Monday 14 November 2011

Fur Coats ... not just a passing trend

I recently bought myself my much loved and incredibly cosy faux fur coat and it got me thinking about the long tradition of the representation of fur in art.  

Donatello St John the Baptist c.1386-1466

Some of the earliest uses of fur in art are in paintings and sculptures of St John the Baptist such as this sculpture by Donatello. St John the Baptist was often clothed in fur, in Matthew 3:4 he is described thus, 'And the same John had his clothing of camel's hair, and a leather belt about his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.' This describes John during his time preaching in the desert before his baptism of Christ.

Jan Gossaert Portrait of Hendrick III c. 1517
In this portrait Hendrick III is represented wearing a fur shawl alongside his velvet hat and elaborately herringboned tunic. Here the rich materials are used for their symbolic value, representing the wealth and importance of the sitter in a dialogue of opulence. Additionally they celebrate the prowess of the painter and his mastery of complex painting techniques in the attempt to create naturalism.
John Currin Rachel in Fur 2002

From the Renaissance we turn to a painting with a more contemporary feel by the American painter John Currin. Here while the fur still speaks of opulence there is a newly glamorous edge, particularly when paired with the Nicole Richiesque dark sunglasses. It is a look that would grace the pages of Vogue.
Meret Oppenheim Object 1936
While here I deviate from clothing a look at fur in art simply wouldn’t be complete without this most notorious surrealist object. Supposedly deriving its appearance from a discussion between Oppenheim Picasso and Dora Maar at a Parisian cafe. Admiring Oppenheim's fur-covered bracelet, Picasso remarked that one could cover anything with fur, to which she replied, "Even this cup and saucer" and with that an art work was born.

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