Matthaus Schwarz's Costume Book and Gender Performativity
Geer, Gennifer Khori
Submission to the Friends of Fondren Library Research Awards, 2018. This paper was originally prepared for Course HIST 311, Fall 2017: Sex, Gender, and Family in Europe, 1300-1700, given by Professor Aysha Pollnitz, Department of History.
This paper seeks to explore the concept of gender in early modern Europe. A critical debate amongst gender theorists is whether gender is constructed or performed, and historians must carefully consider which lens to apply to primary sources. Using Matthaus Schwarz’s sixteenth century “costume book”, a series of 137 private portraits that document Schwarz’s outfits throughout his life, as a window to masculinity, I argue the only way to explain and understand both the book’s existence and contents is to apply the lens of gender as performed. With Judith Butler’s theory of gender performativity as a framework, this paper examines Schwarz’s performance of masculinity through his clothes. This paper also explores how Butler’s theory offers an explanation for the book’s creation and thus better understanding of Schwarz’s gender insecurities; Schwarz sought to “check” his appearance to ensure his performance was successful, and he recorded his outfits with lessened frequency as he became more secure in his ability to display masculinity.