‘The Fascination with Japanese-Style Gowns in 17th-Century Dutch Painting: A Gendered Perspective’ – A Material World lecture at the Warburg Institute – LECTURE

Date / time: 26 March, 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm

'The Fascination with Japanese-Style Gowns in 17th-Century Dutch Painting: A Gendered Perspective' - A Material World lecture at the Warburg Institute - LECTURE


To this day, clothing has a cultural significance based on its potential for cultural and/or social distinction and identity formation. Additionally, garments – whether in paint or cloth – can embody ideas of gender and are also actively involved in its construction. Around the middle of the seventeenth century, a particularly fashionable garment that appeared on the Dutch market and subsequently in painting was the so-called japonse rok, a Japanese silk robe based on kosode (the forerunner of today’s kimono) and yogi (nightgown) of the Edo-period in Japan (1603-1868). In this paper, I explore the meanings of this gown in relation to ideas of gender and the artistic opportunities offered in painting.

These precious silk robes initially arrived in the Dutch Republic on ships of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). There, the high demand for these gowns led on the one hand to VOC orders from different production sites in Asia and on the other hand to Dutch imitations. Unfortunately, few of these pieces survive to this date, making it difficult to fully understand the social practices they related to in everyday life. By combining visual, textile, and written sources, I explore the complex relationship between the garments and their pictorial representations. In this respect, painting is both a valuable and treacherous source of information. In art historical research this garment is primarily associated with clothing worn indoors and by male figures. By the end of the century, they became a trademark for wealthy men and scholars but were also an integral part of the self-fashioning of artists. They shaped a new form of masculinity and were also involved in its construction, which was conveyed through precious silk gowns. In contrast, the less frequently depicted female sitters wearing the same attire have been disregarded by scholarship and will therefore be examined accordingly.

Angelina Illes is a Ph.D. student at the Department of Art History at the University of Vienna.

This event is part of the series ‘A Material World: Gender’, which brings together academics and heritage professionals from a wide range of disciplines to discuss issues concerning historical objects, their materials, forms, and functions, as well as their conservation, presentation, display, and reconstruction.

Organisers: Rembrandt Duits (Deputy Curator, The Photographic Collection, The Warburg Institute) and Louisa McKenzie (The Warburg Institute).

Book for free here: https://warburg.sas.ac.uk/events/a-material-world-angelina-illes-2024
Find out more about A Material World and watch previous events: https://warburg.sas.ac.uk/whats-on/material-world


Image: Jan Verkolje (I), Portrait of Anthonie van Leeuwenhoek, Natural Philosopher and Zoologist in Delft, 1680-1686, oil on canvas, 56cm x 47.5cm, Rijksmuseum. Public domain.