THE EMBROIDERED BORDONE DRESS
LATEST Embroidery on sleeves: One down, one to go... Also adjusting the shoulder straps a bit.
1. Portrait of a Lady, Paris Bordone, late 1520's? (Musei Mazzuccelli, Brescia)
2. Portrait of a Woman with Hankerchief (Violante della Vecchia?), 1530's, Paris Bordone, (Private collection of Richard Philip)
3. Portrait of a Woman, Paris Bordone, 1530's (National Gallery of Art, London)
4. Portrait of a Lady from the Fugger family, Paris Bordone, early 1540's? (Sotherby's)
Paris Bordone painted many wonderful female portraits, and what I love about them is that he depicts a slightly different dressing style than the typical late Venetian and early Florentine fashion seen in so many recreations. His sitters wears what I'm tempted to call a "transitional style", when the dresses went from broad focus to a narrow focus. The bodices, which up until the 1520's had been fairly high-waisted and "loosely tied" in front, now started to gain length and get a more ornamented front lacing. Sleeves, which had grown into enormous propotions in Venice in the 1510's and 1520's, much more than the balanced baragoni sleeves in Florence, started to gather the width at the shoulders, eventually ending in small shoulder rolls.
I found the Musei Mazzuccelli portrait (see gallery above) long after I started working on my project, and I'm not sure what to think of it. I will be the first to admit that Bordone has a similar style in ALL his portraits and female figures, conforming them all to his "womany ideal". That's not unusual for a Renaissance painter. But the Mazzucchelli portrait looks like an earlier version of the Woman with a hankerchief portrait, in terms of pose, in the lady's face and hairdo, and in the sleeves. There are slight variations in the placements and attributtes of the hands, and the execution of the bodices, but the similarity is uncanny. The reason why I think it's earlier, is that the dress looks a bit earlier, with the high waisted bodice and the front-tie closing. See Venetian dress gallery here for the evolution in fashion from the Veneto area.
The dress bodice is of particular interest to me. I have always wondered how such a magnificent style as the "Hankerchief" one is not seen elsewhere in Italian Renaissance fashion. As much as I adore it, it always puzzled me - especially the combination of pointed waist, embroidery on the bodice and a golden "modesty panel". I wondered if it's meant allegorical in some way, but there are no to clear attributtes to a saint or a virtue. The hankerchief is a fashionable upper class symbol, and would hardly be a proper attribute for a saint. The closest I've come to see some sort of "message" is that the bodice embroidery much echoes the "frieze" partly covered by the green backdrape. But what is that supposed to tell me?
The clue might lay in the flower she's holding in her hand. There are some examples of Venetian women being portrayed with a violet if their name is "Violante". And sure enough, this portrait is of some said to be of Violante, daugher of Palma Vecchio. Maybe the embroidery of her dress, or at least the flowers, are showing violets as a pun to her name? It still doesn't explain the two very different bodices in the very similar versions of this painting, though.
I should mention that when I first was presented for the "Lady with Hankerchief" one (which my portrait is based on), it was mirrored. It MIGHT be the correct way, but I've since found another online site which displayed it the other way around, and then it match perfectly with the Mazzuccelli portrait (and also many of Bordone's other similar female portraits).
If dating would show that the Mazzucchelli portrait is older, it might help a bit at least on the cronological aspect. That kind of dress style is not to uncommon, as seen in Gallery 2 (assuming the Moretto portrait originally showed three small bows tieing the bodice together). The blue bows towards the crimson dress is also a feature repeated in a later Bordone portrait (last picture underneath):
1. Woman with a Mirror, Tiziano Vecellio, 1513-15 (Louvre, Paris)
2. Portrait of a Woman, Venetian school, 1530's (National gallery, London)
3. Portrait of a Lady with fan, Moretto da Brescia, ca. 1535 (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna)
4. "Portrait of a Woman with Child, Paris Bordone, 1530's (Hermitage, St. Petersburg)
5.Portrait of a Woman, Paris Bordone, 1530's (National Gallery of Art, London)
Could it be that the embroidered dress is in fact fictive? That the Mazzucchelli portrait is the original, so to speak, and that Bordone for some reason painted an updated version of it later? The figure appears to be the same, with different attributtes/hand gestures, and with a different bodice. But the pose, sleeves, the hair-do, the jewellery and the neck opening all seem the same. Maybe the original commisioner wanted a replica of the portrait, slightly updated? Maybe it is meant allegorical in some way or another? I have no answers as of yet. But whatever the explanation, both portraits owns a lot to Titian, especially his "Woman with a Mirror" from ca. 1515 (see gallery above).
I've drooled over so many of "Bordone's" gowns, but the embroidered one always intrigued me more than the rest - the "Portrait of a woman with hankerchief" from the 1530's. I totally dig that it's an early front-laced, pointed bodice, and that the decolletage is very generous. I also love the unusual golden embroidery, and the slashed-and-gold-trimmed sleeves. Allegoric or not, it is a très funky style. But I never actually planned to make it myself, because I know zero about embroidery and the bodice clearly calls for it...
...but then again, life is too short for such thoughts! Sometimes one just have to try, and that's exactly what I did (or rather, am doing....). I got a hold on a lovely burgundy satin polyester, I think it was 8 metres in total, as well as different golden trims. I made the bodice of two layers of unbleached cotton, boned with rigilene both in front and in the back. I then cut the burgundy satin and transferred the pattern (based on the portrait, but slightly simplified) to the satin. I used a metallic golden embroidery thread and a very thin needle, and I used mainly chain stitch. And it was lots of fun! However, it was not fun enough to embroidery the trims around the bodice - I used a nice floral patterned golden trim for that instead.
When the embroidery was finished and ironed, the whole thing was sewn together - two panels in front and one in the back. The bodice is trimmed with the floral golden trim, plus a burgundy-and-golden piping. I've also sewn on tons of small metal hoops for the lacing, but I am not really loving the result (see gallery). I experience a slight unevenness in front, and I think the cut over the hips could have been even higher. But because of all the trims it'll be a big job to alter it.... so we'll see.
The skirt is also cut and sewn; three panels lined with a flaming orange/golden polyester satin. The skirt is pleated and sewn to a waistband, and eventually I'll sew both the waistband and the front pleats to the skirt. The hemline needs to be fixed, but I save that until the skirt is attached. The skirt has almost straight panels, which I think gives the best pleats in the waist - the more flared, the less/smaller pleats (which is probably the reason for flaring the panels in the first place).
I've finally started on the sleeves. They'll be made of two part: an upper "puffed" sleeve, one might call it a baragoni, and a lower slashed sleeve with golden embroidery. Both sleeve parts are made of the same fabric, but the lower sleeve is narrower and more ornamented than the upper one. They require a lot of work, so the progress will be slow. So far I have slashed the right sleeve, and embroidered big chunks of it. Left sleeve is cut, but everything else remains.
Because of the bodice and all the gold this dress almost looks like a typical opera costume, but it looks a lot like the portrait as well. It's an interesting project. I love costumes with lots of gold, so I'm looking forward to work more on this one! PS - thanks to Realm of Venus for putting this portrait online. I had never seen it online before Bella displayed it in her site.
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