Impractical shoes


Word and Image
June 11, 2015
2015HN0362
347-1909. Albumen print by Paul Robert of 17th century French and 18th century Italian ecclesiastical shoes in the collections of the Musée de Cluny, Paris

To mark the opening of our wonderful ‘Shoes: Pleasure and Pain’ exhibition, I’d like to share with you these photographs, which came to light as part of my ongoing research into the historic reference photographs we have here at the V&A.

These images show shoes in the collection of the Musée de Cluny in Paris. The photographs were taken by the French photographer Paul Robert, and some bear his blind stamp. We don’t have an exact date for the when the images were taken, but Paul Robert died in 1898, so we know these must have been taken before then.

2015HN0479
PH.1345-1905. Albumen print by Paul Robert of 17th century German, 17th century and 16th century French shoes in the collections of the Musée de Cluny, Paris

The shoes displayed in the photographs date from the 16th to the 18th century, and I was surprised to see such impractical and uncomfortable-looking shoes from such an early date – these were clearly high-status fashionable items worn for special occasions, which must have been expensive to purchase.

2015HN0475
346-1909. Albumen print by Paul Robert of 16th century French and German shoes in the collections of the Musée de Cluny, Paris

The shoes in the three photographs above are identified as ecclesiastical shoes, so were presumably for men to wear, though to a modern eye they look ‘feminine’, given the embroidery and lace, the pointed toes and high heels.

2015HN0367
PH.1351-1905. Albumen print by Paul Robert of 16th century Venetian slippers/chopines in the collections of the Musée de Cluny, Paris

The shoes in this photograph are intended to be worn by women, and are called ‘chopines’, The high platform heel served to keep ladies’ skirts out of street dirt. Walking in them must have taken practice, especially as they have no backs to keep them on the foot. One would have worn indoor shoes inside them so they could be taken off when one stepped inside.

2015HN0361
345-1909. Albumen print by Paul Robert of 16th to 17th century shoes in the collections of the Musée de Cluny, Paris

The shoes in this image are even more unusual and uncomfortable-looking to the modern eye – some of them look as though they must have affected the gait as much as Alexander McQueen’s  ‘Armadillo’ shoes – if you’ve seen the ‘Savage Beauty’ exhibition you might remember how strangely the models wearing those shoes walked!

2015HN0478
348-1909. Albumen print by Paul Robert of 16th to 18th century French shoes in the collections of the Musée de Cluny, Paris

There’s a perception that human feet have grown bigger on average over the centuries, though the extent to which this is true is disputed, as social factors complicate the issue – from female emancipation to trends in fashion. The shoes in the photograph above are ecclesiastical and therefore presumably for men, though they look so very small and dainty.

2015HN0366
PH.1349-1905. Albumen print by Paul Robert of 18th century French shoes (sabots) in the collections of the Musée de Cluny, Paris

This last set are French sabots (overshoes) dating from the 18th century, so like the chopines, one would have worn ‘indoor’ shoes inside these, and only worn them outside. Even as overshoes for wearing in the mud, these are very pretty and ornate.

If you’d like to find out more about shoes, do check out these blog posts from the ‘Shoes: Pleasure and Pain’ team here, and if you’d like to come and see these photographs, please make an appointment at the Prints and Drawings Study Room.

0 comments so far, view or add yours

Add a comment

Please read our privacy policy to understand what we do with your data.

MEMBERSHIP

Join today and enjoy unlimited free entry to all V&A exhibitions, Members-only previews and more

Find out more

SHOP

Find inspiration in our incredible range of exclusive gifts, jewellery, books, fashion, prints & posters and much more...

Find out more
css.php