Friday, August 19, 2022

Ancient and Modern Apparel

De gli habiti antichi et moderni di diverse parti del mondo (Ancient and Modern Apparel of Different Parts of the World) is a seminal work in the field of fashion history, though it perhaps reveals more about the biases of its author than it does about its purported subject. Written in the 1590s by Venetian author and woodcut printer Cesare Vecellio, the treatise contains hundreds of beautifully detailed images of clothing from throughout Afro-Eurasia. During the Baroque era, one's social class, gender, and place of origin could be easily divined based on appearance and clothing. Though this was beginning to change by Vecellio's time, it was still largely true that certain people predictably dressed in a certain way. Vecellio's book was an attempt at documenting these archetypal looks from throughout the world. The treatise is also considered to be an early example of anthropology or ethnography, as Vecellio often discusses the daily habits, routines, traditions, and customs of the people whose clothes he is describing. However, Vecellio is far from a reliable source. His descriptions of foreign cultures are often filled with speculation and stereotypes. He also spends the vast majority of his book describing European dress culture, with only a very small minority of the test devoted to Africa and Asia. (A later edition of the book would also include the Americas). So while Vecellio provides the modern reader with marvelous images and interesting tidbits about dress culture, his work is perhaps best read as a glimpse into the kaleidoscope of stereotypes and tropes through which a late sixteenth century Venetian saw the world. 

This post was originally written by Stephen Iovino '21 for Nancy Canepa's Italian 23 class, 17th and 18th Century Italian Literature.