Realm of Venus Presents....
Baroness Briana Etain MacKorkhill
Italian Courtesan Clothing in 1545 Florence
By Baroness Briana Etain MacKorkhill
Ever since I joined the SCA in 1982, I've always had a fondness for Italian Renaissance clothing. I was first drawn to the sumptuous fabric and wonderful variation in design. I knew that this was a style that I could really embrace for a long time and would never tire of making or designing within the period. This period from the end of the 15th century through to the mid 16th century saw many changes in fashion.
My first Italian was, I guess appropriately, centered on the late 15th century. Notable was an underdress with a low square neckline and short waist bodice with an attached fully pleated skirt. Sleeves were often slashed or in pieces. Fabric choices were varied with the emphasis on utilizing the most luxurious materials possible. Brocades, velvets, silks, wools, linens were all used in profusion. Pearls, beads, and woven metallic trims adorned the underdress in abundance.
The overdress was yet another opportunity to display the wearer's wealth and station. Cut with a deep V in the neckline, and sometimes open on the sides or down the center front to display the underdress, this garment was semi-fitted at the bodice area and quickly flared out with additional gores on both sides to create large vertical folds at the sides. This layer was usually sleeveless to display the sleeves of the underdress.
My love for Italian clothing grew and I became intrigued with early 16th century clothing from both Florence and Venice. As my research uncovered the blossoming of the role of the courtesan, I was hooked. I found a passion that up until now I had only mildly experienced building Tudor clothing. Here was a subject that I have been delving into for the past 4 years and has consumed my every waking moment for at least the past 11 months. I continue to research and press for more and more intimate details. I am now diving into the various archives for first hand information. This whole project became my entry in Calontir's Kingdom Arts & Sciences Championship held in July, 2004. It requires 3 entries, 2 of an art or science and one of the other. I entered the lace partlet, an Italian cooking remove and this dress. All from the same time period and location. I tied them all together through an introduction written by my courtesan persona Plenaria in the style of Pietro Aretinos Dialogues, a contemporary author of that time. (Introduction and documentation are available here in pdf form.)
The conception of my gown
In my initial research to start this project, I kept coming across descriptions such as this from Niccolo Martelli to a contemporary and friend Bernardo Buongirolami:
I also found references in a 16th century dyers handbook referring to crimson as the most expensive dye, so I knew that my dress would have to be crimson and gold. And as a successful courtesan, also have an abundance of pearls. When I discovered the fabric for my dress at an extremely reasonable price, it was settled.
My original plan had been to make some more bobbin lace for trim but ran out of time to get that done. However when I found the current trim offered from Master Andrixos of Calontir Trim, the project was saved. And as I was planning to embellish the lace with pearls, I just transferred that plan to the current trim. And there again was that wonderful echo of the partlet.
The placement of the trim is
also inspired by portraits of the 1530s and 1540s and supported
by Arnolds notes. The strip of trim on the center front was
omitted because I did not come across that in the other portraits
and I wanted to emphasize the wonderful pattern in the fabric.
The skirt is a separate piece from the bodice. It was constructed with large rolled box pleats attached to a wide waistband that fastens in center back. Knife, box and cartridge pleats were all used in this time period depending on the look you are trying to achieve. Unlike the layout of the 1560s skirt that Janet Arnold depicts in her sketch, this skirt still retains consistent pleats all around the waistband. Although not completed for this project, I intend to make a pair of Venetians as an accessory to this bodice, hence I would need the bodice to be separate from the skirt.
The chemise has a gathered drawstring neckline and extra full sleeves with pleated cuffs. The material is a very fine, semi-transparent silk. The chemise also could have been made of linen or cotton. In one of Andrea Calmos "letters" written to a courtesan by the name of Madame Lucida, he describes his belongings, bragging to her that one of his dressing gowns is made of such fine cotton as to fit in a nutshell.
I cannot wear a full corset any more due to medical conditions, so have constructed one to only provide the support so necessary for the overall look of the garment in the bust area. It has really worked well, I will now be able to wear this and other "court" dresses more often.
The slippers are a very short-cut black velvet and were purchased. Because of foot health problems, I dont often make shoes. I also had plans to make chopines but didnt want to rush their construction. I would not have worn them much at all because of the foot problems.
This project was presented at the championship at the end of July but the passion for the research continues. I plan on entering the championship again next year and have already amassed twice as much information as I had for the first time. It is utterly addictive. However, I have to put it on the backburner for just a little bit while I work on the final details of our 20th annual Clothier's Seminar as I am the event steward. Last year, we had over 40 hours of classes presented in a single day and it looks like this year we will meet or exceed that amount. If you would like more information you can go to our website: Clothier's Seminar
D-R-O-O-O-O-L. I just love the
combination of colours (my arms colours are red and gold!), all
the pearls on the trim, and the pattern on the fabric. And the
partlet - I was simply amazed at the trouble Baroness Briana took
to create a bobbin lace pattern so like the one worn in the
Eleonora de Toledo portrait, and how well it turned out! If you
would like to contact Broness Briana, you can do so at the
following address: briana (at) peoplepc (dot) com
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