National Portrait Gallery-Lou Taylor Task

Taylor’s model, referenced in the last post, helps us understand fabrics/materials and their place in history. The qualities that distinguish one material from another is said to be a ‘mark of distinction’. Taylor identifies the 12 qualities that determine a fabrics hierarchy e.g rarity of fabric.

Caroline Wilhelmina of Brandenburg Ansbach- Jacopo Amigoni 1735

The woman in this portrait was the Queen of Great Britain as the wife of King George II.NPG 4332; Caroline Wilhelmina of Brandenburg-Ansbach by Jacopo Amigoni

Within this portrait, it is clear of the wealth present. There is a sense of weight to the fabrics presented, like the lilac gown, where Amigoni has used light to show the qualities of the material. The silk gown worn is considered a high end luxury, giving the figure an elitist status within the painting. The qualities stated by Taylor’s model ensuring it is a luxury good are:

the rarity of the fabric (inaccessibility)- lack of availability to the general public makes the silk gown more exclusive and therefore desirable to many. This means a higher price can be given to it for the elite.

a high price- making it a luxury item and therefore implying the wearer is of a high status.

the association with elitist social functions- a silk gown would not be considered normal attire and therefore is preserved for special occasions, giving it a sense of importance.

elitist status of wearers- not accessible to a lower status and therefore reserved for the wealthy.

the delicacy of the material and tactile qualities- the silk gown shimmers in the light and has a soft touch, this is even evident through the painting as it has been emphasised. This aesthetic nature makes the fabric attractive in the first place, giving it the high status.

the elitist orientated marketing- evident within this painting, the elite are pictured in silk to achieve a sense of importance/wealth due to its cost.

Picasso- Olga Picasso 1923

Image result for portrait of olga picasso

One of Picasso’s more conservative of paintings, one that truly looks to traditional painting means for inspiration. She has been reported as being increasingly ‘chaste’ without the promise of marriage, contrasting with Picasso’s reputation. Having been injured (supposedly during ballerina practice), Olga was chair-ridden for most of their honeymoon, during which time Picasso painted. Many pieces of Olga depict her as modest and noble, always buttoned up and mildly formal. There was an evident difference between these and Picasso’s depiction of other  women. The limited palette gives a modest appearance to his then wife, allowing natural beauty to shine through.

Marks of Distinction that determine this materials hierarchy;

Common fabric- no sense of importance given to the figure

Lack of novelty- not trying to draw attention or gain recognition, but simply portraying the ‘normal’, could be any woman from anywhere through her dress.

Function- within the painting, no sense of elitist function is given to Olga. She is simply seated, giving the fabric no elitist social means, making it suitable for any occasion.

Status of wearer- Olga Picasso is not given a high status appearance within this piece. She is no expected to shock or to impress but shown simply as she is. This does not add to the hierarchy of the fabric but makes it available and suitable.

Aesthetic quality- dull in colour and texture within the painting. Light is not used to adorn the fabric or to add to the quality in the same way Renaissance paintings do this. Even the background is not expected to add to the fabrics beauty in any way, by using the same colour palette for both.

Cheap in price- meaning it is readily available to all, not retained for the elite or given a sense of importance in any way.

Tactile quality- there is a sense of weight to the fabric, the way it falls and drapes around her shoulders. But rather than excelling the hierarchy of the fabric it seems to fit around Olga, giving her pride of place and allowing the fabric to just cover.

William Thomas Lewis as Mercutio, ‘Romeo and Juliet’- Gainsborough Dupont 1754-1797

William Thomas Lewis as Mercutio in 'Romeo and Juliet'

William Thomas Lewis was an actor for the Covent Garden Theatre. This painting was commissioned by Thomas Harris, along with 19 other pieces, who was the owner of this theatre. All pieces contained actors from the Covent Garden Theatre and were hung in Harris’ house.

Marks of distinction to determine materials hierarchy;

Elitist function- given the impression of importance from the clothes worn. There is a level of detail within the garments that would be considered luxury. Mercutio is an important character within the story, drawing attention from the audience. Dressing him in lace gives the material a value and significance.

Aesthetic quality- the textures created by the paint, work to regenerate the delicacy of the lace. We are also drawn to the lace by its pure colour, being the brightest shade of white on the canvas, partnered by the white of Mercutio’s hair.







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