CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Fashion for God

Exhibition: 14 October 2023 - 21 January 2024

In the fall of 2023, Museum Catharijneconvent organizes the exhibition Fashion for God where visitors are treated to rooms full of opulent fashion fabrics, dazzling embroidery and luxurious high fashion from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. The displays are filled with richly decorated copes and lavishly flowered ball gowns. Exclusively made to shine in Dutch clandestine churches. Carefully preserved for centuries, and art of the very highest class.

The exhibition starts at the beginning of the seventeenth century. A turbulent period, because after the Reformation Catholics in the Republic were no longer allowed to meet in public. They therefore fled to hidden churches. Behind closed doors they pulled out all the stops to propagate their faith. The pastors wore ‘fashion for god’. This was the way to express one’s identity in times of oppression. After extensive research, the museum can tell the fascinating story behind these unique works of art. A story with women in a defining role; as makers and as donors.

In the daring exhibition design of Maison the Faux, a ball gown from the Victoria & Albert Museum is juxtaposed to a cope from a clandestine church. Not a strange combination for those visiting the exhibition. In the eighteenth century, the Republic enjoyed great prosperity. It was the age of the Baroque, and rich, polychromed and flowered French, English and Chinese fabrics were in fashion. In this century, the custom arose among pious women to donate their precious gowns to the church to be made into church vestments. Thus it could happen that the service was celebrated in pink vestments.

The beautiful examples of Baroque gowns are each shown in combination with a vestment made of almost the same fabric. This provides a wonderful insight into how the development of secular fashion was embraced by the Catholic Church. The quality of the pieces is so high that they still impress hundreds of years later. The exhibition ends with a grande finale in a veritable celestial ballroom, where the very finest vestments made from ladies’ dresses can be admired in their full glory one last time. An enchanting experience!

The search for the Catholic Church’s identity in the Netherlands 300 years ago led to the election of Cornelis Steenoven as Archbishop of Utrecht, without the consent of Rome. This event marks the birth of the Old Catholic Church in the Netherlands. For the museum a wonderful occasion to let the Old Catholic heritage shine. The doctoral research of curator of Old Catholic heritage Richard de Beer forms a solid basis for the exhibition. He studied the development of the production of Catholic liturgical vestments in the Northern Netherlands in the early modern period.

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