Master of Saint Augustine (Netherlandish, ca. 1490)
Oil and silver on panel
54 1/4 x 59 in. (137.8 x 149.9 cm)
The Cloisters Collection, 1961 (61.199)
One of the original and primary functions of ecclesiastical dress, like Roman military dress, was to establish a symbolic distance between the wearer and the rest of society. Unlike Roman military dress, however, ecclesiastical dress was designed to deny and deflect the wearer's physical and sexual presence by the concealment of the body. The long, voluminous tunics worn by the clergy, like those worn by older and wealthier men in the early Middle Ages, were designed to convey the wearer's dignity, modesty, and respectability.
An image of Saint Augustine shows the style and arrangement of a priest's liturgical costume. Beginning with the innermost vestment, he wears the white, floor-length alb with long narrow sleeves. Around his neck is the amice, a strip of stiff linen that creates a collarlike appearance. Over the alb he wears the wide-sleeved dalmatic. His outermost vestment is the chasuble. A mitre is being placed on his head.