As part of a carving project I have been considering drapery, as well as for the drawing course. As well as the construction of drapery I’ve been examining the different styles and variation across time. The variation is significant, with the different styles seeming to go in long cycles across time.
In considering drapery over an extended time there are several aspects of the different styles that are worthy of consideration:
- The apparent academic knowledge of the artist. Over time there have been a number of rules of drapery understood, c.f. perspective, and the level of understanding of these rules influences the works heavily.
- The degree of Stylised vs Realistic effect of the work.
- The physical properties of the cloth being represented, such as whether it is heavy or stiff vs light and flyaway.
- The purpose of the form of the drapery. In many cases the drapery seems to be rendered to emphasise the form of the body underneath. In others the way the drapery is created seems to be intended to deliberately conceal the body.
- Degree of ostentation or theatre, with some forms being deliberately simple and others intentionally complex. Some drapery seems to be blown in the wind, or the folds emphasised for effect.
Initial Example: Tilman Riemenschneider
One of the first examples I considered was the German artist Tilman Riemenschneider (c. 1460 – 7 July 1531). He was a late Gothic wood carver, and produced many religious carvings. The carvings are highly ornate and ostentatious, though the degree seems to vary with the status of the subject being carved. The following image is a strong example of his work:
The cloth being rendered tends to be heavy stiff, leading to strong folding. This seems to be exaggerated in many cases, leading to an excess and stylised feel rather than one of true realism. The artist clearly understands the way that cloth folds, and so has strong academic training in Drapery as a subject. It isn’t clear, however, that any real cloth would follow some of the more extreme folds that are exhibited in some of the carvings.
In almost all cases the drapery strongly conceals the form of the body underneath. This is true even where the subject is clearly a well endowed female, whose underlying form might be expected to show through. We can speculate that the reason for this is two fold: First, it is likely that the clothing of the time really was designed to conceal the body underneath for modesty; and secondly the churches commissioning the pieces would hardly have encouraged overt sexuality. These factors can be seen in other art of the period, and so it is very unlikely that the concealment was either accidental or a personal style selection.
The Egyptians showed simplistic and highly stylised forms of drapery in their sculpture. It is unlikely that in reality their costumes were this free of folds, and more complex forms of dress are included within some paintings. Thus, it seems that the simplicity and stylised nature of the rendering is either a product a social preference or due to a lack of academic knowledge on the rules of drapery. It seems reasonable to speculate that these factors were entwined in this case – with the stylistic preferences being to follow a formulaic style and so the rules of drapery left undeveloped.
Greek and Roman
To a great degree Rome copied the style of Greece, and so I have included the two together. In fact, there where distinctions in style in the artwork across time and between regions. Where drapery was included, which was far from always as the naked form was seen as heroic, the drapery tended to very light cloth in a flamboyant style, The artists clearly had significant academic knowledge of the workings of drapery – and used it to good effect. The folds tend towards looking realistic, even if they were actually exaggerated, and the cloth is arranged to make an interesting composition.
There is a significant body of available information about the styles of Roman costumes, with a summary available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clothing_in_ancient_Rome. There is also a level of similarity between these sorts of costumes and some modern dress, as considered in this article: https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/god2/hd_god2.htm
As with Egyptian art, the Indian drapery in sculpture tended towards the simplistic and stylised. This isn’t always the case, however, (c.f. this image) and so it seems likely that this stylised form was an aesthetic choice rather than the product of limited academic understanding and training. Clearly, there might be regional variation in levels of knowledge – but overall the capability of the Indian artists seems to be sophisticated.
If we take the Terracotta army as an example of the sculpture of China then the rendering seems fairly realistic, and is a believable rendering of military costume of the time. Much of the cloth is relatively simple and free of flamboyance and folding. It is likely, though far from proven, that this is at least partially a stylistic selection. Other chinese sculptural forms do show more complexity of costume with the material seeming to be lighter in nature. The sculptures do not, however, have the flamboyance or flair of the Greek and Roman works.
Although following the Greek and Roman in essence, the Byzantine works don’t show the flair and ostentatious nature of the early work. It is likely that this is a stylistic decisions – as the knowledge of the ways of drapery forms is still evident. The costumes themselves tend to be simpler, and the materials being rendered much heavier. The artwork seems to start to deliberately conceal the form of the underlying body, rather than emphsise it as for much of the earlier works.
The forms of the work are still fairly stylised, and the underlying cloth heavy and stiff. There is very little flamboyance in the drapery, although there is evidence of a level of understanding of the rules of drapery. Even in this image, however, some of the folds within the cloth do not follow the dictates of gravity – indicating incomplete knowledge.
What have I learnt?
Although far from a complete and detailed consideration of all drapery styles, I’ve been able to consider the several factors in analysing the drapery of a period or style. This means I can also use this information to help select an appropriate approach for future works. This broader knowledge is already being applied to the design of a current sculpture – and is likely to be applied extensively in the future. When time allows, I will also extend the overall analysis to further periods and styles using the same lens.
A word on References
For convenience, the majority of references and images within the blog article are drawn from the Internet. It is worth noting, however, that the majority of the examination and consideration was based on Garder’s Art through the Ages, 11th Edition, ISBN 0-15-507-085-1. More specific reference books were also examined during the research for the article.