Monday, February 13, 2012

Shoes from the Middle Ages, Early Modern Period, topic of lecture in London

From the skin-tight boots sported by dandies in the early 19th century to the brothel-creepers currently making a come-back on the streets of trendy East London, footwear has long played a powerful role in the human imagination as a signifier of rank and status. On the eve of London Fashion Week, Cambridge University historian Dr Ulinka Rublack, a specialist in the cultural history of early modern Europe, will give a public talk in London tomorrow on the topic of luxury items – an exploration of the past through the life of things.

In investigating the history of the intricate interplay between people and their belongings, she will focus on leather and, in particular, on shoes and their potency as objects of desire in the 16th century. She will argue that in seeking to understand the Renaissance as a cultural movement we should not confine our gaze to the development of the fine arts – such as painting and sculpture – but should also explore the role of the decorative arts and crafts – such as fashion and textiles – with an open mind.

Dr Rublack challenges the unspoken hierarchy that frames our picture of the past: a ranking system that puts painting on a pedestal and confines many of the objects made to be worn and handled to the side-lines. She argues that it is only by looking at the ways in which objects were crafted and re-crafted that we get closer to the mind-set of those who lived during a period we think of as pivotal in ushering in a new age. “Design came first, whether bags or belts, hats or head-dresses, and the paintings portraying these items followed,” she said.

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