How did medieval people imagine clothing of earlier eras?

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Tom H
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How did medieval people imagine clothing of earlier eras?

Postby Tom H » Sat Oct 03, 2009 6:36 am

I'm familiar with various late 14th & 15th C depictions of the crucifixion etc with Roman soldiers wearing full plate as that was what was familiar at the time of the carving/painting. But have started to wonder whether there were examples of what a 14th century person may have considered authentic clothing of an earlier time.

For instance, in Chester there is a legend that King Harold wasn't killed at Hastings, merely wounded, and after the battle went to Chester to live out the rest of his life as an anchorite there. It's an old legend, Gerald of Wales mentions it, and many people will tell you of it today, especially on the ghost tours where he has supposedly been seen in monk's habit, complete with bandage over eye!

But recently I read that St John's church claimed to have discovered the burial place of King Harold in 1332. They knew it was him as he was wearing leather hose, gold spurs and crown...

So it seems that 14th century cestrians considered leather hose as authentic late Saxon costume. Does anyone know of any other examples, any period?



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Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Sat Oct 03, 2009 12:11 pm

It's a difficult one.
I've just been reading a book all about the subject and it has some interesting examples, for instance their is a painting of the "Joys D' Amor which is circa 1490, the painter has used tasseled gypsie belt purses and dagged sleeves (a feature of the late 14th/early 15th century) to show that it is set at the time the story was written (which was in the 1250's).
Another has great (and doomed) lovers of history like Anthony and Cleopatra, the artisit just gives all the men beards and the women long uncovered hair to show that they are from the "Olden days".
However an anonymous manuscript from Florence circa 1420 has great thinkers and writers (and soldiers) from antiquity and has made an effort tp dress the likes of Plato, Circero and Aristole in toga style garments. Alexander the Great, Julius Ceaser, Hannibal were maille and plate harness from the 1400's but have pretty good copies of Legionnaires style hlemets complete with creasts. This leaves me to think that while the illustrator has access to classical knowledge of helmets and civilian costume he had none of the arms or armour (he does at least give Alex the great a lance).
No doubt someone will come back now and use this as evidence that the descendents of roman legionnaries were still wearing their armour at the battle of Azincort and use this as the explanation for them donning it to take part in next years Tewkesbury re-enactment. :cry:


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Postby Tuppence » Sat Oct 03, 2009 1:01 pm

Lots of religious art will give you a clue (the ones not using just draped fabrics).

In relgious paintings, many painters showed people wearing clothing from earlier times (or what they imagined was clothing from earlier times), because what they were trying to depict happened in earlier times. Generally for late medieval people, that was early medieval.

One of the reasons you can trust religious art as a source even less than you can trust normal art.


In reality those who thought about it probably had the same vague ideas that your average person today has about 18th or 19th century clothing.


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Attilla the Bun
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Postby Attilla the Bun » Sat Oct 03, 2009 2:09 pm

Prehistoric costume, as reconstructed in 1882!
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Neuenburg, 1882.jpg
Prehistoric costume, as envisaged in 1882


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Postby CeDeBe » Sat Oct 03, 2009 10:03 pm

Its good to see those gentlemen are being decent and not exposing any bare flesh on their arms, legs and torsos!



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Postby Attilla the Bun » Sat Oct 03, 2009 10:30 pm

Important you keep your coms on even when re-enacting.


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Postby craig1459 » Sun Oct 04, 2009 9:46 am

Tuppence wrote:Lots of religious art will give you a clue (the ones not using just draped fabrics).

In relgious paintings, many painters showed people wearing clothing from earlier times (or what they imagined was clothing from earlier times), because what they were trying to depict happened in earlier times. Generally for late medieval people, that was early medieval.

To what extent is it skewed by regional trends?
I saw quite a bit of Late C15 Scandinavian art when I was over in Sweden - admittedly much of it was religious - and they tended to depict soldiers in what we would see as late C15 and civvies in decidedly early C15 buuut I've also read that the Hanseatic countries were seen as being stylistically backward. Would that make sense as sharp Italian fashions might not be that practical up north?


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Postby Simon Atford » Sun Oct 04, 2009 12:58 pm

Attilla the Bun wrote:Prehistoric costume, as reconstructed in 1882!


I wore something similar for Larping once :lol:



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Postby Tuppence » Sun Oct 04, 2009 10:32 pm

I saw quite a bit of Late C15 Scandinavian art when I was over in Sweden - admittedly much of it was religious - and they tended to depict soldiers in what we would see as late C15 and civvies in decidedly early C15 buuut I've also read that the Hanseatic countries were seen as being stylistically backward. Would that make sense as sharp Italian fashions might not be that practical up north?


Well in reverse order...

Italian fashions are and were just htat - Italian - they had little to do with what was worn in northern europe, if only due to the difference in climate.


And it depends - some religious art is very accurate in terms of the clothing.
Some of it really isn't.

The ony way to really know the difference between what is reliable and what isn't is to learn it - i.e. to learn what you're looking at, and what you should be looking at, by comparing it to both written accounts and archeological and extant pieces.

Thing to remember is that any pictorial source is only as good as the artist, and it depends on what they artists was trying to show. It's well known that artists in medieval times (and later) showed religious scenes in clothing of times that were not contemporary, because they were depicting an earlier age and wanted to show that.

Just another example of the reason that as far as clothing goes, pictures can only ever be a secondary source at best (although in some instances that's the best we have).


Also unreliable with regard to colour, obviously


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