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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)

Abstract

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.

Keywords

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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Notes

  1. 2.
    In addition to extant sculpture published in Willibald Sauerländer, Gothic Sculpture in France, 1140–1270 (Paris: Flammarion, 1972), see portal illustrations in Dom Bernard de Montfaucon, Les Monumens de Monarchie Françoise, qui comprennent l’Histoire de France (Pans, 1729); and Dom Urbain Plancher, Histoire générale et particulière de Bourgogne (Dijon, 1739); and drawings of 1728 in Pans, BN, MS FR 15634, f 48–71.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    In A. Katzenellenbogen, The Sculptural Programs of Chartres Cathedral: Christ, Mary, Ecclesia (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1959), Katzenellenbogen reviewed the history of iconographie interpretations of Chartres and Samt Denis: In 1751, Abbé Lebeuf rejected Montfaucon’s theory that the figures represented Merovingian kings and queens, suggesting instead that the statues on the royal portals should be regarded as personalities of the Old Testament; his opinion has prevailed for 250 years. For Mâle, Crosby, Kidson, and most recently Beaulieu, they are heroes of the Old Testament, the patriarchs and the kings, queens, and high priests of the Old Law, the ancestors of Christ. M. Aubert went on to identify each figure as each personifying a book of the Holy Scriptures. Abbé Bulteau, in line with Montfaucon, identified the crowned figures at Chartres as medieval rulers and queens In an unsubstantiated comment, Kitzinger (Google Scholar
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  5. 4.
    E. Viollet-le-Duc, Dictionnaire raisonné du mobilier français de l’époque carolingienne à la renaissance, III–IV (Pans: Morel et Cie, 1872); The bliaut, 43; the ceinture 107; Coiffure de dame noble, XII siècle, hairstyle of a twelfth-century noblewoman, 188.Google Scholar
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  7. 6.
    Rucking, sewing or smocking on the inside of the fabric, that is, the fabric is gathered in a regular pattern on the inside of the fabric so the outside surface is regularly pleated or puckered Terms used in French literature are “ridé, froncé, pleated.” Eunice R. Goddard, Women’s Costume in French Texts of the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, Paris: Les presses universitaires de France, 1927), 22. Quicherat uses the descriptive terms “plissé” and “gaufré par le fer de la repasseuse.”Google Scholar
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  9. 10.
    These tresses normally emerged from below the hem of the veil at the shoulders. Each of the tresses might be arranged en trecié, into long, heavy braids arranged to fall along the outside profile of the arms, to the knees. Braids en trecié used three sections of hair plaited without ribbons entwined. Simple trecié braids may have a ball or tassels pendant from the bound-up tip of the braid. One way to avoid shortening the natural length of hair with the folding and crimping of traditional braiding is to divide the tresses again into two and to interlace the two with ribbons. Braids made with the aid of a ribbon are said to be galonné. Goddard, 125. Very commonly, the hair was dressed with lengths of hair not braided but hanging straight in bundles, like tubes, with ribbons delicately twined around and into the hair, or ribbons of various widths wrapped in a criss-cross fashion around the tubes of hair. In an even more complete deception, women encased each tress in a tube of silk, which might be filled with artificial tresses and bound with ribbon to conceal the true length of a woman’s hair. See this style represented on the young woman (“the Bride at Cana”) column-figure from the cloister of Notre-Dame-en-Vaux at Châlons-sur-Marne see Sylvia and Léon Pressouyre, The Cloister of Notre-Dame-en-Vaux at Châlons-sur-Marne, visitor’s guide, trans. Danielle V.Johnson (Nancy: Mangin, 1981).Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    Plaited hairpiece with silk, tablet woven fillet no. 1450. “The use of false hair was not a new departure in fourteenth-century England. Long plaits worn down the back, sometimes almost to the ground in the twelfth century, often required the artful addition of extra hair, and from regulations issued by a church in Florence in the early fourteenth century, it appears that plaits of flax, wool, cotton or silk were sometimes substituted for hair.” Geoff Egan and Frances Pritchard, Dress Accessories c. 1150- c. 1450 (London: Her Majesty’s Stationer’s Office, 1991), 292–3.Google Scholar
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  13. 17.
    Including Eleanor of Aquitane. See Douët d’Arcq, Inventaire de la collection des sceaux des Archives nationales, 3 vol. (Paris: Pion, 1863–1868), n°10006 [Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of Henry II] “Eleonore d’Aquitaine, (1199), femme de Henri II Plantagenet”(king 1154–1189). Seal and counter-seal. The seal is badly broken only the middle of the torso remains in both examples. She is wearing a closely-fitting bliaut with a low waistline from which hang the vertical pleats of the skirt Her arms are very slim, with very long, narrow, hanging cuffs and a mantle that is fastened twice at the center of her chest (in one seal there is a diamond-shaped opening gapping between the fastenings).The figure is quite narrow and the textile is distinct and finely pleated. It may be that she used the same seal all her life; this reveals a conscious choice, for many women of lower rank revised their seals frequently.Google Scholar
  14. 18.
    See Henry’s Coronation miniature in the Gospels of Henry the Lion, Herzog August Bibhotek, Wolfenbüttel, Germany, ca. 1173–5. Illustrated in Ronald W. Lightbown, Mediaeval European Jewellery with a catalogue of the collection in the Victoria and Albert Museum (London: The Victoria and Albert Museum, 1992), 104 and plate 11.Google Scholar
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    Georges Duby, The Three Orders, Feudal Society Imagined, Tr. A. Goldhammer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 4–5.Google Scholar
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    Neil Stratford, Catalogue of the Medieval Enamels in the British Museum, 2, Northern Romanesque Enamel (London, 1993), nos. 1, 2.Google Scholar
  17. 21.
    Douët d’Arcq, Inventaire de la collection des ceaux des Archives nationales (Paris: Pion, 1863–1868), Henri de France, c 1146, n° 7615; Philippe de France, 1137–1152, n°9181.Google Scholar
  18. 25.
    For example, see Suger, The Deeds of Louis the Fat, trans. Richard Cusimano and John Moorhead (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1992), 154.Google Scholar
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    J. P. Bayard and P. de la Pierrière, Les Rites Magiques de la Royauté (Paris: Friant, 1982), 156–7.Google Scholar
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    E. A. R. Brown, “Franks, Burgundians and Aquitanians” and the Royal Coronation Ceremony in France Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, fol. 82, part 7 (1992), 37Google Scholar
  21. 30.
    The royal costume is described in P. E. Schramm, Kaiser Konige und Papste, Gesammelte Aufsatz zur Geschichte des Mittlealters III (Stuttgart: Anton Hiersemann, 1969), 547–52. See alsoGoogle Scholar
  22. Janet Snyder, “The Regal Significance of the Dalmatic the robes of le sacre represented in sculpture of northern mid-twelfth-century France.” Robes and Honor, The Medieval World of Investiture, Stuart Gordon, ed. (Palgrave/St. Martins Press, 2001), 291–304.Google Scholar
  23. 31.
    Paris, Bibliothèque national, MS lat. 1246. See Henri Comte de Paris, Les Rois de France et le Sacre, with Gaston Ducheta-Suchaux (Pans: Editions du Rodier, 1996), 150–1.Google Scholar
  24. 33.
    “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
  25. 34.
    Concerning the sources of textiles, see M. M. Postan and Edward Miller, eds., The Cambridge Economic History of Europe, 2nd edition (Cambridge, New York, etc: Cambridge University Press, 1987). See alsoGoogle Scholar
  26. Robert Sabatmo Lopez, “Silk Industry in the Byzantine Empire,” Speculum 20/1 (Jan. 1945): 1–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 35.
    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
  28. Lisa Golombek and Veronika Gervers, “Tiraz Fabrics in the Royal Ontario Museum,” Studies in Textile History, ed. Veronika Gervers (Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum, 1977), 83.Google Scholar

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© Désirée G. Koslin and Janet E. Snyder 2002

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  • Janet Snyder

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