Medieval Sumptuary and Life: Green Gowns and beds

 Jan van Eyck being the painter – and by the way, they don’t think she was pregnant!

My rating

This was my last f2f book club read and it was interesting as i don’t know what we all thought the book was going to be like when we chose it.
Basically it is a history book wrapped up in a painting. We learn an amazing amount how people lived and the significance of what they wore and where and what they owned and how it was displayed during the 14th and 15th centuries, in this book. We also learn quite a bit about the politics of the era as this influenced everything from where items were sourced and who could buy them, to marriage rules and behaviour and general life and how it was lived.
There were sumptuary rules which said what material your gowns could be made of and this was closely linked to your social class. We found out just how many fur-lined gowns people had and what fur they were made of and of course the book reminded us that fur-linings were very important as the houses were very cold and only the very richest could afford glass in their windows.
Each chapter is linked to a specific item in the painting and this was a little frustrating to read on a Kindle as a result. You really needed a full sized copy of the painting – in colour – to be able to make sense of each little aspect that was mentioned, from the type of dog hiding, to the shoes and how they were placed , and most especially to the chests and other items of furniture you can only just see edges of.
So I now have a printed colour A4 page with the painting on it!
The bed was very interesting as they were portrayed as being in a parlour not a bedroom and so we found out that the best bed with the best and most expensive hangings were in the parlours as items of display and never used! Amazing to us in this day and age what was a precious item to previous eras.
The last chapters were not linked to a specific item of the painting and thus were less interesting.
It is a very dense and very academic book. It is not easy reading and you do need to be interested in history and politics and paintings to bother to read it. Luckily I am interested in all these but still it wasn’t an easy read otherwise I’d have given it more stars.


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