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Defining Femininity
through Magnificent Shoes

The Charm of Rococo at the Bata Shoe Museum

 

 

Antique Shoes
Pink silk shoes, English, c.1735-1750
 
The addition of frills was a defining feature of Rococo fashions and many evening shoes were adorned with lace, ruching, and bows in addition to the glittering buckles that secured them to the foot. A common trimming for footwear was fine silver bobbin lace delicately crafted out of precious metal wire. The pink silk of these shoes is simply the background against which the lavish silver bobbin lace was meant to shimmer.
 
Owner: The Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto
Photo Credit: (c) Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto. Photo: Hal Roth

 

The Bata Shoe Museum is pleased to present The Charm of Rococo: Femininity and Footwear in the 18th Century, a lavish exhibition featuring some of the Museum’s most magnificent shoes from the age of Louis XV.

Emanating from the French Court, the Rococo aesthetic infused a sensuous charm and delicate grace into 18th century fashion. It also defined femininity in new ways. Upper-class women’s footwear reflected this trend through the use of exquisite silks, elegant heels and curvilinear rhinestone buckles which framed the foot with eye-catching sparkle.

 

Antique Shoes

Spitalfields silk shoes, French, c.1760.
 
The American colonies were an eager market for English luxury goods in the 18th century and manufacturing centres, such as Spitalfield’s, flourished meeting this demand. Many of the fine textiles used to create women’s footwear in the 18th century were dress remnants. The design of blue stripes and delicate floral sprigs on this pair of Spitalfield’s silk shoes reflect the full flowering of Rococo style.

 
Owner: The Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto

Photo Credit: (c) Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto. Photo: Hal Roth
 

“The connections between femininity and footwear established in the 18th century continue to inform the cultural meanings of women’s footwear today,” said Elizabeth Semmelhack, Curator of The Charm of Rococo. “Because of these connections, we are able to immediately appreciate these marvelous shoes despite 300 years of history separating us.”

As visitors enter the exhibition, they are immediately transported into a world of elegant opulence. Flickering candlelight chandeliers show off portraits, including one of Madame de Pompadour, who epitomized Rococo elegance in the 18th century. In the centre of the room, artifacts are showcased which highlight the variety, remarkable quality, exquisite craftsmanship and eclectic imagination of the period.

 
Antique Shoes

 

Embroidered black silk shoes, English, 1780-85

High heels reached their ascendancy in the 1770s and 80s. They also became more delicate in design and there was a preference for them to be set quite far back, directly under the heel. This style resulted in weakness under the instep. In order to compensate for this, many shoemakers employed wedge-like structures to help support the shank. This beautiful pair of embroidered black silk shoes with pink silk covered heels is a very good example of this. English, 1780-1785.
 
Owner: The Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto
Photo Credit: (c) Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto. Photo: Hal Roth
 

Visitors will leave the exhibition with an increased understanding of the cultural, political and historical currents in the 18th century which informed the meaning of femininity, which in turn impacted women’s footwear: the emergence of the English silk industry; the new market represented by the American colonies; the shift from the grandeur of the Baroque court spectacle to an appreciation for intimate gatherings and the celebration of affection; the beginnings of Neo-Classical restraint; the increase in social unrest portending the French Revolution; and the change to Rousseauian ideals of motherhood and female domesticity embraced by the emergent bourgeoisie as the 18th century drew to a close.

The Charm of Rococo: Femininity and Footwear in the 18th Century will be on view until February 2008.

 

Antique Shoes

Mules, French or Dutch, c. 1720-30

Mules made of luxurious fabrics and embellished with elaborate embroidery in precious metal or silk threads were clearly impractical for outdoor wear, thus emphasizing the wearer’s leisured lifestyle. They also suggested a kind of relaxed elegance and intimate dishabille. Eighteenth century paintings often feature women wearing mules among close friends or in the privacy of their own boudoir.

 
Owner: The Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto

Photo Credit: (c) Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto. Photo: Hal Roth
 

 

About the Bata Shoe Museum :

The Bata Shoe Museum is a centre of knowledge about the role of footwear in the social and cultural life of humanity. The Museum's growing international collection of over 12,000 objects touches on 4,500 years of history. A varied program of events and exhibitions lets visitors discover the stories behind footwear from many lands and cultures. Current exhibitions include: Watched by Heaven, Tied to Earth: Summoning Animal Protection for Chinese Children, The Charm of Rococo: Femininity and Footwear in the 18th Century, All About Shoes: Footwear Through the Ages (semi-permanent) and Chronicles of Riches: Treasures from the Bata Shoe Museum. Online exhibitions include All About Shoes and On Canadian Ground: Stories of Footwear in Early Canada.

The Bata Shoe Museum is located in downtown Toronto at the southwest corner of Bloor and St. George Streets. For more information about the Museum, please visit www.batashoemuseum.ca.

 
 
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