Monday, 10 June 2013

GQ, sixteenth-century style

Creating fashion history is not something you would normally expect from an accountant.

But in an extraordinary undertaking spanning 40 years a style-obsessed accountant from Augsburg in Germany recorded in detail what he wore, creating what historians now think is the world's first fashion book.

Interested in clothes from a young age, Matthaeus Schwarz started commissioning watercolour paintings of himself at the age of 23 and continued until he was 63. No other pictorial record like it exists, say experts.

He started to record his appearance in 1520, initially commissioning 36 images to retrospectively cover his appearance from childhood up until the age of 23. Over four decades he commissioned a total of 137 original watercolour images of his outfits, painted by three principal artists.

He would diet to get the fashionable body shape of the time and dressing wasn't a quick or easy affair either. He would have needed servants to help him and often they would have sewn him into his clothes.

"A lot of time was spent arranging garments so everything looked perfect. Often a servant would have gone out with him to make sure the outfit was properly arranged at all times.

"It challenges the cliche that everyone who didn't attend at a royal court went around dressed in grey rags and sack cloth."
- Jenny Tiramani, theatre designer and principal of the School of Historical Dress.

"The book changes our sense of looking at the past. It shows that fashion cannot be considered a modern phenomenon and spread down from the top social elites as early as the Renaissance." - Ulinka Rublack, author of Dressing Up: Cultural identity in Renaissance Europe.

But there is another reason Schwarz's book is so groundbreaking. He included two naked images of himself, one from the back and one from the front. He was 29 when they were painted.

Exactly why Schwarz embarked on his book of fashion remains a mystery. It could have been purely a vanity project or he may have wanted to hand down a record of contemporary fashion at the time.

Read the fascinating (and highly camp) story of the Schwarz Book of Clothes on the BBC website.

Read more about the book (with more illustrations) at Res Obscura blog.


  1. Isn't it fascinating?

    Infomaniac Bitch Mago sent the BBC link to me this morning and I've also been reading up about it at Res Obscura.

    I'd never heard of this book until today.

    1. Me neither. It's wonderful. It never ceases to amaze me what little treasures are held in obscure museums (the Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum in Braunschweig, ffs?)... Jx

      PS I have decided I am going to "pink" all my clothes with a chisel from now on.

  2. Enjoyed this so much. The BBC video was fascinating. (The BBC had some other interesting videos on a hairdresser archeologist, grass free lawn and prisoners knitting.)
    Can't wait to see you show up at the next Polari in your "pinked" outfit. Start chiseling.

    1. I'm chiselling, I'm chiselling...

      Glad you liked this story - and if you scroll down the Res Obscura blog, you'll find a PDF version of the whole book to download too! Jx

  3. Cause everybody likes a good codpiece.

    1. I'm sure there's asong in there somewhere... Jx


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