Fashion and the Catholic Imagination
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
May 10, through
September 8, 2018
pictures by Katerine Jebbs digitally composite most images lavishly but
make objects almost unrecognizable in conventional reality which is a
shameful sacrilege because many are interesting and beautiful
breast-plate with resin and old gold, House of Givenchy (Alexander
McQueen and Shaun Leane, spring/summer 2000
color photographs in this article are by Carter B. Horsley and are in
the first section of the article.
The digitally manipulated images by Katerina Jebbs are from the
catalogue and are at the bottom of this article.
By Carter B. Horsley
This huge and spawling
exhibit about "Heavenly Bodies and the Catholic Imagination" at the
Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York from May 10 through October 8,
2018 occupies much of the museum's Cloisters branch, all of its Costume
Institute, and much of its Medieval Galleries on its main floor.
It has many interesting displays but its most controversial is its
sumptuous, large, two-volume catalogue.
The thinner of the two
volumes is devoted to objects on loan from the Vatican.
thicker volume has photographs that illustrate all the other items on
display and they have been taken by Katerina Jebb, a fashion
photographer who, according to the foreword by Daniel A. Weiss, the
president and CEO of the museum, "has captured these vestments amd
accessories using an unusual digital scanning technique, and the
results have imbued the rarely scen, historic pieces with a striking
contemporaniety." "Jebb's digital composite imagery similarly
lends a fascinating new perspective to the exceptional works of haute
couture and designer ready-to-wear feature in the accompanying second
volume, which explores the fashion world's response to the traditions
and pageantry of the church," Mr. Weiss added.
his May 29, 2018 lead comment on the catalogue at amazon.com, Pimm
provided the following commentary stating, accurately, that "the
photographs are a travesty and obscure the clothing:
"I am really saddened that this
incredible exhibition of
extremely beautiful objects has been reduced in this book to a lot of
the expense of substance. While that might not be surprising to some
who hold a
low opinion of fashion as art, for those of who love fashion, this
a travesty. As the other reviewers have pointed out, all of the
clothing (for some reason, the accessories were exempted) have been
in what I understand is meant to be an 'arty' and
'arresting' manner. Many of the images of very austere dresses with
incredible construction are blurred to the point where you can't make
design (particularly in the case of black pieces, which, with a subject
this, are pretty plentiful). The design and aesthetic of all of the
has been altered by the photographs. If the photographs themselves were
supposed to be the main point of this book, fine, but the beauty of the
and construction of these extraordinary pieces of clothing has been
by the photographs, which emphasize the (banal, monotonous) aesthetic
image at the expense of the clothing that is meant to be the main focus
silk taffeta amd gold-painted feathers, Thierry Mugler, autumn-winter
1984-5, in exhibition, left; in catalogue, right
Some items in the show are traditional
such as Thierry Mugler, gold-winged angel, show above in glorious in
excelis garb. Its catalogue image lacks the headdress but has lots of Cubist folds at its base....
Balcony figures in
Medieval Hall at Metropolitan Museum
are just purely angelic such as the balcony figures in the Medieval
Frontispiece of Volume
2 of exhibition catalogue as shown in show, left; as shown in
are impressive such as the frontispiece of the catalogue's second
volume with a gilden tiari and is more impressive "in person" than in
the "fractured catalogue.
Statuary vestment for the Madonna Delle Gracie at the Poor Benedette
Cassinesi Nuns of Lecce (founded 1133),
blue silk jacquard and gold metal passementerie, embroidered Swarovski
crystals and gold metal thread and beads, ivory silk faille,
embroidered polychrome crystals, gold paillettes and metal studs,
Riccardo Tisci, 2015, original design 1950
are more sumptuous "in person" as Riccardo Tisci's statuary vestment at
the Poor Benedette Cassinesi Nuns of Lecce being worn by flame-haired
female figure, above.
Dress, red silk
taffeta, Valentina SpA (Pierpaolo Piccioli), autumn/winter 2017-8
the outfits are not risque with the exception of Valentino's very low-cut
red silk taffeta dress, show above.
Evening ensemble, black
silk and brocaded gold metal thread, Valentino SpA (Maria Gracia Chiuri
and Pierpaolo Piccioli, autumn/winter 2015-6 in courtyard at Cloisters
some are quite high-collared and demure such as Valentino's black silk
and brocaded gold metal thread evening ensemble hoisted on a pole at
the Cloisters, shown above.
gold and white silk tulle, embroidered gold-painted feathers, Valentino
SpA (Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli), autumn/winter 2015-6
anyone think that Valentino is too sexy and demure his evening dress
with gold-painted feathers demonstrates he has a flair for dazzle and
ensemble, Ivory silk satin and tulle, ivory and gold silk-metal lace,
embroidered polychrome organdy flowers, iridescent paillettes, gold
metal thread, clear crystals and seed beads, Christian Lacroix,
Lacroix, of course, is a designer noted for flamboyance and his wedding
ensemble from 2009-10, shown above, is surprisingly demure.
ensemble, ivory and pale blue dip-dyed silk chiffon, embroidered blue
and clear-faceted crystals, Mugler (Thierry Mugler), autumn/winter
plywood and cream leather, Alexander McQueen, spring/summer 1999
Dolce & Gabbano dresses, left and center, and Wedding ensemble,
silver metal mesh, white silk tulle, embroidered clear crystals, Gianni
Versace, autumn/winter 1997-8, right
mistress of medieval might are ready to do battle. Open the disco
Gray wool broadcloth, embroidered clear and irridescent crystals,
Viktor & Rolf (Dutch, Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren,
Oooh, baby....It's cold outside and
ensemble, white silk organza, white nylon tulle, embroidered white silk
thread, gold bullion, pearls, crystals, clear glass and
mother-of-pearl, white mink, Thom Browne, spring/summer
Ensemble, gold silk and metal macrame lace, grossgrain-covered
whalebone, gold metal filigree with polychrome crystals, gold silk
tulle with gold Lurex, Dolce & Gabbana. Domenico Dolce and Stefano
Gabbana, spring/summer 2013
if she could only learn a few Flamenco moves!
ivory cotton tulle and silk satin, white cotton lace, silver metal,
brown leather, Jean-Paul Gaultier, spring/summer 1964
not going to take this lying down so nicely...
In fact, Madonna wore a similar shoulder guard in her 13-minute video
shot at the Met Gala 2018 when she sang "Like a Prayer" and
Mundum" (Against the World), evening glove, 18-karat white gold and
diamonds, Shaun Leane, 2010
course, it would have been better if she had also worn "Condra Mundum,"
Shaun Leane's, 2010 evening glove that was also included in the
exhibition, shown above, but then that would have been a bit much...
The catalogue notes that the glove was made for Daphne Guinness and
"its association with her make explicit a reliquary's primary function:
to evoke a particular person's memory and presence," a reference to the
silver-plated bust of the skull Saint Yrieix that was paired in the
exhibit with McQueen's and Leane's breatplate show at the top of this
Photographed Outfits Fractured in Catalogue
"Penance" dress, beige cotton burlap, white paint, silver metal
grommets, embroidered cut bamboo and thorn stems, white nylon rope,
black rubber snake (on back), Jean-Charles de Castlebajac (French,
Christian de Laubadere, autumn/winter 1982-3
not the bamboo and thorn stems that frighten me as much as the black
Ensemble, black silk twill, bronze plated metal, clear crystals, gilt
metal, House of Dior (John Galliano), autumn winter 2006-7
Craig Green (British, b. 1986) is one of the few young designers with a couple of outfits in the show.
The catalogue noted that "Green's collections are defined by a
synthesis of military and religious references that Women's Wear Daily
dubbed 'warrior monk.' The term aptly describes [the ensemble, right
above], with its evocation of plates of armor laced together with
Green's signature string fastenings. The cross on the central panel
extends the allusion to crusading knights who believed that the symbol
made them invincible against their Muslim opponents in the Holy Land.
Green's ensemble contains more tangible Christian and Islamic
references as well. It central panel was directly inspired by the
orarion, a long, narrow stole, decorated with a repeat pattern of
crosses, that was worn by deacons of the Orthodox Church. Indeed, the
entire garment, an assemblage of long, narrow bands of cloth, can be
seen as a corpus oraria. The ensemble's texture and most of its
patterns, however, are drawn from Islamic references, specifically
carpets and prayer mats. This conflation of aesthetic codes from
different religions is typical of Green's inclusive approach, as can
also be seen in his ensemble inspired by stained glass [see image at
Evening dress, black
silk marocain crepe and yellow silk faille, Eisa (Spanish, 1927-1968),
Christobal Balenciaga, 1951
Evening dress, black
silk cloque and light blue taffeta, Eisa (Spanish, 1927-1968),
Christobal Balenciaga, 1949
are the ice cubes for our drinks?
Evening dress, gray,
white and black silk jacquard, Alexander McQueen, autumn/winter 2010-11
Alexander McQueen's 2010-11 evening dress is perhaps enhanced by the catalogue's fracturing...
dress, beige cotton giupure lace, silk organza and tulle, Valentino Spa
(Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli), spring/summer 2015
the fragmented picure actually makes this dress more interesting...
dress with Purple polyester charmeuse and black silk velet, embroidered
gold metal passementerie, gold silk and metal thread, and polychromed
beads and paillettes, Mary McFadden, spring/summer 1984
comment as just above...
and green silk tulle, embroidered silver and gold paillettes and seed
beads, House of Dior (John Galliano), autumn/winter 2006
think I'll wear this to the Farmers' Market today just to make my
Evening dress, beige
and brown angora-wool jersey, Madame Gres (Alix Barton), circa 1975
Evening dress, white
silk chiffon, appliqued gold leather, House of Lanvin (Jeanne Lanvin),
dress detail, beige silk organza, embroidered polychrome crystals and
paillettes, gold and silver silk and metal thread, and gold seed beads
and bugle beads, Dolce & Gabbana, autumn/winter 2015-6
The catalogue provides the following commentary about this evening dress by Dolce & Gabbana:
"As in this Dolce & Gabbana dress, the Virgin Mary is traditionally
depicted wearing a blue mantle, an artistic convention established in
the fifth century, initially because of blue's association with royalty
in the Byzantine Empire. Blue later came to signify Mary's virtue
and humility and, being the color of the sky , was a reminder of her
status as the Queen of Heaven."
For elderly readers, it should be noted that the "text" part of the catalogue is small and light-gray and very hard to read.