Thursday, November 7, 2013

Hoho Birds and Dancing Jesters: Italian Dress Epitomizes the Late Baroque/Rococo Style, c. 1725-1740

This lively Italian Late Baroque/Rococo linen casaquin/caraco jacket and skirt, embroidered with wool thread (c. 1725-1740,  epitomizes the characteristics of the period: exaggerated, large scale motifs and easily accessible details. Add to this a sense of movement, depth, high color, and they all combine to create drama, exuberance & grandeur! The dress suggests a theater or an opera narrative. By the time this garment was complete, the transition to the Rococo was well underway. Whether we view it as a form of music, art, architecture, theatre or fashion, this dress embodies the époque.

Look closely at the scale of the figures along the lower portion of the dress. Full of flourish, the dancing jesters, holding flowers rather than scepters, would have been recognized in most parts of the early 18th century world by the elite (who were wealthy enough to have such extensive ornament decorate their garments.) The figures are intertwined with fantastical phoenix-like creatures (known as Hoho birds, Asian symbols of good fortune), large-scale, brightly-hued flowers, references to Chinoiserie and elaborate foreign, dream-like landscapes. Note the attention to detail of the jester's clothing: vibrant tunics with pointed hems and sleeves, traditional cap with bells.

As mentioned above, the figures are entwined with the Hoho birds. Some of the best examples of these carved creatures are at the National Trust's Claydon House (1751-1771). They carved of wood by Luke Lightfoot, responsible for most of the astounding Rococo carving throughout.

The Metropolitan Museum notes: The exuberant and vividly colored motifs are displayed to advantage by the flowing lines of the casaquin and the rounded petticoat. This type of two-piece dress, derived from a working-class costume, was adopted as fashionable informal wear in the 1720s. Wealthy women would have worn the petticoat over a pannier to create the desirable contemporary silhouette. The exceptional nature of the embroidery on this particular costume suggests that it was intended to be worn for a special occasion.

For an information and image rich piece on Claydon House and its carvings, see Carolyne Roehm:

For more details on the linen dress, see:
Metropolitan Museum, Acc. #: 1993.17a, b @Metropolitan Museum of Art

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