reading Giovanni Boccaccio's The Decameron, Elissa Weaver,
professor of Italian, was struck by the curious role of clothing
in the 14th-century text.
characters encounter misfortune, she explains, they lose all or
part of their garments, regaining them when their luck turns.
"This was an important element in Boccaccio's narrative style,"
she says. "I noticed how he could use clothing as a symbolic
language, and that many of the same uses are found in other arts,
especially the figurative arts."
what led Weaver to curate the exhibition A Well-Fashioned Image:
Clothing and Costume in European Art, 1500-1800, on display
at the University's Smart Museum of Art until April 28. Her co-curator
is the Smart's Elizabeth Rodini, PhD'95, who coordinates an endowment
from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support collaborative
projects between University faculty and students and the Smart
Museum. Weaver and several graduate students are at work on a
scholarly catalogue of the 30 pieces in A Well-Fashioned Image,
including portrait paintings from the Renaissance era, sculptures,
religious images, and costume books, assembled mainly from the
museum's permanent collection.
costumes depicted in each work, says Weaver, served to advertise
and fashion social order. The artists also used costume to offer
personal commentaries -allegorical, historical, or moralizing-on
Royal Saint with a Ring (1465)-which shows a Renaissance-era
man clad in deep hunter green, red tights, and no shoes-fashion
serves as a bridge between the sacred and the secular, says Weaver,
the saint's stocking feet "making him tangible and approachable."
In a 1738 drawing of Anne Boleyn by Jacob Houbraken, Henry VIII's
second wife is adorned in rich textiles and jewels, representing
not only her loveliness but also her royal status-revealing the
artist's religious and political sympathies. "This is clothing
as commentary or allegory rather than the history of dress,"
says Rodini. "There is a vivid sense of how people are judged
based on what they wear."
is also a prominent theme in the show-and one ripe for interpretation.
In Actaeon Surprising Diana and Her Nymphs, the naked goddess
encounters a hunter, whom she punishes for gazing on her by turning
him into a stag and setting his own dogs upon him.
nudes show the vulnerability of women," says Weaver, "and
at the same time, their power."