17.06.24, Netherton and Owen-Crocker, eds., Medieval Clothing and Textiles, vol. 12

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Katherine French

The Medieval Review 17.06.24

Netherton, Robin, and Gale R. Owen-Crocker, eds. Medieval Clothing and Textiles, vol. 12. Medieval Clothing and Textiles. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2016. pp. 222. ISBN: 9781783270897 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Katherine French
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

In the twelfth volume of Medieval Clothing and Textiles, the seven contributors address a variety of questions and methodologies related to how cloth and textiles operated in medieval society. These articles, arranged chronologically, range from interrogating linguistic terminology, to artistic renderings, and historic practice and change.

In the first article, "The Attire of the Virgin Mary and Female Rulers in Iconographical Sources of the Ninth to Eleventh Centuries: Analogues, Interpretations, Misinterpretations," Grzegorz Pac asks what veils on women mean in three early medieval manuscripts: the so-called Bible of Charles the Bald and the Liber Vitae from Winchester, and the Mary-Ecclesia in the Peterhausen Sacramentary from Reichenau. While scholars have been committed to linking the veils of royal consorts with the virginity of the Virgin Mary, Pac finds that a cross contextual comparisons make this a difficult connection to maintain and that veils do not automatically signify marital or virginal status. At the same time, Pac does not deny the connection between royal consorts and Mary, but suggests that it is a two way rather than one directional connection, with consorts influencing the depiction of Mary. The second article "Sail, Veils, and Tents: the Segl and the Tabernacle of Old English Christ III and Exodus," by Megan Cavell, also addressed early medieval textiles. In her piece Cavell takes up the question of how Anglo-Saxon poets represented the Holy of Holies, arguing that its treatment focused on the veil, which was much in the vein of other treatments of high-status textiles in Germanic poetry. Unlike the Bible, or the HĂȘliand, which focus on what the veil hides, Old English poetry focuses on the veil as a wondrous treasure. Moreover, the poet in Christ III chooses to use the word segl to describe the temple veil, when more typically this word refers to a sail. The use of segl, Cavell argues, allows the poet to connect the Temple and the veil to the Israelites and Germanic concepts of exile.

The third article, "Linteamenta altaria: the Care of Altar Linens in the Medieval Church," by Thomas Izbicki, takes us into the high and late middle ages. In this piece, Izbecki surveys episcopal, papal, and local regulations that stipulate the required altar linens for the liturgy and their care. As belief in the Real Presence became more literal, the Church regulated their treatment more carefully. While parishes were supposed to provide the liturgical items, many priests owned their own set of vestments. Their use in the liturgy meant that they needed to be kept clean, which in some decrees meant that the clergy, not women, were supposed to wash them. Local records show, however, that this was rarely the case. Regulations also demanded that when linens were stained, burned, or otherwise ruined, they needed to be destroyed, rather than repurposed as was the case with other textiles that could no longer server their original purpose; altar clothes stained with consecrated wine were relics.

The fourth article, by John Block Friedman, "Coats, Collars, and Capes: Royal Fashions for Animals in the Early Modern Period," examines the dressing of pets by the elite and wealthy bourgeoisie. Friedman's working definition of a pet comes from Keith Thomas and refers to any animal that lives indoors, had a name, and was not being raised for food. Medieval people had a variety of pets, the most common being dogs and birds. For those with means, pets and the ability to dress them was a status symbol. Collars and coats with coats-of-arms and other insignia asserted family and status identity, and were an assertion of "vivre noblement." Yet pet accessories were more than just a statement of wealth and identity, they were also a symbol of human control over nature and an animal's wildness. The evidence Friedman uses ranges from written to pictorial, although archaeologists recovered a fifteenth-century leather dog collar with heraldic escutcheons in Leiden. Lest one think that pet accessories were a rare and occasional aspect of material culture, Friedman shows that the resources that nobles spent on their pets were enormous; gold dog collars encrusted with jewels were more costly than the annual wages of many a skilled artisan.

The fifth article, "A Set of Late-Fifteenth-Century Orphreys Relating to Ludovico Buonvisi, a Lucchese Merchant, and Embroidered in a London Workshop," by Frances Pritchard, is a brief look at a set of late fifteenth century orphreys (embroidered decorative panels that usually edged a chasuble or cope). The orphreys are now owned by the Jesuit house Stonyhurst College in Lancashire. In the late middle ages, the best embroidery came from the Low Countries, particularly Flanders. The iconography, technique, and style of these orphreys suggest, however, that they were produced by a London workshop. The name of the individual commissioning the embroideries, Ludovico Buonvisi, an Italian merchant from Lucca, appears on the orphreys. The images included an image of St. Sitha, a popular Lucchese saint, who found her way into English devotion as well. The orphreys show Buonvisi's continued interest in his home town, while showing how embroidery could be a means of spreading pious interests.

The final two articles take us firmly into the Early Modern period. Jonathan Cooper's article, "Academical Dress in Late Medieval and Renaissance Scotland," looks at how the Reformation altered academic dress in Scotland's three pre-Reformation universities: St. Andrews, Glasgow, and Aberdeen. He starts by looking at what academic robes were like in the fifteenth century, so as to establish what would change. Scottish universities were influenced by university practices on the Continent. In general robes were not indicative of monastic but clerkly status and were sober and modest. While the Reformation did demand some changes, such as giving up bright colors and parti-colored cloth (stripes and checks), in general the changes to academic dress were slow and dependent on local concerns.

The final article, "Dressing the Bourgeoisie: Clothing in Probate Records of Danish Townswomen, ca. 1545-1610," by Camilla Luise Dahal, is a detailed analysis of women's clothing listed in Danish probate inventories. Working from some of the earliest to survive for Denmark, Dahal finds that in this sixty-year period, burgess women's under and outer clothing changed. The kirtle evolved from a "dress," comprised of long panels to one where the skirt and bodice were made separately and joined into one garment, finally being replaced by a separate skirt and bodice or doublet. Undergarments also evolved from "unisex-style" linen shirts and smocks to sleeveless smocks and what we might call underwear. Additional linen skirts or "slips" were added to change the profile. These changes in dress required more tailoring and more material and complemented the growing wealth of the Danish merchant class. Dahal accompanies her article with an extensive set of tables detailing what she found in the inventories.

Taken together, this collection exhibits a range of questions and methods for approaching the use and significance of clothing and textiles in the medieval and early modern period. Readers will get a nice sense of the variety of sources scholars used to study textiles and readers are further treated to numerous high-quality images, which further illustrate their methods and conclusions.

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