Friday, July 12, 2013

Matthäus Schwarz's Book

The history of books documenting the evolution of costume has a history of its own, though that history is much shorter than the history of costume itself.  The first books documenting costume appeared during the Renaissance.

Today,  I found a BBC article about one such book, an interesting little tome commissioned by a wealthy German accountant, named Matthäus Schwarz in the 16th century. The BBC article may be found here. A slightly more in-depth article from the University of Cambridge's website may be found here.

Curiously, Schwarz's book includes illustrations showing his naked form ("I had become fat and large", he remarked, though he was only 29 when he posed for that particular image), as well as various outfits he wore at different times of his life. The book covers a 40-year period. It is a  a fascinating and possibly unique document, commissioned by a member of the middle class wealthy enough to commission a lavishly illustrated tome and interested enough in documenting his forays into high fashion to want to do so.

For whatever reason, the Schwarz book had not been studied in any depth until a few years ago, when Dr Ulinka Rublack, Reader in Early Modern History at the University of Cambridge, used it as a source for her work on Renaissance clothing, Dressing Up: Cultural Identity in Renaissance Europe (Oxford 2011).

In the video above, Dr. Rublack discusses the Schwarz book and describes a subsequent project:  recreating one of the more dramatic outfits from Schwarz's book.  (A shorter video, showing the process of dressing a model in the completed recreation outfit, appears with the BBC article).

I hope that, someday, a fascimile edition of the Schwarz book is also published--the few glimpses that appear in Dr. Rublack's video and the various news articles are tantalizing.

EDIT:  (7/12/2013)  Note Lara's comment below--there is a free PDF of the entire original Schwarz volume on line!


  1. Have you seen this?

  2. Hi, Lara! No, I had not known Schwarz's book was available on line as a free PDF (I've edited my post to reflect that fact, thanks!).

    Since I don't read German, and reading a 16th century hand-captioned version is kind of tricky, I guess what I'm really longing for is a fascimile with a printed translation of the text and scholarly commentary, but looking at the pictures will do until that comes along.