Devotion | MET’s ‘Heavenly Bodies’ Exhibition, Part I

September 1, 2018 /

Part I | A Well Planned Devotion

In August the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art experienced its one millionth visitor to the popular Costume Institute’s Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination. It has since become the Institute’s most attended exhibition and third most visited in the museum’s history.  The show runs through September and is scheduled to close October 8th.  This installation offers the unique distinction of being divided between the first floor Medieval galleries of the 5th Avenue museum and eight miles north, The Met Cloisters at Tryon Park overlooking the Hudson River.

The show’s public appeal is due in part to its premise and interpretation of fashion designer gowns inspired by fifty religious objects on loan from the Sistine Chapel sacristy. Until now, several of the items had never been available for public viewing. In this collaborative display of religious objects and ceremonial vestments, clothing designers took to task a variety of both natural and manufactured materials to promote their personal visions. Of equal significance to the fashions, is the Met’s carefully orchestrated presentation and themed settings with backdrops of coarse stone walls, stain glass, tapestries and dimly lit cavernous museum spaces. Precision lighting showcases the unfolding design events crossing over pristine white mannequins in sumptuous fabrics posed near religious objects that are gracefully interwoven with the Met’s own original collections.

Originating over four years ago, the exhibition began with vestments of liturgical ceremonies and biblical text intended to fuel a creative start and brought together the top fashion houses of John Galliano for House of Dior, Christian Lacroix , Yves Saint Laurent, Dolce & Gabbana, Jean Paul Gaultier, House of Balenciaga and countless others.

Exodus 28:39-40 (NASB), 39 “You shall weave the tunic of checkered work of fine linen, and shall make a turban of fine linen, and you shall make a sash, the work of a [a]weaver. 40 “For Aaron’s sons you shall make tunics; you shall also make sashes for them, and you shall make caps for them, for glory and for beauty.”

Designers were given the opportunity to re-interpret centuries old ceremonial garments and objects using textiles, beading, gems and tooled hardware that mirrored a new couture dialogue, complex and at times contested. The result was a Twenty-first century undertaking of scale, technology and workmanship that reflected labor intense artistry of the past and lent a new perspective to the traditions of church pageantry.

In this two part series Art Guide considers over forty Catholic ecclesiastical vestments with accessories that served as a cornerstone to the Heavenly Bodies exhibition. In their beauty and religious strength the articles represent traditions of papal robes, liturgical miters, rings and crosses that provided designers a channel to the talent of eighteenth and early twentieth centuries craftsmanship. By contrast, the designers offer viewers current style iconic imagery that couple technology with a freedom of modern design through ways that could not have been hoped for in past centuries. Both Met site installations bring the fashion displays to life through striking arrangements and background music, however The Cloisters galleries seem to offer a more intimate dedication of space to solo presentations and grand visuals.

Join Art Guide’s pilgrimage as we review the Met’s very grand Costume Institute’s Heavenly Bodies exhibition, organized by curator Andrew Bolton along with curators from the Met’s Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters masterworks of religious art. If you have the opportunity, our staff recommends visiting both site installations. With the passing of busy summer crowds and start of school, you may find a few quiet moments with this one time event that only the New York Met can offer. Before ending this segment, Art Guide would be remiss if we did not mention to our out of town viewers that both Met locations can be reached by subway or the   M4 bus taken directly from Madison Avenue/83rd Street to the last stop at Tryon Park which will bring you directly to The Cloister main entrance. Plan ahead and prepare your wallet for a bumpy ride of pricey NY entrance fees, transit and ten dollar bottles of water.

Images by staff photographer Kace Jesinsky


Sandra Ortega

Beautiful images. Would love for this exquisite show to travel West! Sandra

Sep 09, 2018


The photos seem very organic, not over staged, please provide more images in upcoming articles. - Ryan S.

Sep 07, 2018


Well written article and images are spectacular, plan to re-visit and drink in this weekend. Thanks! - Ritta

Sep 07, 2018

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