What are those women painted on Grecian vases wearing? Who styled the hair of Imperial Rome’s “it” girls? Who designed the gold ear spools of Pre-Columbian America?
Professor Andrew Lear treats New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art like an awards show red carpet.
On a mission to “liven up” the classic art museum experience, Lear founded Shady Ladies, an alternative tour service at The Met Fifth Avenue designed to uncover the secrets concealed within the statues, paintings, and artifacts that illustrate history as we know it.
Lear’s newest tour on fashion and beauty at the Met explores the evolution of beauty standards throughout nearly 5,000 years of cultures. From Grecian statues to French portraiture, fashion and its trends are unavoidable in art.
“I’ve come to believe that fashion is the most important topic at the Met,” Lear said of his inspiration to create a tour centered on style. “Art is a pile-up of hairdos, makeup, and bizarre underclothes.”
A founder of similar tours like “Nasty Women of the Metropolitan Museum” and “Gay Secrets of the Metropolitan Museum,” Lear weaves detailed, informative history with sexy, scandalous details.
Standing in front of Artemisia Gentileschi’s baroque painting, “Esther before Ahasuerus,” Lear describes what any art history buff would probably already know. The Italian painting depicts the Jewish heroine Esther, appearing before the king to plead for her people.
But Lear takes his description of the iconic painting one step further, delving into the communicative purpose of King Ahasuerus’ fashion. To achieve what Lear calls, “the bubble butt of the Renaissance,” royal men would wear britches filled with bombast or horsehair to take up more space, thus appearing even more powerful.
“You have to go beneath the surface to get to the real story of how political, social, and even medical currents shaped fashion,” Lear said. “It is the backstory of art that museums so unscrupulously avoid.”
It is these small tidbits that dazzle in the two-hour perusal of the largest art museum in the United States: how the cosmetic staple of the beauty mark originated in attempt to mask evidence of small pox and syphilis; how the dangerous trend of an irremovable neck ring in Africa is not too far off from the modern day stiletto; and how John Singer Sargent’s controversial Madame X anticipates Coco Chanel’s iconic little black dress.
Shady Ladies Tours now offers a variety of tours in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Paris.