The Metropolitan Museum of Art
This month's "Treasures and Curiosities" come from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The collections of the Met's Costume Institute and the Brooklyn Museum were recently combined, making the Met's holdings some of the finest and most comprehensive in the world. The costume galleries are currently undergoing major renovations, and due to the fragile nature of many of the garments, the permanent collection is not on public view. The Met, however, has a superb fashion library, the Irene Lewisohn Costume Reference Library, which contains thousands of prints, sketches, photographs, and books, and is open to use by any researcher (by appointment only). They also frequently offer several guided tours focusing on the history of costume in art; see the events calendar for details on when these are offered. Once or twice a year, the Costume Institute stages a major exhibition. For more information on current, future, and past exhibits, check out this introductory page.
Unless otherwise noted, the following images are borrowed from, and linked directly back to, the website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and originate entirely from their digital collections database. They remain the full and copyrighted property of the Met. All images are used for private educational purposes only, without any monetary gain whatsoever, and no copyright infringement is intended.
And now, without further ado, happy drooling and Happy Holidays!
Our Met Top Ten:
Number One: In honor of the season (and just because everyone loves a classic cardinal cloak!), we've chosen this red wool cloak for our top pick. The Met listing calls it a "cape" and dates it to the last third of the 18th century (Met accession number: C.I.69.4).
The cloak displayed with a fur muff.
The hood of the cloak appears to be lined in a cream or light colored silk. Red silk facings extend down the center front opening. But what is so unique about this particular cloak is the buttoned "waistcoat" feature that closes the front opening to a little below the waistline to prevent wind from sneaking in. It is difficult to see in the photo (and unfortunately there isn't a better view on the Met's website), but there is a strikingly similar (almost identical) cloak in the Colonial Williamsburg collection that is included in What Clothes Reveal (p. 14) that offers a better view of this front closure element. Sadly, it has yet to uploaded to their E-Museum. The Colonial Williamsburg Costume Design Center did a reproduction of the cloak in their collection, and it was recently displayed at their Open House back in October. My friend Laurie was lucky enough to see it and snapped a few close-up photos, which you can see on her blog. She also just made a lovely cloak for her daughter based on the CW example, which you can see here.
The classic "fan pleats" at the back of the full hood,
and a detail of the collar piece.
The other stunning feature of this cloak is the elegantly shaped collar piece, which appears to be edged with a plush or velvet fabric. Remarkably, the CW example is embellished with what appears to be the exact same kind of trim. If anyone has a better insight as to what exactly the trim is, please do share! When Laurie and I were discussing this particular cloak a couple of weeks ago, we were bemoaning the fact that the drape of the full hood impedes our sight of precisely how the collar piece is attached. Is it a separate, optional piece that could be tied on around the cloak's neckline? Or is it intrinsically part of the cloak's construction, something like the collar and capelet pieces of a gentleman's cloak? Either way, it's a truly gorgeous piece!
Number Two: A green silk damask round gown, 1775, with an American provenance (Met accession number: 1994.406a–c). The longer length of the sleeves, which fall past the elbow, and the wide, low neckline, date the gown to the second half of the 1770s.
And just because a gown this fabulous deserves shoes worthy of it, here's a pair of silk shoes ("slippers" in the Met's catalog), dating to approximately 1770-1789 (Met accession number: C.I.39.13.59a, b). A similar pair made of the gown's fabric is listed with the gown (and in the top photo above, you can see the toe peeping out beneath the skirts), but I included these here instead because I liked the look of the uncovered heel on this pair. Oh, that they still made shoes like this!
Number Three: A British embroidered linen gown and matching petticoat, dating to about 1780 (Met accession number: 1998.314a, b). The Met Museum's listing classifies this as a "robe a la polonaise," though without seeing the back, it can't be confirmed whether this gown is truly cut as a polonaise gown, or if it simply has earned this title because the skirts can be draped up "a la polonaise."
The detail work on this gown is absolutely stunning, especially considering it is linen and not a "finer" fabric like silk or even cotton. Be sure to visit the detail page to make use of the super-zoom feature to see this up close. The embroidery even uses gold outlining threads. I really wish they provided greater detail about items like these because inquiring minds want to know more!
A detail of the embroidered skirt and petticoat, both edged
in fringe. And you have to love that shoe, too...
Number Four: A riding habit jacket ("coat"), 1760 (Met accession number: 1976.147.1). The listing describes the material as "silk and goat hair." The longer skirts of this jacket are characteristic of this period; in the 1770s, they were shorted considerably to more closely mirror the military style then in vogue.
A detail of the jacket's pockets. If you look closely at the
back of the jacket's bodice, you can see it was assembled
using lapped seams.
Number Five: A purple silk calash lined in cream silk (Met accession number: C.I.45.68.44). You can see the caning poking through the channels in the thin outer silk.
A back view of the calash. You can't help but love the flirty little bow!
The ladies at Colonial Williamsburg's Margaret Hunter shop recently made a couple of these fun calash bonnets: a black one for the Spruce Sportsman project, and a green one. If you're interested in reading more about them, also see this recent post about the fashion for the calash from the Two Nerdy History Girls.
Number Six: A silk quarter-back gown with skirts worn a la polonaise, and matching petticoat, 1780-1785 (Met accession number: 1970.87a, b). This is my favorite of the group. The Met lists this item as a "robe a la polonaise," but it is very clear from the back detail shot that the gown's bodice is cut separate from the skirts.
Check out the details page for this item to see a couple of close-ups of the fabric. This is made from a painted silk; you can see where the paint has faded in several places. In 1995, the Met partnered with New York University for a two-day symposium called "The Conservation of 18th-Century Painted Silk Dress," which featured discussions of this gown and other painted textiles from US-based and international collections. It also included a "Report on 18th-Century Painted Dresses from the Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute," by Jun I. Kanai, which included comments on gowns number seven and eight in our last Treasures and Curiosities post. If you're interested, the papers from the symposium have been collected and are available in volume-form under the symposium's title.
Number Seven: Cotton or linen printed round gown, American, 1774 (Met accession number: 26.38a–d). By the last quarter of the century, darker backgrounds on printed fabrics were becoming increasingly popular.
One of the interesting things about this gown is the incredibly thin fabric out of which it is made. You can see through the skirts at the bottom. As the century progressed, lighter textiles gradually replaced the heavier brocades and damasks that had been popular since the 17th century.
A detail of the back en fourreau pleats.
A gown remarkably similar in style and fabric was recently offered by vintagetextiles, and Chole's Slightly Obsessed 18th century blog featured a few lovely photographs of it.
Number Eight: French silk saque back gown, 1775 (Met accession number: 2005.61a, b). This fantastic confection is a feast of fly fringe, braid, and lace, all coordinated perfectly with the colors of the pink flowered silk, which appears to be painted.
The trim that frames the open center fronts of the skirts is padded with wool to form the puffs.
Detail of the compere (false stomacher) front of the gown,
gloriously draped in fringe galore. *sigh*
For more on this gown, visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art's BlogMode: Addressing Fashion post on this gown, "Let Them Eat Cake."
Number Nine: Green striped painted silk robe a la francaise, French, 1750-1775 (Met accession number: C.I.54.70a, b). A view of the front, which can be found (sadly only in black and white!) in The Conservation of 18th-Century Painted Silk Dress (p. 72), shows a simple stomacher front with two wide rows of ruching extending down the front opening of the skirts.
Detail view of the sleeve ruffle, showing the pinked edges.
Number Ten: A yellow silk pet-en-l'air and matching petticoat, French, 1778 (Met accession number: C.I.37.57a, b). For some reason, the Met lists this as a "gown," though it is clearly two separate pieces. The lovely ruched trim is well worth a visit to the zoom page on the Met's website.
The pet-en-l'air, pictured with gown #6.
The above pictures shows the back of the pet-en-l'air (right). The relatively short skirts date it to the latter quarter of the century, as do the ruched gauze sleeves that cap the elbows.
Printed Resources Featuring Items from the 18th century part of the Met's Costume Institute collection:
- The most spectacular view of the finest pieces from the Met's 18th century collection can be indulged in through the catalogue produced to accompany the 2004 exhibit Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the 18th Century. Sadly (expectedly!), it's out of print now, but used copies often turn up on Amazon, and it's worth the extra money because the photographs are stunning and so well-staged.
- Although not strictly limited to 18th century items, the Met recently released 100 Dresses, a collection of - you guessed it - 100 of their favorite dresses from the 17th to the 21st century. I was surprised to find that about half the book is 20th-21st century, but what there is of the earlier periods is quite lovely, and you can't beat the price for a great costume resource!
- High Style: Masterworks from the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection is similar to the above 100 Dresses, with a collection of pieces spanning the 18th through the 20th centuries.
- Other items of different periods from the Costume Institute have been featured in a number of Met books and exhibit catalogues. If you're interested, check out their most current publications catalogue. Please note that is does not include out of print books (which, unfortunately, many of the costume titles are).
One final note: If you know of an online collection that you feel deserves some proper attention here, or if you've visited a collection and have photos you'd like to share, please do feel most welcome to suggest it to us for a future "Treasures and Curiosities from..." post!