History of France: Costumes illustrated manuscript.

A Beautifully Illustrated Costume Catalog From 16th-Century France 

A Beautifully Illustrated Costume Catalog From 16th-Century France 

The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Dec. 31 2014 10:18 AM

A Beautifully Illustrated Costume Catalog From 16th-Century France 

The Vault is Slate's history blog. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @slatevault, and find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

These pages are from a small 23-page book of costumes, Figures et fleures peintes, published in France around 1500. The whole book—which is text-free, featuring only illustrations—is available in digital form through Harvard University.  

I first saw this book on historian Erik Kwakkel’s Tumblr. Kwakkel speculated that the book could be a catalog, meant to show off fashions to prospective buyers, or, perhaps, “a model book for decorators, who were shown male and female models in different poses.”

Advertisement

Some of the most interesting pages feature men and women in Arabic or Turkish costumes. By the early 16th century, the Turkish presence in France was growing, as merchants from the Ottoman Empire traded in French port cities, and captive Turkish sailors were pressed into service on French ships.

Each page in this book has an illustration of a flower or plant on the overleaf. These show through, appearing behind the figures as a faint, ghostly presence. 

2MedievalCostumes

Houghton Library, Harvard University.

3MedievalCostumes

Houghton Library, Harvard University.

4MedievalCostumes

Houghton Library, Harvard University.

5MedievalCostumes

Houghton Library, Harvard University.