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Beauty By Design Fashioning The Renaissance

Start Date 14 November 2014
End Date 03 May 2015
Venue National Portrait Gallery
Location Edinburgh, UK
Exhibition display of lace shirts against back lit wall
Exhibition display of dressed mannequins
Exhibition display of dressed mannequins

From Titian and Rubens to Michelangelo, the Renaissance ideal of beauty was far removed from the size zero model. Beauty by Design combines art historical research with contemporary fashion design to question cultural commonplaces about beauty and body image and challenge the dominance of today’s media-driven ‘thin ideal’.

Launched at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in September 2012, Beauty by Design capitalises upon the research interests and strengths of a number of experts at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA). These include Jill Burke in History of Art, whose work on the Italian Renaissance nude is part-funded by a Philip Leverhulme Prize, and the School of Design’s Mal Burkinshaw.

Mal is Director of the Diversity Network, a collaboration between ECA and the industry group, All Walks Beyond the Catwalk. The Network exists to promote a healthier attitude towards diversity of body image and attractiveness. Beauty by Design is one of the ways in which it is using historical codes of beauty to innovate towards new fashion solutions rooted in ‘emotionally considerate’ design, marketing and branding; there is also an acclaimed teaching programme at ECA.

In addition to the core researchers, Beauty By Design involves art historians and curators at the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS) , as well as contemporary artists and designers. Together with Mark Daniels of New Media Scotland, the team curated a major exhibition in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery which ran from November 2014 to January 2015.

As well as historical paintings from the NGS collections, Beauty by Design: Fashioning the Renaissance showcased new work by the artist, Paul Hodgson, and academy-based fashion designers and stylists, Mal Burkinshaw, Sally-Ann Provan and Claire Ferguson (Edinburgh), Philip Clarke (Middlesex), Sharon D Lloyd (Southampton Solent) and Anne Chaisty (Bournemouth).

Visitor numbers at the exhibition topped 152,000 and there were a range of associated events, including a panel discussion with All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, a LateLab at the Edinburgh International Science Festival, and a handling/creative workshop for people with a range of visual impairments.

Images courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, UK. Photos Sam Rutherford and Chris Scott.