From Content to Form: Court Clothing in Mid-Twelfth-Century Northern French Sculpture

  • Janet Snyder
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


In the years between the 1130s and the 1160s, rows of column-figures appeared along the jambs of the doorways of churches in northern France.1 These overlifesize painted limestone statues arranged as if in receiving lines may provide the best possible information about the appearance of courtiers at the time of Louis VII (r. 1131–1180). Rather than being represented wearing clothing copied from antique models, the column-figures appear to wear distinctive costumes of precious silks and finely-woven linens with embroidery or silk tapestry, as if elegantly garbed in contemporary courtly fashions. Just as in the twenty-first century one can distinguish the cowboy in chaps, Levi’s and ten-gallon hat from the golfer wearing plus fours or the ambassador arriving from a fitting on Sav-ile Row, during the twelfth century clothing could signal social position and power. The clothing of shepherds was distinct from that of landlords, and courtly matrons dressed differently from maidens. The examination of how and why clothing and textiles are represented in sculpture can be an effective tool in the search for the meaning of medieval portal sculpture.


British Museum Twelfth Century West Wall High Priest Portal Program 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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    “The costly, highly prized materials which were frequently imported from the Orient are often mentioned …” Goddard, 45. In the courts of Blois and Champagne, popular French literature included the lais of Marie de France, in which silk from Constantinople and Alexandria, fine linen and named garments are featured as key plot elements See Mane de France, The Lais of Marie de France, trans. R. Hanmng and J. Ferrante (Durham, N.C.: The Labyrinth Press, 1978), 7. See especially Le Fresne, Lanval, Guigemar, Les Deus Amanz. Google Scholar
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    Made at Alexandria, Tmnis, Damietta and in Lower Egypt. See T. Thomas, Textiles from Medieval Egypt AD 300–1300 (Pittsburgh: The Carnegie Museum of Natural History, 1990), 29. See also E. Sabbe, “ L’importation des tissus orientaux en Europe occidentale du haut Moyen Age IX-X siècles,” Revue belge de philologie et d’histoire, (juillet-déc, 1935), 1276. See M. Lombard, Études d’économie médiévale, III, Les textiles dans le Monde Musulman du Vile au Xlle siècle Civilisations et Sociétés 61 (Pans: Mouton éditeur, 1978), 69–70. “According to the oft-quoted words of the Arab chronicler al-Tha’albi (d. A.D 1037–1038): ‘People knew that cotton belongs to Khurasan and linen to Egypt.’”Google Scholar
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© Désirée G. Koslin and Janet E. Snyder 2002

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  • Janet Snyder

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