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Barbaric, Carolingian, and Romanesque

Ca. A.D. 400 - 1150
Russell, Douglas Costume History and Style; chapter 7, pp. 104-123


During the period from the fall of the Roman Empire until the rise of Gothic art in western Europe, the most striking difference between the older classical clothing and the garments worn by the new barbaric people (who even­tually created the kingdoms of western Europe) was the difference in draping. During the Greco-Roman periods, clothing was based on simple tunics and the overdraping of square and semicircular outer garments, whereas the new order of clothing was based on closer ­fitting tunics and some form of trousers or leg­gings-a development (as had been the case with the Persians) brought by migrating tribes from the mountains of central Asia who settled northern and western Europe. Although knee­length trousers (feminalia) had been introduced to the Roman soldiers by the Gauls and were used for protection and comfort by the military on their northern campaigns, they were always viewed as an uncivilized garment by the true Roman. Even the sophisticated legcovering adopted by the Byzantines, the tight, form­fitting hosa, were related to Persian trousers and barbaric legcoverings.

          In Germany and France prior to the reign of Charlemagne, trousers, or bracchae, were usu­ally cross-laced with thongs and often covered with knee-high leggings, obviously an in­heritance from early barbaric love of leather­craft work with thongs and the tense inter­woven art of the animal interlace. The body was usually covered by a coarsely woven T-shaped tunic, often in a plaid or stripe, and the outer garment was a mantle of skins or coarse wool fastened on the right shoulder with a large metal brooch. Hair was usually long, faces bearded, and metal helmets set with horns or wings often covered the head. Women also wore long hair that was braided and long semifitted tunics with a mantle again pinned over the shoulders. The emphasis in both cases was on a semifitted, semidraped silhouette rather than on the draped lines of the Greeks or Romans.




          The period stretching from the decline of the Roman Empire to the rise of Gothic art in western Europe was a fascinating saga of tense, geometric, abstract, animal interlace imagery slowly merging with memories of late Roman art. In clothing this manifested itself in bodies that were at first heavily muffled in tight-fitting garments and skins often laced to the body with thongs, through a period where some elements of Roman draping were added so that one gains a sense of semifitted, semidraped garments that muffled the “sinful” body in accordance with early Christian principles. Finally during the culmination of this clothing style, in the Romanesque Period, there was much greater sophistication and complexity in the way semidraped garments are cut and fitted to gain a maximum contrast between flat areas of tight fit and areas of tense, complex wrinkles and stretched draping. The Romanesque sense of texture and design with fabric was the end result of merging the early animal interlace style and the tight animal skins thronged to the body with the uses of Roman drapery.


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