Dr. Jennifer Ball

title.none: Netherton and Owen-Crocker, Medieval Clothing (Dr. Jennifer Ball)

identifier.other: baj9928.0802.019 08.02.19

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Dr. Jennifer Ball, Brooklyn College,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Netherton, Robin and Gale R. Owen-Crocker, eds. Medieval Clothing and Textiles, vol. 2. Medieval Clothing and Textiles, 2. Woodbridge, U.K. and Rochester, N.Y.: Boydell and Brewer, 2006. Pp. xiv, 190. $47.95 1-84383-203-8. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.02.19

Netherton, Robin and Gale R. Owen-Crocker, eds. Medieval Clothing and Textiles, vol. 2. Medieval Clothing and Textiles, 2. Woodbridge, U.K. and Rochester, N.Y.: Boydell and Brewer, 2006. Pp. xiv, 190. $47.95 1-84383-203-8. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Dr. Jennifer Ball
Brooklyn College

Unlike many volumes of collected papers stemming from conferences, Medieval Clothing and Textiles makes no attempt at cohesion; rather, in this second volume in the journal, it compiles essays that use a breadth of approaches to the subject of dress and textiles. This is the forte of this journal and several of the essays can be used as case studies in methods to be applied to one's own research. As a vehicle for dress and textile studies, rather than simply a publication of DISTAFF sessions from the Leeds and Kalamazoo conferences [1], the quality of papers is notably high and will be of interest to others beyond medieval historians of textiles and dress. The eight essays are, with few exceptions, truly interdisciplinary encompassing the fields of archaeology, paleography, sociology, art history, literature and economics, and have a broad scope chronologically (seventh-seventeenth century). Geographically speaking, however, this collection is limited to Western Europe with essays about Ireland, England, Italy, France and Germany. Due to the constraints of the short review, I list the contents here by author and abbreviated subject, but speak of the articles thematically rather than writing a complete review of each of the articles. The essays arranged chronologically are: Whitfield on dress in Irish "Wooing of Becfhola;" Owen-Crocker on the Bayeux Tapestry; Wright on textiles in French Romance; Farmer on Paris' textile markets; Jaster on English sumptuary laws; Leed on Renaissance cleaning techniques of textiles; Sherrill on fur in the Renaissance; and Nunn-Weinberg on English embroidered jackets in painted portraits. The journal has a few black and white illustrations, no doubt an economic decision, and concludes with some helpful short book reviews and a detailed index; color illustrations, and a greater number of them, is a needed addition if funds ever permit.

Medieval Clothing and Textiles, volume 2, will reach medievalists outside of the field of textiles and dress studies due to its use of material culture to illuminate broader aspects of medieval daily life, beyond the making of cloth and wearing of clothes. Monica Wright's essay, among the strongest in the volume, illustrates the shift from gift to mercantile exchange and from women's/domestic work to men's/professional work, through an examination of French romance. Textiles were repeatedly used in the resolution of conflicts; characters withhold items they have made or make and give textile items. Wright concludes that these acts uphold a traditional societal system in which women are the primary makers of textiles and a profit- economy had not yet emerged. Textiles play a crucial role in this body of French literature and point to the larger dialogue about the professionalization of the cloth-making industry occurring at the time these romances were written.

Also demonstrating the great economic impact of textiles is Margaret Rose Jaster's examination of sumptuary laws at the point that they were rescinded in early seventeenth-century England. A distinct anxiety about the "impoverishment of the realm" (92) due to the consumption of foreign apparel and textiles presents itself in homilies, pamphlets and other writings of the day. The texts the author discusses are often funny, while the laws themselves conversely seem like frantic attempts to put out a fire already out of control: the rage for garments and cloth from abroad. The legislation, repeal, and subsequent discussion in the various forms of popular literature can't help but remind one of our (American) fretting the loss of the automobile industry to outsiders or our current obsession with oil; textiles were such a major economic force in medieval Europe, as essay after essay in this volume demonstrates.

Some of the essays have paradigmatic frameworks that we expect: Paris, noted often as the birthplace of fashion, has a larger textile market than previously noted by scholars (Farmer essay) and Italian sables were markers of extreme wealth (Sherrill essay), for example. Exceptional however, is Drea Leed's fascinating look at the business of cleaning textiles. An examination of the tips for stain removal in the fifteenth-century Kunstbuch illuminates value in a highly original way. The manner in which a velvet or silk is cleaned is a strong indicator of value; soaking, in the water from boiled peas no less, is a method for less precious textiles, while targeting spots (of wagon grease, as one instruction notes) for removal is important for the most expensive velvets and silks (103-4). Here again, the interest of the essay to non-textile specialists will be great as it demonstrates an advanced knowledge of chemistry at the time and points to a sub-industry of professional cleaning that we might normally overlook.

Many of the essays in the volume use texts as evidence, as so many in the field of dress studies must due to the lack of surviving garments. Niamh Whitfield's comparison of garments described in the Irish story, "The Wooing of Becfhola," presents a sound methodological approach that should be read by anyone who reconstructs garments from literary descriptions. Additionally, the author moves easily between paleography and archaeology, making the most of limited evidence to convincingly conclude that the dress described in Becfhola's story is contemporary to the writing of the tale. I suggest, however, that the author commission professionally drawn reconstructions for future work, as the amateur sketch of Becfhola and Flann distracts from the solid arguments made in the text.

Gale Owen-Crocker's highly original essay on the Bayeux Tapestry also focuses on text. In this case the design process is imagined through careful reading of the inscription. She posits a Norman, Latin- speaking patron telling an English artist the major scenes to be included and distinguishes other parts of the inscription and accompanying scenes that were, perhaps, ad hoc. At first glance the close attention to punctuation, syntax, diction, and the like seems to have no place in a volume on textiles, but in her concluding pages, she demonstrates the importance of studying text and image side by side. Significantly we gain a glimpse into little understood workshop practices and imagine how patron and artist(s) may have worked together on this famous embroidery.

In addition to text, some authors use images as evidence for understanding textiles and dress--Whitfield uses sculpture and metal objects for comparison with the descriptions of dress to imagine early Irish clothing and Sherrill mines portraits for representations of the zibellini, fur stoles, often decorated with jewels, originating in Italy that became fashionable at the various courts of Western Europe. It is the final essay by Danielle Nunn-Weinberg, though, which is most compelling with regard to the use of images as textile evidence. Through a contextualization of the embroidered jackets worn by dozens of women in the early seventeenth-century, the author gives us new readings of English painted portraits of noble women. The jackets point to the practice of amateur theatre at court, known as masque; this exclusive hobby, open only to the court favorites, involved the wearing of costumes in high contrast colors--often dark embroidery on light ground--with a heavy use of metallic details to stand out and impress the audience. Here it is also most unfortunate that we must rely on black and white images because we are forced to trust the descriptions in her essay, but that is no fault of the author's of course. Nunn-Weinberg's work is made even more interesting by the inclusion of a case study of Elizabeth Vernon, Countess of Southampton (unknown, 1600) in which the subject critiques her queen through the masque portrait. This reader however, was left with further questions, especially about the intended audience for such a portrait.

The deeper contextual reading seen in the Nunn-Weinberg essay is unfortunately lacking in the article on fur stoles by Sherrill. Surely more could be said about the context for the social role of stoles beyond their obvious status as markers of great wealth. The author leaves the suggestion that they were at one point fertility symbols or associated with the Annunciation largely unexplored. The catalogue of representations and references to the stole will nonetheless be helpful for further study.

Volume 2 of this series will engage anyone interested in the study of textiles and dress of western medieval Europe; additionally scholars of economic history, social history, literature and art history will find articles of interest. However, as a Byzantinist, it is my hope that future volumes will reach beyond the West; there is no need, especially when discussing the textile industry that united east and west through trade and shared material culture, to limit the focus to Western Europe. In fairness to the editors, this may be due to submissions received rather than editorial choice; if this is so, perhaps the journal needs to solicit papers in Byzantine, Islamic and other medieval studies newsletters. Nevertheless the editors have kept the level of scholarship admirably high, particularly in the methods and interdisciplinary approaches used in the present volume, which bodes well for the future of the journal.


1. DISTAFF is Discussion, Interpretation, and Study of Textile Arts, Fabrics, and Fashion. While many of the papers come from the sessions at Leeds and Kalamazoo, papers are peer-reviewed by an editorial board and some are submitted without first having been identified through the conferences. Medieval Clothing and Textiles, vol. 2, ed. Robin Netherton and Gale R. Owen-Crocker (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2006), xiii.