Costume Books: 16th-century Habsburg Networks and Power

Tuesday, 10th May 2016, Senior Parlour, Gonville & Caius College, 5pm-6pm

Katy Bond (University of Cambridge)

Supported by the DAAD Cambridge Research Hub with funds from the Federal Foreign Office (FFO)

This paper argues that the costume book genre, which developed and gained traction across the European continent in the sixteenth century, was more than a mere reflection of increasingly globalised perspectives in the so-called Age of Discovery. Yet to have been acknowledged is the role that the Habsburg Empire under the rule of Charles V had upon the initial development of the genre. A couple of the earliest known works of this kind, which established conventions of content, composition, and format, were fashioned in wake of extensive exposure to Charles’s court. Christoph Weiditz’s Trachtenbuch (c.1529-32) and Christoph von Sternsee’s costume album (c.1549) were produced and commissioned by artists and patrons whose participation in Habsburg imperial networks allowed them to traverse much of Europe and subsequently encounter a great diversity of human custom and costume. Charles’s reign ushered in a unique moment of history which symbolically united a great assortment of culture, language, governance, and customs under a single, powerful sovereign. Within this milieu, the creators of these two costume manuscripts had profited from cross-cultural engagement and cross-territorial movement. Costume books developed in the second half of the century to become popular printed products.With the Habsburg Empire now divided between its Austrian and Spanish Houses, and the Universal Empire Charles V’s advisors had encouraged now but a distant memory, competitive power struggles between Europe’s nation-states led costume books’ function to shift. No longer intimate works visualising personal travels and experiences, these printed encyclopaedias of global, sartorial character took on increasingly moralised and patriotic agendas that participated in debates common across Europe regarding the volatile dress habits of one’s countrymen and the adoption of foreign fashions.