(Un)dressing Rubens: Fashion and Painting in Seventeenth-Century Antwerp

Research Conference: 8 May - 9 May 2014

From the event website

The theme of this two-day conference is dress and fashion as depicted in the pictorial arts of the seventeenth-century Southern Netherlands. Particular attention will be given to the oeuvre of Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) but the conference will also address the work of his contemporaries and successors. An interdisciplinary approach will bring together leading figures and fresh voices from the fields of the history of dress and the history of art.This meeting of art historians, historians of dress, and curators of costume collections will provide a unique opportunity to discuss and compare methodologies. It will allow us to gain new insights into the Southern Netherlandish history of dress and to explore and uncover the complex historical interactions between fashion and art.

Rubens is typically associated with the painted Baroque nude; it is often forgotten that most of his figures are clothed in one way or another. Long before Manet’s Olympia, Rubens understood that nudity depends on contrast for maximum impact, that an abundance of fur, or a bracelet clasping a plump arm, would enhance the suggestion of bare flesh. Despite the fact that the majority of his paintings show fully dressed subjects in an array of styles, Rubens’s vision on clothing, jewellery, and accessories remains under-examined in art- and costume-historical research.

In many a Rubens painting, dress and textiles take up a large part of the picture plane, up to ninety percent in certain portraits. Yet the history of dress has long been relegated to the margins of art history. Traditionally, dress was seen as a useful instrument for dating paintings or identifying artists, but it was deemed unworthy of study in itself. The history of dress was considered a mere auxiliary discipline.

The objective of this colloquium is to redress this scholarly imbalance. Through an inclusive approach it will investigate dress and fashion in the work of Rubens and his contemporaries and successors from the Southern Netherlands, often active at foreign courts. In addition to paintings, extant garments, archaeological finds, archival records, contemporary texts on dress, and fashion prints will be considered as subjects of study to generate a comprehensive view of historical dress, its representation, and its perception in the Southern Netherlands.

For more information, program and registration please consult colloquium.rubenianum.be/