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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Fur Dress, Art, and Class Identity in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century England and Holland

  • Author(s): McFadden, Elizabeth
  • Advisor(s): Honig, Elizabeth
  • et al.

My dissertation examines painted representations of fur clothing in early modern England and the Netherlands. Looking at portraits of elites and urban professionals from 1509 to 1670, I argue that fur dress played a fundamentally important role in actively remaking the image of middle-class and noble subjects. While demonstrating that fur was important to establishing male authority in court culture, my project shows that, by the late sixteenth century, the iconographic status and fashionability of fur garments were changing, rendering furs less central to elite displays of magnificence and more apt to bourgeois demonstrations of virtue and gravitas. This project explores the changing meanings of fur dress as it moved over the bodies of different social groups, male and female, European and non-European. My project deploys methods from several disciplines to discuss how fur’s shifting status was related to emerging technologies in art and fashion, new concepts of luxury, and contemporary knowledge in medicine and health.

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