For any fashion lover, there comes a time when you just need to photograph your outfit. It’s too fly, too dripping with sauce, too much the chef’s kiss not to save for friends and for posterity (for example the grid on your Instagram). In the year of COVID, shaped photos have grown from the hobby of vain narcissists to a fairly universal visual expression. Since we couldn’t see everyone’s awesome clothes in person, we relied on group chats and Insta stories to fill the void. As you might expect, there have been haters who see the rise of the fit photo as another example of frivolous Millennial behavior. But in fact, the shaped photo is reminiscent of an ancient and venerable tradition, invented literally at the dawn of modernity by an overwhelmed father and son duo living in 16th century Germany in Augsburg. This year marks the release of their sartorial efforts in The first of the book fashion (Bloomsbury paperback), a detailed color facsimile of 178 images by Matthäus and Veit Konrad Schwarz Von Augsburg, as well as introductions and scholarly analyzes by early modern European historians Ulinka Rublack and Maria Hayward.
Like many stylish guys today, the Schwarz were middle-class wrestlers hoping to jump a rung or two in the social hierarchy. Father and son were both accountants for the famous Fuggers, a family of merchants and businessmen who financed the Habsburgs and other European empires, and were among the most prolific patrons of the art of their time. As the masterminds behind a powerful capitalist enterprise, Matthäus and the young Veit Konrad were able to mingle with the nobility of Augsburg, but they were not upper class themselves. To make up for their lack of royal blood, they spent large sums on absolutely insane clothing. At the same time, they couldn’t be too flamboyant, for fear of breaking medieval sumptuary laws. These were rules explicitly forbidding the lower classes to wear certain extravagant and expensive textiles (like velvet, or the color purple), which were reserved for royalty. The outfits that push the Schwarzes’ envelopes, however, have paid off, allowing the family to rise through the ranks of Augsburg society and ultimately become ennobled.
As a teenager, growing up at the turn of the 16th century, Matthäus expressed an interest in the clothes of his elders, whose costumes he found equally intriguing and laughable. When he began his work for the Fuggers in 1519, he commissioned a local artist, Narziss Renner, to make a recording of his life. Matthäus Schwarz’s hope was that one day his children would be able to look back on their once-cool but now completely tragic dad’s crises and rejoice in the changing fashions. Who among us hasn’t roasted their father or grandfather while leafing through a family photo album? But instead of taking photographs, which would not be invented for about 300 years, Schwarz had these portraits painted on parchment. They resembled the illuminated religious manuscripts of the Middle Ages, but they were secular and private, intended only for people lucky enough to be allowed to view them. Today, scholars regard his book as a key example of the emerging concept of individuality and identity that bubbled up in the mercantile era: the same moment that produced Montaigne’s painstakingly complacent essays and the works of Shakespeare. , who, according to literary critic Harold Bloom, invented the concept of humanism. Notably, Matthäus was also a big fan of astrology and is credited with popularizing the concept of birthdays – including multiple illustrations in his book of special outfits worn to mark the day of his birth. Father of the photo in shape and inventor of the birthday!
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