Analysing the Style in the Palma Vecchio and early Titian Era:
Pre 1510 - 1540

The Layers and Basic Construction

The layers during this period were:

1. Shift (Camicia)
2. Dress
3. Mantle for cold weather (Mantello)
4. Accessories

1. Shift (Camicia): During the first years of this period, like the last period, the camicia isn't seen at the neckline. It is not until the mid 1510s, when the neckline begins to drop dramatically, that it becomes very visible (see pic at left). Much of it shows poufing out from sleeve openings, along the front and back of the arm, but unlike the previous period, very little to none shows at the wrist. The camicia of this period is very big in the neckline, to match the dress. This style, with very large and extra long sleeves and lots of fabric pleated or gathered into a smaller neckband, will remain the same throughout the rest of the century, with only minor changes to the width and length of the sleeves.*

2. Dress

I have yet to find evidence for the use, as in the previous period, of the over-dress/under-dress combination. There are three distinct bodice styles during this period:

1. Boat-shaped, almost-off-the-shoulder neckline; big sleeves with openings through which the camicia can be seen; waistline at or slightly above the natural waistline. This basic style of bodice will persist in the Venetian provinces, until the 1530s - only the sleeves will undergo changes there. The next two styles are not usually seen in the provinces, with one or two exceptions.

2. Boat-shaped, almost-off-the-shoulder neckline drops to reveal lots of the camicia-covered chest, which is sometimes covered by a little waistcoat-like garment worn inside the bodice or out; sleeves are still big but start to utilise large cuffs, waistline is a little higher.

3. Boat-shape almost-off-the-shoulder neckline with wide to narrow opening in front, the edges of which are tied together in front by ribbons; sleeves continue to be large, although smaller than previous period, and have openings which are tied together at intervals; separate under-sleeves may also be used; waistline drops - by the 1530s waistline is at natural waistline level, front opening has narrowed, still tied by ribbons.

Skirts appear to have been knife or box pleated for the most part, but the beginnings of loose cartridge pleating can be seen.

4. Mantle (Mantello): A rectangular legth of fabric used for warmth. Seen here on the left, it appears to be worn casually thrown around the shoulders.

4. Accessories

The headwear seen includes the loose bag-like caul (scuffia), usually made from sheer, semi-sheer or opaque plain, striped, or less commonly, figured fabric. But also seen in a provincial example as a large netted caul (scuffia)- almost a snood. Unstructured balze/capigliare also appear in the art of the Venetian provinces, and in one case a nursemaid wears a coif-like scuffia**.

Partlets, when they are seen, appear to be a more kerchief-like item than the later, more fitted style, and often appear loose on the shoulders like shawl/scarf.

Belts appear also, from that which looks like a fabric cummerbund, to a leather belt with fancy gold work and jewel clasp, a fabric belt matching the gown with what appears to be fancy gold weights/tassels on the ends, large metallic links with fancy beads/filigree and an ornate gold plaque belt.

Gloves are seen, in a couple of instances trimmed with piccadils or a folded and snipped strip of leather, and in another case plain and quite loose at the wrist.

And of course jewellery in the form of gold chains, strings of pearls, or pearl and jewelled pendant necklaces.

The Bust and Waistline

At the beginning of this period, bodices cover the chest completely, although they could by no means be considered high necklines, and very little of the camicia can be seen at the neckline as in the previous period. Waistlines approach close to normal waistline level.

By the middle of the 1510s though, the bodice drops dramatically to reveal the woman's camicia which is the only thing covering her breasts (see pic above), and waistline appears higher. There may exist in this period, as in other periods of the sixteenth century, an under-garment such as a breast-binding or corselet which performs the function of our modern bra - support - but this is sheer guesswork at best. Common sense would indicate the presence of such a garment, especially during this stage of camicia exposure, but there is no solid evidence for it. Art of this period indicates that sometimes a little jacket-like garment was worn over the dress to cover the camicia. There is also something that appears to be a separate under-dress, but which could in fact be a sleeveless jacket-like garment worn inside/tucked into the low neckline (Palma Vecchio's Three Sisters).

By the time that the ribbon-tied dress appears, the waistline appears to hover somewhere between waist and under-bust, but by the 1530s it has dropped to natural waistline level.

The Sleeves

This is my favourite feature of this period. For most of it sleeves are marvellously large and angel-like. There are four basic styles:

1. The super-large, angel-wing style with openings/slits to reveal the camicia

2. The smaller, less angel-wing shaped sleeves, often with slits or openings, which are sometimes seen worn with separate undersleeves. The undersleeves sometimes perform the function of restraining both the lower end of the oversleeve and the similarly large camicia sleeves. There is also a transitional style with large cuffs.

1. 2. 3

1 and 2: Unrestrained sleeves. 3. Sleeve with lower end restrained by undersleeve.


4. Transitional style with large cuff

3. The large tube-like but cuffed sleeves which have no openings or slits.

4. By the 1530s sleeves had narrowed to the more usual sleeve shape and were decorative at their top. In the provinces, the lower and upper sleeves were often treated differently, in that the top, often no more than a small puff, was attached to the dress, but the lower, often slashed and pinked, sleeve appears to have been tied on.

The Closures

Most costumers tend to favour the back-closure idea, the main reason for this being that surely it is difficult, if not impossible, to do side-lacing with set-in sleeves? I do not favour this idea. Since the back of dresses, when we can see them, appear to have been as decorative as the front, it makes more sense to put the lacing opening at the sides, directly under the arms. This opening continues down into the skirt, as can be seen at left in Judith by Venetian artist Pordenone. The problem of the set-in sleeve isn't so much of a problem if we stop to think that there is evidence from a later sixteenth century period for laced-in sleeves. Laced in sleeves (as opposed to tied in) don't leave any gaps between the sleeve head and garment, and what may actually be laced-in sleeve can look remarkably like a set-in one. It is also possible that the opening didn't begin at the armhole, but an inch or two down from it.

The Colours

The colours during this period, in order from most common to least common, are:

1. Shades of red: rust, true red, deep red, deep orange-red, light orange-red, purple-red, pink-red.

2. Greens: Deep grey-green, deep forest-green.

3. Grey

4. Black, deep inky blue, true purple, brown, white, yellow, burnt orange.

*For more information on the Venetian camicia, see The Sixteenth Century Venetian Camicia and How to Sew a Venetian Camicia
**For more information on headwear and hairstyles in this period see
1510 to 1540 from my article "A Crowning Glory: Hair Styles and Headwear in 16th Century Venice.

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