Heavenly Haloes and Angelic Wings
The Costume Institute’s theme for the Met Gala is “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.” The show is divinely inspired by the current exhibit of papal vestments on loan from the Vatican.
We saw a variety of headdresses and hairstyles that recall haloes. Haloes tend to be the familiar round glowing white or golden rings for saints, angels, the Virgin Mary, and prophets, or rays of light for those who are beatified.
Below, I have included a variety of Medieval and Renaissance Italian, Spanish, and Russian depictions of various haloes that recall the above headdresses.
There are other haloes I love, like the square nimbus for living donors and the full body almond- (or vulva)-shaped mandorla for Christ in Majesty. I didn’t see those on the red carpet, but they are included above. Sometimes the Virgin Mary wears a crown of stars, recalling the passage in the Book of Revelations of the Woman Clothed with the Sun: “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars” (Revelation 12:1).
Katy Perry in Versace go-go and Victoria Secret-esque wings and Evan Rachel Wood in golden winged cape Altuzarra look like the sword of God, the archangel Michael, and the angel Gabriel who announces Mary’s pregnancy, respectively.
The Maid of Orléans
There were several Joan of Arc inspired looks, including Michelle Williams, Kiersey Clemons in H&M, Jennifer Connelly in Louis Vuitton, Shailene Woodley, and Jennifer Lopez (also a bit of the Crusades or Saint George happening here) in Balmain.
Zendaya was utter perfection in her custom Versace Joan of Arc gown, and her “sci-fi bob.”
We all know the story of the teenaged girl who cut off her hair, put on breeches, led the French army to victory against the English during the Hundred Years War, was captured by the Burgundian forces, handed over to the English, and burnt at the stake for heresy, only to be later declared a martyr, then a saint in 1920. Kathryn Harrison argued in 2012 that Joan of Arc is still so interesting to us because of her complexity. Rebel, revolutionary, visionary, madwoman, martyr, saint: her history, myth, and representation are complex, and have almost always been male authored.
I saw a production of George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan years ago at Shawfest in Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON. The Folger Theatre is currently running a production of Saint Joan right now. Shaw’s sole tragedy was first performed just a few years after her canonization, and Joan is presented as complex, difficult, and possibly both fanatical and anti-authoritarian.
There is something beyond a great costuming choice in dressing as Joan of Arc at this moment. She is the woman warrior, a visionary, but she also suffers for her cause. The choice of Joan of Arc is political and feminist.
The silent French film La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928) starring the shorn Renée Jeanne Falconetti includes an extended scene that is just a closeup on her weeping face. Rebecca Mead wrote a beautiful article linking Emma Gonzalez and Joan of Arc.
Lena Waite also channeled Joan of Arc championing against Catholic homophobic dogma in a pride flag cape over her tuxedo.