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Of all the Herbert Norris books I have read, this one suffers the most from his preconceptions and inaccuracies. It is also the one that has suffered most from the passage of time, as subsequent archaeological research has revealed errors in what was considered, in Norris's day, to be "factual" information about costume. The best thing about his book, in my opinion, is the meticulous line drawings of brooches and other items of period jewelry, but again, more recently published works contain excellent, full-color photographs of the same or similar specimens. Read this book if you enjoy Norris's style, but do not accept anything in it blindly as much of it is plain wrong.
Now dated, this 1926 publication is still worth using in conjunction with other texts. Granted some of this work has since been shown to be inaccurate by more recent scholarship. Furthermore his attitudes and observations are not only dated and politically incorrect, in the context of the 21st Century could also be considered racist. That said, Norris' body of work deserves our respect as being equaled by few of his generation (and surpassed by none). He has also proved to be a stepping-stone for future costumes historians - just check out the bibliographies of some important costume history texts and see how many reference Norris. Many of Norris' statements are a little questionable. The stone-age chapter is almost charming in its dated naiveté, and is by no means a reliable reference. The Greek chapter is also filled with questionable statements, and in other places one gets the impression that Norris is putting forth conjecture as truth. However, many of his observations are of great use. For instance, the account of the evolution of the pallium - its journey from the voluminous philosophers cloak in Greece, through Roman and Byzantine usage, to a finally a narrow band of fabric used as a Christian vestment even today - is clearer than in any other publication I have ever seen. As with all his books, all the illustrations are redrawn by Norris himself and no primary source material is illustrated. This is typical of most costume texts published prior to the 1960s and is not a further reflection on Norris' scholarship.
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There are hundreds of books on Costume history, ranging from the Egyptians through to this century. Almost all of them ignore the period known of as the Dark Ages. Not only does this book go into detail on the costumes worn by the Celts, the Gauls, and the Goths, it also tells some of their history. The book is mostly text supported by mainly black and white illustrations. I personally found it very informative.
When a late 14th C. illuminator depicted Saul fighting the Amalekites, he likely depicted Saul armored in a pig snouted bascinet and wearing a surcoat colored in the royal arms of Jerusalem, while his Amalekite enemies, if the scribe was trying to be "authentic", might look remarkably like a contemporary Turkish janissary. Among the "Nine Worthies", Alexander and Caesar and Charlemagne would all wear the armor of Augsburg or Milan, as tho' they were both contemporaries of each other and of the artist. And who does not remember the charming Renaissance depictions of "The Adoration of the Magi", replete with Oriental kings dressed in Renaissance finery and bearing the faces of Lorenzo and Giuliano di Medici? Only in the 19th C. did it begin to occur to folks that people in the past might have looked and dressed "differently" and there grew up around that realization numerous efforts to improve art by improving the artist's understanding of what his subjects likely wore (a process which spawned whole schools of art, from the quasi-realism of the Pre-Raphaelites to the fully developed works of the "Academicians" such as Alma-Tadema and Jean Jerome). Behind those artists were the costume historians, one of the earliest and most prolific of whom was Herbert Norris, who published numerous books and monographs on the topic, all eagerly sought out by his contemporaries, including historians and artists and stage directors and/or their costume designers from the theatre. This is a reproduction of one of his works (with some supplementation).
Where Norris had actual exemplars to work from (such as in jewelry designs), his work was often little short of remarkable (artistry in and of itself).Read more ›
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