The first subject on this week’s list of things to blog about was drawing armour at the Wallace Collection. This all started because I am interested in men’s workwear, and in particular the development of the business suit. There is a fair bit of interesting material about this. Anne Hollander and John Harvey are probably the best place to start. One argument is that men’s suits can be traced back to suits of armour in that they are composed of tubes of cloth which encase the body just as armour is made of tubes of steel. You get the idea if you think about suits made in mohair or silk which are shiny and metallic. Here’s a classic:
And a suit of armour:
My argument, of course, is that the suit acts like armour – symbolic armour against the symbolic violence in organisations. A perfect example of that is Suits (which you can see on British TV on Dave). The series is about an aggressive US law firm, and the protagonists are all exquisitely dressed:
And style and self-presentation is everything:
The women are also exquisitely dressed in very close-fitting dresses.
One of the things that is really interesting about armour is that battlefield armour is different to ceremonial armour and to jousting armour. Form really does follow function here. Jousting armour is designed so that lances glance off it, and ceremonial armour is meant to dazzle. It was violently expensive, custom-made, and people commissioned it from craftsmen all over Europe, particularly Germany and Italy. So, despite my qualms about the violence involved, it is interesting in its materiality and functionality.
It also has a complicated relationship with civilian clothing. Sometimes the armour apes civilian fashion, and sometimes civilian fashion borrows from men’s armour. Uniforms are a case in point with Jimi Hendrix and his heavily frogged jacket:
The Middle Ages/Early Modern period mixed fashion and opulence and function and utility and back again. So armour mimicked the very close folds of linen worn by men (and changed very frequently):
The armour, then, is modelled to look like fashionable civilian dress as seen in these sketches from the Wallace Collection, but equally, there was a fashion for ordinary clothes to ape battledress. An example of this is the slashing found in much of the clothing of the period. The little puffs of fabric do demonstrate that the wearer has sufficient money to buy the fine silk required to get this effect, but it also looks like fine underlayers coming through slashes from a sword blade in combat:
My sketch of two portraits in the National Gallery shows many of the features that armour displays. In the figure on the right we can see the very broad shoulders and tapered waist of the warrior’s armour, the pleated shirt which we see in the plate armour, and the slashes echoing the sword blows. The military and civilian is collapsed together. The drawing on the left shows the silhouette found in so many of the suits of armour in the Wallace. Paintings in The National Portrait Gallery brilliantly show the silhouettes on which the armour was modelled. The peascod jacket is seen in its fabric incarnation in the famous portrait of the Earl of Southampton:
It’s a great portrait because he looks so dastardly:
So. There is more to say about this, but that can wait for the summer and the conference presentation. I wanted to end this post by adding in elements of the Zentangle doodling I mentioned in my last post. The workmanship on these pieces is stunning, and the catalogue and the commentary in the Wallace Collection urges us to see them as works of art (although it is difficult to see past them as works of murderous intent). I took some of the armour in the Wallace Collection and added the zentangle patterns I’ve learned so far to turn them into works on paper, to show their proportions and their decorative qualities. I started by drawing them in my sketchbook and then filled in the spaces with the doodles:
This last one is done with a white gouache pen on black sketchbook paper and gives a nice feel for some of the black armour or the bas relief pieces. This final sketch is my rendering of a design on one suit of armour’s screw heads into a Zentangle pattern. It was fun to make:
I really think that the doodles help to capture something about the armour. I just haven’t quite understood what yet!