THE increasing attention which is now given to the Costume of early times, in all departments of art, and on the stage, throughout Europe, renders it absolutely necessary that the most scrupulous fidelity should be manifest in any Work now published on the subject.
The imperfect representations by Montfaucon were improved on by Strutt, and more recently by Willemin; but even the last publication cannot be strictly depended on. It is only in the beautiful work on “Monumental Effigies,” by the late Charles Stothard, that every thing has been done, as far as he was permitted to carry it, which fidelity and taste could effect. This series, however, became, from the unfortunate death of the artist, unequally terminated, and much more scanty than it ought to have been, even on the limited branch of art shown in sepulchral figures. In this, if it had been fully carried out, we could only have seen the monarch, the noble, the dignified ecclesiastic, or the distinguished warrior, and the females of the same high classes:- the merchant, the priest, the artizan, and the other lower grades of mankind must have been wanting, as these were not perpetuated by sepulchral pomp. Their costume must have been gathered from other sources; and it is quite as requisite that the dresses of these ranks should be accurately given as those of persons of a higher degree.
The Work now to be executed by Mr. Shaw is intended not only to embrace the dresses of all grades, but will give also the implements, the vessels, utensils, and the furniture and ornaments of their habitations; so that not only the figures, but all the accessories may be strictly in accordance; a point which has been but little attended to, partly from the difficulty which has always existed in procuring examples that were strictly coeval with each other. Yet this perfect accordance is absolutely necessary to the perfection of an historical picture, or scenic representation.
The Plates in the “Dresses and Decorations,” will be copied with care and fidelity from illuminated MS8. preserved in public and private libraries in England and in foreign countries; from sculpture, from enamels, from stained glass, and, in fact, from every source capable of illustrating a subject so interesting. The explanatory letter-press will be profusely decorated with those subjects in which colour is of less importance than form; these will be very carefully printed from wood, and arranged in such a manner as to form rich marginal embellishments.
It will be the object of the author, as far as consistent with his general plan, to give such representations, or personages, as may be connected with historical events, which will necessarily be highly interesting, as faithful and undoubted illustrations to Chaucer, Shakespeare, and others, whose writings contain allusion to the customs and manners of past ages.
Dresses and Decorations of the Middle Ages from the 7th to the 17th centuries by Henry Shaw F.S.A. Published: London William Pickering 1843.