100 AD


1455 hair

Lady in a Veil by Rogier van der Weyden

The Middle Ages was a dangerous period, with the Black Plague and religious fanaticism. People were frightened, and when strange illnesses and dangerous events like witchcraft were afoot, people found solace in religion. To stay close to God, you needed to behave, among other things, that meant that god-fearing women must show that they were good and pious. After all, 1455 was the estimated year in which Johannes Gutenberg had printed the first book, specifically the Bible, making the word of God readily available to the common man. One must not act nor dress like a floozy. So throughout much of the Middle Ages, women are shown with their hair covered. At the same time, you needed to demonstrate to potential suitors that you were healthy and attractive, so it helped if you could show a little bit of hair. The style was often just straight and flat against the head, with only the occasional hint of curls.

In this painting by Flemish artist, Rogier van der Weyden, we see the demure and attractive woman in a veil, with just a hint of hairstyle. Rogier began his painting career at the age of 27 (quite a late start), then enrolled as an apprentice, eventually graduating to become an independent master of the painters' guild. His style was realism, which is fortunate for us, for we can see his works representing such elegant beauties, as if they had been composed in the lens of a camera. Rogier's works have been widely praised and recognized. He chose to advance his figures into the foreground, and isolate them from their surroundings, as if they were in themselves, objects of devotion. We see the woman not only in her costume and elegance, but also we can sense her benign and religious nature.

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