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Heavenly Bodies
Fashion and the Catholic Imagination

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

May 10, through September 8, 2018

Catalogue 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

McQueen breastplate 312

Silver-plated metal breast-plate with resin and old gold, House of Givenchy (Alexander McQueen and Shaun Leane, spring/summer 2000

The 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. 

The much 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.

In his May 29, 2018 lead comment on the catalogue at, 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 style at 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 catalogue s a travesty. As the other reviewers have pointed out, all of the photographs of clothing (for some reason, the accessories were exempted) have been fragmented 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 out their design (particularly in the case of black pieces, which, with a subject like this, are pretty plentiful). The design and aesthetic of all of the clothing 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 design and construction of these extraordinary pieces of clothing has been destroyed by the photographs, which emphasize the (banal, monotonous) aesthetic of the image at the expense of the clothing that is meant to be the main focus of this book...."

Mugler 304    Mugler 304

Ivory 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

Others are just purely angelic such as the balcony figures in the Medieval Hall.

Galliano 198    Frontisiece

Frontispiece of Volume 2 of exhibition catalogue as shown in show, left; as shown in catalogue, right

Others 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.

Tisci 192

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

Others 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.
Valentino 280

Dress, red silk taffeta, Valentina SpA (Pierpaolo Piccioli), autumn/winter 2017-8

Gemerally, the outfits are not risque with the exception of Valentino's very low-cut red silk taffeta dress, show above.

Valentino 222

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
Indeed, 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.


Evening dress, gold and white silk tulle, embroidered gold-painted feathers, Valentino SpA (Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli), autumn/winter 2015-6

Lest anyone think that Valentino is too sexy and demure his evening dress with gold-painted feathers demonstrates he has a flair for dazzle and elegance.

Lacroix 184

Wedding 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, autumn-winter 2009-10

Christian Lacroix, of course, is a designer noted for flamboyance and his wedding ensemble from 2009-10, shown above, is surprisingly demure.

Mugler 178

Evening ensemble, ivory and pale blue dip-dyed silk chiffon, embroidered blue and clear-faceted crystals, Mugler (Thierry Mugler), autumn/winter 1984-5

McQueen 306

Ensemble, birch plywood and cream leather, Alexander McQueen, spring/summer 1999

Dolce 14    Dolce 114     Glitter  16

Various 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

These mistress of medieval might are ready to do battle.  Open the disco doors!

Viktor Rolfe  184

Ensemble, Gray wool broadcloth, embroidered clear and irridescent crystals, Viktor & Rolf (Dutch, Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren, autumn/winter 1999-2000

Oooh, baby....It's cold outside and inside!

T Browne  298

Wedding 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 2018

Dolce  188

Wedding 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

Now if she could only learn a few Flamenco moves!

Gaultier 266

Ensemble, ivory cotton tulle and silk satin, white cotton lace, silver metal, brown leather, Jean-Paul Gaultier, spring/summer 1964

She's 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 "Hallelujah".


"Contra Mundum" (Against the World), evening glove, 18-karat white gold and diamonds, Shaun Leane, 2010

Of 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 article.

Photographed Outfits Fractured in Catalogue

De Castlebajac 308

"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

It's not the bamboo and thorn stems that frighten me as much as the black rubber snake...

Galliano 268

Ensemble, black silk twill, bronze plated metal, clear crystals, gilt metal, House of Dior (John Galliano), autumn winter 2006-7

Now this is a great hip flask!

Creaig  292    Craiggreenblue 294

Ensemble, hand-painted polychromed beige cotton-canvas, Craig Green, autumn/winter, 2014-5, left; Ensemble, beige quilted jute canvas, polychromed embroidered pile of acrylic thread, Craig Green, autumn-winter 2017-8, right

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 left, above]."

Balenciaga 200

Evening dress, black silk marocain crepe and yellow silk faille, Eisa (Spanish, 1927-1968), Christobal Balenciaga, 1951

Sooo elegantissimo!


Evening dress, black silk cloque and light blue taffeta, Eisa (Spanish, 1927-1968), Christobal Balenciaga, 1949

Where are the ice cubes for our drinks?

McQueen 202

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...

Valentino 252

Evening dress, beige cotton giupure lace, silk organza and tulle, Valentino Spa (Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli), spring/summer 2015

Here the fragmented picure actually makes this dress more interesting...

McFaccen 323

Eveming 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

Same comment as just above...

Galliano 288

Yellow and green silk tulle, embroidered silver and gold paillettes and seed beads, House of Dior (John Galliano), autumn/winter 2006

I think I'll wear this to the Farmers' Market today just to make my shoppers happy...

Gres 238

Evening dress, beige and brown angora-wool jersey, Madame Gres (Alix Barton), circa 1975

Lanvin 206

Evening dress, white silk chiffon, appliqued gold leather, House of Lanvin (Jeanne Lanvin), circa 1936

Mugler 212

Dress, gold silk lame, Mugler, autumn/winter 1984-5

Dolce 176

Evening 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.

Click here to order the $65 catalogue from for $43.24

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