December 11, 2011 Leave a comment
Lyon, France — For 700 years Catholic faithful expressed their devotion to the Virgin Mary by creating an elaborate wardrobe for the mother and child, on display in a new exhibit in the French city of Lyon.
Playfully entitled “Fashion Icon”, the show explores how from the 12th to the 19th centuries, clothes were cut to adorn the Virgin, sometimes becoming objects of worship in their own right.
“When you clothe a statue you give it a powerful presence — and since the fabrics used were extremely precious, you also introduce a distance,” explained Maximilien Durand, director of the Lyon fabric museum and curator of the show, which runs until March 25.
“Clothes were cut for all kinds of statues — from great icons in sanctuaries and the mannequins used in religious processions, down to the tiny statues of Mary worshipped in convents and household chapels.”
The practice spread massively from the 13th to 15th centuries, but come the 16th century, with the Roman Catholic Church under attack from Protestant critics, the clergy started to worry the statues of Mary had become indecent.
“They were dressed like real women, like fashion icons, with real hair, wigs, even make-up,” Durand said.
In 1530, Catholic authorities ruled that the Virgin could be dressed — so long as the clothes were not too close-fitting — allowing the practice to thrive until the 19th century when the Church turned against it.
“The clothes people gave were always special, either precious or because they symbolised a key moment in their lives,” said Durand.
“Women would often donate their wedding dresses for the statues, symbolically a way of holding onto their own virginity.”
When Marie-Antoinette’s eldest daughter was born, the French queen asked her dressmaker to fashion a costume for the Virgin in Monflieres north of Paris, from one of her own dresses.
“Today it is the only surviving dress known to have belonged to Marie-Antoinette, since her entire wardrobe has since been lost,” said Durand.