Beauty by Design exhibition opens

How old master paintings from the Renaissance relate to contemporary fashion design is at the heart of a new collaboration between Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) and the National Galleries of Scotland.

In Beauty by Design: Fashioning the Renaissance the art collections of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and Scottish National Gallery have inspired UK-based fashion designers to create a new body of work and renaissance art specialists to explore ideas about beauty and cosmetics.

Beauty by Design: Fashioning the Renaissance

Free entry

Friday 14 November 2014, 10.00am

Sunday 3 May 2015, 4.00pm

Scottish National Portrait Gallery, 1 Queen St, Edinburgh EH2 1JD

Where to find the exhibition

Challenging the 'thin ideal'

The theme of body image is central to the exhibition. The historic paintings both challenge current perceptions of physical beauty and inspire a more diverse and emotionally considerate practice among today’s fashion designers.

The new works will be presented alongside some of the centuries old paintings that inspired them.

Contemporary lace

Mal Burkinshaw, programme director of Fashion at ECA, has used some of the Galleries’ portraits -such as those of Mary, Queen of Scots; King James VI and I as a boy; and Lady Agnes Douglas - as inspiration for a series of seven jackets that fuse together contemporary and renaissance fashions.

Transparent, appliqued with Sophie Hallett lace, and scaled in many sizes, the jackets are presented backlit which create silhouettes evocative of the Galleries’ portraits.


Burkinshaw’s work challenges past and present notions of ‘normalised’ body shapes and sizes. He co-devised the exhibition with Dr Jill Burke, senior lecturer in History of Art, and Dr Patricia Allerston, head of education at the National Galleries of Scotland.

Dr Burke has provided print and online commentary on several of the collections’ paintings that deal with beauty and body image from the Renaissance.

Stunning headpieces and designs

For the Beauty by Design Sally-Ann Provan, teaching fellow at ECA, has created an elaborate headpiece inspired by the symbols used in the National Galleries’ portrait collections to demonstrate the sitters’ wealth, status and character.

Claire Ferguson, teaching fellow at ECA, has designed an outfit that accommodates a lace dress, representing a contemporary body shape, and a knitted outer dress, which has a historically inspired silhouette.


The exhibition also features Triptych (After Bordon’s ‘Venetian Women at their Toilet’), a collaboration with photographer Paul Hodgson, Phillip Clarke from Middlesex University, Sharon Lloyd from Southampton Solent University, and Anne Chaisty from the Arts University College Bournemouth.

Beauty by Design has been organised in partnership with New Media Scotland and is supported by Sophie Hallette Lace and All Walks Beyond the Catwalk.