Fashion_Art_History_and_Society_in_Portr

Fashion_Art_History_and_Society_in_Portr - Fashion Art...

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103 Women in portraits, such as those in this exhibition, are generally depicted as iso- lated figures, shown in profile; 1 their eyes do not meet the gaze of the spectator, in order to convey their modesty and reserve, the prime virtues sought by men in search of a suitable bride. 2 The artists show the upper part of their body, high- lighting the jewellery, finery and textiles that, on close inspection, emerge as the true subjects of these artworks. 3 Portraits of this type, particularly common in the Florentine area and linked perhaps to the traditions of coin and medal production of Imperial antiquity,were probably designed to commemorate a wedding. 4 They visually encapsulate a whole environment and the female figures portrayed offer an insight into urban society between the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Modern Age. To the contemporary eye, the women depicted have not lost their function of medium , originated centuries ago from the need to convey and communicate the prestige of their families of origin. The role of women In the patriarchal Italian society of the early Middle Ages women served to strength- en alliances and assure the continuation of lineage through children born in wed- lock: male children inherited the family fortune while female ones received a dowry, a portion of goods and money which some scholars consider an unjust compensation for the renunciation of their inheritance. 5 Both men and women played their roles in pacts and exchanges decided by their respective families: al- liances were cemented through a series of legal negotiations and a number of rit- uals, survivals of ancient customs adapted to the new requirements. The first official nuptial event took place in the presence of a notary,who drew up a public act in which the family of the future bride promised to supply the dowry; its value and components would have been fully discussed by both par- ties before the legal document was drafted. 6 The union was considered complete when the bride was publicly escorted to the groom’s house by her relatives and welcomed there by the women of his family. This procession was followed the next day by the removal of the chests containing her corredo (or trousseau) to her new house. 7 Additional private rituals of potent symbolic value, such as the ex- change of rings on the groom’s side and the nuptial feast offered by the bride’s fam- ily, were the last in this succession of events and hugely increased the expense of the nuptials. 8 Men were the main players in this political and business transaction; women’s role was more passive. Both, however, were instrumental in preserving the honour Fashion, Art, History and Society in Portraits of Women by Piero del Pollaiuolo Elisa Tosi Brandi
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to the preceding negotiations, demonstrating the financial prestige and re- spectability of the houses involved. The display of splendid items such as gowns and jewels symbolized the social condition of individuals and groups as did any
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