The Realm of Venus Presents....
talian howcase


Jennifer Thompson

Costumer and Web Author - "A Festive Attyre"

A Bergamesque Gown, c1560s


Jennifer Says...

My passion for costuming began about 5 years ago when I was in graduate school. I have always been interested in costume and fashion, but at that point, I had only sewn a few Halloween costumes and wench bodices for the local Renaissance Faires. But after discovering the growing online costuming community, I was inspired to try my hand at something more historically accurate. Little did I know that this was the beginning of such a huge addiction! I went on to finish my Master's Degree in Fine Arts, but my true passion has since turned to costume research and design. I've continued teaching art on the high school and college level to pay the bills, but now most of my spare time and energy is devoted to research, sewing, and maintaining my website. I don't work at the faires or participate with any reenactment groups, but I do hope to eventually find a career that will allow me to combine my education in studio arts and art history with my love of historical clothing.

Angelica Agliardi de Nicolinis

This particular project began when I stumbled across a painting of Angelica Agliardi de Nicolinis by the artist Giovanni Battista Moroni from the late 1560's. I tend to prefer the simplicity of middle and lower-class fashions, but I was incredibly captivated the clean lines and elegance of Angelica's gown. I started my project by spending many hours researching the artist, the woman in the portrait, and culture of Bergamo. I never could find much information about Angelica, but I did learn a bit about her husband and family. I also was was pleasantly surprised to learn about the rich cultural history of the city where this painting is from.

Bergamo was the Westernmost outpost of the Venetian Republic at this time, but their fashions and cultural
traditions have little to do Venice. Many of the ruling families of Bergamo had strong sympathies toward Spain, and you can clearly trace the influence of Spanish fashions coming through Milan, which is only 30 miles West of Bergamo. But even though the cities of modern Lombardia (such as Bergamo, Brescia, Cremona, Pavia, and Milan) were governed by either Venice or Spainish-ruled Milan at that time, they possessed their own unique styles in art and dress that clearly set them apart from the rest of Italy or Spain.

As I continued learning about the culture of this region, I became fascinated with the way Bergamesque fashions were reflecting the roles of women in their society. Angelica's gown is in many ways symbolic of the unusual amount of freedom and relative equality enjoyed by women in this region. Most people are familiar with the educated courtesans of Venice, but in North-central Italy, it was not uncommon for respected women of the nobility to be highly educated as well. Some of these Lombard noblewomen were even making names for themselves as artists, such as Sofonisba Anguissola, or as poets, like Isotta Brembati. As women of the 16th century began to gain more intellectual freedom, it is my theory that the fashions also began to reflect these first tentative steps of female empowerment.

Womens' gowns from the Lombard region during this period are often characterized by striped doublets, non-matching petticoats, and robe-like over-gowns. These women may have been trying to express their desire for equality with men by borrowing traditionally male garments, therefore downplaying their femininity (this is especially obvious in the striped doublets), or more subtly, by creating a masculine silhouette through the use of stiffened rolls, tabs, and flared collars which emphasized broad shoulders. In many ways, this was the Renaissance version of the 1980's "power suit", and it was quite revolutionary for its time. These Italian "double-bodied gowns" eventually spread to England and other European countries, where critics such as Philip Stubbs complained that "The Women also there have dublets & Jerkins, as men have heer, buttoned up the brest, and made with wings, welts, and pinions on the shoulder points, as mans apparel is for all the world, and though this be a kinde of attire appropriate onely to man, yet they blush not to wear it..."

So after spending some time studying the sociology of this type of dress, I next turned to the more technical aspects of construction. I wanted to recreate the gown using period materials and techniques whenever possible. I set a personal goal
of making an exact recreation without any major deviation from the original portrait, which was both incredibly difficult and exciting. Of course there are some areas of thecostume that are not visible in the portrait, but I tried to use my best judgment for these items by studying similar garments in art and surviving clothing.

The first layer is a tight-fitting linen smock made from the instructions on the the Elizabethan Costuming site. With this, I wear a high-necked linen partlet that is embroidered with silk thread. The blackwork is a 16th century Italian pattern taken from Brownen's amazing blackwork site (which is sadly no longer accessible to the public). It's too bad you can't see the embroidery when the collar of my doublet is buttoned, but it's fun to have it peeking out when when I choose to wear the top few buttons undone. The collar is edged with a small ruff that is made from heavily starched linen selvage. There are also a set of detachable wrist ruffs that I usually baste directly onto the cuffs of the doublet to keep them from being crushed when I dress.

The second layer of underwear is made up of a corset and petticoat. I've found little evidence of true corsets being worn at this time, but I decided to include a set of support bodies loosely based on the surviving undergarments of Elenora of Toledo. Elenora's bodies do not have any form of stiffening remaining, but I decided to lightly bone the front of my garment with channels of hemp cording. It doesn't provide waist reduction or a stiffened silhouette, but it is really nice for bust support. My doublet is stiffened enough to make this item completely optional, and I've worn this outfit both with and without the corset. I also made a modest sized corded petticoat in linen with wool guards. The pattern for this garment is a modified version of the Alcega farthingale, but I scaled down the diameter to better suit this silhouette that you see in other paintings of Bergamesque women from this period. The biggest cheat on this garment is that I used something called wire rope as a modern substitute for hemp rope or linen rags (it’s the stuff often used for security cables). The wire rope is extremely light weight and creates a wonderful shape for the skirts while remaining very flexible.

First and second layers of underwear

Petticoat with forepart, doublet

Over the support skirt is a petticoat made from the Alcega “skirt for a fat woman” pattern. The forepart is a Russian Orthodox brocade with gold metallic threads on a dark red ground. It is flatlined with heavy cotton and is guarded at the bottom with a narrow strip of wool. Unfortunately, I couldn't afford enough of this fabric to make the entire skirt, so the back is a much cheaper cotton twill which matches the color of the overgown lining.

The doublet is the most elaborate and time-consuming part of this project. The fabric is hand-dyed silk satin that has been embellished with around 150 trapunto quilted stripes and over 4500 pinks. Before cutting out the pieces, I pinked the entire surface of the fabric with a small woodworking chisel and rubber mallet. The trapunto channels were then sewn with silk thread using a double needle on the sewing machine. It would have taken me years to do this much quilting by hand, and since the machine stitches look almost exactly like the back-stitched examples of period trapunto that I have seen, I decided that it wouldn’t be too much of a sin. The channels were next threaded with cotton cord using a long wire loop, and once the fabric was completely embellished, I cut out the pieces. The pattern was based on the doublet bodice from Alcega, and it includes two-part sleeves and a four-part shaped collar. It is lined with plum silk and interlined with heavy linen, and like the woman’s doublet in Patterns of Fashion, I placed a few rows of boning in the front of the torso to keep it flat.

The overgown is based on the Alcega pattern for a "skirt and bodice of cloth". It is made of cotton velvet that I dyed to be a deep eggplant color, but it is dark enough to read as black in low light. I’m really picky about colors, and true blacks always look a bit too cold and modern to my eyes, so I prefer to have a hint of color in my blacks whenever possible. The gown is lined with habotai silk, and the bodice has an interlining of heavy linen and a few rows of smaller hemp cord. The standing collar is also stiffened with hemp cording, which provides a perfect amount of flexible support. The shoulder panes are stiffened with buckram and hand stitched to small sleeve caps. I originally started out with just two rows of shoulder tabs, but I have recently gone back and added a third row of tabs to make it match the painting exactly. The inside of the collar, shoulder tabs, and front opening are edged with mink fur that was recycled from a stole that I bought on Ebay. The gown is held together at the waist with two large coat hooks, and there are thread-covered buttons down the entire front for embellishment.


For accessories, I am wearing a zibellino (or sable), and a gold chain girdle. My necklace was a gift from my mom a few years ago after I fell in love with it at an antique shop. I didn’t even know about this portrait at the time, so I guess it was just a lucky coincidence that it turned out to work so well for this outfit. The stones in the necklace originally looked like opals, but I temporarily painted them black for these latest pictures to better recreate the necklace in the painting. And finally, I am wearing a sheer gold veil that is edged with gold metallic ribbon. A thin wire helps it keep its shape at the point, and the crimped edge was created by ironing.

If you are still reading at this point and are crazy enough to want even more gory details, I also have a long rambling
dress diary that chronicles my research and thought processes while making this outfit.

Bella Says.....

What a truly beautiful outfit! Jen's attention to detail in creating this copy of an original is outstanding. Her painstaking approach has resulted in an outfit which is not only aesthetically pleasing, but as visually historically accurate as anyone could want. It's a work of art in every respect. Bravissima Jen!

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(Copyright Information: As author I, Anabella Wake, known in the SCA as Bella Lucia da Verona, hold copyright on all information on these pages. In addition I hold copyright on all images of clothing/costume that I have made. You are allowed to make one facsimile copy for your own use provided that this notice is included on each page. Please ask permission to copy, disseminate and/or distribute my work - I would like to know when and how you are finding this information of use.)