‘Relics of Former Splendor’: Inventing the costume exhibition, 1833–1835 | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 2, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 2050-0726
  • E-ISSN: 2050-0734



Coinciding with a rising public interest in the life and times of Oliver Cromwell, an exhibition of the costumes of the women of Cromwell’s family was staged twice in different locations in London in 1833–1835. The dresses, accessories and related objects had impeccable provenance, as they had been descended from Cromwell’s daughter to a distant relation, Jane Luson. Upon Mrs Luson’s death, the costumes were exhibited thanks to the enterprise of the heir of this collection; in designing his display, Mr William Anthony, a Clerkenwell clock-maker, unknowingly invented the characteristics of the modern museum exhibition of historical costume. Drawing on archival documents and published accounts, this article describes these exhibitions and argues that, although they are the first documented instance of a dedicated display of historical dress, they nonetheless demonstrate the key conventions of fashion curation practised to this day, including mannequin dressing, props, historical and biographical documentation, label copy, merchandising and sponsor product placement. As fashion exhibitions become more common across cultural venues worldwide, it is important to look back at the beginnings of the trend and acknowledge the debt owed to this early precedent.


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