‘Ils étoient vêtus infâmement’: visualising seventeenth century French stage costume
The aim of this research project is to expand the discussion about performance costume conventions in France during the seventeenth century through the study of visual sources. These include both working and presentational costume design drawings, as well as prints of actors and productions. In academia, the few discussions on early modern costume tend to make much of the written sources that describe performances, document trade and purchases, detail bequests as part of wills, and serve as references within play texts. Despite theatre being a visual art, and costume being one of the most visual components of it, the visual culture surrounding performance during this period has been overlooked. Where imagery is used, it is used to discuss scenography, or is simply an illustrative aside. This tendency is even more evident in studies of French theatre, which is predominantly the purview of French literature scholars.
Most discussions of early seventeenth-century French theatre also tend to discuss farce and comedy separately from the scripted ballets, pastorals and tragi-comedies commissioned by members of the royal court. Such distinction belies the fact that as the century progressed, not only were these productions produced in the same spaces but they were also often performed by the same people. While the court ballets of the earliest decades did have casts made up of courtiers and members of the royal family, by the time Molière and his company were enjoying the patronage of the Sun King, Louis XIV, many of the parts were played by professional actors and the productions would transfer to a public venue after their royal début.
In discussing the costumed bodies of the performers, and the depictions of them, this study aims to show that the development and establishment of theatrical conventions in French theatre, particularly in Paris, does not have a clear-cut distinction between genres. The notion of a higher culture of literary theatre triumphing over the lower genre of farce was consciously designed and cultivated by contemporary artists and writers associated with the court, and perpetuated by theatre historians in the centuries following. This narrative has already begun to be questioned by literature historians, and this dissertation will further question the veracity of it.
School of Arts & Humanities
MA History of Design, 2018
While studying my BA I became increasingly interested in the performative power of stage costume, ultimately writing my dissertation about the performance of gender and sexuality on the Shakespearean stage. Since then I have trained and worked in costume, gaining an insight into the myriad of influences on costume design and realisation, and how the final product reflects the wider cultural environment that produced it.
In focusing on early seventeenth century France, I explore what the costumes, the performers' costumed bodies, and the iconographic representation of them say about early modern French understandings of nation, race, and class.
I am also interested in the systems of vestimentary exchange and acquisition, the involvement of the establishment in shaping costume design and theatre during this period, and the place of costume within the broader artistic and literary preoccupations of the period.
- QQI Level 5 and 6, Costume Design and Make Up, Inchicore College of Further Education, 2014; BA TSM Drama Studies and French, Trinity College Dublin, 2012
- Volunteer assisting with the digitisation of an archive of furniture images for the Furniture, Textiles and Fashion Department, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2018; Theatre and Performance Intern, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2017; Research Volunteer for V&A Dundee Project, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2017; Co-organiser and Chair, V&A/Royal College of Art 'Early Modern Material Cultures' Seminar Series, Institute of Historical Research, London, 2017