Like much of the country, it’s been really cold here in Massachusetts over the past week: starkly beautiful in that mid-winter way, but freezing cold. Every day I forsake one of my fashionable wool coats for a shapeless parka, which depresses me, as I’m a bit of a coat hound (I think this is in my blood: my Italian great-grandfather came over at age 13 and became a designer of what everyone tells me were the most beautiful ladies’ coats). There is plenty of current advice about how to look good while bundled up but I also like to look at the fashion plates of one of my favorite artists, the Bohemian etcher Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677) for comparison, if not inspiration. Hollar’s costumed women were probably idealistically dressed, but they are nonetheless charming.
Wenceslaus Hollar, “Winter” Dress, 1643-44. Courtesy of the British Museum.
Besides his seasonal series, Hollar produced two other sets of prints of ladies’ contemporary costumes, both available in their entirety at the University of Toronto’s extraordinary digital collection: Ornatus Muliebris Anglicanus, or The Several Habits of English Women (1640) and Theatrum Mulierum and Aula Veneris (1643). Below is another bundled-up English lady from the former, and Scottish, Spanish, Flemish and Bohemian ladies from the latter.
Muffs, muffs, and more muffs!
I am not a fur-wearer, but I can still appreciate Hollar’s amazing depictions of muffs, the must-have accessory of the seventeenth-century noblewoman (and men too). They were a relatively recent import to England from the Continent, first referenced as “snuffskyns” in Elizabeth’s time, and Hollar apparently admired them so much he often did away with the wearer and just etched the muff–with such precision that you can almost feel the fur.
It is interesting to see what a difference a century (or so) makes: in the later eighteenth century, British caricaturists would regularly mock muffs as an extravagant French accessory, the very symbol of sartorial excess. In Hollar’s time, however (certainly a more Puritan-ical era), they appear to objects above reproach!
Inigo Barlow, ‘Les Incommodités de Janvier’, etching published by Hannah Humphrey, London, 1786. Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
January 28th, 2013 at 7:57 am
I’ve always thought of muffs as racy, thanks to the way Henry Fielding (and later director Tony Richardson) treated Sophie Western’s muff in “Tom Jones.”
January 28th, 2013 at 8:36 am
I’ve got to go back and look that up; of course, all I can remember (from the film) is the dinner scene in the tavern.
January 28th, 2013 at 2:23 pm
The dinner scene, which indeed is memorable, is at the inn at Upton, which is also where Sophie loses her muff, and Tom finds it.
January 28th, 2013 at 8:23 am
I’m no fan of fur myself so I’m pleased to see people thought it was cruel back in the 17th century too.
I remember once seeing an etching of a muff revolver, which was a small pistol that a lady would carry concealed in a muff. She could then whip it out when necessary for blasting away wayward highwaymen and the like. You couldn’t make it up…
January 28th, 2013 at 1:19 pm
Well it sounds very practical; you know there were highwaymen around every corner in the 18th century!
January 28th, 2013 at 8:46 am
Love these images! I’ve been thinking for the past few years that the muff should make a big comeback.
January 28th, 2013 at 8:55 am
Interesting, in that first image, how much the coat drape resembles ;late 19th century silhouettes.
January 29th, 2013 at 7:27 am
I know; I always thought this lady looked a little out of her time.
January 28th, 2013 at 9:31 am
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January 28th, 2013 at 9:52 am
Oh how lovely. I mean really lovely, I used to have a muff as a kid, i was told it was a russian fox sent to my grandmother by an admirer who had visited NZ at some point when she was a girl. And it was very grand, not as big as the ones in these prints of course but it did have a matching hat! What a stunning collection of works.. c
January 29th, 2013 at 7:28 am
January 29th, 2013 at 3:30 am
The accessory of choice for me is the mask. that would add a certain frisson methinks! Wonderful article, thank you. It is always a delight to read your blog. Genuinely insightful with great illlustration.
January 29th, 2013 at 7:29 am
I do wonder if we walked around with these masks whether people would FEAR us!
January 29th, 2013 at 2:21 pm
I wish I had one of those round collars with the corrugated stuff on the inside.