman is often portrayed as if she were wearing the
> ghost of an absent dress. In other words, it was fashion
> that determined the idealized shape of the body.
> Thus, Jacob Ochtervelt's "Woman Playing a Virginal"
> (1675-1680) shows a rear view of a woman with bare
> shoulders wearing a red satin dress that emphasizes her
> waist and broad hips. Beside it hangs Jacob Jordaens's
> "King Candaules of Lydia Showing His Wife to Gyges" (1646),
> where a similar rear view of a woman now displays a naked
> torso and guides the eye to her large buttocks. The
> implication is that without clothes, Ochtervelt's woman
> might look like Jordaens's model. For the 20th century, a
> similar parallel is made between Kees van Dongen's
> "Comtesse de Noailles" and Bonnard's "Standing Nude": slim
> fashions established the vogue for slim bodies.
> "Fabric of Vision" then follows a chronological path, with
> Greek statues underlining the link between the classical
> model and the portrayal of fabric in the Early Renaissance.
> Andrea Mantegna's "Virgin and Child," painted around
> 1490-1500, is a veritable tour de force of exquisite folds.
> Rogier van der Weyden's "The Magdalen Reading," painted
> some 60 years earlier, is still more daring, with a
> 15th-century embroidered cloth peeping out from beneath her
> flowing outer garment.
> The 16th century brought two critical changes. As
> portraiture grew in popularity, painters were challenged to
> capture the extravagant cloths, intricate gold embroideries
> and jewelry worn by sitters eager to display their wealth
> and power. And in place of the almost self-conscious folds
> of the previous century, light now played off crumpled
> fabric in far more realistic ways. Anthony van Dyck, for
> one, was famous for his depiction of the shiny texture of
> Coincidentally, painters began using drapery to convey
> movement. In El Greco's "Christ Driving the Traders From
> the Temple," Jesus's long red robe swirls as he aims a blow
> at a merchant, whose own yellow garment leaps away in fear.
> Other artists, like Lorenzo Lotto and Damiano Mazza, showed
> reams of fabric hanging in midair as if defying gravity. In
> Gaudenzio Ferrari's "Christ Rising From the Tomb," for
> instance, Jesus's standing figure is encircled by cloth
> that floats like a halo.
> The Baroque spirit of the 17th century was well suited to
> the use of fabric as a vehicle of eroticism. The story
> depicted might be biblical, but the message was often
> carnal. In Johann Liss's "Judith in the Tent of
> Holofernes," Holofernes's decapitated body lies bleeding,
> but our eyes are drawn to Judith's sensual bare shoulders
> and to the delight written on her face as she turns her
> head. Jean-HonorÈ Fragonard was still more direct. His
> "Young Girl on Her Bed, Making Her Dog dance" is
> unashamedly suggestive: framed by yellow satin curtains and
> bed covers, the girl's nightshirt is pulled up to reveal
> naked thighs.
> From the turn of the 18th century, neo-classicism brought a
> new sobriety, with women now often portrayed in simple
> white gowns, their hair in natural curls or knotted in the
> spirit of Greek sculpture. Women no longer exposed their
> breasts, yet the shape of their bodies was evident beneath
> their gowns. By the 19th century, there was a similar
> sobriety to men's clothing, as the dark suit made its first
> appearance. A lasting trend was established: men wore
> suits, women followed fashion.
> "The Long Engagement" by the pre-Raphaelite painter Arthur
> Hughes, which shows a young couple in a flower-bedecked
> wood, pointed the way. While the man wears a dull brown
> overcoat and stands in the shadow, the girl wears a blue
> satin dress and a purple velvet cape, her pretty face and
> blond hair the center of the painting. For Ms. Hollander,
> the oil illustrates the "Victorian example of correct dress
> for fraught encounters between the sexes."
> With the 20th century, portrayal of fabric took a more
> abstract form. Artists like Picasso, Matisse and Modigliani
> were not interested in depicting clothes as they appeared
> to the eye. Rather, fabric was presented for its shape,
> line and color. It might frame a face or cover a body, but
> its role was entirely expressive. Thus, Matisse's "Woman in
> Blue," with half the canvas covered by a frilly blue dress,
> is a composition of shapes and colors, not a portrait.
> By blockbuster standards, this is a small show, but that is
> its strength. Ms. Hollander could have elaborated her
> thesis with two or three times as many works, but "Fabric
> of Vision" more than suffices to train the eye to look at
> paintings in a new way. Indeed, this can easily be put to
> the test. After a visit to this show, a perusal of the
> National Gallery's permanent collection can hardly help but
> prompt the reaction: what a lot of fabric! ÝÝ
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