Analysing the Style in the Carpaccio Era:
Pre 1500 - 1510

The Layers and Basic Construction

The layers during this period were:

1. Shift (Camicia)
2. Under-dress
3. Over-dress
4. Mantle for cold weather (Mantello)
5. Accessories

Click on image for an enlargement

Click on image for an enlargement
1. Shift (Camicia): During this period the camicia isn't seen at the neckline. Instead, much of it shows at the shoulder poufing out between the tie-on sleeves and bodice, and at the elbows and elsewhere on the sleeves, poufing out from openings, as well as a little at the wrist. The painting by Carpaccio at left shows the fullness of the chemise poufing out between sleeve and bodice and also through the opening at the back of the arm. On the right is the only reliable image I know of that shows the camicia of this period. It is difficult to determine if what we are seeing is the front or the back of the camicia, but it appears to be the back. The front would probably show a neckline that is wide, and it is reasonably full in the sleeves, which also had to be extra-long.

Click on image for an enlargement2. Under-dress:

Can be seen where painting depicts a woman at home. During this time it is rare to find this in non-religious/non-allegorical art, but I believe the ladies in Carpaccio's painting (seen on the left) are wearing the under-dress of the time. These were dresses with a low, scooped, shallow U shaped neckline that goes from point of shoulder to point of shoulder. The lady at the top of the painting is wearing a dark green dress which is just visible at the bodice, hemline and at the back. The dress is covered in front by a gold apron. The bodice is trimmed in gold, and her sleeves are also gold. The underdress skirt looks to be gathered or finely pleated into the bodice, and there seems to be extra fullness at the back of her dress, which might indicate that ladies preferred that most of the fullness of their skirts be in the back.

Some under-dress necklines/bodices re-drawn from sources:

Click on image for an enlargementClick on image for an enlargement

Click on image for an enlargement3. Over-dress (Veste or Vestito). There appears to have been two types of over-dress - one with integrated or sewn-in sleeves, and one without. In the Carpaccio painting at left can be seen the style of over-dress without integrated sleeves. When this style is worn, sleeves usually match what we can see of the under-dress, as in this example where the black sleeves match the black bodice of the under-dress, which indicates that the over-dress is sleeveless. This is the more usual style seen on younger/more fashionable ladies. It was an almost off the shoulder, wide V-necked garment, which also dropped into a V neckline at the back - this can be seen in Durer's drawing and also on one of the ladies in Carpaccio's Miracle of the True Cross. Usually full skirted, open at the front from the bottom of the V-necked bodice to the hem, sometimes belted/buttoned under the bust.

Click on image for an enlargementOn the right is a painting featuring a couple of examples of the style of overdress with integrated or sewn-in short sleeves. This style is usually seen on what were perhaps older married ladies or trusted upper servants, although it is also seen on youger ladies. In this painting, the neckline of the lady in red echos the shape of the underdress but with a deeper U shape - in this one the bodice shows no sign of a front closure, but the fact that the dress is open below the bodice would indicate that a front closure was present. It is also possible, judging by the fact that these dresses are less snugly fitted in the bodice, that these were meant to pull on over the head. The lady in blue wears a dress that appears to have been meant to be worn open at the front over the underdress. It is not clear whether the skirt of her overdress opens below the waistline, but it would make sense for an overdress to do so. The bodice covers more of the shoulders than the V-necked style of overdress. At first both these ladies appeared to have short integrated/sewn in sleeves, but on closer inspection they can be seen to be long sleeves with finestrella. In the case of the lady in red, the rest of her sleeve can be seen hanging below her black undersleeve-clad elbow. In the case of the lady in blue, she can be seen to be wearing her hanging sleeve on her right arm, which is blue, while her left arm is exposed throught the finestrella and shows us that she wears a gold undersleeve. This style of overdress was also belted under the bust in some cases.

Some re-drawn veste:

Click on image for an enlargement Click on image for an enlargement

Click on image for an enlargementClick on image for an enlargement

Both styles of over-dress may have had trains, although so far I have only found evidence for the train on the sleeveless veste. The lady in the red vestito (above left) can be seen to be holding her train. Likewise in this drawing by Durer, (left) who visitied Venice twice during this period. His other drawing of a Venetian lady also shows her holding the train of her dress. On the right is another image that shows just how long the train could be. The lady is partly hidden behind a Venetian nobleman, but the length of the train, as well as the V neckline in the back of the bodice can be clearly seen. An unusual feature are the hanging sleeves.

Click on image for an enlargementClick on image for an enlargement

4. Mantle (Mantello): A rectangular legth of fabric used for warmth. Seen here on the left, it appears to be supported by a clasp which is attached to a long cord wrapped around her neck, over her bust and possibly attached to her belt, which is just visible on a large image. The image on the right may actually show a semi-circular or circular cloak - it is held across the upper chest by similar cords.

Click on image for an enlargement5. Accessories

Decorative, coloured apron worn with underdress or overdress. Also handkerchiefs, pearl necklaces, gold chains and bead necklaces, and both indoor and outdoor shoes. Headwear* in the form of several styles of scuffia (cap or bonnet), ghirlanda (garland), reta (netted headdress or hair net) and the velo/veletto da testa (veil). Hair worn down for young unmarried virgins, worn up (braided) for newly married/married women, false hair pieces worn.

*For more information on headwear and hairstyles in this period see 1490s to 1510 from my article "A Crowning Glory: Hair Styles and Headwear in 16th Century Venice, at Venus Adorned.

The Bust and Waistline

Click on image for an enlargement
During this period the waistline sat very high - directly under the bust. The breasts are usually positioned quite high with cleavage visible on some ladies, usually older married ladies. However, a lower, more natural bust position is also seen, with some necklines being a little higher, showing no cleavage. The underdress looks to have been gathered or perhaps finely pleated into the bodice. The overdress shows folds both above and below the waistline in some cases, but not in others.

The Sleeves

Snug fitting throughout this period, consisting of an upper and lower section of sleeve. Developing into a one part sleeve with a finestrella ('window' or slit in fabric, usually at the elbow), or one part sleeve with shaped cut-out openings along the back of the arm. In some cases the sleeves end at a point midway between the wrist and mid lower arm, or just short of the wrist. Sleeves were often highly decorated or made from figured fabrics, and usually matched the underdress except in the case of the overdress with integrated finestrella sleeves which matched the fabric of the overdress.

Click on image for an enlargement

Click on image for an enlargement

Click on image for an enlargement

Click on image for an enlargement
The Closures

Underdress closures are difficult to determine as they are rarely visible in paintings, and squinting at low resolution enlargements and saying "I think I can see the possibility of a lacing opening there..." just doesn't cut it.We can deduce by the high waistline and lack of visible closures that the closure was located at the back, but Durer's drawing of a lady fails to show this, despite much other detail. I tend to opt for the a double (or single) side closure as more likely.

Overdresses: I see these as open up the front, buttoned or belted at the front just under the bust. Some appear to have smooth bodices, some appear to have bodices with many folds going from the waistline up towards the shoulders - this may indicate loose dresses fastened by a belt at the waist. In the case of the Durer drawing here, as well as this Durer drawing it appears that large buttons continue down from the underbust for a short length.

In the case of the integrated/sewn-in sleeve overdress, these can also be deduced to have been open up the front, and fastened with a belt. These look less fitted across the bust, and therefore might be without closure (pull on over the head). It is also possible that they are closed by means of side lacing or either lace up or do up by means of hooks&eyes at the front.

Click on image for an enlargementThe Colours

Mid shades of red, green, blue and gold. Also mid dusky blue, pink, orange, black and cream. Plains dominate, but some figured fabrics can be seen, in the skirts of underdresses usually, but there is also figured cloth of gold to be seen on over-dresses and in one case on a mantello.

(Note: The least reliable thing about paintings durings this period (as opposed to portraits later) is that the colour composition tends to be determined by the style of painting involved as well as the room they were destined for display in. Venice had a tendency towards the use of light and colour, and many of these paintings, whilst they depict people in everyday clothes, were meant to be displayed in churches and other places where the colour composition was determined by the surrounds, the needs of the patron, as well as the school of painting.)

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