Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Dolce & Gabbana find fashion inspiration in XII century Byzantine art

Detail image c/o of Dolce & Gabbana

The image above is a close up of the beautiful embroideries in the Fall 2013 Dolce & Gabbana Ready To Wear collection. The images are inspired by the Cathedral of Monreale, Sicily. The cathedral was built between 1172 and 1185 under the commission of the Norman King William II of Altavilla and is famous for its gold mosaics.

For those of you unfamiliar with Byzantine religious art, one of its most distinct features is its anti-naturalistic character. In contrast to classical Greek art, which aims at hyper-realistic representations, Eastern Orthodoxy takes a more symbolic approach to religious imagery. The artist has very little freedom in the depiction of his subject. So very little freedom, in fact, that the proper way of referring to the icon-creation process is "writing". You write, you don't paint an icon. There are principles you must follow and elements you need to include in order to comply with the Canon. Heck, even your color choices are pre-determined for you:

  • Gold represents Heaven
  • Red represents love, passion, divine energy, the triumph of life over death. 
  • Blue stands for human life and is considered the color of the Mother of God
  • Purple is the color of the clergy

If you look closely at icons, for example, you can see that some buildings are painted purple: that signifies that a particular building is a church. Also, in some icons you can notice that the Virgin Mary is painted with blue layers of garment under her red robe. That's because she is a regular human being that has been graced by the will of God. In contrast, Jesus is often portrayed the other way around, in red under-garments because he was sent to Earth by a Heavenly Father.

I am VERY curious to know how much attention the design team at Dolce & Gabbana has invested in representing symbolism of the iconographic canon. The colors seem Byzantine and the iconic imagery appears true to form but I wonder if they were "writing" as they were sewing, too.

Either way, I am in awe.


  1. When I was at the army we had a painter in our platoon. He was tasked with creating an icon, portraying our captain as St George, you know, a casual killer of great monsters. We also had a cleric and the two were constantly arguing about colors and forms. In the end I was left with the impression that writing an icon is impossible task for mortals. The Canon is very subtle. Although I found the red sky too literal.

    By the way, in your link Purple is the color of the Celestial King. The clergy is too timid to claim such a color. After all we're talking about the battle between Red and Blue... Interesting idea by Dolce & Gabbana.

    1. I think the beauty of icon-writing is precisely in the challenge of creating within the confines of the canon! I'm a sucker for subtlety.

      The link I included is based on Russian sources, I read other articles that listed purple as clergy (God's lieutenants on earth!). I think these might be regional differences: Russian vs. Greek orthodoxy?

    2. Fine observations, most certainly they are regional. Nevertheless Purple seems to be universal property of the ruling classes. You left me thinking about the history and evolution of colors and their symbolism... If there is such thing at all.