Dressing Up by Ulinka Rublack tells the fascinating story of how clothes in the 16th century were used in order to imagine the new and frightening world of the Reformation, commercial growth and the exploration of a new and expanding world
Dressing Up. Cultural identity in Renaissance Europe
By Ulinka Rublack
Oxford University Press
In August 1524 Luther had a livid row with local artisans and burghers in the small town of Orlamünde, where Karlstadt, his former friend and comrade in arms had set up shop. Karlstadt, who was of noble origin, was highly egalitarian in his leanings plus harboured iconoclastic and other extreme views, which Luther regarded as heretical.
On that particular morning Luther arrived to sort out some of the views held by the local elders, who had sent a letter addressing him as “our spiritual teacher Martin Luther, our brother in Christ”.
Luther was flaming mad. He could only see this as a gross attack on his superior scholarly authority as a doctor of theology. As the burghers proceeded with their lack of reverence, Luther threw a tantrum and demanded the horses to be hitched to the wagon. In the end he was somewhat mollified, but resisted in taking off his doctor’s beret, which was flaming red – same colour as the traditional beret of the pope.
Luther was never painted with a red beret, and later paintings by Cranach actually shows him habitually dressed in a black beret. That red mattered to him, however, is apparent from the fact that he habitually was shown with a white shirt with black edges, a red vest or jacket and a black coat. In the end this is how he and his “visual designer”, Cranach the Elder, decided he should look. Dressed in black as the rest of the reformers and with a black beret, but always with a slight purple tinge around his neck, signifying that although Luther was not pope, he was definitely on par.
Such is how we envision him: Preaching to his congregation or celebrating baptism, communion and penitence; and thus crafting the new church, materialized through the people showing of their sense of moral indignity, honour and reliability through their comportment – be it as members of the local council, in their homes, in the bosom of their families,while gardening or in church.
The beautiful small vignette about Luther in Orlamünde is brought to us in a recent book about “dressing up”, which tells us how cultural identity in Renaissance Europe was formed through a spectacular new obsession with clothes, their colours and form. In the book the author, Ulinka Rublack presents us with a cornucopia of 156 fascinating illustrations and countless stories about Renaissance people, and to what extent they regarded their clothes as markers of not only social, but also personal, national and religious identity.
Dressing Up shows why clothes made history and history can be about clothes. It imagines the Renaissance afresh by considering people´s appearances: what they wore, how this made them move, what images they created, and how all this made people feel about themselves.
Using an astonishing array of sources, Ulinka Rublack argues that an appreciation of people´s relationship to appearances and images is essential to an understanding of what it meant to live at this time – and ever since. We read about the head accountant of a sixteenth-century merchant firm who commissioned 136 images of himself elaborately dressed across a lifetime; students arguing with their mother about which clothes they could have; or Nuremberg women wearing false braids dyed red or green. This brilliantly illustrated book draws on a range of insights across the disciplines and allows us to see an entire period in new ways. In integrating its findings into larger arguments about consumption, visual culture, the Reformation, German history, and the relationship of European and global history, it promises to re-shape the field.
The book, which won the Roland H. Bainton Prize for History 2011, is hereby highly recommended.
First Book of Fashion. The Book of Clothes of Matthaeus and Veit Konrad Schwarz of Augsburg
Ed . by Ulinka Rublack and Maria Hayward
Bloomsbury Academic Illustrations 2015