Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Power of Juxtapostion

It's always immensely satisfying to see a thing and its representation side by side, especially if they have long been separated or have never before been in the same place.  In the case of The Sacred Made Real, The National Gallery's current  exhibition of Spanish painting and polychrome sculpture, the impact of 'the sacred' and 'the real' are multiplied by just this sort of pairing.

Velazquez painting of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, and Juan Martinez Montes sculpture of the same. 

A haunting and invigorating exhibition, by way of curation and design, it generates a palpable collective energy and yet manages to seem incredibly intimate.  At times it seems as though there is not a soul in the galleries save oneself and sculpted mannequins. But then, that was also a function of the exquisite lighting design.

Installation views from the exhibition

What's that? Did I change the focus of this blog already? No it's still fashion focused, and The Sacred Made Real is indeed of relevance to dress history and fashion curation.  The range of garments and textiles faithfully reproduced in wood and paint by the polychrome masters are a treasure trove of costume historical information in themselves. But the exhibition's presentation of representations 
of dress in both two and three dimensional form simultaneously is titillating beyond belief. In some cases the sculpted figures were designed to be dressed with real clothing, like ancient devotional dress mannequins.

Taking a closer look at the garments and textiles represented I wondered whether the real artefacts exist.  Would the exhibition have been improved by the inclusion of actual textile artefacts? Perhaps not, but here we can have a look at what your virtual curator found to satisfy the urge.

The pillow which Christ's head lays in this sculpture by Gregorio Fernandez (1625-30) is embellished with blackwork embroidery, a technique which the Spanish were reknowned for in the 17th century. 

Sculpture of St. Francis in Ecstasy (1663) by Pedro de Mena and The Robe of the Theotokos  (presently kept in a museum in Zugdidi, Georgia). Although it is a Greek example, the shape and texture of the garment are very similar.

This mens' shirt from 17th century Spain, although not a religious garment is a rare surviving example of clothing from the period and also bears similarity of texture and fabrication to the ecclesiastical wear displayed in the exhibition.

This sculpture of St. Francis Borgia (c. 1624) by Montanes and Pacheco is an imagen de vestir, a mannequin dressed in a cassock that would have also been dress in elaborate garments for religious occasions. The painted cloth gives the semblance of soft black leather.  Perhaps this piece will inspire some fashion designers, and we may see cassock coats processing down the runways before long!

For more information on the exhibition visit the National Gallery's website, where you can learn more about the works on display and view a video introduction by curator Xavier Bray.  

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