I have long been taken by the amazing gown worn by Eleanor in this Bronzino portrait .I also like many costumers found the pearl Partlet and the snood utterly wonderful.
Yet it was only as I began to plan this years Tudor outfits I noticed numerous other portraits of Eleanor almost always in stunning gowns.
Sadly later portraits also show increasing signs of illness ,Eleanor suffered for many years from TB and though her eventual death was due to Malaria ,the TB certainly affected her health in the intervening years
It seemed not impossible to me that this is the gown which Eleanor was dressed in for her funeral and which was found on her in the 19thc exhumation.That gown was also sleeveless
Eleanor seems to have been an incredibly interesting person ,she married into the infamous Medici family and both by bringing her aristocratic connections to the less than elevated Medici family tree and bearing 9 children she ensured its survival at a time when enemies were gathering .Though initially disliked because she was spanish Eleanor’s obvious good sense and decency helped counter some of the scandalous story’s circulating about the Medic.Eleanores many portraits are part of this PR exercise.She became popular and well-loved and acted as regent when her husband was absent ,unlike many Medici wives she was an active political figure and spite of ill-health she maintained an active life, accompanying her husband Cosimo on all of his travels and hunting companies, to the surprise of the courtiers She also seems to have led an active life with much more physical exercise than the average Renaissance lady ,when her skeleton was examined it showed she had been used to exercise but fell increasingly ill as the TB caused more and more damage to her health,,heightened by numeroushi pregnancies which caused calcium deficiencies contempory reports record concerns about her health and also her determination not to let it affect her life
“In my opinion, and that of others also, her illness is serious and will worsen every day”,
1561 the Venetian ambassador in Florence reported “This lady is always ill and every morning she throws up her food. ,,, “…even with all this misfortune she absolutely refuses to stop, just out of discomfort, going out and accompanying the duke everywhere he goes
She seems to have had steel stays constructed to help her keep upright and perhaps support her back ,Eleanor probably had frequent backache during pregnancy and did have some arthritis .This steel breastplate style of stays though not Eleanors is almost certainly a medicinal corset
Eleanore owned at least one set of steel stays possibly more but they are not included among her clothing ,It’s unlikely a pair shaped like this could have been worn regularly by Eleanor as she was pregnant for most of her later life .
Eleanor’s actual stays are unboned and made from velvet ,they did not lace but fastened with hooks and eyes so would not have been very tight fitting .though she owned numerous stays there is no record of her wearing boned bodices or stiffened stays,its possible she couldn’t do so once the TB damaged her lungs but it seems more likely she never wore rigid or boned stays.The stiff front on the earlier portraits is probably from a stiffened bodice front rather than stiffened stays .
Eleanor seems to have felt the cold during the cold winters in Italy and there are records gown which have been completely fur lined as well as fur collars and edgings
,Eleanor’s once healthy teeth became increasing diseased and she must have spent a substantial amount of her later years in either sever pain or very acute discomfort.The rich brocades and silks also hid a child hood deformation perhaps unknown to any of her contemporaries outside her inner circle of ladies in waiting and her husband ,,though slight Eleanor had suffered from rickets had been very slightly bow legged.
I have now finished my first of the Eleanor gowns the Bronzino gown,this photo also shows my simpler veraion of the golden pearl trimed partlet Eleanore wears in her earlier portraits
I also made a pearl decorated snood as Eleanor is often wearing one in her portraits
medici archive documents
Mando a Vostra Signoria [Riccio] la veste della Signora Duchessa [Eleonora de Toledo], la quale s’à da foderare con li ermellini che saranno con questa. Et perché non saranno abastanza, per essere la veste più grande et anche per non essere questo pellicciaro al proposito, perho si manda a Vostra Signoria che la facci foderare, et li ermellini che ci manchano gli mettino dinnanzi et al bavero, et con quanta più prestezza si può […] Vi mando un braccio et 2/3 di passamano mi è avanzato insieme con um poco di ermisino, et V.ra S.a sarà contenta quando la mi fa rimandare la veste di farmi mandare 10 braccia di nastro di seta biancha del largo, et V.a S.a la facci indirizzar qui al Romigi [Buti] […]
] I send Your Lordship [Riccio] the robe of the Lady Duchess [Eleonora de Toledo], which, if to be lined with ermine that they will be with this. And because they will not be abastanza to be the largest as et also not be pellicciaro to this regard, perho is sent to your lordship that let us lined et stoats them that there manchano mettino the front collar et al, et with much haste you can […] I send you an arm et 2/3 of my braid is advanced along with um little ermisino, et V.ra Sa will be happy when I am put off as to send me 10 fathoms tape silk Biancha the wide, et should let us know the indirizzar here to Romigi [Buti] […]
There are some excellent shots of a reproduction eleanor gown on this flickr photostream