The Realm of Venus Presents....

talian howcase


Lucia Northwode

SCA Participant
A Florentine Gown in the style of the 1540s


Lucia Says...

This gown was my first attempt at an Italian style outfit. The more research I do, the more flaws I can see in its style and construction but it is pretty, none the less.

The complete outfit has been drawn from several sources from the same time period. I am a student with a part-time income, so it took a number of years to acquire the range of materials needed for this gown. Being budget-conscious also meant that I was unable to follow strictly authentic rules for period materials.

Gown construction and materials

Eleonora of Toledo with her son by Agnolo Bronzino, 1545

Bia, The Illegitimate Daughter of Cosimo I de' Medici by Agnolo Bronzino

While I accessed a large number of portraits showing similar styles of gowns, these two were the greatest influence on my gown. I prefer not to simply copy an entire outfit from one source, as experience has shown that I will always tinker with it anyway. By drawing from a number of sources, I try to copy appropriate trends in styles.



This light sage green fabric is a modern upholstery material, with a lustre or sheen, rather than a shine. It features a regular pattern of bees or wasps, that are in gold and salmon. I had difficulty getting the photos to show the fabric as it looks to the eye. 

While I believed the pattern would be suitable for an English or French gown around the second half of the sixteenth century, I was not sure about the Italian preferences when it came to specific styles of ‘botanical patterns’. Since weight of the fabric created the soft, full shape of the Italian style skirts so well, I proceeded.




My bodice has a large lower peak as I didn’t realise how small the dip was in the image - I assumed the peak was hiding under the blouses in the fabric as in the image 'Countess Livia da Porto Thiene' by Paolo Caliari, 1551:



The author of the website recorded below mentions that the bodice may have been stiffened. I have done this as well as wearing a pair-of-bodies because the fabric showed the boning in the corset too much when it was just lined, and wrinkled up too much when I moved. Being an impoverished student I used what I had on hand – two layers of sun-block curtain fabric that had similar properties to canvas.


Side back lacing on dress:

The side back lacing on my gown still puckers a little when it is laced.

This image shows side back lacing that was found on a dress that survived to modern times and was accessed on the site below. The site’s author says it was on a gown worn prior to the woman’s death in 1562.


This style of lacing was also found on a site featuring English gowns of the same time period.

As this style was common to the two cultures of my SCA persona (a 1st generation English Italian) it was suitable.


Inspiration sources:

Detail from Eleonora of Toledo with her son by Agnolo Bronzino, 1545

Detail from Bia, The Illegitimate Daughter of Cosimo I de' Medici by Agnolo Bronzino

Detail from Lucrezia Pucci Panciatichi by Agnolo Bronzino, 1540

Detail from Woman and Her Little Boy by Agnolo Bronzino, 1540-45


The gown on Eleanora features paned sleeves with buttoned gaps, braid trim on the edge, and four panels per sleeve. I didn’t edge the panels, as I didn’t notice the trim in time – If I find some suitable braid in the future I will attach it. The heavy pattern and colours in the Eleanora gown allow the addition for several strips of braid without cluttering the dress, and since my gown is in lighter colours and a simpler design, any braid that I attached later would need to be suitably delicate, so as not to put too much visual weight on the upper portion on the dress.

My sleeves are in two panels as shown in the portrait of Lucrezia Pucci Panciatichi. Since I wanted to create a dress in a simpler, younger style, such as that shown in the portrait of Bia, I chose to limit the panels to two, as a compromise between Bia’s one and Eleanora’s four.

The website listed below had a page showing sleeve types, including paned and narrow buttoned sleeves. After identifying these styles in portraits around 1545, I chose this style for the same reasons of commonality between English and Italian styles.

When I tried the sleeves on with the camicia underneath, the fastenings on the outer arm wouldn’t stay closed so I have used a couple of stitches to keep the ribbon loops closed.

The upper sleeves were constructed as larger version of the upper arm sleeve, which was then bunched into rows and secured with seed pearls. If I did them again, I would make the upper sleeves larger.




Inspiration source:


   Countess Livia da Porto Thiene by Paolo Caliari, 1551



The skirt was created using around four metres of fabric, in four drops. I originally used normal box pleats, but found that they didn’t give enough fabric at the hem to hang in deep folds (as shown on the Countess’ dress) or to allow the top of the skirt to stand out where it meets the bottom of the bodice as shown on the Countess’ child’s dress. To solve this problem I used double-deep pleats, which allowed the necessary volume to neatly compact under the lower edge of the bodice.




Under Pinnings


Camicia - Inspiration sources:


Detail from Bia, The Illegitimate Daughter of Cosimo I de' Medici by Agnolo Bronzino

Detail from Portrait of duchesse Eleonore Galerie Nar by Agnolo Bronzino

Detail from Eleonora of Toledo with her son by Agnolo Bronzino, 1545

Detail from Eleonora of Toledo with her son by Agnolo Bronzino, 1545


My camica is ¾ length with a square neckline. I have embroidered the neckline and cuffs. It is worn just peaking out from the front and side necklines of my bodice, as shown in the images above.  It is made out of mid-weight, soft linen as the event I first wore the dress to was quite cold.



Based on the surviving 1562 Florentine gown worn by Eleanora of Toledo, we can guess that Angelica might have been wearing some sort of pair-of-bodies beneath her gown as bust support and to smooth out the shape of her torso. This lower bodice may have had some type of boning or stiffening sewn into it, but there is just no way to be sure.” 
A Diary of the Gown Worn by Angelica Agliardi de Nicolinis)


I have drawn the same conclusion as the author, and wear a pair-of-bodies as well as a stiffened bodice.


Under the gown, I wear a petticote rather than a farthing gale because it creates the less rigid silhouette that is shown in  portraits around 1545. My petticote is a many layered, cotton skirt that not only forms a support for the gown-skirt but is so bunched that it keeps my legs warm ^_^

Accessories - Head wear/Hairstyle


 Note the centre part with hair smoothed back and probably braided under the ribbon-work caul. The centre part and a hidden yet complex arrangement of hair seemed standard among women wearing my chosen style of dress. My hair, however, is untamed and developing a noticeable centre part required a large quantity of hair glue.


Detail from Eleonora of Toledo with her son by Agnolo Bronzino, 1545


Ribbonwork hair net

Several portraits show women with soft caul-like hair nets, made from ribbons.


Detail from Girl with a Book by Agnolo Bronzino, 1545 Detail from Portrait of duchesse Eleonore Galerie Nar by Agnolo Bronzino




Since you can’t see any obvious way of securing the net, and I didn’t want to put elastic in it, I chose to tie it in a small bow under the overhang of hair at the back of the neck.

The ribbons in my net are decorated with seed pearls at each junction. To make the net, I found a beanie that was tight to wear, stuffed it with clothing and used it as head shaped mould to pattern over. The advantage of this method over using a proper wooden mould is that I could secure the ribbons by stabbing pins into the beanie.


Bonet a l’Italienne – hat


This hat is an optional extra that I learnt about when reading a book called Tudor Costume and fashion by Herbert Norris (Dover publications, 1997).

The author included two portraits showing how these hats were worn around the year 1550. Here is his description, including a contemporary quote (though I cannot remember the exact source):

"It is typically Italian…It is of a black velvet, “moulded on a porringer; a velvet dish- tis a cockle or walnut shell.” Gold buttons set with jewels are placed around it, and on the right side is an elaborate ornament of gold, jewels and pearls stands erect. The hat is poised at an angle over a caul or escoffion, showing the hair through the network."

When making my hat, I used a leather base with a suede finish that had the appearance of velvet. This was simply because I had one pre-prepared. I stitched pearl and gold bee beads as trim. The ‘erect ornament’ was made from pearls and wire





Jewellery - Girdle

I had a girdle but the fabric of the skirt kept getting pulled by the edges of the links. When I locate someone to show me how they successfully wear theirs, I’ll give it a go again. I would like to make a pearl strand tassel, as shown on Eleanora’s girdle.





Bia wears pearl teardrop earrings too, though hers have another gold bead immediately below the ear.

Note her single pearl drop earrings.




My earrings are similar to those worn by Bia



Bia (above, right)  is wearing a short necklace and a long one of a different style appears to have been the common fashion with this style of dress.

Unknown Portrait of a Lady The National Gallery London.

This woman is wearing a short necklace without a longer one. She has the same style sleeves as my focus portraits but is wearing a different headdress.


I have made a pearl and gold bee necklace in a similar link pattern to girdles of the period. I didn’t wear it with a large necklace as well simply because I haven’t found an appropriate one within my budget.






Bella Says.....

Isn't this gown lovely - so fresh and summery! I love the bees too - so cute. The fabric is just gorgeous - such a lovely sheen and colour. I think Lucia has done a terrific job with this gown - there is so much attention to detail, so much care taken with every element of the outfit, from her hair-net to her hemline. Brava Lucia!  

If you would like to contact Lucia you can do so at luce_northwode (at) yahoo (dot) com (at) au

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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.)