Survey 10: In Which, Designers Find Themselves in America, Pursued by Nazis


The 1930’s and 40’s were a wild time for artists and designers, and I mean w  i  l  d. Not only was the Great Depression hitting the entire world, hard, but World War II began soon after. nearly 3 straight decades of worldwide turmoil led to some amazing new technologies and opportunities for design to improve, however. As part of Roosevelt’s New Deal, jobs were created for designers and photographers to create travel posters and capture the images of the times. Raymond Loewy, the “father of industrial design” (and the father of streamlining – can someone find the full family tree, please?) helped create simple, functional, and appealing objects. Two world fairs helped to push new inventions and innovations in design into public view.

During World War II, many European designers fled to the United States to escape the Nazi regime. This resulted in a shift of the art centre of the world from Paris to New York City, and helped to modernize art and design in America (a much needed change).


“Divine destiny has given the German people everything in the person of one man. Not only does he possess strong and ingenious statesmanship, not only is he ingenious as a soldier, not only is he the first worker and the first economist among his people but, and this is perhaps his greatest strength, he is an artist. He came from art, he devoted himself to art, especially the art of architecture, this powerful creator of great buildings. And now he has also become the Reich’s builder.”

–Hakenkreuzbanner (The Swastika Flag), June 10, 1938

The Third Reich aimed to control and manipulate every are of its citizen’s lives. Part of the reason why it was so successful in its control was because it utilized many different tactics to target people. Hitler’s plan to create a “synchronization of culture” was made to present a unified Germany, tied together by its shared Aryan culture. To him, art was another method of control, just like propaganda or the military. As an art school reject himself, Hitler wanted to be viewed as a passionate man who understood and valued art.

A painting of waterlilies by Third Reich approved artist Ludwig Dettmann

But exactly how was Third Reich art classified? Finding a definitive answer to that question can be difficult, since it was based on a complex set of ideals created mainly by Hitler himself and his trusted leaders. For the most part, it was any art that well exemplified Nazi ideals. Anything else was considered degenerate art. Hitler hated modernist and expressionist art, and anything he deemed “not serious” enough to promote his ideas. What was not considered degenerate was usually quite boring and classically academic. Third Reich art promoted power, strength, triumph, and optimism. It often portrayed young, beautiful men and women.

“I will not tolerate unfinished paintings!”- Adolf HItler


Hitler handpicked some artists whose work epitomized Third Reich ideas. Josef Thorak and Arno Breker were two such artists. Their work celebrated ideal beauty and power. Interestingly, Breker had artwork that was branded as degenerate early in his career, yet was still highly favoured by Hitler himself.

Hitler’s ideas about art were accepted by his followers and close advisors, but it’s interesting to look at what three of these men thought of art before they came into close contact with him. Joseph Goebbels collected modern art, which he displayed in his home and office, and like degenerate art pieces. Heinrich Himmler liked mystical tribal German art and Alfred Rosenberg liked romantic art portraying rural life, both of which didn’t fit Hitler’s guidelines. Goebbels and Rosenberg would fully support Third Reich art and denounce degenerate art. Himmler, however, secretly stole valuable (yet condemned) works of art from Hitler throughout the war.

The Great Exhibition of German Art
 Hitler had big plans for art in the Third Reich. His "Great German Art...
A room inside the Great Exhibition of German Art.
The Great Exhibition of German Art

The Great Exhibition of German Art was held in Munich in the summer of 1937, and presented a large collection of Third Reich approved art. The exhibition featured sculptures from Breker, as well as plenty of beautiful, muscular bodies and wild animals. Only a few steps away, across the street, was the Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibit, created to mock and degrade degenerate art and artists. Unsurprisingly, the degenerate art drew far more visitors. In the long run, degenerate art would have a much stronger impact than the Third Reich art ever did, since it was progressive, powerful, and modern. Thankfully, our ideas of art are no longer restricted like they were in World War II.

View of sculpture exhibited at the Haus of German Art, n.d.
A crowd of people viewing sculptures at the Exhibition of German Art.

Survey 9:


The shortest period yet, Survey 9 covered the years 1925 – 1930. In only 5 years, a ton happened. Nowhere was this more true than in Germany, where a HUGELY important design school was growing: the Bauhaus. In 1919, Water Gropius, an architect, founded the school at only 31 years old. The Bauhaus was an arts and crafts school, whose aim was to create beautiful, accessible objects and design. It aimed to “breathe a soul into the dead product of the machine,” and led students to focus on the creative process, making prototypes that could be sold to the manufacturing industry to create real, impactful design. Students at the Bauhaus studied in many disciplines: design, architecture, dance, theatre, photography, furniture design, and more. The school housed many workshops and studios where students could work hands on, learning trades as well as the ideas behind their work. As the school became more widely known and influential, the local government grew uncomfortable. In 1923, Gropius resigned and the school closed. However, unsatisfied with the situation, he began looking for a new city that would be more welcoming to the school. When he found the industrial city of Dessau, a new Bauhaus school was built, designed by the students themselves. The Bauhaus school was closed permanently by the Nazis in 1933, but it was decades ahead of its time and influences the way we think about design to this day.

The man Jan himself!
Phoebus Palast Poster

Jan Tschichold was born on April 2, 1902, in Leipzig, Germany. His father was a sign painter, so Tschichold’s visual arts education began from an early age. From 1919 to 1921, Tschichold attended the Leipzig Academy of Graphic Arts and Book Production, studying calligraphy. This emphasis on type would set him apart from many of his peers, who were trained in fine arts. At the Leipzig Academy, he was treated as an equal by many of his teachers and developed a relationship with another important designer, Paul Renner, who designed the Futura typeface

After school, Tschichold worked as a freelance artist and designer until his understanding of design was completely changed bye the 1923 Bauhaus exhibit. Here, his whole outlook on typography was changed. The expedition introduced him to modernist design, and birthed his love for sans serif fonts. He also saw geometric and asymmetric compositions.


Only a few years later, Tschichold, still captivated with the new ideas of typography he had seen at the Bauhaus, published a special issue in a magazine called “Elementare Typographie”, containing his personal ideas on the matter. He expanded and refined on this in his groundbreaking book, Die neue Typographie (The New Typography: A Handbook for Modern Designers, 1928). In this book he laid out rules of type hierarchy and the idea to standardize paper sizes. The book was sent out to printers and designers all over Europe in an effort to reform typography across the continent.

A page spread from Die Neue Typographie

In 1933, the Nazi party took control of Germany. Tschichold’s ideas about typography and art did not align with their strict ideologies, since his were somewhat similar to Fascism. He and his wife were imprisoned as “Intellectual minorities.” When they were finally released 6 weeks later, they fled, along with their son, to Switzerland.

Sabon typeface, designed by Tschichold

During this time, Tschichold’s ideas began to soften and his perspective on design expanded. There are two possible reasons for this. One is that as he matured, his extreme views on design did too. Another is that he was avoiding the harsh gaze of the Nazi party, who were still on his heels. Either way, Tschichold announced that perhaps he got it wrong, perhaps serif fonts weren’t all that bad, among other things. Many people in the design world were shocked and somewhat offended by this switch of perspective, but since Tschichold was the first in his field to define principles of design, people clung to his early ideas even as he realized it was time to update them.

Tschichold did a lot of important work in his later years. After leaving Germany, he worked as a design consultant for Hoffman-La Roche, a pharmaceutical company. He designed Sabon, a typeface still widely used today. From 1947 to 1949, he worked as a graphic designer for Penguin books in London. Here he developed a design system for Penguin’s new line of books. He created a template for book covers that could be used over and over with any book, establishing a cohesive look for all the titles. These designs remain iconic today, and they were widely copied during his time. Tschichold also published several other influential books on typography and design. He was awarded the prestigious AGIA medal, as well as the Gutenberg Prize of Leipzig for his work in design.

Tschichold’s iconic Penguin book designs in their various iterations

Tschichold once made the (slightly cocky) claim that he was the most influential type designer of his time. As annoying as someone has to be to say that about themselves, Tschichold was right. His impact on typography is, and continues to be huge.


Jan Tschichold

Designer Focus: Jan Tschichold

Survey 8: Dadaddyy


1915 – 1920 was a pretty boomin’ time for the world in general. The first world war changed the way society operated on a major scale. With men off on the battlefields, women gained more freedom to work and exist outside the sphere of the home. In culture, everything was changing. Styles were loosening, hems and hair were shortening, and alcohol was illegal. Jazz clubs and speakeasies became popular as an escape from the confines of the prohibition in Canada and the United States. The new movement Dadaism grew out of traumatization from WWI and loss of connection to reality. In Zurich, Swizerland, Tristan Tzara and Robert Delaunay were two major leaders of the movement, which sprang up in different forms in other cities around Europe. Russian constructivism was another important movement that had a huge impact on design. Artists in this movement were inspired by Plato, who believed that geometry was the highest form of beauty. They used geometric shapes and typography in black, red, and white to create abstract designs.



Art Deco

Art Deco is the short name for Arts Décoratifs, a style in decorative arts and architecture that is sometimes also referred to as style moderne. The style was preceded by art moderne and was introduced during the 1925 Paris world fair, called the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes. Springing up during a time of turmoil, recession, and world conflict, the aim of the style was to bring modernity into art. The style was progressive and symbolic, and was concerned with being modern, but not in a way that sacrificed visual beauty.

The Story of the Tribune tower
Howells - History Sketch
A sketch for plans for the Tribune Tower
Image result for tribune tower alternate designs
Some alternate designs for the tribune tower

Once upon a time, in 1922 to be exact, the Chicago Tribune (a newspaper) turned 75 years old. To commemorate this fact, they decided to give themselves a big birthday present: a new building for their headquarters. In order to find a design for the building, they held a worldwide competition, seeking “for Chicago, the most beautiful building in the world,” with a grand prize of $100,000 to the winning designer. Of course, submissions came pouring in.



Tribune Tower
The Gothic crown of the tower illuminated at night

260 different designs from 23 countries were submitted, mainly from the US and Europe. Interestingly enough, the European designs were mainly wild and impractical. They were artsy and unique, to be sure, but were ignored the fact that the building had a definite purpose – it was an office. The American designers understood the relationship the building would have with the city and the business, and created similar skyscrapers, altering the “crown” or top part of the building to suit their artistic interpretations. The winning entry came from Raymond Hood and John Mead Howells, two American architects, and succeeded in combining efficient office space and the wow! factor that the Tribune was seeking. Not only was it effective and beautiful, its combination of Art Deco and Gothic styles appealed to the rich history and reputation associated with the iconic newspaper.

Tribune Tower
The tower under construction (on right)

The Tribune Tower was build from Indiana limestone and the design was inspired mainly by the Rouen Cathedral in France. Into the lower walls of the tower were built bricks and stones from 149 special locations, among which were Bunker Hill, St. Peter’s Basilica, Westminster Abbey, Omaha Beach, Edinburgh Castle, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, and the Rouen Cathedral.

Chicago: Tribune Tower
The Tribune Tower today

The building’s construction was an exciting process. Several publicity stunts drew tens of thousands of spectators and news articles all over the country. And on the day the tower opened, more than 20,000 people lined up to be the first inside the building. The Grand Rapid Press gushed that, “Chicago is everlastingly better as a place to live and visit because of the Tribune’s artistic tower on Michigan Boulevard,” and the Illinois State Journal declared that the Tribune Tower would “be a joy forever.” Even the Tribune’s competitors couldn’t help but sing the tower’s praises.


Survey 7: I Think We Should See Other People


In Survey 7 we covered the beginnings of the 20th century, a period where design thinking began to develop to become what it is today. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright introduced the mantra “Form follows function”, which would become an important standard in design. Unlike previous architects, he was more concerned with interiors that exteriors, and prioritized the space that people live in. He also commanded every aspect of the design, down to small details in interior decorating. Around this same time, new movements in art were surprising and enraging people. Impressionism, expressionism, cubism, and fauvism changed the face of art forever. In 1913, a massive art exhibition was held in New York called The Armory. Works from artists like Van Gogh, Degas, Cézanne, and Matisse were displayed. The event would go down in history as one of the most important exhibitions of all time, and helped to change the way these artists were viewed by the general public.

German U-Boat WWI propaganda poster by Hans Rudi Erdt

Hans Rudi Erdt was born on March 31, 1883 in Germany. He studied under Maximilian Dasio at the Munich School of Applied Arts. In 1908 he began working at the esteemed printing company Hollerbaum und Schmidt. In his short life, he was an innovator in design and contributed to the Sachplakat movement. His most memorable clients included the German State Film Committee, Nivea, Opel cars, the newspaper Die Woche, and various tobacco companies.

Erdt was a man of many trades. He was a graphic designer, a lithographer, as well as a commercial artist. His work displays simplified shapes and blocks of flat colour, as well as  typography as a central focus. What defines Erdt’s work, and what set him apart, was his ability to distill messages down to a simple, concise graphic representation. By stripping away everything unnecessary, he was able to communicate extremely strong and memorable ideas.

Erdt’s poster for Opel cars

One of Erdt’s most iconic designs was for Opal cars. The poster features Opel in a bold serif front, with the face of an older male driver in negative space above. What’s initially surprising is that there is no image of a car in a car poster. The strength of Erdt’s design lies in his ability to convey the car brand even without using a car. The man’s glasses show that he is a driver, and the colors and expression give a sense of prestige and elegance.


Plakatstil (poster style) grew out of a rejection of the complexity and ornate decoration of the art nouveau style. The movement began with Lucian Bernhard and a poster competition for Priester matches. Bernhard kept stripping away elements from the poster until only two matches and the brand’s name remained, in stark blocks of color on a royal blue background. Plakatstil became an important movement in Germany and paved the way for growth and continued abstraction in graphic design.

A plakatstil poster featuring the characteristic flat blocks of color



Survey 6: Art Nouvvvwwhoahh


In Survey 6 we covered the years from 1895 to 1905, an important period in the worlds development. The very infant beginnings of film occurred during this time with the Lumiere Brothers’ first two films, Sortie de l’Usine Lumière de Lyon and Voyage dans la lune. Other scientific achievements included the Wright brothers’ very first flight, which lasted 12 seconds. Culture was also developing and changing at a quick speed. The term suffragette was coined to describe women who were pushing for female voting rights. The Nobel Prizes were created by Alfred Nobel, the Swedish man who invented dynamite. 38 years after the Great Exposition, the Exposition Universelle was held in Paris in 1889. Less than a decade later, in 1896, the Olympic Games were revived. The first games took place in Athens, Greece. Events like these, along with improving technology, and the effects of industrialism, helped globalize the world. Culture, ideas, and art were being shared between countries and continents as the world raced into the twentieth century.


Even keys could be made in the Art Nouveau style!

Around the turn of the century, a very exciting new art movement began. Growing out of a rejection of the Arts and Crafts movement, Art Nouveau embodied a new, modern style. In many ways, it was a mix of previous art movements that came before it, but somehow separate components were able to mesh together, creating an extremely compelling style that would define the next few decades. Art Nouveau took inspiration from Gothic, Renaissance, and Rococo art; elegant and organic elements of nature; early incunabula; and the Ukiyo-e prints of Japan. With this research, I want to look into the way that objects and patterns reflected the Art Nouveau movement. 

It was during this time that the effects of the Industrial Revolution were making themselves seen. While the wealthy still loved their custom made furniture and decorations, middle and lower class people could afford mass produced versions of those same objects. Now they weren’t limited to expensive, craftsmen-made artifacts, and material needs could be fulfilled more quickly, cheaply, and easily. The Arts and Crafts movement had helped people realize that even common objects could be artistic and expressive like paintings or sculpture, and this belief continued into Art Nouveau. Because of these factors, certain objects became common and popular, as well as a sort of art in their own right.

Tiffany Lamp

Tiffany Lamps are the lamps you probably hate. You’ve likely seen one in your grandma’s house, or your grandma’s grandma’s house. If not there, than in the Slytherin common room. But look a little closer, and you’ll see that they are actually a prime example of the beautiful and unique designs of the Art Nouveau period. Created by Louis Comfort Tiffany, an artist and glass maker, they were created in 1885 with the birth of the Tiffany Glass Company.

Tiffany Lamp
Tiffany Lamp

Tiffany lamps were an iconic object in many homes for decades. They were created through a complex and painstaking process. First, a wooden mold in the shape of the lampshade would be made. Then, a linen sheet is lain over the mold and left to dry. When dry, the shapes of the glass pieces are drawn over it and traced onto another piece of paper in order to get the correct measurement for each shape. The design is created by assembling all the small glass pieces upon the mold, edging them with copper, and soldering them all together. The result is a beautiful, stained glass style lampshade. Today, original Tiffany lamps sell for thousands, even millions of dollars.

Thumb Print Pewter
Thumb-print pewter biscuit box

Engelbert Kayser created beautiful, functional pewter tableware in the Art Nouveau style. Using a specific alloy of tin, antimony, and copper, he created metal that was safe to eat on. It had the added benefit of appearing silver, but being much cheaper and accessible material that could be sold to middle class buyers.

Working with sculptor Hugo Leven, Engelbert began producing abstract, sculptural, yet useable objects. Leven used a technique called “thumb-pressure relief”, and created molds with wax or clay, then casting the metal into the molds.


Rozenburg vase

Glass was a perfect medium for displaying the designs and ideals of Art Nouveau. Rozenburg Pottery and Porcelain Factory created this vase, an art for which they were well known. Made of thin eggshell porcelain, it was pained over by Samuel Schellink. The patterns, like many things in Art Nouveau, are inspired by Japanese artwork.




Thumb-print Pewter

Art Nouveau Dance

Tiffany Lamps: A History and How They Are Still Made Today

Survey 5: Art vs. IKEA


Survey 5 covered the development of design, typography, and various print materials from 1850 – 1895. Many of the events and changes in art in culture during this period can be traced back to a reaction to the industrial revolution. Skilled craftsmen and artists were feeling displaced by the huge wave of mass produced products. This feeling that handcrafted items were not being valued led to the Arts and Crafts movement (1880s – 90s). The Century Guild, founded by Arthur H. Mackmurdo, sought to bring craftsmen the same recognition as fine artists. Charles Robert Ashbee founded The School and Guild of Handicraft, which distinguished itself by using mass production techniques to make available beautiful design and objects to the middle and lower classes.


The second half of the 19th century was an important time for scientific and technological development. Inventions like the the gasoline engine, camera, and sewing machine were created during this time. But one of the most impactful, and taken for granted, is the invention of the electric lamp, or more specifically, what we now know as the light bulb. In this post we’re exploring the complex and convoluted history of this iconic scientific achievement, and who actually invented it.

Ask anyone to name the person who invented the light bulb, and they’ll likely name Thomas Edison. But the process of developing the light bulb took much longer, and involved many more people than Edison alone.

In the early 1800s, nearly 80 years before Thomas Edison patented his light bulb, Humphrey Davy was experimenting with creating light with electricity. In 1809 he made the first electric arc lamp, however it was problematic as it was too bright to be used comfortably, and didn’t burn for long. Other inventors continued developing light bulbs, some of them coming close to the “final” version Edison would perfect, but no one attempted to produce one for commercial sale for several decades.

Joseph Swan
Joseph Swan

1840 saw the next big development in electric lighting when Warren de la Rue created a light that used coiled platinum in a vacuum bulb. This one worked well, as platinum could conduct electricity at a high temperature, except that the metal was far to expensive to produce on a mass scale.

Who Invented the light bulb - Diagram from Woodward and Evan's Light Patent
Diagram from Woodward and Evan’s Light Patent

In 1850, Joseph Wilson Swan was working on his own version, using carbonized paper filaments in a glass bulb. In 1860 he had a working version, but it didn’t burn long enough to be effective. By 1878, he had discovered how to add more longevity by working with a treated cotton thread to conduct electricity.

On July 24, 1878, two Canadian scientists, Henry Woodward and Matthew Evans patented their own light bulb and made a failed attempt to commercialize their invention. They then sold part of the patent to Thomas Edison in 1879.

Original Edison Bulb
Original Edison Bulb

Edison had been researching and testing the light bulb along with his team in Menlo Park, California. One year before he purchased the Canadian patent, he had patented his own light bulb that used carbonized filament and burned for 12.5 hours. On November 4, 1879, he filed another patent, working with the bulb shape from the patent he bought. Four months later, he finally discovered that a treated bamboo filament burned for over 1,200 hours. At last, a light bulb that burned for a long time and that could be mass produced! In 1880 his new company, Edison Electric Light Company began selling the bulbs.

Edison carbon filament lamps, early 1880s

Although it is clearly evident that Thomas Edison was not the true inventor of the light bulb, there are viable reasons for why he is generally credited with the invention, at least in the minds of people everywhere. These revolve primarily around the fact that he was the first person to create a light bulb suitable for commercial use. Developing a long lasting, suitably bright lightbulb was difficult because many factors had to be balanced in relation to one another. First, bulbs had to have an effective incandescent material. Second, they needed to have a vacuum within the bulb itself. Third, they had to be able to withstand power from a centralized source, in order to make sense economically. Edison didn’t just quit once he got the right recipe for the light bulb. He continued working and developing, essentially creating a suite of inventions to assist the light bulb and integrate it into society. In 1882, he created a generator with tubes and wires to power bulbs from a centralized location. He also invented an electric meter to measure the amount of electricity that various customers were using. In 1904, he improved his light bulb with the newly produced tungsten wire as filament. The iconic screw bottom we associate with all light bulbs was also invented by Edison, and is known as the Edison Screw (did you expect anything less?).

Thomas Edison

If Thomas Edison didn’t invent the lightbulb, then who did? Perhaps this question can’t be answered with one person’s name. Nevertheless, several hardworking scientists and creative people were skilled enough to bless us with one of the most life changing inventions of all time.


Survey 4: Still Obsessed With Ancient Greece


In Survey 4 we learned about the birth of some of very iconic fonts. In the 1780’s Firmin Didot created the first modern typeface: Didot. Giambattista Bodoni jumped on that achievement and created an inspired font called Didone serif. 1803 saw Robert Thorne design the first fat face type, which was followed in 1810 by Vincent Figgins’s Slab serif (or Egyptian) font. William Caslon IV (remember the original William Caslon? This guy is related to him) did something pretty major when he designed the very first sans serif font in 1816.

Just imagine, for one brief moment, all the major fashion house logo redesigns that would not be possible without this man. Close your eyes. What a different world! Would life as we know it exist without Helvetica, Arial, or Courier? Who is to say.

Unfortunately, Caslon didn’t really reap all the serif-less benefits of his new invention. It didn’t catch on until the 1830’s when Vincent Figgins brought it into popularity for use as a display font, or jobbing font. Overall, the 1750 – 1850 was a pretty good century for font development, and you have these creative dudes to thank when you’re testing out every single font for your Google doc.


France was the epicentre of the fashion world in Europe, driving trends and styles for both men and women. France’s influence in the fashion industry was an important part of their identity as a country. Emperor Napoleon, sensing a dependence on imported materials in the country, ended English textile importation, forcing France to strengthen its own production. He also created many arbitrary (and frankly sexist ?) rules that helped to strengthen the fashion industry in France. Women weren’t allowed to wear the same gown to court more than once. Napoleon even had the rooms in his court made very cold so that women would have to wear more clothes to keep warm. While these are some strangely extreme measures, they did help to cement France’s place as leader of the fashion world, a title that it holds even to this day.

After the Rococo period ended, France led to shift European fashion towards gentler, more simplified styles. We remember that Marie Antoinette introduced a flowing, comfortable gown, free from a restrictive bodice or corset. This style of dress grew in popularity after the end of the French Revolution as Europe moved in to a time known as the Regency era, which lasted from about 1795 to 1820.

Regency Style - Women with a Child Circa 1805
Dresses in the Regency era were lightweight and flowing, inspired by classical Greek robes

During this time women’s dresses were designed to mimic the gentle draping of the ancient Greek and Roman robes. They were simple, comfortable, and elegant, and highlighted the natural curves of women’s bodies.

Directoire dress - 1800s - Classic white muslin Empire gown .
A classic Regency gown

They featured a high empire waist that was usually tied with a sash or ribbon, and low, square necklines. Sleeves could be long or short, but had a slight puff that began right at the tip of the shoulder. When people think of Regency dresses, they usually picture the ones in Jane Austen movies like Pride and Prejudice. These, however, were English style Regency dresses. In France, the skirts were fuller and more of an A-line shape.

An example of the low, square necklines and cap sleeves of the Regency period (Madame David, 1813 Jacques Louis David)

These dresses were usually made from lightweight fabrics like muslin or batiste. These were cheaper than silk, but could be cleaned more easily. They could also be produced in France. White was the most popular colour, but pastels were also worn, in particular lavender. Delicate embroidery in white was popular, as well as piping on edges.


Due to the very light nature of the dresses in the Regency period, undergarments had to be discreet. Women wore long pantaloons that reached down to the ankle or knee. These were flesh coloured so they wouldn’t show underneath white gowns. During this time, some of the dresses were so light that women would catch colds easily.


A popular addition to dresses at the time was a small, cropped jacket called a Spencer Jacket. The hem of these jackets fell right below the bust at the dress’s waistline. Spencer Jackets were made from a material called kerseymere. They could be worn both indoor and outdoor, and as evening wear. They were sometimes decorated with military style ornamentations.

A painting of a French woman in Regency dress
Madame Recamier, 1800 Jacques Louis David

1812 - Hussar Jacket - Spencer.
An example of a Regency era Spencer jacket with military influence (right)


Hairstyles during this time were smaller than they had been in the Rococo period. Women wore their tresses in curls, influenced by the ancient Greeks. They sometimes left a few strands hanging to frame the face, and pulled the rest back into a chignon. Just like everything else in the period, hair was far more natural than contrived.


Regency Hairstyles and their Accessories

Survey 3: Lots and Lots of Books. Finally.


In Survey 3 we covered the continued development of the written word. When the printing press was invented in Europe, books and written materials suddenly became something that could be (sort of) mass produced. While they were still expensive, they gradually became more accessible to the general public. Craftsmen and businessmen began seeing the potential in the printing business, and it grew fast. Germany was the original centre for this trade, however, political and religious turmoil in the country led many printers to move to Italy, which became the new hub.

What’s most interesting to me is the way that graphic design developed (began!?) during this time. Printing began with gothic, blackletter, or fraktur typefaces, but punchcutters and printers began experimenting with adding Greek and Roman influence in their type. This lead to Roman styles, called antique, venetian, or old style. A mix of Roman and gothic types was called bâtarde type, designed by William Caxton. It was during the Renaissance, Baroque, and Rococo periods that type began to take on its own identity and voice. Printers took on the role of graphic designers. Many didn’t give much thought to innovation, but a some (Geoffrey Tory, Robert Granjon, Pierre-Simon Fournier, Louis XIV) experimented with design layouts and type identity. Would we have the same ideas of certain styles of type if they hadn’t developed in this way? Who knows.


We’re diving into an oddly specific research topic: Aristocratic women’s fashion in the Rococo period. Take a second to go back and read that one more time. Let it really sink it. Let’s go.

The Rococo period was a reaction to the dark, contrasting, teenage-angstiness of the Baroque period. Light, flowery motifs were popular. Natural curves, flowers, and nature symbols were used, as well as pastel shades, luxurious fabrics, and detailed embroidery. Overall, the years 1715 – 1780 (generally accepted as the range for Rococo) were characterized by a more delicate, intricate, and airy themes, as well as love of excessiveness and extreme luxury. Everything, from architecture, to paintings, to fashion was affected by the ideas of Rococo.

Madame Pompadour in an extravagant gown in Rococo style
Madame Pompadour in an extravagant gown in Rococo style

During the Rococo period, fashion hit a huge peak. Not only was it popular, it was considered an art. The rich “commissioned” their clothes to highly experienced tailors and seamstresses, who were well known for their work. Clothes were extremely expensive and valuable. Raiders would go so far as to hop onto carriages, cut a hole in the back, and steal clothes from the storage area while the carriage was moving!

Obviously, the rich were the people with trendiest style. The high courts and aristocratic social classes were the ones who set the styles and dictated what was popular. Rich and famous women like Madame Pompadour, Marie Antoinette, and seamstress Rose Bettin were influential in popularizing new styles. The very first fashion magazines were created during these years. France was undoubtedly the epicentre of fashion during the 18th century, but England and Italy were also helping to popularize new styles in clothing.

Madame Pompadour with bow-decorated stomacher
Madame Pompadour with bow-decorated stomacher

For wealthy women, clothing was pretty intense (and painful). Dresses featured panniers, or wide hoops that were worn underneath skirts. These were so wide that the poor ladies had to walk through doorways sideways! Even after they went out of style, they were required in high courts. To contrast with the wide skirts, waists were cinched to unhealthy diameters using corsets. Skirts often had a split at the front that revealed a petticoat of underskirt. Sleeves were tight until the elbow, where they flared out, often with decorative lace and many layers of fabric and ruffles. Stomachers were another important component – a triangular shaped piece of decorated fabric that was pinned to the bodice of a dress.

Woman wearing an elaborate and wide gown
Panniers were extremely wide

Robe à la Française was a dress type that featured a fitted front, and a pleated back that spread out, almost like a mini cape. Robe à l’Anglaise was a dress that was fitted in both the front and back, and was worn without panniers. Although these two styles were worn all over Europe, as the names suggest the former was more popular in France and the latter in England.

Marie Antoinette wearing a chemise à la reine dress
Marie Antoinette wearing a chemise à la reine dress

Marie Antoinette introduced a new dress style called chemise à la reine, that didn’t require a corset or panniers, was more comfortable and free flowing, and showed women’s actual bodies. It was considered shocking at the time, but women loved it because – obviously – who wants to have their internal organs and ribcage crushed by constant corset wearing?


Popular hairstyles changed a lot during the Rococo period. During the earlier part of the 18th century, ringlets and small buns were the rage. As time progressed, hairstyles got higher and more complicated. The iconic, massive wigs we associate with pre-revolutionary French women were worn during this time. They were created using fake hair, pads, and decorations like fake flowers, miniatures, and even tiny boats. For special occasions, hair and wigs were powdered to make them whiter. Towards the end of the Rococo period, hairstyles got looser, curlier, and more natural.

A woman's heel shoe
A woman’s heel shoe

Lace was just as valuable as diamonds during this time, and was often worn like a choker necklace. Pearls and precious stones were worn (although minimally) as well as miniature paintings and cameos. Shoes were very pointy high heels, matched to the fabric of gowns. They soles were carved of wood, and both right and left shoes were the same, so you can imagine the pain these poor women went through.



Story of Historic Costume, Phyllis G. Tortora and Sara B. Marcketti


Survey 2: Europe Finally Catches Up


This week, we surveyed the developments in history from 0 to 1400 BC. As communication became more important, and as the world became slightly more globalized, the written word gained value. For the most part, monks held the power here – or more accurately – the pen. Since they were among the few people who could write, the task of creating books fell to them. Illuminated manuscripts and carefully illustrated codices took hundreds to thousands of hours to create. By the 2nd century, China had been using bamboo paper for hundreds of years, and Europeans were just figuring out how to make parchment out of animal skins. Since the materials were so expensive and the process was so time consuming, books became extremely valuable. Rich people commissioned them, and they were used as status symbols. But all this would change with the invention of movable print, an invention that had already been invented by – you guessed it – the Chinese.


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Life in Europe during the Middle Ages consisted of more that just plagues, potatoes, and enemy invasions. Old, young, rich, and poor people knew lots of ways to have a good time. Depending on social status there were feasts, banquets, jousts, tournaments, fairs, hunting activities, games, and sports to pass leisure time.

A medieval Christmas or Twelfth Night celebration

In the early centuries, holiday times were based on pagan celebrations that revolved around the changing seasons and the end of harvest and ploughing. As the Catholic church grew, it transformed these into Easter, Christmas, and May Day, finding ways to spice them up with religious themes and stories. Sundays, of course, were free days. Overall, it is estimated that people in the Middle Ages had about 8 weeks of leisure time a year, aside from Sundays.

A court jester

Entertainers like jesters, jugglers, and acrobats performed in royal courts. Mummers were costumed dancers that  performed for people, and jesters were “fools” who made jokes and sang. Troubadours and minstrels were musicians. Travelling entertainers helped keep the art of theatre alive for years during the middle ages, until it was brought back as an art. Folk theatre was an important way of uniting communities and villages. One example of this is a holiday in which the lower clergy would dress up as creepy characters, and perform for their congregation. Eventually, the church began to take over these festivities in an effort to gain an even greater platform.

sheet music of Gregorian chant
An illuminated piece of music.

Most music in the Middle Ages was closely tied to the church. Gregorian chants were long songs with a single melody. They had no time signature or supporting harmonies. There were many varieties of these chants, and they varied based on location and religious sect. music began to develop further, as musicians added more harmonies and contrasting lines. Ars Antiqua, or the “old art”, was a type of music in which two or more lines were sung at different intervals. This form of music grew in complexity as the centuries progressed. Of course, there were thousands of songs that weren’t written down, and many of these were sung and passed down orally by travelling performers. Since they weren’t connected to the church, they had secular themes and reflected the daily lives of people in the Middle Ages. Many of these songs were about love, just like today’s music.

One aspect of life that affected culture in the Middle Ages is often overlooked. Playing cards greatly helped the spread of images during this time. Card games were a great source of entertainment.

Master Ingold
Card games were popular with all kinds of people

They were more complex than simple dice games which involved only luck, but they were easier than chess, which required a high level of strategy. This made them the perfect game for many kinds of people. And there were, of course, endless varieties of card games. Card decks often portrayed funny, satirical images that criticized the rich and the church. Some games would upset the social order by making “poor” cards the trump cards rather than the royal ones. In Germany, Karnöffel, and in Italy, Tarot, used elements of trickery and tricked out decks. The church was against these games, but not due to the most guessable reason. Gambling was often involved, but the church frowned on card games due to the belief that they would cause unchastity. There were even punishments for card players. Nevertheless, card games were played on a wide scale and have been keeping people occupied for centuries.

Playing card illustrations were often satirical. This one shows a woman trying to milk a bull.

Card decks even turned into a form of art. Rich people would commission specially made card decks, to use as keepsakes rather than for actual games. These were painstakingly painted, and sometimes even embossed with gold leaf.



Survey 1: Not A Ton Was Happening To Be Honest

This week we discussed the very earliest forms of written and visual communications on earth. What stood out most from the lecture was the sophistication with which early peoples created and communicated. Even without an “academic” knowledge of art, many of them utilized perspective and a strong ability to draw accurately from life. That’s something that European artists weren’t able to do until centuries later.

One of the most interesting parts, to me, was the development of writing in different civilizations. The first writing appeared from 4,000 – 6,000 BCE in cuneiforms of the Sumerians. Around 3,250 BCE the Egyptian hieroglyphics appeared. This highly complicated and inefficient (although beautiful) writing system remained the same for 3,000 years because the scribes who understood the language refused to share that knowledge. As writing developed across the world, it followed similar steps. Writing shifted away from pictographs, as they were too complicated. The Phoenicians developed an alphabet that inspired the Greek alphabet, which in turn developed into many languages that are still used today like English, French, Italian, and German. The Aramaic alphabet developed into modern day languages like Hebrew, Arabic, and Russian.

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Aboriginal Australian art is one regarded as the oldest unbroken art tradition in the world, yet it doesn’t receive nearly as much attention as prehistoric art on other continents. Dating back more than 50,000 years, aboriginal Australian art developed without the influence of Europe or other nations. The deeply spiritual nature of aboriginal Australian art means that it can be interpreted differently by many people. There were (and still are) different “levels” of interpretation of aboriginal Australian art based on familiarity with the culture. Elders, for example, had a much deeper and richer understanding of the stories presented in the art than younger members. As well, the symbols in aboriginal Australian art are not meant to be interpreted exclusively in one wayaboriginal rock art

Prehistoric aboriginal Australian art is centred around the concept of The Dreaming. The Dreaming doesn’t refer to actual dreams, it is used to connect the spiritual and human world. The art that depicts The Dreaming was used to connect different groups of people as well as activate the spiritual realm. It is a complex and multifaceted idea. At its core, The Dreaming was a way to help aboriginal Australian peoples remain connected to and living in harmony with the universe. Much of aboriginal Australian art depicts religious figures and ideas about The Dreaming. The Rainbow Serpents, Lighting Men, Wagilag Sisters, Tingari, and Wandjina are repeatedly seen.


Dreamtime is another important idea, and refers to the time before the universe was created, a time no one remembers. Since art during this time carried so much spiritual significance, it had the power to turn ordinary objects into sacred objects.

Aboriginal Australian peoples had over 500 spoken languages, but they did not have a form of written language. Because of that, their art was a very important way for them to communicate. They used repeated symbols and religious figures like the ones mentioned earlier to elevate their artwork to a form of storytelling communication

Art in prehistoric Australia took many forms. One of the most well known is the rock paintings found across the continent. Another important art form was rock engravings that were used to mark ceremonial cites and were the location of celebrations and religious rituals. Australian people also created paintings on bark and the ground, wood sculptures, and body decoration. The vast size of Australia meant that art forms developed differently in different areas. In Arnhem land, in the north, bark paintings are common. In the desert areas, ground paintings are found.

Aboriginal Australian artists were limited in the colours they could use, due to the materials available to them. Even so, there were different meanings assigned to colours. Yellow meant the sun. Brown showed soil. White was for the clouds and sky. Red meant the desert sand, and sometimes blood.


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Australia’s top 7 Aboriginal rock art sites

The Story of Aboriginal Art

Facts about Aboriginal Art