Three Laughs by Ben Dunn

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On Her Substance

Lane Eagles. "On Her Substance: Dress and Fecundity in Renaissance Painting." PhD Dissertation, University of Washington, 2019.

Outside Advisers:
Susan Gaylard (French and Italian Studies)
Mary O'Neil, GSR (History)

Garments do not merely adorn women’s bodies; dress shapes and crafts femininity. This dissertation centers a common Italian Renaissance female dress shape, a forward swell of skirts above the womb, usually mistaken by beholders as a visual indication of pregnancy. I term this silhouette gravid dress. I examine how early modern dress illustrated and tailored Renaissance gender norms, particularly in terms of promoting pregnancy and motherhood as the key womanly virtues. I argue early modern women’s clothing championed pregnancy through sartorial accommodation, by encouraging Renaissance wives to fill their luxurious skirts with new life and imbue the expensive pleats with purpose. My study analyzes paintings, particularly portraits, surviving dress objects, and sixteenth-century costume books to examine how early modern fashion dictated the shape and scope of women’s bodies. It intertwines feminism and gender studies, fashion history and theory, art history, and book history.

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