The Realm of Venus Presents...

he talian howcase



Jennifer McDaniel
(Antonia de la Vale)

Georgia, USA
(Shire of Border Vale Keep, Kingdom of Atlantia )

Costumer and SCA Member

A Venetian Outfit in the Style of  the 1530s

Jennifer Says...


  Moretto da Bresciaís Portrait Of A Lady has always held a certain fascination for me. Iím not sure if itís the artist or the clothes horse in me that is more fascinated, but at any rate, this particular portrait, but as I study the era and the clothing, this is the one that always draws me back. I love the obvious play of the sheen of silk of the bodice and skirt versus the velvet of the trim and sleeves, and have often considered how I might be able to create something similar for my particular practical needs while still retaining some sense of integrity to the original.

It all began with a bolt of pink upholstery fabric. The fabric was cotton, not silk. The figure was small, not in keeping with the era (or the portrait), and it was a shade of pink probably not even possible during the Renaissance. And I didnít care. I took it as a personal mission and challenge to change a dressmakerís length of the fabric into a dress worthy of a Venetian Courtesan, while still being practical enough not to be cost prohibitive or unwearable most of the year in the Southern US. Also, it was never my intent to faithfully recreate the dress from Portrait of a Lady, but more create or remain faithful to the ideal.

You be the judge as to whether I succeeded or not.

 The actual dress itself is fashioned to the shapes basic to the era and follows many of the techniques used by other garb recreators. The bodice was cut in the square-ish ďLĒ shape with two distinct layers, the outer figured cloth and satin lining and the inner liner of cotton duck cloth with boning, in this case, plastic cable ties, as I prefer their form/flex factor. Thus came the first major decision, which was trim. 

I decided that 1) I didnít want to fight folding over yards and yards of velvet to get the Ďrealí look and 2) as I was working with a matte fabric, the dress could handle a more intricate trim. I also wasnít looking forward to finding a green that I liked, so found a black/blue I could handle instead. The resulting trim was my choice. 

After applying the trim and assembling most of the bodice, I hit a major snag. How in the heck is the bodice closed? I assumed that even if there was boning to allow the front of the bodice to stay in the shape shown in the picture, there would have had to be closure ties at some place on the bodice. I pondered this for some time, looked around for another portrait from the same time period that was in the same fashion (with no luck) and finally asked around on the Courtesan yahoo group while I added the skirt with a modified layered knife-style pleat. I got an answer from someone (I think it was actually Bella), who suggested that the ties were probably there originally, but removed or painted over during a restoration. That was a real ďDuh!Ē moment for me, given my artist background.

 I added ties in keeping with those found in the portraits by Paris Bordone, Portrait Of A Woman with a Child and Portrait Of A Woman

The dress looked awful. The bodice didnít lie correctly. I couldnít get the correct tension with the cording. All in all, by this point, I was ready to toss the whole thing. I decided to be true to my Southern roots and think about it tomorrow, and went to work on the sleeve puffs, added separately to the bodice.

Eventually, I came back to the ties. I removed the separate ones, reclosing the seams. I stitched down some rings on the inner lining, and decided to do a pseudo-style of ladder lacing. I say pseudo, and I made it so that I could put the dress on, lace it, and hide the lace under my arm. Probably not how the courtesans did it, but it works for me, and allows me to adjust the ties by myself.

The underskirt is a golden bronze silk duponi, and while I know there are some slubs in it, as itís an underskirt, theyíre not as noticeable. With a lining of light muslin for body, the underskirt adds a lighter, cooler weight of layering, and a nice flash of color at the hem of the dress.

  The slashed sleeves Ė the bane of my existence. I found a short navy velvet formal at Goodwill for $10. Perfect. I took it home, carefully cleaned it, and set to work picking out all the seams. When I had my panels, I created my sleeve panels. I used the button hole maker on my sewing machine to stitch, then sliced. This seemed to make an appropriate type of slash in the material while hiding the stitching in the pile of the velvet. I canít take credit for this method, I read about it on someone elseís site (Bellaís or Jenniferís?) as well. I didnít line for a couple of reasons. One, I didnít want to have to re-do the slashes, and two, this was a ďletís see what happensĒ run to determine the worth of purchasing better quality velvet. That decision is still being decided. I made a tube with a ďVĒ and tie at the top. Simple. If I did this further, I would probably add a button or loop to the underarm of the bodice/sleeve putt for security. 

The final conundrum: the girdle. After another extensive spell of portrait study, I couldnít determine if the accessory around the waist was actually supposed to be an attached trim or an added girdle of large style medallions. I decided to hit somewhere in the middle. I made an attached, fitted girdle. I used hemming tape (unconventional, no?), doubled together, and sewed on my added pretties. I then attached the whole to the waistband of the dress.   

I already had a camicia, used in a previous Italian Showcase, and I simply added it here, as well as the pearl necklace and earrings and rings. As for the zibellino (flea fur)? I think Iíll just say my persona was for animal rights. 

All in all, Iím pleased with the dress, even if it does weigh a ton. Itís pink, which tickles me to no end, given the raging debate of pink during the Renaissance, and I do like how the whole effect came together. 


If you would like to contact Jennifer you can do so at jpmcdaniel (at), or, visit her blog!


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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.)