Early Tudor Project — Katherine of Aragon’s Portrait dated 1502 — Part VIII
So about this overgown thing…
In a previous post, we walked through some of my ideas about the construction of the overgown.
It’s time to start thinking about the parts of Katherine of Aragon’s overgown.
In Michel Sittow’s 1502 portrait of her (above), it is difficult to see precisely what’s going on because of the darkness of the velvet of her gown. It appears that the front neckline sits approximately one inch away from the sides and top of the gold-shelled edge of the black middle layer. There appears to be a slight black edge to the aubergine gown, probably a lining.
Other things of import that I see in this portrait:
- wrinkles under the bust, indicating that there is no stiffening in the gown bodice
- folds on the upper arms, indicating the absence of a sloping shoulder seam
- a faint line center front which may indicate an opening
The bodice front is so wide and the sleeves so far back that it almost appears as if the sleeves and the gown bodice are two separate an unconnected pieces.
Is what I’m calling a gown bodice simply a placket pinned on the front of more substantially-constructed gown as theorized about Jane Seymour’s gown in The Tudor Tailor by Ninya Mikhaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies?
Although I believe that Jane Seymour’s gown was constructed with a placket pinned over a front-laced bodice, I do not think that is what is going on here. However, I do believe that this construction was the step that came before the placket idea and led to its use. After all, Katherine of Aragon’s portrait by Sittow predates Janes Seymour’s portrait by Holbein by 35 years. That is plenty of time for fashions to change!
For the sake of contrast, let’s look at that famous Jane Seymour painting by Holbein that shows the pins holding the placket on.
Jane Seymour obligingly is turned on an angle so we can see a little bit of her sides. Katherine of Aragon, unfortunately, is fully front-facing so we cannot conveniently see around her torso. Jane Seymour’s placket quite obviously overlaps the gown bodice to which her sleeves are sewn. With Katherine, we cannot see if the gown bodice/placket and sleeves are joined or if one sits in front of the other. Ultimately, the darkness of the Sittow portrait and the lack of side views defeat us.
However, there are other portraits from the early 16th century that show similar gowns to Katherine’s that may give us some insight into how Katherine’s gown was constructed.
- Joos van Cleve’s 1520s portraits of a man and a woman (woman only shown here) that hang in the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.
- Joos van Cleve’s early 16th century “Portrait of Agniete van den Rijne” in the Rijksmuseum Twenthe in Enschede, Netherlands.
- An early 16th century portrait by Netherlandish painter Jan Provost showing a donor with St. Nicolas and the donor’s wife with St. Godelina (St. Godelina only is shown).
I chose these portraits because they all have the folds on the upper arms, the soft torso, and the center front opening that I think I see in the 1502 Sittow portrait of Katherine of Aragon. Only St. Godelina isn’t facing fully front and we still cannot see if her sleeve meets her torso cover. However, she does appear to be wearing a typical gown bodice, not something pinned over something else.
As mentioned above, all three portraits who a center front opening, but all are different. Cleve’s “Unknown Woman’s” bodice edges meet neatly in the center. Agniete’s overlap right over left. And St. Godelina’s overlap left over right. The place where the bodice neckline stops is also different in each picture. The Unknown Woman’s bodice covers the roundness of her bust. Agniete’s appears to stop just before the roundness. St. Godelina’s, in contrast, comes up high over the bust, onto the upper chest.
I went in search of other paintings that could show me more clearly what was going on with the bodice of this gown. I found other gowns from the last years of the 15th century and first years of the 16th, but none of them were quite the same.
Margaret of Austria (“Portrait of a Young Princess”) by the Master of Moulins (circa 1490-91) in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (left) shows a gown with very tight obviously set-in sleeves. It also shows a neckline not as broad as that on Katherine of Aragon in the Sittow portrait. The dress, while of a similar style, certainly, is differently constructed.
In Charles d’Orleans’ “Lover Addressing Three Ladies” (detail, circa 1490-1500, center), not a lot of detail is visible, but the gown necklines are not as broad as Katherine of Aragon’s. Seams showing that the sleeves are set in are visible.
The daughters of the donor in Gerard David’s Triptych of Jan Des Trompes (detail of right side panel, 1505) in the Groeninge Museum, Bruges (right), wear similar gowns to that of Margaret of Austria. Although darker, the more substantial bodice is clear. None of these examples shows the sleeve seemingly attached to nothing as they appear in the Sittow portrait.
Next: The Sleeves…
© 2008 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice, the author’s name and website, and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.