The First Book of FashionDecember 6, 2015
You know those photographic projects where the artist takes a self-portrait every day for a year or once a year for their entire life and you’re like ah, he changed so much! The First Book of Fashion is like a Renaissance version of that. Except with tiny, beautiful tempera on parchment paintings.
The First Book of Fashion
Matthäus Schwarz (1497-1574) commissioned around four paintings a year, sometimes less and sometimes more, showing himself and his outfits of which he’s justly proud in the new realistic style. He decided to record the fashion of his times after taking with people and realising just how fast it moves.
The paintings go from before his birth in 1497 to the age of 63 ½ years and 25 days old.
Yes, Matthäus cheats a bit. Having started his book at the age of 23 he wants to do it properly, so goes back in time. Written beneath a picture of his pregnant mother is “I was hidden in 1496”.
This is a man who is said to have invented birthdays – partly as he was very into astronomy but mostly as he wanted an excuse to have a big party and show off his latest outfit. Totally a man after my own heart.
The First Book of Fashion – a lifetime of pictures
After the birth, we go right through – Matthäus in swaddling clothes, Matthäus sewn into a shroud as a baby (unable to move for nine hours, he was thought dead), Matthäus as a three-year old with chicken pox. A lovely picture of him playing with shepherd boys after he had run away from the priest who was educating him, aged nine.
His own explanatory text on each page by is brief, but lively. For example “In 1512. In my mind I was a bad ass [ein beser esel], and very keen on horse riding when my father sent me to Munich for his business. (Aged 15).” Nothing changes huh?
The accompanying gloss is thorough, going into detail on each aspect of the clothing. There are also shorter notes on the customs of the times – for this entry we have the note: “Fink suggests that the expression “being like a bad ass” related to the notion that young adults were unbalanced in their passions. Albrecht Dürer’s contemporary woodcuts and engravings popularized the naturalistic depiction of horses.”
And so it goes on, very frequently at first (he depicts himself at 18 years, 4 months, 10 days old, 18 years, 8 months, 9 days old, 19 years, 3 months, 10 days old). At the age of 29 ½ years, 8 days, we unexpectedly get a front and back nude of him, with the comment that he has grown “very round and fat”. Then straight back on to the colourful hose.
Most years there are four or five paintings, which gradually drops as he gets older to only one or two, and after the age of about forty Matthäus’s ageing becomes startlingly evident. In 1547 Aged 51 5/6, he is painted after having had a stroke. Gone are the gaily coloured outfits, and in their place drab , shapeless indoor clothes for an invalid. He looks crumpled and his beard is long, and he is shown with a black sling for his paralysed arm. I am genuinely relieved a couple of years later when, now stooped and grey bearded he returns once more to fashionable clothes.
The last image is of him at the age of 63, although Matthäus lived to the age of about 77. He had a son, Veit Konrad Schwartz, who also made his own brief book of fashion, included here.
The whole thing is really wonderful, witty and visually engaging, with clear and interesting essays. Recommended.
The First Book of Fashion – The Book of Clothes of Matthäus and Veit Konrad Schwarz of Augsburg ed. Ulinka Rublack, Jenny Tiramani and Maria Hayward is published by Bloomsbury Academic. You can order it here on their website.
Cover of The First Book of Fashion. Image Bloomsbury.
Mattaus as a child. Image Bloomsbury
Pages from The First Book of Fashion. Image Bloomsbury
An all white outfit that Mattaus loved. Image Bloomsbury.
Some pages from The First Book of Fashion. Image Herzog Anton / Ulrich Museum
Mattaus and his sleigh from The First Book of Fashion. Image Bloomsbury.
The naked studies. Image Herzog Anton / Ulrich Museum
Mattaus afer his stroke from The First Book of Fashion
Portraits including the elderly Mattaus. Image Herzog Anton / Ulrich Museum