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The Vatican partners with fashion world for Met exhibit on Catholic style



Zelda Caldwell - published on 02/28/18

“Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” opens May 10 in New York.

This spring the fashion world and the Vatican will be joining hands to present the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibit “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.”

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, joined Vogue editor Anna Wintour, Donattella Versace and other luminaries of the fashion world in Rome for a preview of the exhibit, which opens at the museum’s Costume Institute in New York on May 10.

Ravasi announced, according to a report in Vogue, that the Vatican will be lending the museum a collection of 40 papal robes and other ecclesiastical pieces taken from the Sistine Chapel’s sacristy.

Andrew Bolton, the Costume Institute’s curator, said, “The pieces range in date from the mid-18th to the early 21st centuries and encompass more than 15 papacies. The earliest is a mantle worn by Benedict XIV, and the latest is a pair of red shoes worn by Saint John Paul II. Several of the pieces have never been seen outside the Vatican, including a suite of 12 vestments commissioned by Empress Maria Anna Carolina of Austria for Pius IX. Dating to the mid-19th century, they required 15 women more than 16 years to complete.”

Bolton noted that some might consider fashion to be “an unfitting or unseemly medium by which to engage with ideas about the sacred or the divine.”

“But dress is central to any discussion about religion,” he added, and “religious dress and fashion — at least in terms of their presentation — are both inherently performative,” he said.

The exhibit will highlight the influence the Catholic Church has had on fashion, Bolton said. Works by designers Gianni Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, and Valentino which were inspired by Catholic architecture and liturgical attire will be featured.

“In ‘Heavenly Bodies’ it is the narrative impulses of the designers that are the deepest and most profound expressions of their Catholic imaginations. While the fashions that are featured in the exhibition might seem far-removed from the sanctity of the Catholic Church, they should not be dismissed lightly, for they embody the storytelling traditions of Catholicism. Taken together, the fashions and artworks in ‘Heavenly Bodies’ sing with enchanted, and enchanting, voices.”

The sacred items will be kept in a separate gallery from the fashion items, the museum’s curator stressed. In addition, the fashion element will be exhibited with religious art selected by the Met’s curator in charge of Medieval Art.

The religious painting will “provide an interpretative context for fashion’s engagement with Catholicism. In total, the exhibition spans 25 galleries, making it the largest and most ambitious exhibition the Met has ever undertaken. Its organization is intended to evoke both the concept and experience of a religious pilgrimage,” said Bolton.

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