Painted Pomp: art and fashion in the age of Shakespeare. Holburne Museum, Bath. 26th January to 6th May 2013
The exhibition has three interconnecting strands. First there are the Lawson paintings, then some original clothing and accessories from the period that compliment and add to the paintings, and finally there are some reproductions of similar outfits to those depicted in the paintings, and related material from the Globe theatre.
There are nine full size portraits by William Lawson from the Suffolk collection. These are beautifully lit, and the colours are jewel like. The difference between seeing the paintings themselves and seeing reproductions is considerable. Look at the portrait of Elizabeth, Countess of Newcastle, what you cannot see in this reproduction, which you can when you are close up to it in the exhibition, is that the gown is covered either in black braid or black embroidery. The black on black is very difficult to see, but the fact that Larkin nuanced his blacks says everything about the way he depicts fabrics.
There are also cases of original items which have been chosen specifically to go with the paintings. There is a beautifully embroidered jacket from the Museum of Fashion Collection at Bath, which mirrors the two paintings in which similar embroidered jackets are being worn, and particularly the portrait of Lady Dorothy Cary wearing a jacket closed with almost identical pink ribbons. There are three pairs and one single gauntleted glove from the collection of the Worshipful Company of Glovers. Two of the glove designs show the pelican in her piety, one has flowers on the gauntlets, and the least ornamented pair has goldwork leaves and flowers. There is a pair of white pinked leather shoes, in a very small size, on loan from the Ashmolean. There is a heavily decorated shoe horn, and a fan from the Royal Collection, with bone guards and a leather leaf cut in the style of reticella work. There is a case of sixteenth and early seventeenth century cutwork and needle and bobbin laces, of the styles that are depicted in the paintings, and seven examples of ruff or band tassels. There are two shirts, one from the Museum of Fashion, covered in very fine blackwork embroidery, close ups of which can be seen on the Goodwyfe blog, and the other from the Somerset Museums Service with a lace collar and inset lace motif. Another item reflecting the paintings is a seventeenth century Turkish carpet, very similar in style to those that appear under the feet of Larkin’s subjects.
To round of the exhibition there are two complete outfits from productions at the Globe, Perdita from A Winter’s Tale, and Duke Vincentio from Measure for Measure. Accompanying them is a video showing how the two characters are dressed from their smock and shirt onward. There are also a few reproduction items, hat, gloves, ruff and collar, that can be tried on by members of the public.
The exhibition is accompanied by a series of related talks and workshops details of which can be found on the Museum’s website. The museum shop also stocks the recently published book The Suffolk Collection by Laura Houliston. (English Heritage, £50. 9781848020801 - cover above)