Today we went to the beautiful city of Florence to visit many sites such as the Duomo, the city square, and the Uffizi Gallery. I was very impressed with the history and beauty of the city; I had no idea what to expect this morning before we arrived. The Uffizi Gallery was specifically beautiful, because I was able to see many famous paintings and statues that I did not think I would ever get to see in person. It was particularly interesting to see the differences in fashion between the artists’ time period and ours, because clearly there are many.
First, the art depicted differences in gender roles in the society through the clothing. The women were nearly always wearing large, conservative dresses made of heavy fabric. This was especially seen in the paintings of the Virgin Mary; there were many of these and she was always wearing a large dress of some sort. This represented how women were confined in the society of that time. They basically had no rights and no role in the community other than to raise children and stay at home. Often, the women had arranged marriages and were forced to stay indoors at all times attending to the needs of the household. If the women even left their respective houses and merely greeted another man, they could have been ordered to be killed by their husbands. The strict rules and controls that the society had over every aspect of their lives is shown through what they wore every day by what was depicted in the artwork. The large, elaborate dresses shrouded and restricted them just as society did. In contrast, all of the men in the sculptures were naked, and they also were in some paintings. This represents the complete opposite of what was being depicted in the women’s outfits. Their nakedness represents their freedom in society and how they were able to express themselves in any way they wanted. They also had the mobility to do anything they wanted in society. They could have jobs, go out into the world, and pick their wives. Even though they were not actually walking around naked, they most likely had a more relaxed form of dress, and this depiction was shown in the statues we saw today. It is interesting how clothing can represent a position in society.
In addition, there were also many symbolic elements within the paintings that showed the differences between their fashion culture and ours. First, colors are a prominent aspect of symbolism in the paintings we saw today. For example, the Virgin Mary is always painted wearing red and blue, or the colors that represent charity and purity, respectively. It is obvious why she would be shown in this way. Also, if a character in a painting was wearing black, this symbolized the presence of death in the scene. This contrasts today’s society because we do not dress everyday with color symbolism in our minds. However, we do wear black to mourn a death. Also, the hair of women in paintings showed their marital status; if it was long and down, they were unmarried, and if was done in a hairstyle with many jewels, they were married. This was especially shown in the portraits of wealthy women and queens, who were obviously married. Another symbolic element of women in the paintings we saw today was the ribbon tied just above their stomachs; if this was present, the woman was pregnant. This is interesting, because women actually wear a similar style shirt today during pregnancy. The vast symbolism used to depict women’s status and role in society shows how important fashion was during that time period, as you could tell a lot about a woman’s life just by what they were wearing, which is obviously different from today with the exception of obvious wealth.
In conclusion, fashion during the time of Michelangelo, Leonardo, Rafael, and many other artists was very important to society based on the gender roles and symbolism they showed. We can infer many things about the people in the paintings based on some prior knowledge. As society evolves over time, fashion changes with it, and it is fascinating to use it as a basis for measurement on how much humans have grown.