Analysis of Famous Artworks through Costume Design


The combination of art and fashion is a marriage of two distinct yet interwoven forms of creativity. Despite their differences, fashion and art have always intersected and influenced each other in many ways. Whether it be through the colors, patterns, or silhouettes of clothing or the depictions of human figures in paintings, the two have always shared a close relationship. In this article, we will take a closer look at how costume design in art has played a significant role in the creation and interpretation of famous artworks throughout history.

Costume design in art is the process of creating costumes for characters or figures depicted in a work of art. It involves developing a visual language and conveying a message through the use of clothing and other accessories. By carefully choosing the style, color, and details of a costume, an artist can elevate their artwork, and add layers of meaning and depth to the piece.

One famous example of this is the iconic painting “Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Johannes Vermeer. This masterpiece is not only known for its masterful composition and use of light but also for the exquisite costume of the titular girl. The professor of art history at Columbia University, J.M.W. Turner, suggests that the painting’s subject is wearing a “Turkish wrapping garment,” an exotic and luxurious garment that was highly fashionable at the time. The incorporation of this garment in the painting not only adds to the character’s allure but also provides a glimpse into the societal standards of beauty and fashion during the Dutch Golden Age.

In another famous artwork, “The Death of Marat” by Jacques-Louis David, the artist uses costume design to tell a powerful story. The painting depicts the martyrdom of the French revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat, who is shown lying dead in a bathtub. Despite the simplicity of the composition, David manages to create a dramatic and striking piece of art by incorporating Marat’s costume. The white garment drenched in blood is a powerful symbol of his martyrdom and sacrifice for the revolution. It also reflects the ideals of the revolution, which were centered around simplicity and equality, while also serving as a stark contrast to the opulent costumes of the aristocracy during that time.

Similarly, in the famous Renaissance painting “The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch, the artist uses elaborate and eccentric costumes to depict a world of sin and temptation. The flamboyant and bizarre costumes of the figures in the painting add to the chaos and confusion that Bosch wanted to convey. Each costume has symbolic significance, from the nude figures in the garden to the intricate and grotesque clothing of the creatures in hell. Through the use of costume design, Bosch effectively conveys the message of the consequences of indulging in earthly desires.

In contemporary art, costume design continues to play a significant role in the creation and interpretation of artworks. One prime example is the performance art piece “The Artist is Present” by Marina Abramović, where the artist sat still and silent for 736 hours while spectators were free to do as they pleased around her. Abramović’s all-black costume, with a long dress and long hair, portrayed her as a living statue, inviting viewers to interact with her in any way they wanted. This simple yet powerful costume added to the overall intensity of the performance and served as a strong symbol of the artist’s presence and vulnerability.

In conclusion, costume design in art is a crucial element that not only enhances the visual appeal of an artwork but also adds layers of meaning and narrative to it. From religious and historical paintings to contemporary performance art, costume design continues to hold a prominent place in the world of art. It serves as a tool for artists to express their ideas, emotions, and beliefs, while also providing insight into the societal and cultural influences of a particular time period. As the saying goes, “clothes make the man,” and in the world of art, they can also make the artwork.