Dress and Textiles I: Representing Textiles and Dress
Sponsor: DISTAFF (Discussion, Interpretation, and Study of Textile Arts, Fabrics, and Fashion) Organizer: Robin Netherton, DISTAFF
Presider: Robin Netherton
The Banners in Beowulf M. Wendy Hennequin, Tennessee State Univ.
Among the treasures described in detail in Beowulf are swords, but also three banners: Scyld’s funereal banner, Heorogar’s boarhead banner, the banner in the dragon hoard. Given the unusual detail given to them, banners clearly held a significant symbolic importance. Anglo-Saxon banners do not figure significantly in archaeological finds and are mentioned only in passing in studies of the Bayeaux Tapestry. Other banners are mentioned in Beowulf but without description and in passing. “Segn” or “segen” is the usual AS term for banner, glassed in Latin as vexilla, while “cumbor or “cumbol” is a more poetic reference. Another term not found in Beowulf is “thuf” indicating a feather-decorated banner, as well as “fana” or “fanu” (borrowing?). The variety of words is another indicator of cultural importance. A standard trope for the appearance of banners is for them to be “golden” and even shining. They are typically decorated and may have magical attributes. The “boar’s head banner” is part of a tradition of banners with animal motifs. Banners are consistently described as textiles, an interpretation supported by other textual sources. Banners in Beowulf are always associated with kings. [I have missed a little of the notes while I helped troubleshoot the computer projection.] I think there was something about references to banners in texts being a foreshadowing of victory in battle. We now get a slideshow of depictions of banners in AS art. 11th c MS with square, three-tailed banners with square motifs very similar to a banner shown in the Bayeaux tapestry (panel 68). The BT also shows animal/monster-motif banners that may relate to the textual references.
Meaningful Folds: Reading Christ’s Grave Cloths at the Visitatio Sepulchri Nancy Thebaut, Univ. of Chicago
Ca. 1000 ms from St. Gall shows the Holy Sepulcher, empty except for a draped cloth and a small cloth bundle. The Gospels describe two cloths in the context of this scene. The two cloths in the image are clearly meant to correspond to these two mentions but elaborate on them. This type-scene with grave cloths appears in a number of representations during a short-lived period around this time, in contrast with depictions of a plain empty tomb in other eras. These depictions may be related to a tradition of theatrical reenactments of the event as part of liturgical rituals. The author suggests that the artistic depictions of the cloths relate to the use of actual physical cloths in church rituals relating to the Eucharist. E.g., a description of how the ?host? should be wrapped in a cloth that “shows no beginning or end” matching the “bundled” cloth in the manuscript art. We are shown a variety of MS depictions of exactly this sort of wrapped cloth. The second cloth--the draped one--can be related to descriptions of the symbolic meaning of unfolded cloth as representing faith. In the images, though, the cloth is not a shape corresponding to any specific liturgical cloth. It often hands suspended in mid air, hollowed around a non-present form or body. Both the draped and the bundled cloths may appear in art individually as well as in paired depictions. The draped cloth speaks to the incarnate body of Christ in depicting a presence in absence, representing his humanity. The “endless” bundled cloth represents Christ’s eternal divinity.
The Prime Mover: Translated Textiles in the Architecture of the Global Middle Ages Mikael Muehlbauer, Columbia Univ.
Architecture and textiles are usually diametrically opposed: textile is portable and ephemeral while architecture is monumental and permanent. Islamic architectural ornamentation is characteristically related to textile decoration, while Western ornament more often used actual textiles as decoration. In Christian spaces, textiles represent revelation and transformation. [We are having a comedy of errors with the computer projection where the connection keeps blinking out requiring an assistant to re-set up the ppt display. ] Textile treasures were often a major part of church holdings, and the iconography is often reflected across the textile-architecture divide in both directions. [The AV tech has solved the display problem with a new cord.] We now move from the Hagia Sophia to an Ethiopian church in Tigray that he argues uses decoration drawn from Indian textiles traded along the Red Sea. Examples of other possible sources for Ethiopian architectural decoration in Armenian herringbone brickwork patterns, Indian flower/tree motifs. These designs demonstrate the integration of Ethiopia in extensive trade routes. Moving to a cathedral in Reims, France, we see examples of draped cloth depicted in carved stone. This use of draped cloth in decoration corresponded to other changes in church organization, including the introduction of the rood screen, including the use of textile curtains (actual ones) as part of the division of space.
Medieval Morality and the Paradigms of Redemption John Slefinger, Ohio State Univ.
Considering a formulaic morality plot: common man achieves success, becomes greedy, over-reaches, falls, and discovers redemption through simplicity. The paper looks at the representations of the stages of this plot in clothing in one particular morality play from East Anglia in the 15th century. How does the play’s costuming reflect the realities of common people’s access to various types of clothing in that time/place. The play emphasizes social hierarchy, including in how it addresses the audience. Characters representing vices wear flamboyant high-fashion clothing and torment the character of Mankind, representing an ordinary laborer. As Mankind succumbs to their temptation, his clothing becomes shorter and more fashionable. Reference to sumptuary laws that legislate against coats/jackets that aren’t long enough to cover the “privy members and buttocks.” There is an interplay between the class aspects of fashion and the general moral judgments applied to the clothing. In general high-fashion was only available to/used by the upper classes, but there was a middle ground of wealthy peasants who aspired to more fashionable styles. Thus, the “mankind” character in the play, even as he “falls”, is seen to rise in the social hierarchy through his clothing. How well would an anti-greed, anti-fashion message play to a crowd filled with merchants making their fortunes from the cloth and clothing trade? Furthermore, how would it play to the town leaders whose status was reflected in high fashion clothing? The region was undergoing an economic shift involving a labor shortage: low rents and high wages as landowners scrambled to shift to enclosed pasture rather than cultivated fields. Villages were being abandoned due to enclosures while town elites turned to foreign luxury clothing. This makes the character of the laborer Mankind in the play a bit more complicated. Returning to the quoted sumptuary rule about short clothing, it only applied to those below a certain rank. Therefore the accusation of immorality is not for the clothing itself, but for the claiming of status through clothing. Thus the characters of the Vices are not tempting Mankind to luxury and pride, but to social climbing--something that all ranks could be comfortable in mocking.