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Early Mannerist and Renaissance

Ca. 1520 - 1560
Russell, Douglas Costume History and Style; chapter 12, pp. 196-212


          Reformation fashion is divided into two periods from 1520 to about 1560 when German influences and ideals predominated, and from 1560 to about 1620 when Spanish styles were in the ascendancy. Both periods stressed an artificial distortion of the human body into a grotesque, ornamental encasement. Fantastically varied use of puffed linings forced through small slits in the outergarment, like the interpenetration of plot lines in Elizabethan plays and the interpenetrating scrollwork in interior decoration, achieved a rich, ornamental tension in dress.

          From 1520 to 1560 the emphasis was on a broad, horizontal, square silhouette for men and a conical, angular silhouette for women. The major elements in the silhouette were distortion and a padding of the body; the major decorative accent that created a sense of tension was the slashing‑outergarments literally attacked with a knife so that lining fabric could be forced through the slits. To see the changes in European culture that occurred in only 25 years, compare the portrait of Castiglione by Raphael, painted about 1516, with the portrait of Henry VIII by Holbein, painted about 1540. The former exists in a real world of beautiful, rounded forms, natural fabrics, and a relaxed dignity. The latter portrays an immobile, ruthless, commanding personality surrounded by excessive richness which both fascinates and repels.




          This period marked the shift from the balanced, relaxed, expansive beauty of the High Renaissance to the inward tensions and grotesque dislocations of the Mannerist Renaissance.  It was one of the strongest periods in the history of clothing for antinatural, artificial silhouettes and surfaces; everything took on a twisted, layered, interpenetrated, tense look.  This first phase of the Mannerist Renaissance was marked by the bulk and  angularity of the  so-called German style, with great weight placed on the horizontal spread of clothing.  Such antinatural clothing clearly marked a withdrawal from interest in the outer natural world to the imaginative, personal world within.

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