Slash and Turn

Portrait of Elisabeth de Valois, third wife of Spanish King Philip II by Anthonis Mor, c.1560.

Today I want to highlight this remarkable example of a European court dress from 1560. The technique of slashing a bodice to show glimpses of a delicate cotton undershirt (called a chemise) is one we’ve seen in court paintings prior to this. But here, the lightweight cotton has been replaced by an opulent gold and cream brocade which peeks through slits in both the bodice and skirt. Take a look at those fantabulously decorative oversleeves! What a pain they must have been to wear and maintain. As you can see, they are meant to be worn either outside the brocade undersleeve as a hanging ornamentation or inside as a second stiffened oversleeve.

Several different artists portrayed Elisabeth de Valois wearing this richly-embroidered and gem-encrusted outfit. According to an inventory of Elisabeth’s possessions made after her death, it was described as a “rich and tawny dress of crimson velvet,” with a “high bodice and tabbed sleeve, lined with reddish yellow taffeta.” I was surprised to learn the red fabric is velvet. Based on its patina and stiffness in the painting, I thought the gown might be made of leather.

The painting by the Netherlandish portraitist Anthonis Mor (c.1517-1577), commemorated the marriage of King Philip II of Spain to his THIRD wife, Elisabeth of Valois in 1559. While I was researching this dress, I came across two other examples of dresses with this type of ornate oversleeve. They are also from the court of King Philip II of Spain, but his FOURTH wife, Anna of Austria is wearing them. The sleeves have lost their deep slashes and appear to be primarily decorative, hanging limply off the back of the shoulder.

Portrait of Anna of Austria, Queen of Spain by Bartolomé González y Serrano

Detail of Portrait of Anne of Austria, Queen of Spain by Alonso Sánchez Coello, c.1571.

Portrait d’Anne d’Autriche, Reine d’Espagne, (Portrait of Anne of Austria, Queen of Spain) by Alonso Sánchez Coello, c.1571.












The Lady of the Fan by Alonso Sánchez Coello, 1570-3.

Serendipitously, the day after I composed this post, I came across a fourth painting from this time. It was painted by Alonso Sánchez Coello in 1570-73, and it is referred to as The Lady of the Fan. There is some dispute about the identity of the sitter. Some experts suggest it is a sister of King Philip II, but the claim has not been substantiated. What is certain is that it represents a high-status woman from the Spanish court.

One of the things we learn by studying fashion history is that trends tend to expand to the edge of ridiculousness before contracting and flying off in another direction. The Anthonis Mor painting at the top of the page illustrates, perhaps, the apex of the hanging decorative sleeve / slash the garment fad. The fashion only lasted for a short time in the Spanish court before simplification set in. Later examples are more modest and demure in their proportions.

Today’s List of Links

Wiki has a fine overview of Western European Fashion in the Sixteenth Century

If you visit the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum in Bilbao, Spain you will find the red dress I’ve featured today displayed next to a similar portrait painted by Alonso Sánchez Coello. Coello was a student of Mor’s. It’s instructive to view the paintings side by side and make your own comparison.

Learn more about the Museo del Prado from Wiki.

The Prado Museum exhibit catalog essay on The Lady with the Fan has an impressive discussion of the dress, the significance of the fan the woman holds, speculation as to her identity and arguments for attribution.

Today’s Musical Selection: Who Will Save Your Soul by Jewel

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