Dressing a Picture: Reimagining the Court Portrait 1500 - 1800

7 May 2021

McCrum Lecture Theatre, Corpus Christi College, Bene’t St, Cambridge

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Ana Howie (Faculty of History)
Alessandro Nicola Malusà (Faculty of History)

Key Note Speaker

Birgitt Borkopp-Restle (University of Bern)
Katarzyna Kosior (Northumbria University)
Aileen Ribeiro (Professor Emerita, Courtauld Institute)


Alice Blow (University of Cambridge)
Alexander Marr (University of Cambridge)
Ulinka Rublack (University of Cambridge)
Caroline van Eck (University of Cambridge)
Cordula van Wyhe (York University)


As Ulinka Rublack asserts in Dressing Up, her seminal book on dress in early modern Europe, society was extremely dress-literate and nowhere more so than in the courtly environments that generated and fuelled fashion. Within these sartorially-minded elite communities, one was constantly on display. Capturing dressed sitters in paint for prosperity, portraiture was a unique vehicle for the inherent dialectic in clothing between subject and observer, and presentation and perception. As such, this conference will examine three themes surrounding early modern portraiture: the artist, the depicted material culture and the setting for its iconographic display, that is the court. We aim to examine these connections via the prism of the period’s intricate social stratification and complex gender power dynamics. To provide sufficient breadth, the conference will present papers dealing with material between 1500 and 1800.

The first panel, titled ‘The Artist Behind the Portrait’, will concentrate on the multi-faceted figure of the early modern portraitist, and his or her role in the fashioning and imaging of courtly identities. This panel will bring attention to the varied interactions between artist and commissioner, taking into account their differing social status, education and motivations. 

The second panel, ‘The Material Attributes of Early Modern Portraiture’ will zoom in on the compositional elements of court portraiture to unravel the sartorial and symbolic interplay within the portraitists’ œuvre. Dress was crucial to the composition of courtly portraits, yet the history of dress has only recently begun to go beyond the identification of garments within painting. 

Our final panel, entitled ‘The Court: A Stage for the Display of Portraiture’ will highlight the pivotal role of the early modern court as an elaborate crossroad of social synergies obsessed with self-representation and its modes of display. This panel is designed to tease out the subtle nuances of social relations between artist, sitter, and viewer, and the affective spaces within which these players operated. 

Considering the interdisciplinary nature of our project, spanning history, dress studies, art theory, gender history, court studies and architectural history, we believe that our conference will generate exciting contributions from leading international scholars. This conference will meaningfully contribute to the wider scholarly debate on the significance of early modern portraiture as pivotal sources for numerous branches of historical research and not just art history. Our conference will both firmly enable this discussion and bring attention to this burgeoning field of interdisciplinary historical studies.

Supported by:
CRASSH Logo Grey     University of Cambridge School of Humanities and Social Science    Corpus Christi College Logo  Royal Historical Society Logo


If you have any specific accessibility needs for this event please get in touch. We will do our best to accommodate any requests.

Conference assistance: conferences@crassh.cam.ac.uk

Tuesday, 10 November 2020




Opening Remarks


Keynote 1

Aileen Ribeiro (Professor Emerita, Courtauld Institute)


Tea and Coffee Break

Panel 1:


Cordula van Wyhe (York University)


Speaker tbc


Q & A



Visit to Trinity College Master’s Lodge to View Portrait Collection

Panel 2:


Keynote 2

Birgitt Borkopp-Restle (University of Bern)


Tea and Coffee Break


Alessandro Nicola Malusà (University of Cambridger)


Speaker 4 TBC


Q & A 



Panel 3: 


Keynote 3

Katarzyna Kosior (Northumbria University)


Tea and Coffee Break​


Ana Howie  (University of Cambridge)


Alice Blow (University of Cambridge)


Q & A


Closing Remarks