THAT dress....

Yes, THAT dress.... As a part of a bigger project I'm collecting info and pictures of this and related dresses. I've been a big Agnolo Bronzino (1503-1572) fan for many years (as my pink Bronzino gown might have revealed already), both because of his amazing tactile painting style, and because I love Italian mannerism. And the Eleonora di Toledo (1522-1562) portrait is a definitive highlight, whether one is into Renaissance dresses or Renaissance art. On this project I hope to combine my love for art history AND historical garbs. As of yet, the focus might be a bit all over the place... This will be sorted out as I go. At this stage I'm mostly collecting ideas and info.


Click for larger image

The Portrait of Eleonora di Toledo with her son Giovanni is probably Bronzino's most famous work, of has become his easiest recognizable work. Which is amusing, considering it is less typical his style than the other works by his hand. He painted the duchess at several occations, three of which are regarded as autograph (Brock 2002), and several by his workshop (often repeating or varying existing portraits). He also painted many other members of the Medici family. The Medici portraits served a specific political purpose, legitimizing the Medici family as rulers of Florence, and the numerous copies and alternative versions were to underline their dynasty.

The portrait featuring Elenora and the son Giovanni is massive in size (ca. 115 x 96 cm). Just like the 1543 portrait of her in a pink dress, it has a corresponding portrait of her husband Cosimo I de' Medici (1519-1574). But while Cosimo is painted alone in both portraits, Eleonora is painted with a son in one of them. Such a large-format portrait including the child of the sitter was rare in Florentine, or in Italy in general, in the early and mid century. There is however a "forerunner" of such a noblewoman/child portrait in the Medici family. Eleonora's mother-in-law, Maria Salviati (1499-1543), was painted by Pontormo in ca. 1540. She is accompanied by a small child, in the century identified as Cosimo himself.

The child was painted over sometime after 1612, and re-discovered in 1902. It was then automatically assumed to be Cosimo, though in a retrospective portrait. However, the child is wearing an outfit that doesn't match the boy clothes of the time. A boy of this age would wear a high-collared shirt and a tight-fitting high doublet. Furthermore, a boy would wear his hair neat-cut and short. The child in question is wearing a garb with the shoulder straps placed far out, and the hair is dressed as a mazzocchio, a crown of (often false) hair (Landini 2005: 29), with small curls in front. This is clearly female fashion, as can be seen in the contemporary portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi, or the posthuman portrait of Bianca "Bia" de' Medici from ca. 1542.


1. Maria Salviati with Giulia de' Medici, ca. 1542, Pontormo (Walter's Art Museum, Baltimore)
2. Portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi, ca. 1541, Bronzino (Uffizi, Florence)
3. Portrait of Bianca "Bia" de' Medici, ca. 1542, Bronzino (Uffizi, Florence

This is further emphasized by a 1612 inventory lists: When in the Riccardi collection, it was referred to as "Maria Salviati with una puttina" - a small girl (Langdon 2006: 33).

We know today that both legitime and illegitime children of the Medici family lived under the care of Maria Salviati. They were brought up by her, living a life in luxury, and being well educated and cared for. This included Cosimo's Bianca "Bia" de' Medici (born just before Cosimo married Eleonora, and which Eleonora grew fond of) as well as Giulio and Giulia de' Medici, which was children of the recently murdered duke Alessandro. Gabrielle Langdon (Langdon 2006) argues that the portrait depicts the orphaned Giulia protected by the mightly Maria Salviati, and she also suggests that the pose might be a pun or hint of the sitters name - Salviati, salvare, to rescue (Langdon 2006: 45).

Painting Eleonora with her son can be seen as a natural continuation of the Maria Salviati portrait. And it became an important dynastic portrait in late Renaissance Florence. It soon became an own genre, to paint young mothers with their successful offspring, showing the triumphal continuation of important families. This didn't only apply to Tuscany - such portraits are also frequently appearing in Veneto, Bologna etc. Large family paintings also gained success at this time, and in Veneto mothers and daughters are also depicted together. This is almost never seen in Florence, although the starting point - the Maria Salviati with little Giulia one - showed a noblewoman with a female relative.

If looking closer at Bronzino's female portraits, an interesting phenomenon can be spotted... namely that of a remodelled portrait. According to monograph writer Maurice Brock, Bronzino worked within two "schemes" for his female portraits; the seated, left-turned sitter (sometimes standing, but mostly sitting) with both hands visible, and the left-turned half busts with the right hand in front of the chest and the left out of sight. Three related portraits adapts to the first "scheme":


1. Portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi, ca. 1541, Bronzino (Uffizi, Florence)
2. Portrait of a Florentine noblewoman with son, 1540/1550, Bronzino (National Gallery of Art, Washington).
3. Portrait of Eleonora di Toledo with her son Giovanni, ca. 1545, Bronzino (Uffizi, Florence)

The first is the pendant portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi, painted ca. 1541. It shows the forerunner of the dress fashion Eleonora di Toledo is wearing, with a shorter cone-shaped bodice with a square neckline, sleeves being puffed around the shoulder and narrow(er) down the arm and with a chemise cuff peeking out. There's accessoires like a decorated partlet, a girdle and two chains of jewellery around the neck. The background is dark, and her left arm is resting in the middle-bottom of the painting while the right is occupied.

This sceme is repeated in the portrait of a (today) unknown lady, and even the dress, partlet and jewellery is very similar. The date is uncertain, I've seen everything between 1540 to 1550, and the reason why it's tricky to date it is that it was remodelled by Bronzino himself some years after it was first finished. And the occation was assumedly to make the portrait more like the one of Eleonora di Toledo. A brocaded pattern has been added to the previously one-coloured dress, and parts of the sleeves has been enlarged under the puff to make it closer to that of Eleonora. The most striking remodelling is still the addition of the son - X-rays has revealed he was not originally in the painting, and he appears ghastly, being painted over the dark green background. There are many hypothesis of why the portrait was altered, but there's a definite link to the Eleonora di Toledo portrait. Maybe the unknown lady had given birth to a long-wanted son and the family wanted to emphasize their family's dynastic ambitions?

Mother and son depicted in Tuscan portraits from the mid and late century:


1. Portrait of a Florentine noblewoman with son, 1540/1550, Bronzino (National Gallery of Art, Washington).
2. Portrait of Eleonora di Toledo with her son Giovanni, ca. 1545, Bronzino (Uffizi, Florence)
3. Portrait of Eleonora di Toledo with her son Francesco, 1549, Workshop of Bronzino (Palazzo Reale, Pisa)
4. Possibly Isabella de' Medici with her son Virginio, ca. 1574, A. Allori (Wadsworth Museum of Art, Hartford)
5. A variant of number 3, 1570's, possibly an Allori workshop piece (location unknown)
6. Portrait of donna Chevara with her son, 1560-65, Workshop of Bronzino (Worchester Museum)
7. Giovanna of Austria with her son Filippo, ca. 1586, Giovanni Bizzelli (Uffizi, Florence)
8. Bianca Capello with her son Antonio, ca. 1587, Alessandro Allori (or Lavinia Fontana?) (Dallas Museum of Art)

There exists two nearly identical versions of this painting, as described in an 1998 article by Serena Urry (Urry 1998). One is in the Uffizi gallery in Florence, the other is in the Detroit Institute of Arts. Both paintings are oil on poplar and not too different in size; the Uffizi version is 115 x 96 centimetres, the Detroit version is 121,5 x 100 centimeters. There are some differences viewable to the naked eye. The most obvious one when comparing them side by side, is that the figures appeares to be "pushed back" a bit in the Detroit one, showing more of the sitters. The background of the Detroit version is more greyish in colour than the deep blue colour of the Firenze version - possible because that colour was less expensive than true ultramarine (Urry 1998, page 214). The suit of the child boy also differs - the Firenze version displays a rich violet shot with gold, while the Detroit version displays a muted brown with gold. Eleonora's dress also appears more silver in colour in the replica. The versions might have looked the same originally - it is not unlikely that the painting has changed appearance.

Last, but not least, the Detroit painting is larger and shows a bit more of the dress and of the little boy's right arm. Whereas the Uffizi version is seen as authetic Bronzino, scholars argue on whether the replica is wholly by Bronzino, wholly by his workshop, or a combination (this is what the Urry article deals with).

The most interesting aspect is that whereas no obvious mistakes appears in the fabric pattern in the Firenze version, oddities appears in the Detroit one. "(...) parts of the image had to be created rather than copied. The 6,5 expansion of the dress at the bottom of the Detroit painting is one such area. At the bottom left corner of the skirt in the Uffizi portrait, the top of one of the large gold brocades shows at the very edge of the panel. (...) Examination of the fabric pattern shows that the brocade at the bottom edge is a duplicate of the motif on Eleonora's torso. At the bottom left of the Detroit portrait, however, it dissolves into a lumpy chevron where it has been extended to fit the larger panel. (Urry 1998, page 218).

A later replica, by Lorenzo della Sciorina, shows even more of the skirt, but here they've gotten the repeated fabric right (see b/w picture underneath). They've also kept the boy's clothes and pose, but replaced the portrait (head) of Giovanni (born 1543) with that of Garzia (born 1547).


Florence - Detroit - Uffizi

Why the original portrait was most likely painted in summer of 1545 (though preliminary sketches might have been made earlier):

1. We know that Cosimo I married Eleonora in 1539; by proxy in Naples, and later with great ceremony in Pisa and Florence (Landini 2005: 16). Her first portrait was painted by Bronzino app. 1543 (the Prague portrait), when she had already given birth to three children (possibly four, as Giovanni was born in November 1543). Her eldest son Francesco was born in March 1541. If he is the boy in the portrait, it must have been painted around 1543 (the child appears to be app. 2 years of age) - however, it is not likely that Bronzino would have painted two such different portraits of the duchess the same year.

If the boy is Giovanni, it would be painted around 1545. And this is not too far-fetched. The little boy is generally accepted as being the two-year old Giovanni, especially because of the match to the Bronzino portrait "Giovanni de' Medici as a child holding a goldfinch" painted 1544/1545. One might expect them to include their eldest son for this kind of portraiture, but it's possibly reflecting a family dynasty plan. The eldest son Francesco was already destined to become the the new grand duke, so his position was "safe". There might have been ambitions to promote the next-eldest son for a grand future as well - maybe within the church, becoming a pope like his namesake Giovanni de' Medici, who became Pope Leo X in 1511 (Cox-Rearick 1993: 37).

Bronzino's workshop did however paint Eleonora with Francesco on a later date (see gallery 2). That portrait is mostly based on the 1545 version, although Eleonora herself shows similarities to her 1543 Prague portrait as well. This portrait is probably not painted from life, at least not on the duchess' behalf, and is usually dated to 1549, making the son Francesco app. 7 years old.

1. Portrait of Eleonora di Toledo, ca. 1543, Bronzino (Nàrodni Galerie, Prague)
2. Closeup of the portrait, focusing on her hand
3. A picture of the surviving ring, matching the portrait perfectly (Museo degli Argenti, Florence)

The dress in the 1543 portrait might be one of the dresses she wore at her wedding ceremonies, as she is described as one day having worn a dress of ...crimson satin, richly embroidered all over in gold lamella (Landini 2005). One of the rings from this portrait also survives, as can be seen in the gallery overneath. If I've understood it correctly, it was found in Eleonora's tomb, and is today in the Palazzo Pitti jewel collection in Florence. But that's a digression....

2. Bronzino wrote a letter to Pierfrancesco Riccio from the Medici family's country estate at Poggio a Caiano on August 9, 1545, where he's asking for more blue colour (most likely ultramarine) for a painting he was working at, because the field is large and has to be dark. (Brock 2002). If you look at the portrait again, you'll see that the background is actually a landscape. I hadn't noticed either.... But to the right of the duchess there is clearly a landscape and a lake or river, which means that the ultramarine background can be seen as the evening sky as well as being the conventional deep blue background. It would support the idea of them being painted when at the countryside at Poggio a Caiano rather than in Florence.

There have been many theories, rumours and assertions concerning the dress Eleonora di Toledo wears in the 1545 portrait. And certainly, it is the most striking object in the painting. Which it most likely was indended as. Eleonora di Toledo was of Spanish origin, being the daugher of Don Pedro Álvarez de Toledo, Viceroy of Naples. Toledo in Spain was in the century considered to be the European center of fine gold and velvet brocades with pomegranate patterns (May 1957: 131), but Florence became a serious competitor in the century. The portrait dress of 1545 therefore became a political statement more than a pretty object. Having the duchess wear the finest fabrics Florence could produce would be pure promotion of Florentine silk industry; an important political sign now that the Florentines established such an industry that could compete with Spain and Venice. Conveniently enough, the Medici family was in the silk business and would benefit both political and economical on the growing popularity of luxury fabrics.

But did the dress really exist, or was a fine fabric "transferred" to an existing dress in the portrait? Is it a fantasy product? Do we have proof of the existance of the dress? Was it her wedding dress? Was she even buried in it? Is it actual fashion or painted fiction?

Let's deal with some hypothesis concerning her magnificent dress:

It didn't exist
This dress seems larger than life and cannot have existed in real life. It was a product of Bronzino's imagination, based on a large piece of rich fabric the Medici family sent him to base the dress on.

This is a main theory of Paola Tinagli, authour of "Women in Italian renaissance art", and also of others. Tinagli writes "The gown painted with such a precision of detail in Eleonora's portrait did not in fact exist: Bronzino was given a piece of cloth to work from, and a sample in the Bargello shows almost exactly the same design." (Tinagli 1997, page 112). This is repeated by other scholars as well.

That is an option. Few other Florentine dresses from portraits of the early and mid-1500 shows patterned gowns. Patterned multicoloured garbs were not too popular in the early Renaissance: "In general, garments that were multi-colored, striped checkered, or featured strong color contrasts were prohibited, being considered improper for the good Christian" (Pastorureau 2001, page 91). This was particularly true in early Renaissance Tuscany, where serenity and modesty was reflected in clothes. It wasn't as valid for the North of Italy where the fashion could be outrageous, with stripes, bows, ribbons and exaggerated shapes, but in Florence modesty was regarded as one of the highest virtues. The tradition of non-patterned dresses lived longer in Florence than most other Italian cities, partly because of the monk Savonarola's fight against decadence, luxury and vanity in the 1490's. Modesty in clothes became both a fashion and a statement, and remained dominant for several decades. But the growth of Florence's silk industry, plus the new dominance of the Medici family, brought new ideals to the city. Venetian and Lombardian fashion from the era dispalys much more flamboyant fashion, and also more patterned dresses.

Based on knowledge of dresses of the era, Eleonora di Toledo's portrait dress looks quite conventional in cut and shape. The bodice is cone-shaped with a square neck opening and sloping shoulder straps, and with a metallic ribbon trim all around. The skirt is full and gathered in the waist, especially in the sides and back, while the front is straighter. The sleeves are made out of four or five panels, trimmed with a rich metallic ribbon and attached together with ornamental gold "buttons", revealing a white camicia with blackwork on cuffs and neck lining. The latter sleeve arrangement occurs in several of her portraits.


1. La Bella, Tiziano Vecellio, ca. 1535, Urbino/Venezia (Palazzo Pitti, Florence)
2. Portrait of a lady, Prospero Fontana, ca. 1540, Bologna
3. Portrait of a Florentine noblewoman, Attributted to Bronzino, 1540's, Florence (Museum of Art, San Diego)
4. Portrait of Eleonora di Toledo, Agnolo Bronzino, ca. 1543, Florence (Galerie Narodni, Prague)
5. Portrait of Eleonora di Toledo and son, Agnolo Bronzino, ca. 1545, Florence (Uffizi, Florence)
6. Portrait of Eleonora di Toledo, Agnolo Bronzino, ca. 1560, Florence
7. Portrait of Laura da Pola, Lorenzo Lotto, ca. 1544, Treviso/Venezia (Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan)

This would at least indicate that the dress itself, made in whatever fabric, was something Bronzino painted from life. Tinagli is right mentioning that similar fabric samples have survived, for example in the Bargello museum. Question is - does this make a dress made of such a fabric less or more plausible? Patterned dresses became increasingly popular towards the end of the century. The (highly stylized) pomegranate was a dominant motive, symbolizing fertility. And fertility was one thing that was stressed when it came to the Duchess's public appearance, via Juno, via the pomegranate - she became Eleonora genetrix (Cox-Rearick 1993: 30). If Bronzino made up this outfit, he is likely to based it on an existing dress, because of the many authentic dress details he has depicted. This could support the hypothesis of Bronzino transferring a precious fabric to an existing dress, but it could also mean it was, in fact, a real dress made of that kind of fabric. By placing the cut and construction of the dress in an historical frame, we can claim that the dress is not a fantasy product, but it's impossible to tell whether it was made of such a fabric or not. How common was such fabrics?

One plausible scenario is that Eleonora di Toledo sat for this portrait in the dress depicted for a limited time, and to allow Bronzino to get all the details right, he was sent a large piece of the same fabric used in the dress. As mentioned earlier, he could also have transferred the desired fabric onto a sketch of a "plain" gown. This is not too unlike Tiziano's work with the portrait of Giulia Varano. She never sat for the portrait herself (Lorne 1990: 145); Tiziano therefore used the same pose and details from his portrait of Eleonora Gonzaga from a few years earlier. They were both from the same court in Urbino, so the similarity would probably be recognized by the nobility.

Giulia Varano's portrait appearance was based on her husbands description, and on a dress the court sent Tiziano (Lorne 1990: 145). The dress is less magnificent than the court at Urbino desired. This is because Tiziano had his heart set on a dress of reddish velvet. The lady Giulia had no such velvet dress, so a damask dress of the desired colour was sent to him in 1547. The courtier bringing the dress exclaimed that he would have come with a more magnificent dress "...if Titian had not insisted on crimson or rose velvet. Since Her Excellency does not have a dress like that, she has decided that this one, of damask of the same colour, may suit his purpose".


1. Portrait of Eleonora Gonzaga, ca. 1538, Tiziano Vecellio (Uffizi, Florence)
2. Portrait of Giulia Varano, ca. 1548, Tiziano Vecellio (and workshop?), (Palazzo Pitti, Florence)

The same "painted fiction" could be the case with Eleonora di Toledo's pomegranate dress. It might have been an existing dress, but with another fabric painted instead of the one the dress was made from. This might explain the lack of very visible seams, which are more likely to be drawn from life than from a premilimary sketch and a "transposed" fabric. However, there might be a seam under her left hand, because the pattern reveals a stripe which cannot be found elsewhere in the pattern (Villani 2006), and eventual side seams of the bodice can be hidden by shadows. It could also have had side/back lacing as shown in period examples, leaving no seams in front. It's hard to say.

It should also be noted that there is no record of Bronzino being as temperamental and individual as an artist than Tiziano. The latter was also known for being able to make excellent portraits without even meeting the subject or painting from life - like he did with deceased queen Isabella of Portugal, her husband Karl V (where he did replicas of previous portraits, or variations of them), and the Giulia Varano one overneath. Bronzino, on the other hand, met the people he painted, he even had close relations to some of them. If the Eleonora portrait dress had such a grandious pattern transferred by the painter, I doubt it would be due to Bronzino's preferences - but it could be due to requests of the duke and duchess.

There is one momentum speaking against it being an existing dress: it cannot be identified for sure in the Medici inventory lists, where most of Eleonora's garbs are registered. Such a splendid garb would surely have been listed, seeing it's high value. It should however be noted that the inventory lists were initiated some 10 years after the portrait in discussion was painted, so elder garbs might be less easy to identify, or already replaced. The lists do describe a "dress with bodice and skirt of silver tabby patterned with black pile", made sometimes around 1543-44 (Landini 2005: 25). The dress in question was without sleeves. It can mean that the sleeves were tie-ons, to be replaced by will, or that the original sleeves were worn-out - the dress would have been 10-15 years old by the times it was registered. But the description is so vague that it's not possible to pin-point it to the pomegranate dress in the portrait (Landini 2005).

It's important to note that similar fabrics to that of her dress can be found in many sources, both in clerical robes, in fabric samples and in other portraits. Eleonora di Toledo was rich in her own rights, and she had silk weavers in her service (Tinagli 1997: 112 and 186, Marinis 1994). Together with her husband, she made sure the silk industry of Florence grew to new heights, rivaling with Spain and Venice on making the most exquisite items. Florence was originally the major producer of fine wool fabrics, but during the century silks became the major export article. Spain had long been well-renowned for their rich velvet fabrics, especially in "arabesque" patterns, but after the Iberic peninsula opened towards the "new-found" continent of America, gold and exotic products was just as important income as the fine fabrics. Soon Italy became dominant in the production of fine silks, especially the patterned velvet ones. Many of the abstract ornamented patterns were inspired by the non-figurative decorations used in Muslim countries, and was therefore referred to as "arabesque". The "arabesque" is frequently appearing in Florentine fabrics, and although white/gold/black seems to be the most common, there were many colour variations (see gallery).

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

7. 8. 9. 10.

1a. Elisabeth (Isabel) of Austria, 1573, unknown painter (Monastery of Descalzas Reales, Madrid)
1b. Cropped colour version of 1a
2. "St. Stephens martyrium", 1597, Lodovico Cigoli (Accademia, Florence)
3. "Adoration of the Magi", 1630-40?, Vincenzo Malo (Pinacoteca, Vatican Museum)
4. Coloured detail picture of the San Lorenzo robe (Genova)
5. Clerical robe from San Lorenzo, Genova. Velvet, golden foundation, pattern in red, gold and silver, mid century
6. Spanish chasuble (clerical robe), Lyon, more info needed
7. Ottoman kaftan, possibly from Topkapi palace. Velvet, cream foundation, pattern in blue and gold
8. Fabric sample, brocaded velvet with cream foundation, and gold, silver and black pattern (Turin)
9. Fabric sample, brocaded velvet with cream foundation, and gold, silver and black pattern (Turin)
10. Fabric sample, brocaded velvet with cream foundation, and silver and black pattern (Bargello, Florence)

These kind of fabrics seem to appear a lot in and century clerical robes. There might be numerous reasons for this. One could be that such fabrics were extremely expensive, and therefore seen as proper for clerical garbs. Especially the counter-reformation sported the splendour of the church, that would overwhelm people and give them an idea of the marvels of heaven. But another reason, which admittedly is related, is that noble ladies tended to donate their finest dresses to the church, so they could be re-sewn into clerical garbs. Often this happened after the person was deceased, through their will, or on important occasions in life (like the baptist of a child). These fabrics were solely used by the upper nobility, and many of these fine ladies might have donated a dress of such fabric to their chosen church. One dress needed app. 10 meters (Landini 2005), which would be enough for one grand cope, or for at least two chasubles. This can be a possible explanation of the frequent appearance of arabesque fabrics for clerical garbs.

It surely existed, she was even buried in it
This dress was so special to the Medicis that it even served as Eleonora di Toledo's funeral gown when she died in 1562. This was confirmed when the grave was opened in the late century.

One of the most quoted myths out there. Yes, the remains of her burial dress survives; it is today in the care of the Galleria del Costume at Palazzo Pitti in Florence. And it is a different dress than the one from the portrait. Conservator and dress researcher Janet Arnold got to examine the dress remains in the 80s, and her observations and research was released as a part of the book "Patterns of Fashion, c. 1560-1620". The burial dress was probably not too unlike the one from the portrait, but shows a one-coloured white satin dress with extentively decorated trims on bodice and skirt, and the bodice is more pointed than the dress in the portrait. It is believed that grave robbers got to her grave not too long after her death, and that they turned the corpus over - which is why the backside of the bodice is better preserved than the front, and why she wore no jewellery apart from a ring and a hairnet.

When the grave was opened and examined in 1857, this is what they found: a skeleton of a woman between 36 and 46. and app. 1,58 m. tall. She was richly dressed in a satin bodice and skirt with trims, and underneath she wore a velvet bodice (the grave rapport said a velvet underdress, but that might be based on them seeing the velvet garb underneath the satin bodice, and concluding there was a whole dress under there). She wore knitted red silk stockings and a pearl decorated hair net (hair net is also gone today). It is believed that the hair net is one of those she wears in the Bronzino portraits, and this might be why some later researchers has thought she wore the portrait outfit. Alas it is a most quoted "truths" out there, appearing in scientific research even today, because they quote elder sources which quoted elder sources etc...

The skirt of the funeral dress was mostly in pieces, with the front being less preserved than the back, and the remaining pieces has been patched together like a puzzle over many years. The basic shape of the skirt is revealed by the better-conserved, remaining trims, which forms a defined outline of the skirt. This has helped in reconstructing the shape and the measurements.

The dress was made of a light-shaded satin (some rapports say yellow, other say white). The bodice was lined with linen originally, but only some very few traces of it survives today. Applied embroidered guards in dark velvet with gold threads were attached to both bodice and skirt. They have survived better than the actual satin, and their sturdy shape is what allowed the shape of the skirt to be reconstructed. Much of the skirt had long disintegrated, and the surviving pieces were fragile. The actual bodice is also in a most fragile state, the back in better shape than the front. I originally though this was due to the corpse being turned over at some point, but reading the grave rapport made me realize that the decomposing body and the body fluids is what helped preserve the back of the bodice better than the rest of the dress. The lacing holes were originally reinforced with copper rings, now disintegrated, and the majority of the shoulder straps comes from the back piece of the bodice. The front bodice ends in a V, and this V has a corresponding shape in the top of the guard on the skirt. The skirt is made of straight panels of fabric with "triangles" of fabric inserted at the sides. This gave the skirt fullness around the hem, and a narrower look in the waist. The skirt was also trained.

The bodice of this funeral dress is laced at the side/back, as was the typical Florentine manner One side was properly laced, while the other was randomly laced through only some of the holes. This, combined with the inside-out stocking, might be due to the fact that the Duchess died of malaria and also had suffered from consumption, and that the ladies preparing her corpse was afraid of contagion. There were no traces of sleeves for this dress either. Maybe it originally didn't have sleeves, or maybe they just weren't put on.

Underneath the satin dress she wore a red velvet bodice which was closed in front with 18 hooks and eyes. It was not boned or stiffened, and the actual use of this underbodice is a bit uncertain. It might have functioned as stays, or it might have been worn for warmth in cold winter days. Whatever the case, it was probably put on the corpse as the Duchess had become radically thinner the last years of her life. The velvet bodice wasn't closed with hooks and eyes for its last use; rather, the two ends overlapped with many centimeters, and was possibly worn to fill out the also-too-big satin bodice.


(More to come)


Realm of Venus
National gallery of Art
Detroit Institute of Arts
Fabric research site, Villani 2006
The Medici tombs revealed, Fornachiari 2006


Brock, Maurice (2002) "Bronzino", Flammarion, Paris
Arnold, Janet (1985) "Patterns of Fashion, the cut and construction of clothes for men and women, ca. 1560-1620", MacMillan/QSM
Campbell, Lorne (1990) Renaissance Portraits, Yale University, Yale
Cox-Rearick, Janet (1993), Bronzino's Chapel of Eleonora in the Palazzo Vecchio, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles and Oxford
Landini, Roberta Orsi and Bruna, Niccola (2005), "Moda a Firenze 1540-1580: Lo stile di Eleonora di Toledo e la sua influenza", Mauro Pagliai, Italy
Langdon, Gabrielle (2006), Medici Women. Portraits of power, love and betrayal from the court of Duke Cosimo I, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, Buffalo and London
de Marinis, Fabrizio (1994), Velvet: History, techniques, fashions, Idea books, New York
May, Florence Lewis (1957) Silk Textiles of Spain, Eight to Fifteenth Century, Hispanic society of America, New York
Pastoureau, Michel (2001) Blue, the history of a color, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford
Tinagli, Paola (1997) "Women in Italian renaissance art", Manchester University Press, Manchester and New York
Urry, Serena (1998) Evidence of replication in a "Portrait of Eleonora di Toledo" by Agnolo Bronzino and workshop, Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, volume 37, number 2

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