Dressed in Gold | Gold | National Gallery

Dressed in Gold | Gold | National Gallery

People have been dressing in gold for millennia
as a sign of wealth and prestige so it’s no surprise that we find numerous examples
here at the Gallery. But it’s not just clothing, it’s also
accessories, jewellery, fans also made out of gold. As art historians we’re interested in how
painters, particularly great portrait artists like van Dyck managed to capture the light
and reflectivity of gold using oil paint as opposed to gold leaf as was used in earlier
centuries. And through these very paintings we get a
wonderful insight into the history of costume over time. So this is a portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan
by Giovanni Bellini. The Doge is the elected ruler of Venice and
we can tell it’s the Doge by his very particular outfit, especially this horned hat known as
a corno that he’s wearing. Now he’s an elected leader and not a king,
so he’s not wearing a crown, but you’ll notice this very fine band of gold that goes
around his head to make sure he’s just as distinguished as any king. This is very finely painted by Bellini who’s
a real master with oil paint that allows him to capture real fine detail and a real sense
of reflection and shine coming off these fabrics. If you look closely you’ll see in places
it looks like each golden thread has been painted individually by Bellini. The Victoria & Albert Museum is the world’s
leading museum of art and design. It holds a collection of over two million
objects reflecting 5000 years of human creativity. One of the museum’s most significant collections
is the textiles and fashion collection which is unparallelled in its range and in its size
and holds the most significant examples of design. These are often precious and rare and as a
result are often decorated with gold. Kirsty, this hat is so similar to the one
in our painting. It really is, it’s an incredibly rare surviving
example of a late seventeenth century Doge’s hat. What’s quite interesting about it is it
would’ve been worn over the top of a linen cloth and these were made for the Doge by
the nuns of the San Zaccaria convent in Venice every Easter. What fabric is being used here? For the fabric we have a gold silk damask
that covers the top and then around the edging we’ve got gold braid. So there’s actually gold in this? Absolutely, so it’s a very, very time intensive
technique and it would have been available only to the richest members of society and
the most powerful. I’m also struck by how similar this fabric
is to the mantle that the Doge is wearing in our painting. It really shows off these fantastic motifs
and it’s a golden silk damask. From the early 1200s Venice was one of the main silk producing centres in Italy. As a Doge it does seem very likely that he’d
be wearing a silk produced in Venice itself. At The National Gallery we’ve got a painting
by van Dyck of 1619-20 showing Saint Ambrose barring Emperor Theodosius from Milan Cathedral
and even though Saint Ambrose was a fourth century bishop he’s shown in a fabric not
dissimilar to this. So what we’re looking at here is a late
fifteenth century chasuble, and the fabric that we’re seeing is velvet embroidered
with gold and this was a hugely time intensive and indeed very, very expensive technique. So what’s interesting is that although the
velvet was woven in Italy, the religious imagery that we see was actually woven in Germany. Is it usual for there to be this much gold
in ecclesiastical garments? It was a symbol of power or divinity or indeed
to stand out in a crowd, you often find that ecclesiastical garments have a huge amount
of gold embroidery on them. In Rembrandt’s ‘Belshazzar’s Feast’ we see
Belshazzar, the King of Babylon, giving a sumptuous banquet for his lords. We see him in the centre dripping in gold,
he has a bejewelled gold crown teetering above his turban, he’s wearing a wonderful gold
brocaded cape which is painted so luxuriously by Rembrandt. We also see his guests drinking out of golden
goblets. But here’s the catch: this gold has been
stolen from the temple of Jerusalem by Belshazzar’s predecessor Nebuchadnezzar.
The writing in Hebrew that we see on the wall is the word of God telling Belshazzar that
he has been weighed in the balance and found wanting, and that his kingdom is about to
come to an end. So in this painting we see that gold is not
always a good thing and that greed gets punished. This portrait of a lady known as ‘The Lady
in Red’ by Moroni dates from the second half of the 1550’s. It’s particularly famous
for this exquisite red dress which would have been inordinately expensive and is wonderfully
fashionable as well. But it’s set off by wonderful golden accessories. There’s a gold trim on the dress itself
but she’s also wearing some gold jewellery. If you look in her hair you’ll note that
even though her hair itself is golden, you can just about make out that she’s got some
wonderful jewellery set off with emeralds. On her wrists she’s wearing golden bracelets,
and even gold rings on her fingers. She also holds a golden fan on her lap, but
strangely she’s covering up the handle which would have been the most sumptuous, the most
luxurious part of it. One possible reason for her apparent modesty
could be her concern for sumptuary laws which controlled the consumption of luxury goods. This is a portrait of Lord John Stuart and
Lord Bernard Stuart, cousins of Charles I. On the left we have John Stuart in gold and,
one step down, his younger brother Bernard in silver, and van Dyck has really captured
the beautiful metallic qualities of these fabrics and if we look at John’s doublet
in the left you’ll see these very fine buttons and embroidery, and also this beautiful cloak
that he’s wrapped around himself with this wonderful gold lining. My favourite detail is the fringing here at
the bottom of John’s breeches, which is also in shimmering gold. Fashions, like painting styles, change but
by choosing golden fabric and accessories, these artists and sitters have ensured that
centuries later their memories still glisten in the paintings at The National Gallery.

Dereck Turner

18 thoughts on “Dressed in Gold | Gold | National Gallery

  1. Petra Haritz says:

    Wonderful! Thank you very much!

  2. Izabel Gaia says:

    I loved it!!!

  3. MrTsiolkovsky says:

    Perhaps a little heavy on the blurry focus pulling close ups.



  5. Cazacu Natalia says:

    wow!!! thanks

  6. _._ says:

    i like the snobby slut in the black skirt

  7. Kaitlin Kuan says:

    Love this! These ladies are living my dream! Hopefully one day I’ll finish school and be a curator too 🥰

  8. Мария Порохова says:

    Так реалистично блеск и фактуру ткани отобразить это дофига делов….почти как магия))

  9. Geoffrey Keane says:

    Hmmm I would have liked to have known how the artists painted the gold colour without using gold leaf.

  10. SIMKINYX says:

    What the heck?! Touching items with bear hands. Wear effing gloves!!!

  11. Mr Phobos says:

    The series is awesome

  12. AgentPedestrian says:

    The doge is the elected ruler of venice 🤣

    Must've been a very good boi

  13. Sebastian Melmoth says:

    The Doge portrait is egg tempera and oil.

  14. FoolOfATook says:


  15. Terri Mcwilliams says:

    The Stuart's were of dark skin. Fake white wash history….

  16. Oisin Lally says:

    The irony isn't lost on the fact she is wearing purple; up until recently the rarest and most expensive garment colour!

  17. Oisin Lally says:

    The writings on the wall bit can't be a warning in this case. It was painted after the fact so isn't as prophetic as is perhaps suggested here.

  18. Caroline Bennett says:

    Wonderful. Thank you.

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