One of our favourite reference books here in the office is Altered and Adorned by Suzanne Karr Schmidt, a fantastic look at how Renaissance prints were used in everyday life. An accompanying exhibition was put on by the Art Institute of Chicago in 2011. Something Karr Schmidt mentions in her study is the fashion for ‘dressing prints’, an example of which we were able to bring last year to the Boston fair:
The fashion for ‘dressing’ prints took off in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and ‘may have often been a household pastime like other cutting and pasting activities’ (‘What the well-dressed print is wearing’, Houghton Library blog, 28 Feb. 2014). Adding scraps of fabric, printed papers, and even metal foils to a print allowed it to ‘accrue meaning through layering’, becoming a votive of sorts for the person who owns it (Karr Schmidt, p. 67). As objects, they occupy a rarefied space in which luxury and devotion can be expressed in everyday life by everyday people.
As Karr Schmidt demonstrates, prints selected for dressing were usually devotional in nature. Here, Poetry herself has been similarly honoured, with luxurious and colourful fabrics, by an early owner of the print. She sits at a table with leaves of verse and a lyre, with two putti at her feet, who crown a skull with laurels and tie a garland around the neck of a swan. Her left index finger, extended towards her temple, doubles as a gesture towards a framed image of the Crucifixion in the upper left-hand corner.