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Exhibition Opening: '(Re)presenting the Medieval Body: The Role of Clothing and Textiles'

Wednesday, 12 October, 2016

Other Dates For This Event:

The Knights of Columbus Vatican Film Library -- part of Special Collections in the Saint Louis University Libraries -- announces the opening of an exhibition of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, “(Re)presenting the Medieval Body: The Role of Clothing and Textiles.” This exhibit will open Wednesday, Oct. 2, and run through Saturday, Dec. 31.

The exhibition is free and open to the public and is located in the second floor gallery of Pius XII Memorial Library. The exhibition was curated by Susan L’Engle, assistant director of the Vatican Film Library, with assistance from Ben Halliburton and Samantha Cloud, graduate students from the Department of History. For further information, contact the Vatican Film Library at 314-977-3090 or

About the exhibition

Mark Twain once qualified the statement “Clothes make the man” with a pithy observation: “Naked people have little or no influence on society.” Although this statement might not be so true today, it was certainly valid in the Middle Ages, when clothing defined a person’s social class, economic status, and personal identity. “(Re)presenting the Medieval Body: The Role of Clothing and Textiles,” an upcoming exhibition will investigate secular and ecclesiastical clothing as illustrated in works of art dating from Antiquity through the Middle Ages and Renaissance.  

The exhibit will cover this topic from various points of view, seeking to answer a number of questions, such as: What sorts of garments did church officials -- mainly those of the Roman Catholic Church -- wear for daily worship and ceremonial events; what are the individual items called; and why? How can you tell a pope from a bishop? What social, cultural, and gender-specific constraints did clothing distinguish -- and impose -- on their wearers? What fabrics and colors identified or differentiated the various levels of society? Where were the various types of cloth made; by whom; and when did the concept of “style” become meaningful? What inspired fashion, and what caused it to change?

The exhibition is divided into two main sections, comprising ecclesiastical and secular clothing. Dominating the clerical side will be a nearly life-sized replica of the thirteenth-century Ascoli-Piceno cope, donated by Pope Nicholas IV in 1288 to the cathedral of the city of Ascoli Piceno, in Italy. Below is an early twentieth-century watercolor of it, now located in New York City.

On the secular side, displays and manuscript facsimiles will present the clothing of royalty, the nobility, merchants, those in professional occupations, and finally laborers and peasants. Individual panels and exhibition cases will concentrate on categories of clothing: headgear, gowns, underwear, footwear; details of fabrics (linen, silk, brocade); as well as the types of decoration applied to them and an explanation of how they were executed. Free and open to all, the exhibition was conceived to interest and inform a wide range of visitors, including students, professors, textile historians and craftspeople, and the general public.