I have been planning my new years wardrobes ,I always like to have some central theme or historical figure in mind as it then makes it easier to focus detailed research on the gowns ,head dresses etc.My usual choice is assorted queens from the Tudor era as the portraits of artists such as Holbein.
or master John.
All provide excellent sources for both an overall look and more importantly for visual detailing.
For instance the famous and contemporary portrait of Jane Seymour by Holbein has two different versions largely identical in pose, clothing and style though they differ in several details eg in one Jane wears more elaborate sleeves than in the other and there is less embroidery on the blackwork cuffs
The portrait earlier in the post if Holbein’s own “official” portrait while the other version while roughly contemporary is from the studio of Holbein and while obviously based on his original sketches differs slightly.It’s handy to play spot the difference on various portraits.
I find it helpful to examine each portrait however famous or universally accepted as carefully as lawyer would some important legal contract they was required to sign.
The portraits will be the foundation of any costume and on their accuracy and reliability the authenticity of your finished outfit and your reputation depends.However carefuly made or recreated an outfit based on a flawed source is effectively useless .I use the outfits as visual aids ,I consider them as I would a thesis or academic paper .While it’s obviously outside my pocket to make 16thc gowns of cloth of gold ,venetian silk damask etc or trim hood with genuine gemstones I can do everything possible to recreate the shape ,look and layers as accurately as possible . I always strive to have them as near to historically perfect as possible and always point out any aspects of costumes which I have been forced to compromise on
After choosing a portrait or painting I usually do the following checks
Is it actually a confirmed portrait of the person it claims to be .I do use disputed portraits but never use them for any outfit that forms the core of a teaching wardrobe ,if you’re replicating a Tudor or Elizabethan costume for historical purposes ,knowing its function when being worn is essential and unknown sitters are useless for this .
2/ Is the portrait completely contemporary? ,later portraits ,copies etc while useful are flawed ,its unlikely later painters saw the clothing worn with their own eyes or saw the fashions being worn .Even if the painter is copying an original lost portrait the new version will have been created with a different purpose in mind to the original ,For example consider this famous portrait of Anne Boleyn.
It’s in the National portrait gallery labeled as Anne Boleyn and always used in biographies of her .It’s widely believed by the public that this is Anne’s contemporary portrait however that is not the case it is a much later copy and only one of several versions of the same image.The one below is from Hever castle the Boleyn’s home
In all later portraits there is a hidden agenda , items may have been added to highlight the prestige of the sitter or details showing links to them by the person commissioning the portrait.
I always have misgivings about the famous B necklace worn by Anne in her most famous portraits .The portraits in which she is wearing it are later copies ,there is never any record of her wearing a necklace like it in verbal accounts and it doesn’t show up on other contemporary portraits of her . There seems no reason for her to have chosen to habitually wear such a necklace.While loyal to and proud of her family ,Once in the public eye she was always very keen to stress her royal and aristocratic ties rather than her less exalted family ties .Perhaps she had a B necklace when she first went to court but wearing a B necklace for an official portrait rather than one showing symbol of rank or some necklace with her and Henry’s arms or initial intertwined seems odd .It’s doubly suspicious to me because the source of the portraits in which she is wearing the necklace seem to be the Hever castle painting ,Hever was the Boleyn’s seat and her family home.It seems much more likely that in later years the opportunist Boleyn family commissioned portraits of the now famous rather than infamous Anne ,mother of the reigning queen and were keen to highlight unequivocably her origins in their family .The image bears no relation to most other possible images of Anne which all seem like each other but unlike the portrait.
.I personally feel it likely the Holbein sketches are Anne and are preliminary to the lost full length portrait and the more formally posed sketch is the basis for the medal below.
Which is our only contemporary image and was stuck in her brief reign.To enter a detailed assessment of these portraits is beyond the scope of this post but the Anne Boleyn files contains and excellent and as always very well researched treatment of the subject here
The second point follows on and is an extension of the above comments, do some parts of the painting look less reliable than others ? as its possible details have been added later or mistakes made in restoring the painting.An excellent example is the Leonardo da Vinci Lady with an Ermine
The lady is wearing a unsual hair style which is more or less impossible to recreate and a strange double heandband.The painting was heavily retouched and the veil which ran under the lady’s chin painted the same colour as her hair to match it ,Thus not only can the painting provide a misleading hairstyle but also give the impression the lady’s head is uncovered.The actual hair should look something like this ,another Leonardo portrait ,usually called La Belle Ferronnierre
It’s also handy to do a “character check” on the painting to make sure it has a satisfactory provenance.
3 /Try to always use a second and preferably written source. For the Tudor court the accounts of the great wardrobe provide much detailed information on fabrics trims etc and accounts from ambassadors ,courtiers etc give details on when and where the gowns were worn ,how suitable they seemed ,the impression they created etc.I think the Medici version is called the gardrobbe but Medici letters and documents are availible online here
4 Moving on from portraiture try to find extant similar items For later Elizabethan outfits we have the items and information gained from the Elizabeth 1 funeral effigy .
The clothing removed from the original are the usual source for detailed information on the stays worn under late Elizabethan gowns.
and are backed up not just by Elizabeth’s wardrobe accounts but also the famous portrait of Elizabeth Veron in a state of less than formal dress showing how they were worn .though there are minor difference in the stays in essential details they are the same
Getting the under layers correct is the basic foundation needed to have the costume look perfect and is the main problem for this era ,very few extant undergarments exist and are mostly either from overseas and often from funeral effigy or clothing taken from re interred bodies.
For extant over gowns we have no actual complete early UK Tudor gowns ,we some shifts or shirts such as those below now in the museum of costume in Bath
It is only for the later period we have extant clothing.This is largely from tombs ,effigies or religious statues .The most reliable gown we have has been restored from fragments taken from the body of Eleanor of Toledo and is not entire ,though the surving fragments allow it to be compelty recreated…the orginal gown fragments are dark the added fabric used to recreate the gown is white
whatever may be the moral implications of disturbing a body and removing its clothing ,the information gained from clothing taken from the Medic tombs is invaluable.The Eleanor gown provided details of lacing ,under layers ,fabrics and trims ,a pair of stays worn with the gown were also recovered and restored
and also stockings
The wealth of information gained from clothing from the Medici tombs was my main reason for choosing Eleanor of Toledo as my choice for late 16th outfits this year,it would be possible to recreate an entire outfit at actual size if desired ,Sources used here include an excellent but expensive book on the subject Moda alla Corte dei Medici.
.The tomb clothes are backed up by portraits of both Eleanore and other ladies.I will be using the gown for my Elizabethan talks and though italian it is a useful source as we have written evidence Elizabeth 1 dressed in italian style gowns and we also have contemporary portraits of Elizabeth shown directly below and other ladies such as Mary queen of Scotts seen under the Elizabeth portrait in similar gowns.
The Eleanore funeral gown is backed up by other extant items such as the Pisa gown ,cut in exactly the same way as the Eleanor gown and with similar decoration .
The uk is represented by some very late Elizabethan /early Stuart overgowns and jackets most of which are in the V and A museum and can be viewed online
The most useful Uk item for teaching purposes is this jacket dated by the portrait in which it appears to 1620s but in basic design the same that is seen in earlier late Elizabethan portraits such as the Elizabeth Veron one
Once I have a firm idea of the underlying look and shape of accurate gowns I usually turn to costume dramas which have gained a respected reputation for accuracy for example Elizabeth R which created details replica gowns from many of Elizabeth’s portraits including this excellent incredibly detailed replica
Created using the little known phoenix portrait.
Or this equally impressive replica of a much more famous outfit based on the Ditchley portrait
It also highlight a problem in creating costumes for use in public ,Most people assumed that the series had taken liberties with the back of the gown however a close look at the portrait shows that the back is indeed made from a more or less identical fabric.Its occasionaly better if creating gowns for non academic events to alter them slightly ,for instance make the back of this gown white as is assumed is the case as opposed to them more accurate version above.
The final use of costume drama is to see how comfortable or uncomfortable a gown is likely to be and how it moves, how much it limits movement and how much space it takes up .
Having used Elizabeth R as an example of good costume dramas which used respected costumers,original extant sources and sound research I would like to add a cautionary word about popular and well known though much less reliable costume dramas,some were nominated or won costume Oscars or awards which can give the impression of reliability however awards are judged by many criteria and visual impact is much more important than accuracy
The other Boleyn girl is infamous in costuming circles for the liberties taken with Tudor costumes ,from the slightly less noticeable flaws such as the weird far too short french hoods ,with coloured rather than black veils in Marys case and none at all in Annes ..
The hoods are also shown with gowns of a much later style but most infamous are the “dressing gowns /Overgowns which seem based on mens 18thc dressing gowns
Yes even badly costumed films do occasionally provide helpful inspiration for instance the Other Boleyn girls contains two excellent and surprisingly accurate versions of the rarely used English intermediate hood ,,all be it worn far to back on the head in Marys case
Another popular misconception gained from movies and series such as ,La rein Margot,The other Boleyn girl and the Tudors is that 16th women habitually wore gowns slipping off their shoulders
Though I love this red gown ,none of the ladies have on chemises or the correct petticoats.The drastic effects of poor layering can be seen in the two contrasting images of a stunning Elizabeth R gown .(images from costume movies and screen stills can be seen here ( http://periodmoviecaps.blogspot.co.uk/2009/12/elizabeths-green-surcoat-gown.html)
which can been seen 1 hour 4 mins into the episode the marriage game
and again worn in a much less impressive manner and with poor attention to detail and without the correct layers in The acclaimed saga of England’s virgin queen here
Other examples of reused gowns can be seen here,the results often show the necessity for correct underlayers and accessories,though in some instances they are useful for seeing how a gown can be changed to look different once its been used.
I hope this has been a helpful post both in providing sources of extant items and in giving general tips for costume research
There is an extreemly exhaustive list of historical costume sources to be found