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Painted Pomp: Art and Fashion in the Age of Shakespeare

Start Date 26 January 2013
End Date 06 May 2013
Venue Holburne Museum
Location Bath, UK

One of the most important groups of Jacobean portraits in the country forms the centrepiece of this exceptional exhibition. Nine sumptuous full-length portraits by William Larkin, painted around 1613-18, will be displayed alongside rare survivals of dress from the period with live interpretation, to reveal the heights of the art and fashion of four hundred years ago.

The portraits depict members of an extended family, relatives of Thomas Howard, the first Earl of Suffolk. They may have been made to mark a marriage between the Cecil and Howard families, two of the most powerful Jacobean courtly families during an unsettled period of intrigue and social change. Behind the extraordinary finery on display stands a cast of ruthless, scheming characters jostling for power and position in the turbulent Court of James I.

The most striking features of the portraits are the breath-taking costumes, recorded by the artist in painstaking detail to reflect the huge wealth and status of the sitters. Some extraordinary fashion statements are also captured including shoe laces threaded through the ear of the 4th Earl of Dorset and the startling décolletage revealed by Lady Isabel Rich. The paintings record not only the richness of the fabrics and fashions in exquisite detail but also current ideas of beauty, such as elaborately dressed hair and skin so pale and translucent as to reveal the blue veins beneath.

To help bring the portraits alive, they will be accompanied by a gorgeous selection of early seventeenth-century clothing and accessories. These include a ravishing embroidered bodice, exceptionally rare fans, shoes, beautiful punto in aria lace (literally ‘stitches in the air’), remarkable gloves embroidered in silks and trimmed with fabulously expensive gold and silver, and elaborate men’s shirts of fine blackwork embroidery and cutwork.

This was a time when both men and women dressed to impress and when men’s clothes were often even more extravagant than those of their wives. To accompany the historic clothing we are borrowing two beautiful replica outfits from Shakepeare’s Globe that were made for Mark and Juliet Rylance by leading historic dress designer Jenny Tiramani.

Visitors will be able to see the extraordinary handiwork that went into shirts, lace, shoes, an exquisite floral bodice, embroidered gloves, and a fan. They will be able to enjoy trying on replica costumes made especially for the exhibition and listening to a live musical programme within the gallery.

Lenders include English Heritage, the Royal Collection, the Ashmolean Museum, the Worshipful Company of Glovers and Bath’s Fashion Museum.

Sponsored by Heritage Lottery Fund.
Supported by the Friends of the Holburne.
In partnership with Bath Spa University.