First Look: The Met's Heavenly Bodies Exhibition

By Alice Cavallo

John Galliano for House of Dior. Evening ensemble, autumn/winter 2000–2001 haute couture. Courtesy of Dior Heritage Collection, Paris. Digital composite scan by Katerina Jebb

The First Monday of May

The first Monday of May marks the arrival of the long-awaited Met Gala and the opening of this year’s thematic exhibition, Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. On view between the Anna Wintour Costume Center, the medieval and Byzantine galleries of The Met on Fifth Avenue and, for the first time, reaching Upper Manhattan's Cloisters, the exhibition is one of the largest and most sweeping Costume Institute exhibitions to date. Opening to the public on Thursday, May 10th, the interdepartmental collaboration will explore the fashion, art, and architecture of the Roman Catholic Church and its lasting influence on high fashion and the history of couture.

Processional cross, ca. 1000–1050. Byzantine. Silver, silver-gilt. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1993 (1993.163)

More than 150 womenswear collections from the early 20th century to the present are shown in the Byzantine and medieval galleries alongside medieval art from The Met's world-renowned permanent collection. As many as forty papal robes and accessories on loan from the Vatican's Sistine Chapel sacristy will be juxtaposed with contemporary fashion, masterpieces of religious art from around the world, and devotional pieces from the Cloisters. It's a triumph of diplomacy between the Met and the Papal seat; several works have never left the holy city, others have never been on public display.
Among the 150 silhouettes influenced by Byzantine art and architecture are legendary collections created by Gianni Versace in the 1990s, Balenciaga's early designs, and Jean-Paul Gaultier's provocative ensembles evoking Catholic orders, saints, angels, and the cult of the Virgin Mary. “Balenciaga was raised Catholic, as were most of the designers who are featured in the exhibition,” says Andrew Bolton, head curator of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Anna Wintour Costume Center. The lasting influence of faith on these designers - indeed fashion history as a whole - is immediately apparent and altogether fascinating. It begs the question: where does doctrine stop and imagination begin?

Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana for Dolce & Gabbana. Wedding ensemble, spring/summer 2013 alta moda. Courtesy of Dolce & Gabbana. Digital composite scan by Katerina Jebb

Previews open early next week for Museum patrons and special guests. The public opening next Thursday is anticipated to draw huge crowds; arrive early or begin at the Cloisters and then head south. Tickets to any Met location are applied to all three on the same day of purchase.
Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination is on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Met Cloisters and the Anna Wintour Costume Center from May 10th to October 8th, 2018.

For more on Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, check out The Met's video and the Tim Marlow video from the Must-See Museum Shows this May.

More from Sotheby's

Stay informed with Sotheby’s top stories, videos, events & news.

Receive the best from Sotheby’s delivered to your inbox.

By subscribing you are agreeing to Sotheby’s Privacy Policy. You can unsubscribe from Sotheby’s emails at any time by clicking the “Manage your Subscriptions” link in any of your emails.