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Dress for the Body, Body for the Dress

The dominating concept in Western culture behind the type of clothing in use is to show what its wearer would like or ought to be, as opposed to accepting the real essence of the body and therefore covering it with the geometric and linear clothes dictated by the predominating culture in the world of Islam. Carried out by Roberta Orsi Landini, under the direction of Kirsten Aschengreen Piacenti, the Dress for the Body, Body for the Dress exhibition, which makes a comparison between the evolution of European and Islamic dress, presents 130 costumes, on display for the first time in public, that include European and Islamic clothing for men and women, complete suits of armour and accessories, such as shoes, gloves and headwear.

The exhibition opens with two sixteenth century armed figures - an Ottoman and a European - standing opposite each other. The former wears a cuirass that is more like a metalized dress formed of a few pieces of flexible and two-dimensional chain mail; the latter is completely enclosed within a distorted and unnaturally shaped war machine, composed of numerous three-dimensional and sculptoreal elements, linked together with extremely complicated mechanisms. European clothing, characterized by tailored lines obtained with stiffening, padding, boning and clever cutting, is derived from this idea of the armour-covered body and the virile ideal of the eternally warlike male. This explains the development of the West's unique standards for clothing which was thus created with a large number of segments. On the other hand, two-dimensional, flexible, unitarian and shapeless clothes are typical of what is worn by various Islamic peoples living from North Africa to the Caucasus.

All the exhibits on display in the exhibition form part of one of the most important collections of costumes, weapons and armour in the world which belongs to the Stibbert Museum, founded by Frederick Stibbert, a brilliant Englishman who lived in Florence and who, on his death, left the wonderful collection that we can admire today to the city. His house and the museum he created still reflect the romantic yet nostalgic atmosphere that was so typical of the second half of the nineteenth century. The exhibition itself has been set up in the recently restored new rooms in the North Wing of the Museum, now fully equipped with the various facilities that are essential for a modern and functional museum.

Dress for the Body, Body for the Dress
Stibbert Museum. Until April 30th 1999

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