Breaking Ground 109 Arts - Inspired by the Masters: A Fresh View of Fashion History

By Alexandra Sargent Capps, Senior Lecturer of Theatre, Costume Designer & Costume Shop Manager, Vanderbilt University

Dynamic, inclusive classrooms form when all students contribute their skills, ideas, and interpretation of the subject matter. In Spring 2021, I had two students from Next Steps at Vanderbilt University (an inclusive higher education program), Rachel Sarubbi and Kristi VanWulven, in my History of Fashion course. Throughout the semester, I incorporated their visual and written interpretations of fashion history into the main class presentations. Their expressive work inspired the rest of the class to generate personalized, creative ideas and projects.

Rachel produced 26 drawings which serve as a broad visual overview of Western fashion history. Rachel clearly depicts her subject matter in an identifiable artistic drawing style, which is energetic, accurate, and distinctive. Rachel’s drawings of iconic, historic masterworks demonstrated to the other students that applying one’s personal, contemporary style in creating projects can bring classical works to life and give them renewed relevance.

Kristi researched and wrote informative, relevant text about the original works of art. Kristi’s text provides essential background for and context to Rachel’s drawings. Rachel and Kristi’s project added a colorful, fun, and engaging educational dimension to our classroom.

I love that this project represents the collaborative work of two Next Steps students.  Their individual efforts elevate the other’s work. Together, they accomplished a large-scale class project that educates us about fashion history and is artistically inspiring.

First work: Jan van Eyck, The Arnolfini Portrait, 1434, oil on oak panel, National Gallery, London. Text: “The woman’s gown, including the sleeves, was trimmed with ermine fur. A personal maid was needed to hold the garment off the ground. The man in the painting wears a beaver hat and a velvet huke, open at the sides, lined with fur. The clothes and absence of ostentatious gold jewelry place the couple in the painting among the wealthy citizens of Bruges, though not in the top rank.” Second artwork: Sandro Botticelli, La Primavera (Spring), circa 1482, tempera on canvas, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. Rachel’s imitation is a portrait of just one of the figures in the painting. Text reads “Botticelli depicts the progress of spring from right to left. Above the central Roman goddess Venus is her son, a blind-folded cupid. All the way on the left is Mercury, the god of the month of May. To the right of Mercury are the ‘Three Graces”, representing the feminine virtues Chastity, Beauty and Love. On the right side, Zephrus, the west wind, is about to take a nymph named Chloris. They then transform into Flora, the spring goddess.”

Interviewing Rachel Sarubbi

Rachel Sarubbi, a native of Nashville, TN, is a second-year student in Vanderbilt’s Next Steps inclusive higher education program.

“These drawings are my interpretation of famous works of art. I created them as my contribution to our class Power Point presentations. I hope my drawings demonstrate how beautiful works of art can inspire all of us in discovering creative means of self-expression. During the semester, I produced twenty-six drawings that represent an overview of western fashion history, from ancient Rome to the present day.

My process included looking at the original works, drawing them in pencil, and then I chose my colors. Each drawing took me a few hours to complete. I was very careful to get every detail from the original work onto my paper before I stared coloring. I draw what I see.

My art materials for these drawings are white paper, pencils, and Sharpie markers. I have worked in watercolor paints, markers, clay, and wood sculpting.”

Interview with Rachel

  1. What did you enjoy about the class? - I enjoyed that I copied pictures for my history of fashion class by tracing, coloring them, and then sharing them with the teacher and the class.
  2. What did you learn in the class? - I learned how clothes are made and how and why they change over the years.
  3. What was your process in choosing which historic paintings to draw? - Some of my drawings were assigned to me and some I picked for myself. My process of choosing them was not hard and there were some I love. I usually picked the pictures to draw that had a lot of color.
First original artwork is titled “Colley Cibber as Lord Foppington, a 1770s fop, in The Relapse by John Vanbrugh, circa 1700-1725, engraving.” The original and Rachel’s version are shown together. Text reads “During the 1770s, the word fop described a man who had more feminine qualities including a love for finery and fashion, expressed through his clothing and demeanor. Second original artwork is titled “Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun; Marie Antoinette in a chemise dress, 1783, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art.” Text reads “Marie Antoinette, portrayed arranging flowers, wears a style of dress called the robe en chemise which represents two sins. First, it was made of cotton muslin and not French Lyonnaise silk, which was considered unpatriotic. Second, it was considered too relaxed and informal a garment for a French queen.”

Interviewing Kristi VanWulven

Kristi VanWulven, a native of Nashville, Tenn., is a 2021 graduate from the Next Steps Program.

“I enjoyed working on this project with and getting to know Next Steps student Rachel Sarubbi. I think Rachel’s drawings are amazingly beautiful. Rachel’s drawings were based on topics in the spring History of Fashion class at Vanderbilt University. My process involved working with my tutor Alexa many afternoons. I wrote information about the paintings that I liked reading and learning about. This project helped me to improve my writing skills.”

Interview with Kristi

  1. What did you enjoy about the class? - I enjoyed learning about the different topics of the history of fashion and about the different fabrics.
  2. What did you enjoy about writing the descriptions of the original artwork? - I enjoyed searching online to find the text information about different people based on the drawings Rachel sketched.
  3. What did you learn from writing these descriptions? - I learned about the history and the different types of clothing and fabrics of the people in the original artwork. My VU tutor ambassador, Alexa, helped me find the best sources for the information.
  4. Why do you take pride in this accomplishment with another Next Steps student? - I took pride in the accomplishment of this project with another Next Steps student because it shows other Vanderbilt students what amazing talents and skills we have to share.
First artwork: Francois Boucher, Portrait of the Marquise de Pompadour¸ 1757, oil on canvas, Wallace Collection, London. Text reads: “The portrait portrays Madame de Pompadour, mistress and confidante of Louis XV as she wants to be seen: a symbol of music, literature, the fine arts and politics. It is a part of the femme d’espirit, which means women of culture and learning. Her elegant blue silk dress adorned with roses, ruffles and ribbons shows her femininity and good taste. Second artwork: Gustaf Lundberg, Portrait of Francois Boucher, 1741, oil on canvas, Musee de Louvre, Paris. Text reads: “This portrait is of Francois Boucher, the most celebrated French painter of the 18th century. He specialized in the Rococco style, as shown in this painting. He sports pastel colors, a powdered wig, velvet coat, lace cuffs at his wrists, and a lace jabot at his neck.”