This fall, the Meadows Museum at SMU mounts a major exhibition of Spanish dress and fashion that pairs paintings from the Meadows’s collection with historic dress and accessories from the Museo del Traje, Centro de Investigación del Patrimonio Etnológico in Madrid. Canvas & Silk: Historic Fashion from Madrid’s Museo del Traje (on view through January 9, 2022) marks the first major collaboration between this important Spanish institution and an American museum and includes approximately 40 works from the Meadows alongside examples of dress and accessories from the Museo del Traje (Spanish National Museum for Fashion).

Loans include jewelry, shoes, accessories, and ensembles for men, women, and children. Displayed together, the works in the exhibition not only tell the story of how fashion trends in Spain changed over hundreds of years, but also reveal how elements of a country’s history – such as its involvement with global trade or the formation of a national identity – are reflected in its dress.

Photo courtesy of Meadows Museum

Says Amanda W. Dotseth, curator at the Meadows Museum and co-curator of the exhibition in collaboration with Elvira González of the Museo del Traje, “This exhibition makes it possible to tell a more nuanced story about Spanish society through the presentation of historic paintings with contemporaneous examples of the garments depicted therein. We are as never before able to explore the complex relationships between representation and reality, or between image and artifact.”

Clothing and accessories were, then as now, part of a social code signaling wealth, ideology, and membership in (or exclusion from) elite circles. What one wore could convey values, taste, power, and participation in religious, national, and familiar groups, giving rise to the old adage, “you are what you wear.” And, as the title of the exhibition suggests, materials matter.

The ability of a painter to make silk appear on their canvases or reproduce the reflective quality of gold, silver, and precious stones was often as important as their ability to capture the countenance of a prestigious sitter. The composition of a single garment could represent an economic system of global trade networks by bringing together, for example, silk from China, coral from the Mediterranean Sea, and silver and gold mined in the Americas. Fashion, therefore, in image and artifact, offers a unique window into the history of material culture and empire.

Photo courtesy of Meadows Museum

Canvas & Silk is divided into themes that explain various trends in the history of European fashion in general and Spanish dress in particular over the centuries. These include “Precious Things,” featuring accessories like jewelry and combs made from precious metals and other rare materials such as coral; “Traditional Dress” with examples of garments and ensembles that are typically identified with Spain, such as a traje de luces (the suit typically worn by bullfighters) and mantón de Manila (traditional embroidered silk shawls historically traded through Manila); and “Stepping Out” demonstrating the importance of what one wore when presenting themselves in public.

Highlights of pairings combining paintings from the Meadows’s collection and historic dress from the Museo del Traje include Ignacio Zuloaga’s The Bullfighter “El Segovianito” (1912) accompanied by a traje de luces of the same color; Zuloaga’s Portrait of the Duchess of Arión, Marchioness of Bay (1918) displayed alongside a mantón de Manila similar to the one the duchess is holding; and Joan Miró’s Queen Louise of Prussia (1929) paired with a vibrantly hand-painted dress and shoes by 20th-century fashion designer Manuel Piña.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue—for sale in the museum’s charming gift shop—inspired by the form and style of fashion magazines. Featuring new photography of key objects by contemporary Spanish photographer Jesús Madriñán, the catalogue allows readers to experience close-up the exquisite details of the garments, such as the lace, embroidery, and beading. And don’t miss the November 18 lecture by Annette Becker, director and curator, UNT CVAD Texas Fashion Collection, sponsored by the Cultural Office of the Embassy of Spain.

Photo courtesy of Meadows Museum

Becker will explore the lives of garments from the 16th through the 18th centuries, from the surprisingly laborious and often creative processes of commissioning garments, to creating and caring for the same, providing a greater understanding of how people’s lives were intertwined with clothing. Visit meadowsmuseumdallas.org for both exhibition and lecture tickets.

Video courtesy of Meadows Museum