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Dress as Civic Celebration in Late Sixteenth-Century Venice: The Woodcuts of Cesare Vecellio’s Habiti antichi et moderni and the Paintings of Paolo Veronese


In this essay, we discuss words and images in sixteenth-century Venice in two forms: the prose commentary and woodcuts in Cesare Vecellio's Degli habiti antichi et moderni di diverse parti del mondo (Venice, 1590), and the paintings of Paulo Veronese from 1550 to 1578. Our theoretical framework is the analysis of ideology as it is materialized in the making, wearing and representation of clothing. We study three kinds of dress in Venice: the red silks worn by wealthy merchants, the black wool and velvet worn by patrician men, and the white and gold brocades worn by noblewomen. Differences in medium, technique and scale separate Vecellio and Veronese, but they both invoke ancient history and present-day mercantilism to affirm the myth of Venice as a paragon of political order and man-made beauty. That is, the printmaker-writer and the painter share a common rhetorical purpose: through clothing, to celebrate their city as a center of textile wealth and social harmony. In spite of the contrasts between a costume book combining small woodcuts with textual commentary and a range of large portraits and allegories commissioned by patrons at the top of the social hierarchy, both men's work communicates the same matrix of beliefs, condensed into their representations of the dress worn in contemporary Venice.

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