Academic journal article Culture, Society and Masculinities

"I Never Knew Him Other Than a Man": Masculinity as Ornament in Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia

Academic journal article Culture, Society and Masculinities

"I Never Knew Him Other Than a Man": Masculinity as Ornament in Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia

Article excerpt

The present article aims at showing how Sir Philip Sidney's two versions of the Arcadia deal with the issue of masculinity. Patricia Fumerton's propositions about the parallels between Hilliard's rniniatures and Sidney's sonnets are here confronted to the two pastoral romances, which seem to have retained a rather similar approach to the idea of ornament. The issue of disguises and ornamental attributes of one's sex in the old and new Arcadia, compared with the limner's vision of the same, thus turn to prove central in understanding the fascinating complexities of sex in Sidney's original and revised works.

Keywords: Arcadia, Sir Philip Sidney, masculinity, miniature, ornament

Though the 1563 Homily Against Excess of Apparel "sets out to chastise both men and women,"2 a significant part of the sermon was devoted to the threat that some Elizabethan "effeminate" men posed to good order:

Yea, many men are become so effeminate, that they care not what they spend in disguising themselves, ever desiring new toys and inventing new fashions.

Therefore a certain man that would picture every countryman in his accustomed apparel, when he had painted other nations, he pictured the Englishman all naked, and gave him cloth under his arm, and bade him make it himself as he thought best, for he changed his fashion so often, that he knew not how to make it.3

The text shows how despite the queen's own cunning manipulation of gender roles and boundaries,4 Elizabethans were expected to know of and follow some visible rules common to their sex in order to both secure stable ontogeny and undermine superficiality.5 The (in)visible dimension of gender differences is here central: the homily's reference to "a certain man that would picture every countryman in his accustomed apparel" is most certainly a reference to Ghent-born painter and sculptor Lucas de Heere (1531-84), who spent a number of years in England as a Protestant refugee at the end of the 1560's and beginning of the 1570's. Around these years, he developed a pictorial style very similar to the one found in illustrations for "Books of Habits and Customs," a genre "often linked to travellers' ethnographies."6 Proto-ethnographic pictures were fast developing in Elizabethan England, as a result of the increasing number of voyages made by English explorers. Once he travelled back to France, where he would spend the rest of his life, he started or continued working on a costume book documenting each and every known nation's sartorial trends and stereotypes in a bid to illustrate his most ambitious work thus far, later published under the title Théâtre de tous les peuples et nations de la terre, avec leurs habits et ornements divers, tant anciens que modernes, diligemment dépeints au naturel par Luc Dheere, peintre et sculpteur gantois.7 The very last watercolour of this theatre shows a bearded man standing in the nude, except for a small white loincloth wrapped around his hips. He is shown with a pair of scissors in his right hand, and a large piece of yellow fabric is rested on his left arm. The short poem on the page opposite does not mention the nationality of the naked man, but De Heere's pupil, Van Mander, offers a detailed explanation for the watercolour in Het Schilderboeck (1604):

It once happened that when [Lucas de Heere] was in England he obtained a commission to paint in a gallery for the Admiral in London [the Lord High Admiral, Edward Clinton] in which he had to paint all the costumes or clothing of the nations. When all but the Englishman were done, he painted him naked and set beside him all manner of cloth and silk materials, and next to them tailor's scissors and chalk. When the Admiral saw this figure he asked Lucas what he meant by it. He answered that he had done that with the Englishman because he did not know what appearance or kind of clothing he should give him because they varied so much from day to day; for if he had done it one way today the next day it would have to be another- be it French or Italian, Spanish or Dutch- and I have therefore painted the material and tools to hand so that one can always make of it what one wishes. …

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