A 17th-century comic print known as The Cure of Folly shows a surgery-cum-alchemical cabinet in which a doctor is treating patients: one is being administered mind-altering drugs; another is being fired and recast in a furnace. This one, a ‘gallant’ in a most elegant get-up, with little pointy moustaches, a lace ruff with multiple layers, soft boots with spurs, and a silk tunic fashionably slashed in both bodice and sleeves, is undergoing the procedure rather in the manner of a modern full body scan. As he lies there ‘the strange chimaera and crotchetts’ which have ‘made him mad’ fly up out of the chimney. The ills expelled include the pleasures and luxuries of the town: dice, hunting, bear-baiting, racquets, duelling, theatre, and the latest excesses of dress. The gallant youth must be purged of his love of puffed shorts, his hosepipe codpiece and flounced silk drawers. The female figure who appears in the rising miasma of his rakish misdeeds is recognisable from the fashion plates in the costume books that Ulinka Rublack vividly explores in Dressing Up. She is a Venetian courtesan, carrying a huge fan of feathers, her pert breasts hoisted above her farthingale to show them off.
LRB 5 January 2012 | PDF Download