Please do not quote without the author´s permission.
NOTE: The 137 images in Matthäus Schwarz’s MS are not reproduced here. To see a reconstruction of one of his outfits, visit
All the images are reproduced in The First Book of Fashion: The Book of Clothes of Matthaeus and Veit Konrad Schwarz of Augsburg, by Ulinka Rublack, Maria Hayward, Jenny Tiramani (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015).
My interest in the history of dress is something I have surprised myself with. My undergraduate degree was in history as well as art history. But when I studied art history there was no suggestion that dress presented anything particularly useful to know about in its own right. One obviously needed to be able to use available handbooks to broadly identify garments sitters wore in portraits by type. But there was no sense that a further understanding of these objects and their specific context in the history of fashion, as tools of emotional expression and in terms of their own materiality and sensory effects was fundamental for analysing their artistic representation in portraits. Faces seemed to matter as evidence of people´s alleged perceptions of individual character. In 2011, it was still this focus on “…Faces” which drew thousands of visitors to a large exhibition of Renaissance portraits in Berlin.
Yet more inclusive approaches to what we consider as art and forms of visual expression in this or any other period now complement such interests. It no longer seems sufficient to focus attention solely on what I call `flat things on walls´, on pigments, canvas or wood as media of aesthetic expression, or to do so in isolation from the everyday visual acts they were premised on. We certainly need to accommodate the extraordinary importance of clothes to create culture and a visual public through symbolic practices in this period in relation to comportment. Both everyday dress and imaging practices were humanly crafted complexes of form – and this now serves as definition of art and has made it possible to accommodate exhibitions of fashion design in leading museums. Many Renaissance people dressed so intricately that they composed a careful three-dimensional image of themselves, and at far greater expense than any pictorial image. Dressing was a key everyday visual act not only for top elites but wider social circles, and it was here that they articulated their fascination with tradition and the ingenious innovation which defines the period. They expressed values and emotions, changed and challenged conventions, and took part in a large and intensely political debate about how reality should be constructed by visual means.
As Michael Baxandall showed, there existed almost no written aesthetic theory in Germany, which meant that style remained empirically grounded in culture and of necessity heterogeneous. Around 1500, these were the values of good craftsmanship: “well-shaped, elegantly decorated in ornamentation, pleasantly contrived, fine, subtle in physical delicacy and refinement, skilful” – and all this was contrasted to the rough, associated with peasant crudity. Baxandall´s work on calligraphy suggests that this society´s “visual interest” in relation to patterns expressed itself into the 1530s through a differentiated vocabulary about the “folded, plaited, circle-like, chain-like, inverted” which described “connection and disconnectedness or underlying form, or the total effect, as in muddled up (verwirt)”. Postures were defined by Dürer as either bent, curved, turned, wound, stretched, squashed or thrust. Dance terminology added to these the notions of a gliding, swaggering, tripping and turning. Added to such categories of movement and form in writing as much as in music would then be the bravura flourish to distinguish a composition as a whole – in florid sculpture this would usually be achieved through flourishes of drapery. The feeling of these patterns was captured by the following adjectives to describe emotion: free, graceful, delicate, sweet, mild, simple, strong, gay, fresh and severe (frey, fein, uberzart, suss, senft, blos, stark, frolich, frisch, streng).
Particular combinations of these preferences for patterning then served to express a particular creative mood in the art-work – in sculpture, music, dance, writing, or, we might say, dress to establish character or feeling. Period terms for feeling were still limited and range from gayness, to the proud, defiant, sad, plaintive, mild, violent, furious through to longing. But this relative elusiveness of terms comes together, as Baxandall suggested, in a sculpture such as Nikolaus Gerhaert´s famous Bust of a Man, from ca.1465, which is wound and contracted, a metaphor of the “human condition”, spiritually weary as the head contortedly and heavily pushes the fingers of the hand which hold it up into the face´s flesh; “this is not”, Baxandall adds, “something to approach with a schedule of terms”. But we can see how the arrangement of the fabric adds to the emotional effect of the sculpture – it is not symmetrically balanced on the trims of the sleeves and not rationally distributed or even conceived on the back, but seems to enfold the figure in its slim, enwrapped, wound posture. This is a figure temperamentally too melancholic, morose and gaunt to dance, and his unfastened cloak would hinder movement.
This lecture tells the story of an early sixteenth-century German man with a very different temperament and keen interest in dance in his youth: Matthäus Schwarz, head accountant of the powerful Fugger merchant firm in the South-German city of Augsburg and one of this period´s leading fashion innovators. My question for this lecture is what Schwarz´s interest in dance adds to our understanding of the politics, emotions and aesthetics of his time. I shall first look at his interest in fashion and dance, then turn towards a reconstruction of one of his garments to ask the question what it might have meant to wear these clothes and move in them, and finally briefly turn towards Matthäus´s son, Veit Konrad Schwarz, and his pronounced excitement about dance as a young man.
Matthäus Schwarz is the only Renaissance accountant you will find hanging in two major European collections – as a young man in the Louvre in Paris and, in mid-life, in the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection in Madrid. He was born in the beautiful South German Imperial city of Augsburg in 1497, as son of a wine-merchant who fathered a total of 37 children, twenty of whom survived. Thirteen of those surviving children were boys; this was one of the most numerous Augsburg families at the time. In 1520, aged 23, Schwarz began a unique project, which I call The First Book of Fashion. Up to the age of 63, in 1560, he commissioned 137 water-colour images of himself dressed retrospectively from when he was a baby when he considered himself an old man. He recorded the high points of his life, notably attending the Imperial Diet, as well as the low points, as when he suffered a stroke. Together with Maria Hayward and in cooperation with the Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum in Brunswick I have for the past five years prepared the first full colour and English edition of this unique parchment manuscript.
Schwarz experienced a varied youth, marked by his mother´s early death and his father’s having to deal with the memory of his own father, who had been the only mayor elected through the power of guilds in defiance of Augsburg´s patricians, but then was executed for corruption in office. Matthäus´s father struggled to reassert the family´s honour, and never involved himself in politics. Matthäus recalled childhood adventures, illnesses and later his declining interest in school. He therefore travelled to Venice to learn the art of accounting – as he boasts rather leisurely on a barge – and stayed next to the Rialto Bridge in the Fondaco dei Tedeschi with its elaborate artistic programme. Soon after his return to Augsburg, Schwarz was taken on by Jacob Fugger, and after his death in December 1525 continued to work under Jacob´s nephew Anton Fugger. Matthäus Schwarz´s life was shaped by his service to the Fugger merchants, now best known as the Medici of the North. This was a family which had risen from the modest fortunes of an immigrant weaver in Augsburg to unprecedented wealth by the early sixteenth century. Jacob Fugger the Rich famously provided payments to princes to secure Charles V´s succession as Habsburg Emperor in 1519 and closely collaborated with the papacy. He is the only other adult person who features in the entire Book of Fashion – in 1516, as he dictates to Matthäus Schwarz who has just been entrusted with the accounting for the firm, aged nineteen.
Schwarz had embarked on his unique visual project full of excitement about his employment with the Fugger and the connections which came with this position. His own family was connected to the extraordinary visual talent and energy that pulsed through Augsburg at this time. This was the city of Holbein the Elder, Burgkmair, Jörg Breu and others, whom Maximilian I kept employed for his glorifying art projects in print, mediated by Dr Conrad Peutinger. Matthäus Schwarz as a teenager had become passionately interested in fashion as an aesthetic language. He asked old people to make drawings of dress they used to wear, and started to make notes on his own outfits. A preoccupation with fashion built on searching questions about temporality. From the early fifteenth century, artists keenly studied older artwork to observe `outdated fashions´ and integrate accurate time-specific elements in their work. This responded to a great awareness of how much dress customs fluctuated. They appeared as part of culture rather than merely functional. Alarmingly, much of what had been valued in the past could seem misguided, and hence suggested that all culture, including art, was a succession of styles which perhaps neither increased sophistication nor achieved timeless beauty. To document fashion hence meant to document human history, how `the past saw´ and how one might be seen. Could anyone transcend being a product of his or her time, laughable to future generations? Was there meaning in change? Fashion made the past and present look arbitrary rather than presenting a linear story of progress or of a memory which might be controlled.
This interest in temporality meant that commissioning dress and chronicling his own life in fashion thus became one of the aesthetic exercises through which Matthäus Schwarz expressed himself for over forty years. At the beginning of this project, he also began to work towards another unique project on parchment: an image of a dance. This measures …, was painted according to his instructions and finished in 1522. It has for a long time been in a deplorable state, and a far better preserved copy in the department of engravings in Berlin was destroyed in World War II. It is meant to represent Augsburg couples from 1200 up to his time, and provided an influential portrayal of medieval fashions. Schwarz had thirty couples depicted, and 12 of these represented the time since the age of Maximilian I, seven of these the “new world” of 1522. Right at the end stands Matthäus Schwarz and invites onlookers to join in this dance.
This interest in history and heraldry marks it out from the first painting of such an Augsburg elite dance we know: this image from 1500. But already in 1500 the inscriptions record the interest in sumptuous clothes which were worn at the dance to demonstrate status, and the image must have contributed to Schwarz´s own interest in the history of fashion – in fact it was completed when he was aged thirteen and began to record his own and old people´s dress.
Both images present perfect, elegant dance postures (of the bassadanza) in the understanding of elites at the time: restrained, harmonic and de-sexualised, so as to express a noble character that approaches social change in a wise, prudent and measured way. The assumption was that a person who had learned to control their body could also control their emotions and that this kind of dancing alongside measured music brought cosmic, divinely regulated harmonies to earth and transformed people to act in virtuous ways.
Clothes helped to shape the postures couples needed for such control. Heads were held high, the upper body was upright and still, the arms were not stiff, but controlled, while the legs and feet moved slowly and graciously.
These local patricians had brought courtly dances to special dance houses, and it is important to remember that in 1521 Nuremberg patricians had linked the right to dance to their exclusive political power. As in Munich, the town hall had an integrated dance floor and those entitled to vote in Nuremberg were “those families who used to dance in the town–hall in the olden days and still dance there”(Neville: 13). Dancing was a key part in the construction of an exclusive identity and the experience of a peaceful community.
In Augsburg, guilds were likewise represented in the urban government, but the image from 1500 simply shows the old families as well as those belonging to the new, rich and influential families of the so called Mehrer, who were formally incorporated into the dwindling patriciate in 1538. Dancing then represented a moral, bodily and emotional practice of elites, presumably at the dance house on the so called Wine Market.
Schwarz´s 1522 painting likewise shows an official ceremony, led by the town heralds. Matthäus Schwarz was depicted alongside his sister. So were two of his brothers and his father, who stands further on the left overlooking an artificial lake in a contemplative manner. Their coat of arms was likewise represented. This means that Schwarz included himself in the group of leading local families, and we may ask why? As we have seen, Schwarz´s grandfather had ascended from the guilds as a mayor but then had been executed for corruption, so that Matthäus’s father had to rebuild the family´s honour. Matthäus clearly followed this same effort to accumulate family honour through his art projects as well as through the everyday performance of how he dressed and moved. This was of great consequence to him, as it determined which families he and his siblings could marry into.
Yet his project is so interesting because it documents not just a strategy for status gain. One of the oddities in the image of the dance, for instance, is that it includes images of four local fools among the spectators, with their names. And at the top of the image a skeleton breaks through the frame, reminding the audience of another dance – the all powerful dance of death.
Schwarz did successfully create a memory for himself with the image of the dance, and this can be seen in this wedding bowl of the wealthy Pahler/Imhoff families in Augsburg. Schwarz once again leads the dance on the outer rim, and it is the changing dance of outwards manners in time. The inside represents the wild, exaggerated, licentious dances of the morisque by entertainers who performed to elites what they themselves were not allowed to publicly enact.
Most of the images in Schwarz´s project on fashion date from the same period as the image of the dance, when he was single, relatively well off as Fugger accountant and he usually collaborated with the artist Narziss Renner who made him look eternally young and slim whenever he could. Schwarz was excited about professional promotion, his social activities, sports and flirtation. Many of his outfits show how male dress was not only a tool of power-dressing to secure professional achievement and privilege, but also expressed emotional sensibilities. If it were not for Schwarz, we would never know that a man like him could wear a green, heart-shaped man-bag when he went out to look for love in rituals of courtship, which at the time meant walking along the streets and serenading girls who were indoors, at best looking from high up out of a window, or to meet them at weddings, often in competition with other young men. But without marriage, there was no legitimate sexual love. He used dress to express his hopes for love, and showed his emotional vulnerability by marking his romantic disappointments in images. He cultivated a delicate, slim look, which he associated with subtleness, gracefulness and a masculinity which was far from celebrating a dominating, muscular grandezza. It was about the delight of novelty in fashion and an agile alertness that was connected to emotional experiences in life and linked to remarkable honesty which we can see in his nude paintings. These presented no idealization, and just stated “I had become fat and large” – aesthetically moving towards the rough.
Schwarz learned that love was nothing one could control in life, and certainly not a result of dieting and making the right impression. The 137 images in the Book of Clothes therefore fall into two parts, the first part of youthful exuberance, and then a crisis precipitated by the realization that he would have to marry a person of an appropriate social standing whom he might not love – and the suitable match in the end turned out to be the daughter of a colleague in the Fugger firm. This disconnected his life from the experimentation which had given him emotional excitement, and locked him into a new existence and pre-defined sexual identity as house-father, a position of traditional authority within the family, which implied a far stricter adherence to moral codes. Beautiful, strange, experimental dress associated with youth gave way to dress as a symbolic sign for gravity, authority and maturity. His body shape changed, he perceived himself as looking much older, worked together with a different artist who also made him appear his age, and lived through a period of greater economic difficulties and the final introduction of the Reformation in Augsburg in 1534. When he ended the book, Schwarz was an allegory of winter, mourning the lost splendour of a glorious scarlet red outfit he had worn to Anton Fugger´s wedding: those had been happier times. The book therefore emotionally told a tragic story of a marriage of reason as well as the Reformation, aging and a contraction in economic wealth leading to a loss of passion, curiosity, delight and surprise in life, to impose far greater discipline, responsibility and care for dependants and therefore less autonomy on a man.
In the more recent historiography, two principal arguments about Schwarz agree that he thought like a model accountant who carefully recorded time, measured out his life and mastered in regular steps of assured self-fashioning – booking successes. Yet what I found in this mostly visual diary revealed irregularities, ambiguities, gaps, and inconsistencies, inspired by different and contradictory ideas about life which could run alongside each other but left little sense that life might be controlled, just like those account books which actually recorded the mounting impossibilities to regain money from debtors the Fugger so keenly provided credit for. Like business, life was ultimately seen as fate. Schwarz´s chronicle of dress hence almost appears like an antithesis to the ever more fashionable books of honour compiled by elites in Augsburg and Nuremberg at the time. These were designed to cultivate memory as well as actively creating honour by accumulating historical evidence through the documentation of honourable marriages, coats of arms and legitimate children. They provided historical arguments for property claims and further distinctions, were copied and shown to others to document names and connections, origins, rank and prestige. We can see them following on from Maximilian I´s exceptionally ambitious projects in print to chronicle ancestral achievement as the `firmest foundations of both his territory and his talents´. The First Book of Fashion, by contrast, was assembled in the shadow of ancestral failure, which, as Schwarz realized, would ultimately prevent him from marrying into the local patriciate.
Even so, we might say that Schwarz certainly controlled his future memory through those two accomplished panels which we now see in Paris and Madrid. Both of these present him in predominantly dark colours, which would leave us with a highly inaccurate impression of what he actually wore. Their choice out of his much wider wardrobe makes them a particular visual act to create a more conventional impression of refinement and standing.
Another undoubted success during his own life-time as accountant was to be granted his own coat of arms in mid-life and to manage the event which crucially led to this honour for his family: the Imperial Diet of Augsburg in 1530, when Schwarz was aged 33 years. It is this turbulent event and its aesthetic management I now want to focus on for the rest of this lecture, and for which I have commissioned an actual reconstruction of one of his most colourful outfits.
As Schwarz came to realize that his grandfather´s execution prevented a marriage into the patriciate, the only way to gain lasting honour was through ennoblement by the emperor. Schwarz´s services for the Fugger perfectly positioned him to serve the Habsburgs. The Augsburg Imperial Diet in 1530 created a perfect chance for Schwarz to impress the Habsburgs with the right dress.
The outlines of the Diet can quickly be sketched. In February 1530, Charles V was crowned as Holy Roman Emperor by his previous enemy pope Clement VII in Bologna. As the snow on the Alps began to melt later in spring, Charles returned via Innsbruck to Germany, leaving some of his troops behind to destroy the Florentine republic and re-install the Medici. Charles had only been once in Germany, at the very beginning of his position as Emperor, at the momentous Diet of Worms in 1521. Since then, religious heresy had uncontrollably spread. Martin Luther, the German reformer, remained under the Imperial ban, but built up his bastion in Saxon Wittenberg. Charles´s troops had violently ended the Peasant´s War in 1525. Yet many of the Imperial Cities, most notably Nuremberg, had turned Lutheran, while others were influenced by the ideas of the Swiss reformer Zwingli or Anabaptist radicalism. In Augsburg, the Reformation was no urban event, but a long drawn out process in which all of these voices co-existed and conflicted with the substantial Catholic group to which the Fugger belonged.
Charles certainly needed German financial support to defeat the Ottomans, who during this very spring were attempting to take Vienna. His further aim was to prepare the election of his brother Ferdinand as king and thus his future successor. This was legally possible now that he himself was crowned Emperor.
The most important measure in advance of the Diet was to ensure control of the public space. Augsburg was a volatile city, and now it turned into the pop-up centre of German political and courtly life. Foreign traders arrived, as the usual prohibitions against them were discarded and they occupied designated stalls on the market. Sumptuary laws were lifted. The German princes arrived in April, as requested, but had to wait two months for the delayed Emperor to arrive on the 14th of June.
Charles arrived on a particularly hot day in an unusually hot year. The princes had spent weeks of entertaining themselves in the city with increasing impatience. There was more Protestant preaching, accompanied by several religious provocations and disturbances. Excrement was thrown at coat of arms which marked the living quarters of high ranking guests. Colour, ceremonial and performances hence turned into politics which mattered rather than a cultural sphere apart from “real politics”. What the empire itself was needed to be staked out with symbolic means.
Summits were very much about a politics of colour, and until the 1540s its choice was not usually influenced by heraldry. Nor was it determined by expense, as the prices for common dyes by the early sixteenth-century in Germany were surprisingly homogenous, and colour was therefore not regulated in the Empire´s sumptuary legislation: it was not a matter of significant difference in expense. Wearing the same colour signalled unity, belonging and power, and in order to create an impression princes coordinated in advance which colour they would appear in, and handed out fabrics. Colour was a political sign which showed that one possessed the same “Mut”, courage and will.
The high Spanish nobility appeared in their customary black or golden velvet gowns, which exuded sumptuous elegance of a traditional, restrained kind. Charles himself wore a “golden” riding-coat and his bodyguards wore yellow coats, which carried the Plus Ultra device. Ferdinand´s pages wore yellow velvet gowns, while the Bavarian court had been handed out dress in yellow and red. There was a contemporary awareness that it was important to avoid “childish or carnival-colours”, that is too multi-coloured dress at such events, whereas one or two colours underlined “constancy” and “valiance” (bestendlichst werhafft).
The Saxon princes were pro-active in coordinating their politics of colour in advance of Imperial summits and nearly five per cent of expenses at the court were on dress. Before 1530, the Ernestines told their court and nobility to get dressed in “liver-colour“, which we must imagine as light red, or red-brown. Philipp of Hesse agreed to adopt this colour, and the device.
At Imperial gatherings, it was clear that black was associated with the Spanish, and otherwise at this point still associated with mourning for courts. White was impractical, and green was too much linked to the notion of hope to be ideal to mark a strong political stance. Red was a popular colour, emphasizing vigour and a celebratory festiveness, which made it popular for elite weddings. The Bavarians had frequently adopted a strong red as court dress and continuously since 1527 – it was thus to be expected in advance that they would wear it again at the Imperial Diet in 1530.
The symbolic politics of the entry thus colour-coded the different political and religious blocks, marking their presence. At the Diet meetings, Charles attempted to avoid any open aggression with Protestants – the directive was to reject their demands calmly and negotiate. Whenever he appeared at important public acts, a chair with gold-cloth, as most precious of all fabrics, ritually constituted his space of distinction. Gold, jewels and pearls marked out his ceremonial vestments as he enfiefed the electors (with their privileges, and Sender followed exactly the aesthetics of reading for treasure and the very costliness of precious materials when he reports that all this was “in the most precious way possible, such as never has been previously seen. One has estimated that the crown and Emperor´s clothes are worth more than three times hundred-thousand florins“.
The most important remained to secure Ferdinand´s election as king, just as Frederick III had made sure to crown his son Maximilian and avoided the costly interregnum which Charles had to endure for the house of Habsburg before his election in 1519. Ferdinand had succeeded in convincing Charles that he should not choose his own son, Philip II as Roman king, but him as his brother, and King of Bohemia and Hungary. To prepare Ferdinand´s exceptional position, Charles used their presence in Augsburg to first enfief his brother ceremonially Archduke of Austria on the 5th of September. This crucially included the right to alter the status of anyone in the German lands, to ennoble citizens and grant coat of arms. As in 1519, the Fugger provided the credit which the Habsburgs gave to German prince electors in sealed linen sacks filled with hard coin. Now they needed the Fugger´s support for Ferdinand. By the end of 1530, Ferdinand himself had debts of almost one million florins at the Fugger.
Even so, by late autumn, Charles had to retreat. He was certainly unable to afford a war with Germany, and yet the Papacy continued to block the proposal for a church council which the Protestants demanded. Even the former imperial confessor Loaysa now advised Charles that although it would have been his duty to fight for the real faith, it was acceptable in conscience to accept the heretics and let them be ruled by Ferdinand in the same manner as the Bohemians. In the end, and before the final decisions of the Diet on a whole range of matters of politics were read out in November, the Protestant princes left town to avoid having to accept a “rotten peace”. Even as Charles left – attired in the same dress as he had come – he ordered a man to be executed in front of the town-hall for “rumouring”. Ferdinand would be ceremonially crowned in Aachen in January 1531, despite protests among both Catholic and Protestant princes.
“Presence meant acceptance”, we can therefore sum up the logic of these politics, for, “whoever took part in a public, symbolic ritual act demonstrated his accord and showed that he would keep to the expectations connected to it (the event) in future”. It was an order in which bodily appearance counted alongside carefully calculated ritual in an age of increasing complexity and decreasing consent.
Everyone´s presence, among even the citizenry, in turn mattered, in particular if they visually expressed their consent. This is exactly what Matthäus Schwarz chose to do and how we must understand the politics of his ensemble. Here is one of the outfits Schwarz commissioned specifically for this key political summit, and he explicitly records that he did so to “please Ferdinand”. Schwarz had a special connection with Ferdinand, as he and five of his brothers had been part of the Augsburg delegation to greet the Habsburg entourage outside the city in May 1521 after the Diet of Worms, – as you can see a meeting at the gallows, Schwarz is splendidly attired in long red and white ostrich feathers, the heraldic colours of the house of Austria. Jakob Fugger hosted Ferdinand and concluded financial arrangements. In June 1521, Schwarz even moved on to Austrian Linz to be part of Ferdinand´s wedding festivities with Anna of Hungary – Queen Mary of Hungary´s sister-in-law. Hungary, as we have seen, was an area crucial for the Fugger´s mining interests, and the Fugger had financed the wedding with a credit of 170 000 florins. This was the first time Schwarz wore bright yellow hose – the leg garment – and this might well have been prescribed as appropriate dress for the wider party. He had a simple bright yellow hose with a trunk hose made in 1524, sporting an hour glass at the lower knee, set to an 8-minute rhythm; then an elaborate bright yellow hose for a business trip to the Tyrolian mining town of Hall, a spectacular archery outfit when he resumed the sport aged 31. In this case he describes the colour of the outfit as golden and the silk Atlas doublet evocatively to be like “gold thrown with dice in the sun”, gold “in der sunnen gewirfelt” to describe its sensory splendour. The 1530 garments for the Imperial Diet of Augsburg would be the last of these bright yellow outfits he would ever commission, and as his help in financing Ferdinand´s power through the Fugger firm was most needed.
The inscription records that the hose was made of leather, the doublet “red-brown-scarlet atlas” silk satin and “yellow and gold yellow damask”. This immediately makes us attend to the fact that there were different surface textures that came together through the leather, satin and Italian patterned damask, and needed to work together in colour harmony, but also generated visual interest by reflecting light in different ways. As accessories we see garters, a purse, a sword, jewellery and a flat beret, as well as the short haircut the Habsburgs had just begun to favour. All this endorsed the values of good craftsmanship and created a satisfying visual experience along the lines identified by Baxandall as “period eye”: “well-shaped, elegantly decorated in ornamentation, pleasantly contrived, fine, subtle in physical delicacy and refinement, skilful” – in contrast to the rough, associated with peasants, but also the more exaggerated styles of the mercenary soldiers, who used more material in more incongruous ways to demarcate vigour, or the far less subtle Saxon craftsmanship in slashing. The impression served an emotional effect of gayness – fröhlichkeit – and inventive connoisseurship in precisely the colour Ferdinand seems to have most esteemed for celebratory occasions. In order to perfectly achieve this delicate, well-shaped posture Schwarz moreover had slimmed down – this emphasized his youth, fine judgement, moderation and enabled elegant movement to radiate the honour and splendour (Glanz) expected in court. This judgement had been trained by years of dealing with cotton and fine fabrics, silks, damasks, velvets, “gold and silver cloth” from Venice precious stones and other items he called “subtle merchandise” for the Fugger firm.
Our only evidence for this outfit is a small water-colour image with its own imperfections. Two years ago, I decided to commission an interpretation of this garment from the acclaimed Director of the London School of Historical Dress, and a team of experts on Renaissance leather garments and hats. This underlines that then as now, to create an outfit was a collaborative achievement in aesthetic production, which involved coordinating a team of craft experts in different workshop for a period of months. Would the reconstruction get us closer to understanding some of the historical experience of what it might have meant to wear this dress?
In fact, one of the first and fundamental things one learns through being engaged in reconstruction is about the sourcing of luxury materials. Let me focus on the leather hose as an example. The leather needed to be sourced from deer, and it needed to be of high quality, without tick bites, which left holes, in order to leave a long intact piece to work with. The hide was treated with different, skilled chemical substances as it was alum tawed white and made extremely soft. It was then dyed, and this presented us with the first challenge: to replicate the golden yellow colour so important not only to the look but to its emotional and social effect at the time. It was felt to be an energizing stimulant of emotion, and this vibrant effect was further heightened through the combination with red, while the combination with light pink emphasized the delicacy or aesthetic subtleness so intrinsic to the look Matthäus wished to achieve at this point in his life.
In the reconstruction process, the dyeing with natural substances went wrong the first time, just as Schwarz and his craftsmen would test and experiment. It was just not quite vibrant enough, and everyone knows the rather dull natural colouring that is often achieved on organic wool. The natural dye used in the end was made from Persian berries; other contemporary alternatives were kurkuma, particular types of onion and Wau and gorse. The colour would have been spectacular and invited admiration, embedding daringness and a commitment to aesthetic perfection in such a display, especially as the challenge to dye the leather in exactly the same tone of yellow as the doublet panes would have been recognised at the time.
Re-construction on the one hand offers, as Smith says, “a new kind of attention to objects and a new way to see things we would not have noticed on an object”. It trains your visual acuity when you look at other things. One registers the intelligence of the hand which has gone into the crafting of an object. This in turn makes one understand the deep investment past people could already develop to drive technological ingenuity forwards with perfection. Achieving this look was not just about status distinction in Bourdieu´s sense of buying into a lifestyle through articles available to buy ready made on shelves, by drinking Evian and eating rocket salad packaged in plastic. Part of the excitement was that experiments emotionally involved customers in their failure or successes, in improvisation and trained intuition in regard to materials which in itself was pleasurable, like experiencing materials in their sensual rewards as they held you in a posture that was upright and delicate – in this sense the very opposite of the mercenaries known for their slouching posture and uncoordinated, space-grabbing movements.
Schwarz´s case such an outfit then was about a profound practise of visual accomplishment that drew attention to how it was made. Yet it did so also by fitting in and not using too much overly costly material, and certainly none of the velvet reserved for the highest elites. In a politically precarious situation, Schwarz showed that he knew his place as he proclaimed his loyalty through dress and lobbied for favours through an aesthetic language of textile splendour in the most energizing yellow, which would ultimately grant his ennoblement.
Schwartz’s son Veit Konrad was to continue his father´s fascination with fashion and also with dance. Just after his father chose to end his record with the death of Anton Fugger in 1560, Veit was an eighteen-year-old, who also worked for the firm. Veit wore his mourning dress from September to mid–February, and wrote: “at 2 o´clock in the afternoon I threw the mourning dress down on the ground, because there was a wedding at dance on the dance-house,” and adds astonishingly: “there my dress, which I had made in a group with others to take a wife (the 39th image after this), wanted to show itself and no longer wanted to lie in a chest.” This entry thus accords dress itself activity.
In July 1560, he had spent 45 florins just on an outfit and even more on a diamond he wore for the youngsters´ round-dance which he led in the merchants´ chamber. Veit Konrad was far more open than his father about the ever increasing cost of his sophisticated apparel. This dance was followed by a wedding. He wrote: “On this day, 23rd July 1560, as is written here, I dressed all in red to please the said bridgegroom Sebastian Zäch for the dancing at night, just like him. All silk satin, trimmed with silk satin, pulled under and through, also the doublet quilted throughout and otherwise slashed, as has been diligently depicted below; otherwise my shoes, they were just like this, and this dress cost me around and more than 33 fl. Rhenish coin. Master Simon Kistler has made this, the black and brown dress, these cost around fl 110 according to the book of outgoings carta 15. And what good spirit there was and how it all went at the dance is recorded at length in the calendar of this month, which is why I break off here.” And the wedding was followed by a so-called after-wedding: “On 24th July 1560”, writes Veit, at the aforementioned bridegroom Sebastian Zäch´s after-wedding I was dressed in brown, like him. It was a silk satin doublet, which was quilted throughout, the hose trimmed with silk satin and with pulled through taffeta, as shown below. This dress cost around 32 fl, but I did not spend more than 14 fl for the making, silk and around 2 ells of silk satin, which vanished away on the hose. The rest, silk satin, cloth, taffeta and such like, Zäch gave to me on behalf of his office, and I was well satisfied with this and would have done without these (?), for not everything went badly for me those days as recorded in my calendar. I was little Hans, a young man servant (knecht), jumped over all the dung-heaps.” For February 1561, when he has thrown off his mourning dress for Fugger he finally records about his carnival costume:
On 23rd February 1561 I was dressed in this manner at the nightly mummery with Melchior Hainhofer, Matheus Hertz and Philip Zanngmeister, as show below. (Herr Hans Fugger lent me the clothing.) Everyone was forbidden to go to the mummery, so we drove to it, had 2 town pipers, and went to many assemblies of single women, where nobody disliked having us. We danced and jumped like calves, because there were belle figlie (beautiful girls) there, who did not displease us. We thought we would conduct ourselves in a way that we would be unrecognised, and thought we would extinguish the rhyme which says: four things can not be hidden, namely love, a cough, fire, or water and pain. But it was all wrong from the beginning, as related in the calendar. Inside the image: these 5 were our servants; the town pipers; silk satin. Text below: Aged 19 years and around 3 ¾ months.
Over the gown Veit Konrad wears a blue and yellow ‘cape’. The choice of blue and yellow, the Fugger’s livery colours, fit with the reference to Hans Fugger having lent him the costume.
All this shows that in addition to a culture of honourable, graceful dancing there existed a culture of vigorous dancing in which young elite people participated, which was highly sexualised and linked to animal-like frivolousness as well as the lower classes (little Hans). Even for these dances, clothing was very carefully considered and could come at considerable expense. It questions historians who argue that elites used professional entertainers, such as the morisque dancers, to express their pleasure in dynamic movement and passion in a sublimated way. As the Schwarz´s books remind us again and again, we need to be aware of what was done on and off the record.
This was a society intimately involved with how things were made and what they were made from. There was tremendous innovation in techniques, materials and aesthetic appreciation. Clothes created a presence and mood. Historians thus need to look not only at finished things, but follow the stories of matter and making to understand the achievement and effect of a broad range of artefacts which changed visual dispositions and emotional lives in the material Renaissance. Researching, handling or remaking specific objects enables us to engage with them as sensory objects, as potentially novel and striking visual acts as well as in relation to particular agents and concrete usages, rather than by type and as collective cultural representations. To one leading writer on the history of dress German male dress appears extreme, bizarre, opulent, exaggerated and capacious, a “strange beauty”. Yet our primary work as historian remains to find Renaissance sources which tell us about how dress was given meaning to in that society and materiality shaped it in turn. For, as the anthropologist Daniel Miller writes: “the continual process by which meaning is given to things is the same process by which meaning is given to lives”. Dress was a key aesthetic concern in the Renaissance which has ever since remained a fundamental driver of commerce, cultural expression and exchange across the world.