Male fashion since the 15th century

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Ann
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Male fashion since the 15th century

Post by Ann » Wed Jul 20, 2011 7:55 pm

I was in London in the beginning of this month, and I visited the National Gallery and admired some fabulous 15th century paintings, among them this one:
The painting is "The Annunciation" by Fra Angelico from 1443. The people in the painting are, of course, the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary. As I contemplated this painting, I started thinking about the 15th century ideals of masculinity. If this painting has anything to say about it, masculinity in itself wasn't particularly hot back then, not in 1443 in Italy.

Consider Gabriel and Mary. Both are equally flat-chested. Both are equally smooth-faced, rosy-cheeked, mild-eyed and fine-featured. Both have wavy hair and almost identical semi-long hairstyles, although he is more blond than she. He wears pink and she wears blue. He sports fantastic multicolored wings, but her halo is bigger than his. Both strike very similar poses, although he is standing up and she is sitting down.

Seriously, people, in what way or ways is he more masculine and less feminine than she is?

You'd think that only angels could look like this, and you'd be right, of course. But if angels were seen as ideals in any way, then the 15th century ideal for men was mild and gentle, at least in some countries. As I looked at more 15th century paintings, I could see that men in general seemed to have longish hair and clean-shaven faces back then.
Nicholas Copernicus, who put forth the idea that the Sun and not the Earth is the center of the universe, was born in the 15th century but lived most of his life in the 16th century. He sports longish hair and a clean-shaven face in this painting. He looks straight into the observer's eyes with a mild expression in his eyes, like Gabriel looking at Mary.

Later on in the 16th century, men cut their hair short and grew beards.

Image

This is Johannes Kepler, who demonstrated, among other things, that the planets in the solar system follow elliptical orbits around the Sun. He was born in the 16th century, but lived half his life in the 17th century. Note his short hair, his beard and his slightly angry expression in this painting. He is not looking at us.

Later on in the 17th century, important men started wearing huge wigs. The mass of hair surrounding their faces made the men look generally larger and more imposing. This is Isaac Newton:
These wigs always left the forehead bare, as if to underscore the importance of the thinking processes going on behind their frontal bones. (It is almost as if these thinking processes took physical shape in the form of masses of hair coming out of the men's heads.) Note the calm gaze that Isaac Newton gives to us. He seems to look slightly down on us, while Nicholas Copernicus rather seemed to look up at us.

In the 18th century, men wore much smaller wigs, which were often powdered and white and tied up in small ponytails. The "heaviness" of the 17th century male fashion was gone, and the men expressed lightness, often a certain gaudiness and even a kind of foppishness.
This is King Gustaf III of Sweden, who was murdered in 1792. Note in this painting (by Alexander Roslin) the king's theatrical pose, his clean-shaven face, his pink cheeks, his perfect wig and his amused smile, which he is directing at someone other than us. The king might actually be in the middle of a dance and looking at his dance partner.

After the French Revolution in the late 1700s, men's fashion changed in a way that it has never really recovered from. From now on, a man should look like this: Hair: Short. Face: Usually, but not always, clean-shaven. Clothes: White or light shirt. Dark long pants. Dark jacket. Dark coat. Dark or sometimes colorful tie or bowtie.
This is a painting of a gentleman from the first half of the 19th century. He has brown short hair and sideburns, but he is otherwise clean-shaven. His forehead is exposed, calling attention to his thinking processes inside. He is wearing an elegant three-piece dark suit, an expensive white shirt and a glold chain. He is seated and leaning back into his chair. Compare him with Gabriel the Archangel, who struck a humble pose and seemed to bow. This gentleman is leaning back instead of leaning forward, thereby creating an air of superiority for himself. He is looking straight into our eyes with a self-satisfied smile on his face.
Male fashion of today. Note the strict white shirts and the dark jackets as well as the ties. You can tell by their hairstyles which of the two is the Prime Minister of Great Britain: it is, of course, the man on the right. Surprisingly, the dishevelled-looking guy with his tie all askew is actually the Mayer of London, Boris Johnson. The two men seem to have been drinking and appear to be a bit tipsy.

Another male ideal of today is the super-masculine one:
These men represent super-masculinity: they have short hair or shaved heads, often a three-day shade and tattoos, as well as big muscles.

Masculinity has come a long way since the day of Fra Angelico's Archangel Gabriel. I'm not altogether sure that the change has been for the better.

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Re: Male fashion since the 15th century

Post by Chris Peterson » Wed Jul 20, 2011 8:18 pm

Ann wrote:Masculinity has come a long way since the day of Fra Angelico's Archangel Gabriel. I'm not altogether sure that the change has been for the better.
While you make many interesting observations, I think there is some danger in using art (especially older art) to derive conclusions about "ideal" men, or possible even about typical fashions. However, if you wish to pursue that approach, we should not overlook the ideal men of the early 20th century:
(And FWIW, I don't own a strict white shirt, the only tie I own is a bolo, and I don't own any dark jackets.)
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Re: Male fashion since the 15th century

Post by orin stepanek » Wed Jul 20, 2011 8:27 pm

Even earlier fashion! :P
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Re: Male fashion since the 15th century

Post by owlice » Wed Jul 20, 2011 8:53 pm

Ann wrote:Another male ideal of today is the super-masculine one
"Ideal" to whom? To you? To Swedes? To all women? To all men? To Swedish women? 12-year-old girls? 12-year-old boys? To ball club owners who make millions from the physical abilities of the players?

Please clarify; thanks.
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Re: Male fashion since the 15th century

Post by bystander » Wed Jul 20, 2011 9:27 pm

Chris Peterson wrote:However, if you wish to pursue that approach, we should not overlook the ideal men of the early 20th century:
Wow, I didn't know ZZ Topp was around in 1921, or was Picasso a Time Traveler.
Click to play embedded YouTube video.
But then, maybe ZZ Topp are ...
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Re: Male fashion since the 15th century

Post by rstevenson » Wed Jul 20, 2011 9:33 pm

And who can forget (except those who were there) the 60s?
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Re: Male fashion since the 15th century

Post by Beyond » Thu Jul 21, 2011 12:27 am

Ann, how the heck did you get 8-pictures into one post? The computer cuts me off at 3. Do you talk Swede to it, or something??
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Re: Male fashion since the 15th century

Post by Beyond » Thu Jul 21, 2011 12:30 am

rstevenson wrote:And who can forget (except those who were there) the 60s?
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Yeah man, cool 8-) , right-on, Peace :!:
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Re: Male fashion since the 15th century

Post by geckzilla » Thu Jul 21, 2011 4:46 am

I did not have time to read the entire post before going to bed, but regarding Gabriel's "masculinity" ... Most Christians believe angels to be asexual today. Of course, I'm not sure if that idea has existed since the painting was made but many paintings of angels aren't very masculine or feminine, which leads me to believe that it is a very old conception of them. In any case, it would probably be a better reference if you could find an appropriate portrait of a real person rather than a religious painting.

One thing you might also notice which is screwy about old Christian paintings (or even a lot of non-Christian paintings and sculptures) is that when they try to depict women, they fail miserably. This is because they used male models for reference. It must have been very difficult to draw a naked woman without having been able to study one for even fifteen minutes at a time.
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Re: Male fashion since the 15th century

Post by Ann » Thu Jul 21, 2011 7:12 am

owlice wrote:
Ann wrote:Another male ideal of today is the super-masculine one
"Ideal" to whom? To you? To Swedes? To all women? To all men? To Swedish women? 12-year-old girls? 12-year-old boys? To ball club owners who make millions from the physical abilities of the players?

Please clarify; thanks.
That is a very good question, Owlice.

My short answer is that the "ideal" male fashion is simply the fashion of power, because men rule the world. But before I get a ton of protests at that statement, hear me out. I fully realize that most men in the world have little power. I fully realize, too, that some women are extremely powerful. I realize, too, that women who appear to be powerless can wield some power after all.

Let me try to show you, nevertheless, what I mean.

Here is a photo of the leaders of EU:

Image

The picture shows you 29 men and one woman, Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany.

If you compare the number of male presidents of the U.S.A. with the number of female presidents of the U.S.A., you get a score of 44-0.

Image

This list of American presidents is not complete, because it doesn't include your current president, the first Afro-American president of the United States. Please note, however, that when the American people were asked to choose between a black male president and a white female president, they chose the black man.

I'm absolutely not suggesting that women in the U.S.A. and Europe lack influence. We all know that such a statement would be utter folly. You could mention one important woman in the United States after another, and I would have to nod and agree. And you could of course show me endless bits of statistics showing me how much influence women in general in the United States and most of Europe have over their own lives, and how much they can influence society. And you would be right.

Please don't think I'm suggesting that "the world would be a better place" if women were in charge. I'm not trying to make such a point at all.

I'm asking you to look at that group photo of the EU leaders, and I'm asking you to consider whether men or women have been presidents of the United States. Perhaps you say that the overwhelming male dominance here doesn't mean that men rule the scene of power in the way their sheer numbers in formal positions of power suggest they do, because women wield a lot of informal power. You might be right, although I'd question whether the informal power of women often or usually balances the formal power of men. You could counter, however, that these male leaders have been elected by an electorate consisting of equal numbers of men and women (and sometimes of a surplus of women), and that women tend to vote in at least equal numbers to men. This means that if EU and the United States are dominated by elected male leaders, then women voters have most definitely helped elect these men.

I'm not challenging any of these facts. I'm asking you to look at the bare bones of things. Look at the group photo of EU leaders. Look at the list of American presidents.

This is my point. Men wield greater power than women.

And here is another of my points. The fashion of power must be a standard of fashion for males.

Take a look at the photo of leaders in the EU again. Note how similarly the men are dressed. They all wear white shirts, dark jackets, dark pants, dark shoes and ties. They are all clean-shaven and have short neat hair. That is what all top male leaders in the west look like.

If a woman wants to project power, it is not at all clear what she should wear. It is not at all clear what hairstyle she should choose. It isn't clear what sort of expression she should have on her face. The woman in that group photo is German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In my opinion, she looks nowhere near as comfortable and "natural" in her apricot-colored jacket and dark pants as the men look in their "uniforms of power".

My point is that most Western art that has been produced since the 15th century has been commissioned by powerful men. When this artwork portrays men, the portraits should please the powerful men who commissioned the paintings. If the powerful men identified with the males in the paintings at all, then I think it means that the powerful men were saying: Yes, that's right, that is what a good man should look like. I like the looks of him.

I think the most important ideals of a society are those that are embraced by that society's most influential members, and those members are almost always male.

So I think that male fashion, as it is portrayed in paintings in the National Gallery in London, says something about power in previous centuries, and how that power defined itself, and how it wanted to be seen.

Image

Gustav Vasa, born in 1496, king of Sweden 1523-1560.

Image

Fredrik Reinfeldt, the current Prime Minister of Sweden. His super-short hair and hint of a five o'clock shadow would not have been acceptable twenty years ago - indeed it would have been unacceptable for the leader of a nation at almost any time during the last 600 years.

Ann
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Re: Male fashion since the 15th century

Post by Ann » Thu Jul 21, 2011 7:57 am

geckzilla wrote:

I did not have time to read the entire post before going to bed, but regarding Gabriel's "masculinity" ... Most Christians believe angels to be asexual today.
Right. But that painting wasn't made "today". I was trying to show how ideas of masculinity have changed over the centuries.
Of course, I'm not sure if that idea has existed since the painting was made but many paintings of angels aren't very masculine or feminine, which leads me to believe that it is a very old conception of them.
Possibly, but this "sexlessness" of the angels could also be a 15th century concept. Bear in mind that most people in the 15th century would not be too conscious of how angels had been portrayed or understood long before they themselves were born. Paintings and pictures were rare back then, and not very many Christian paintings exist that are many hundred years older than the Fra Angelico painting of the Annunciation.

In the Bible, it is quite clear that angels look just like men. (Or at the very least, angels may take physical shape in such a way that they look like men.) There is, for example, the instance when two angels come to the city of Sodom, and the angels are attacked by the sinful people of Sodom who think that the angels are ordinary males. There is another example when three Hebrew men are thrown into a furnace, and suddenly one other man appears in the oven with them. The other man is described as looking like a son of the gods. This fourth man is an angel, and he protects the three Hebrew men from the fire of the furnace. (Thanks to beyond for clarifying the details for me.)

(Fascinatingly, Genesis chapter 6 even seems to suggest that some angels married human women and had children by them when the Earth was still young. That most certainly suggests that these angels were male. On the other hand, there is nothing else in the entire Bible to suggest that angels interbred with humans.)

Anyway, as for the gender of the archangels, isn't it obvious that angels who are named Gabriel, Michael and Raphael must have been considered male in one way or another?

One thing that I find fascinating about the 15th century is that the Virgin Mary appears to have been absolutely incredibly popular back then, sometimes more so than Jesus and God.
This is the astronomical clock of the cathedral of Lund. The clock is from the 14th or the early 15th century. In the center of the clock-face you can see Saint Laurentius, the patron saint of the cathedral of Lund. Interestingly, Saint Laurentius has long hair, a clean-shaven face and a mild expression, slightly reminiscent of the Archangel Gabriel in Fra Angelico's painting.

Above the clock-face, the Virgin Mary is sitting with her baby boy on her lap. Interestingly, the adult Jesus is absent from the clock, and so is God. So is Joseph. Mary is in the center of the astronomical clock of the cathedral of Lund. But above her are four bearded men, representing astronomers of the past (the past as seen from the 15th century, that is).

Personally I'm wondering if the strong interest in Mary in the 15th century led to a "softening" of the ideal of men. After all, if Mary was the standard against which all things and all people were measured, then surely an outward show of super-masculinity would be frowned on?

Another of the 15th century paintings that I saw in the National Gallery was this one showing Saint George slaying the dragon, by Paolo Uccello:
You can't see it here very well, but as I was looking at the painting I was struck by the mild expression on Saint George's face, even as he was slaying the dragon.
In any case, it would probably be a better reference if you could find an appropriate portrait of a real person rather than a religious painting.
Yes, and that is why I included the portrait of real-life Nicholas Copernicus.
One thing you might also notice which is screwy about old Christian paintings (or even a lot of non-Christian paintings and sculptures) is that when they try to depict women, they fail miserably. This is because they used male models for reference. It must have been very difficult to draw a naked woman without having been able to study one for even fifteen minutes at a time.
Right. But my point was not to discuss Christian paintings or the difficulty of painting or sculpting naked women.

Ann
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Re: Male fashion since the 15th century

Post by neufer » Thu Jul 21, 2011 11:33 am

Ann wrote:
This is the astronomical clock of the cathedral of Lund. The clock is from the 14th or the early 15th century. In the center of the clock-face you can see Saint Laurentius, the patron saint of the cathedral of Lund. Interestingly, Saint Laurentius has long hair, a clean-shaved face and a mild expression, slightly reminiscent of the Archangel Gabriel in Fra Angelico's painting.
Click to play embedded YouTube video.
This is the town clock of the little town of Bauerhof, Bavaria. The clock is from the 17th or the early 18th century. Interestingly, the male figures all have page boys, clean-shaved faces and mild expressions, slightly reminiscent of Arcangelo Spumoni.
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Re: Male fashion since the 15th century

Post by owlice » Thu Jul 21, 2011 12:11 pm

Wikipedia wrote:the parts for violin very rarely proceed above D on the highest string, sometimes reaching the E in fourth position on the highest string.
What a great idea! Neufer, thanks for the Corelli info; he's my new musical hero! :D

Ann,

All that, and still, my question remains unanswered. I feel as though this thread was just a setup for you to go on about men having power/women not; kudos to you for working that out so well. I feel foolish now for thinking this might actually be about "male fashion since the 15th century" (as depicted in a few select paintings) and for asking my question, which I now withdraw.

Despite that, I relate this.....
When my son was 12, I commissioned a portrait of him. In the portrait, he is sitting in a chair which doesn't exist in real life, with his hands on a table which also does not exist in real life, and he is wearing one of the artist's button-up collarless shirts of a style my son had never been in before (nor since) and a pair of suspenders, which he had never in his life worn (and except for the sittings, has not worn since). At the time, the artist was rather taller with broader shoulders than my son, so the shirt is even looser and blousier on my child than it would be on the artist. The waist-long tail my son had at the time is not visible in the picture; the rest of his hair is longer than Beiber's, certainly, but not quite long enough in front for a pageboy.

If one cropped out the bit of a Mac computer depicted at the painting's edge, and perhaps the books (one on low-temperature physics, another on the elements, these two of his interests at the time the painting was made) on the table, one might think this boy a child of the early 1800s rather than of the early 2000s. Certainly there is nothing in my son's clothing or grooming that would suggest definitively which century this child lived in.

The point of my relating this is that one perhaps should not take as gospel what is depicted in a portrait.
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Re: Male fashion since the 15th century

Post by SondaYS » Thu Sep 06, 2018 3:47 pm

but they didn't miss cufflinks and brooches :D

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Re: Male fashion since the 15th century

Post by HenryStein » Fri Sep 14, 2018 3:22 pm

"but they didn't miss cufflinks and brooches :D"
Lol! You have a point. :lol2: