Clothing Reflects Character and Status


Comedies, in Latin

Woodcuts designed by the Master of the Club Feet, printed by Johannes Trechsel

France, Lyons

Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1902

PML 612 (ChL 1579), fol. K1r
Page description: 

Clothing reflects the moral nature and social standing of the characters in this edition of Roman playwright Terence's Comoediæ. In this woodcut from "The Eunuch," for example, Thraso, the protagonist's rival, is dressed very foppishly. He wears a brimmed hat with multiple ostrich feathers and a cape with a striking black border. His boots are slashed at the ankle. The gown of his servant, Gnato, has an outlandishly dagged hem, symbolic of his parasitic personality. Parmeno, the protagonist's faithful servant, wears fashionable stocks with striped boulevars and a simple doublet. His linen shirt is visible at the doublet's open chest and cascades from its slit sleeves.

Exhibition section: 

Twilight of the Middle Ages

This was a period of transition in northern Europe—the Middle Ages were not yet over, and the Renaissance had not yet begun. Both King Charles VIII and Louis XII invaded Italy, and these military campaigns exposed France to Italian art, culture, and fashion. At the same time, the Late Gothic style still dominated the arts—and clothing—of northern Europe. Fashions of this period reflect these conflicts.

In the 1480s, the look for men changed abruptly. Padded shoulders and the V-shaped silhouette disappeared. Long loose open gowns came into style and, by the 1490s, these gowns became especially voluminous and bulky. Round-toed shoes replaced the pointy pouleines. New, however, and probably reflecting Italian influence, were the man's outer coat called a sayon, the man's hat called a carmignolle, and doublets with slit sleeves through which the linen of the shirt protruded.

Women's gowns of this period also became fuller, and bombard sleeves were revived. The neck got square. The turret disappeared, while its frontlet remained, now attached to a new small-crowned coif.