EXTANT ITALIAN DRESSES






GONELLA BELONGING TO ISABELLA OF ARAGON ca. 1524


1. The "gonella" of golden/orange silk damask, from the tomb of Isabella of Aragon.
2. Panel of silk damask, possibly Florentine, first half of the 16th century (The Met, New York).
3. "Portrait of a Lady with Spindles" (detail), ca. 1515, Jacopo Pontormo (Uffizi, Florence).
3. "Portrait of a Lady with Spindles", ca. 1515, Jacopo Pontormo (Uffizi, Florence).


Isabella of Aragon was the Duchess of Milan from 1489 to 1484, and Duchess of Bari from 1499 to 1524. She was also princess of Naples by birth. This "gonella" (literally "small skirt") is said to have belonged to her, the attribution is due to it being found in the tomb of Isabella. It is today in the care of San Domenico Maggiore (in Sala del Tesoro) in Naples. I'm not sure if we're talking a skirt forepart here or a general underskirt meant to be seen, as I have only seen the picture underneath. In a book I alas forgot to write down the name of, it is described as Gonella in damasco lionato di Isabella d'Aragona, duchessa di Milano e di Bari, 1524. Basically, a "small skirt in golden/orange damask, from Isabella of Aragon, duchess of Milano and Bari, 1524". Online I've seen further descriptions: L'abito di Isabella Sforza d'Aragona con lunghi nastri di seta per legare le maniche al corpetto, basically it describes an attire with long silk ribbons to tie the sleeves to the bodice. I have seen neither bodice nor sleeves in photographs, so I will add more pictures if/when I find it. This bodice was apparently stiffened with wool, according to Italian Wikipedia, while the skirt is described as being 103 cm long (another source say 123) and 480 cm wide (La gonnella è lunga 103 cm e ampia 480 cm, con decorazione a tralci di vite che dipartono da un melograno, e presenta una balza nel bustino che veniva imbottito con lana per ottenere un girovita più tornito, seguendo l’ideale di bellezza dell’epoca.).

The damask in her skirt seems to be a variant of the "Medici" one. The design consists of "two rows of stylised pomegranates and pine cones, interspersed with triple clusters of pears descending from crowns linked by diamond rings, set within an ogival trellis of tear-shaped leaves." (Monnas 2008: 251). Its earliest appearance is from ca. 1515, in Pontormo's portrait of "Lady with a Basket of Spindles". More famous examples are the green curtain from Holbein's "The Ambassadors" (1533) and don Garzia de Medici's funeral cloak from 1562. It was a versatile fabric, as the diamond ring was used as a device of both the Doge of Venice, the Medici of Florence, the Este of Ferrara and the Sforza of Milan. It was in production in Florence in 1555, and as mentioned also in use by young don Garzia in the early 1560s. It's prime days, however, seems to have been 1520-40, judging from how frequently it appears in paintings in this period. And this fits the time frame of Isabella of Aragon's attire well. Isabella's fabric doesn't have the diamond ring in the middle of the pomegranate, but the two rows of pomegranates and pine cones forms the main motif, and the branches with leaves, pears and crowns is easy to recognize. The skirt is on display in the Sala del Tesoro in San Domenico Maggiore, Naples.




A FUNERAL GOWN FROM THE DELLA ROVERE FAMILY



Originally I though this also belonged to Giulia Varano, but it turned out to be the funeral outfit (abiti funebri) of an unknown Rovere family member. In the book "I Della Rovere" the picture of this funeral tunic has the accompanying text of Giulia Varano's funeral dress, so I assume it's a misprint or a system I don't understand. From the description given in the book the tunic appears to be similar to the garb Eleonora Gonzaga was buried in: il rude saio di colore bruno, a rough brown tunic. The book suggests it was a way of leaving the vanity of this world behind. For all I know it might even be the same garb they describe, cause I was not able to find any pictures of the Eleonora Gonzaga gown (only a reference to her corpse/bones being "perfectly preserved"), while I didn't find any description of the garb underneath. Are they one and the same? Will keep digging...




FUNERAL DRESS OF GIULIA VARANO, mid 1540's


1. Portrait of Giulia Varano, ca. 1540, Tiziano (Palazzo Pitti, Florence).
2. + 3. Bodice and skirt of Giulia da Varano before restauration/conservation.

Giulia Varano married Guidobaldo II della Rovere of Urbino in 1534. The latter was the one commisioning Tiziano to paint "Venus of Urbino", and it might have been intended for the couples bed chamber. Giulia Varano died in 1547, and was buried in a court gown, unlike the rougher nun habit her mother-in-law Eleonora Gonzaga was buried in. Giulia was put to rest in a dress of light coloured striped silk satin and twill, meant for a lady of app 160 cm. The bodice was stiffened by two layers of padding linen hardened with glue, placed between the outer fabric and the taffeta lining, and had a wide, square neckline typical of Italian Renaissance dresses. The skirt was laced to the bodice, and was made up of around 5 meters of fabric arranged in 11 pleats (if I understood the description correctly), and with a slight V form in front where the skirt would meed the pointed bodice. There also appears to have been a tuck on the lower hem. This is consistent with Eleonora di Toledo's funeral dress from 1562.

The sleeves were tied to the shoulder straps in three places, and were closed at the wrist with buttons (as the red Pisa dress). The chemise would have peaked out at the shoulders, but it has not survived. There are, however, reports of remains of it being seen when the grave was opened in 1633 ("certe latughine piccole al collo e alle mani"). That same grave rapport also tells that she wore white silk stockings, satin shoes and a special head garb with hair ("una bizzarra legatura di testa con capelli"). I'm thinking either a crown of false hair or a balzo. These shoes, with nice slashes, plus parts of the hair-decorated head garb with a base of gold wires, survives today.

If I understood it correctly, all the Rovere garbs are today in Galleria Nazionale delle Marche in Urbino, on deposit from the church Santa Chiara in the same city. They were discovered (or rather, re-discovered) in the family crypt in 1999, and has later been restored as far as possible. According to the book "I Della Rovere", Giulia Varano's dress was the only one displayed for the public after conservation. Alas I haven't been able to fin pictures of the dress in its current state, but from the description it sounds like it was made in a similar style to the one she wore in the portrait Tiziano painted of her in 1540. The Roma-based company Arakhne was responsible for the restoration of both this dress and the other Rovere clothes.




SOTTANA FOR A LITTLE GIRL, ca. 1550-55


1. to 3. The extant dress, with bodice, skirt and sleeves, ca. 1550-55 (San Domenico Maggiore, Naples).
4. Portrait of Bianca "Bia" de' Medici, ca. 1542, by Agnolo Bronzino (Uffizi, Florence).
5. Crimson velvet with gold disks, fabric sample from the late thirteenth century (private collection).


The dress of a young girl, made of a damask with circle pattern. It's dated to 1550-55. I don't think I've ever seen a similar fabric used in a female dress from the 16th century before, but a crimson velvet with golden discs is can be seen in a fabric sample in a private collection, as well as a Simone Martini painting from ca. 1317 in Naples. The dress has bell shaped skirt which seems to be pleated in the waist. There is a trim around the hem. There seems to be an underskirt with a tuck too, but I'm not sure if it's a period piece or added to support the original skirt. The English description in the museum calls it "Damask dress and petticoat". Usually a "petticoat" refers to the actual dress in period sources, but since the dress is already mentioned I think they might refer to the underskirt. The bodice has a slightly pointed waist and a square neck opening, and the sleeves seems to be permanently attached to the shoulders. The sleeves has a slight "baragoni" (puff), and is narrower around the wrist. Both the cuffs and the neck opening have a trim, probably the same as the skirt hem. A person seeing it on display described it as offwhite or eggshell white. The dress reminds a lot in shape and probably colour of the one Bianca "Bia" de' Medici is depicted wearing, in Bronzino's portrait of her from the 1540s. It wa salso white, with a bodice with square neck opening and a trim, and with slightly puffed sleeves.

The extant dress is in the care of San Domenico Maggiore (in Sala del Tesoro) in Naples, and seems to have followed a little girl dying of plague to the grave. A plaque next to the dress suggests the wearer was Mary of Aragon; I haven't succeeded in finding a child with this name in the 1550s.




HOUSE DRESS, MID OR LATE 1500


1. to 7. The extant dress, in which only the front bodice and skirt is preserved, mid or late 1500s (Palazzo Reale, Pisa).
8. + 9. Domestic scene in a lunette, left and right side, Federico Zuccari, 1579 (Casa Zucchari, Florence).


A greyish blue wool/linen dress, dating from the mid or late 16th century, and coming from the San Matteo monastery in Pisa. The backside of both bodice and skirt is missing entirely, as it once was modified to dress a statue of a saint, only tied together in the back. The surviving parts of the dress has been mounted on a neutral mockup of the full dress. Given its plain shape, the restoration has for the most completed the dress the same way the front is made, but without indicating where the bodice originally would have been closed. The actual fabric is a wool/linen weave in a diamond pattern, and the colour is somewhere between blue and grey in appearance, though the weave consists of unbleached linen and green wool. The wool seems more damaged than the linen, which might be why the colour appears paler today. Total length is 152 centimeters.

The bodice of this sottana shows a seam in the bodice's center front. It doesn't occur in any Florentine portraits of the time, as far as I know, but in the portraits the ladies are shown in their finest garbs. This is considered a house dress, in which women could actually work and move about. I'm not sure if the seam is an original feature or due to changes done to the dress, but it can have been a way to use the most of the fabric when sewing it, by using as square and small pieces as possible. The neckline is rather low, making the straps short. There are no hints (at least to visitors) where the bodice originally was closed. It can have been by lacing in front, expaining the seam there. But it could also have been lacing at the side/back, as is common for the 16th century. The fabric seems to be very fragile at the sides, and by closer inspection I noticed that the wool fabric itself had been mounted on a supporting neutral fabric, before being mounted on a mockup of the full dress. Maybe the bodice either had the lacing cut off or a seam split up there, and the fabric later frayed? I haven't read the conservation report, so I don't know what the experts have to say on the matter.

The skirt is made of four straight panels, sewn together to for a long strips which was pleated in thick pleats and attached to the bodice. The pleated skirt seems to be attached on top of the bodice instead of underneath. Again, I don't know if this is due to changes done to the garb as a religious item, or an original feature. But I don't think I've seen anything like it in other dresses, be it surviving 16th century garbs or portrait garbs. This dress appears to have been without any kind of embellishment and trims. The typical "V" trim in front and back of bodice has not been applied to this dress. At least I saw no traces of stitches either in front or back, though I have heard rumours of traces of a lace or trim somewhere on the hem. The hem is quite plain, without the typical slashed band peaking out. No sleeves were found for this dress either. If we're to trust paintings of the era, they would often be of a different fabric, and either tied of pinned on, so they could be changed or even removed.

The dress is on permanent display in Palazzo Reale in Pisa, Lungarno Antonio Pacinotti 46 (along the Arno river).




THE CRIMSON PISA DRESS, EARLY 1560s


1. to 7. The red Pisa dress, seen from different angles.
8. Similar dress in "Portrait of a Lady", 1560s, Workshop of Allori (location unknown).


This dress also comes from the San Matteo monastery in Pisa, and was used to dress a statue of the Virgin Mary. It's made of a crimson silk velvet, with guards decorated with metallic threads stitched down in a decorative looped pattern. The dress was, unlike the two other Pisa dresses, in large intact, and has as far as possible been restored to is original shape. From what I can tell, it has been restored twice; once to get the basic lines right, and once to get the details right. The pictures used in "Moda a Firenze" and elsewhere shows the dress after the first stage of conservation. At this point the there were no bodice back, and no train. The skirt was longer in front, and the sleeves shorter. The pictures underneath are from after the second restoration. Biggest changes are that skirt had been remodeled to be shorter in front and with a long train, and with a bodice back added.

The dress was after donation modified to fit a Madonna statue. The skirt was made shorter in the back ripping the seams in the back, move the back panels up and letting the extra fabric just hang loose inside the skirt. The front was lengthened by wool cloth, and the existing trims from hem and bodice back was used to cover the transition. The seams in front and back of the skirt was unpicked, so it had two openings. The sleeves seems to have been shortened, as the top is a bit uneven and with a different stitching than the rest of the sleeve. The back of the bodice was also removed - this basically required the shoulder straps to be unpicked, as the bodice was only laced together at the sides. A maroon cotton fabric was used for the back, with large ribbons to tie it together, and the sleeves was lined with this fabric as well. The trimmings of the back of the bodice was re-used on the skirt, which is why they are in pieces today. The bodice back was not preserved, but a new one has been made, and the original trims has been removed from the skirt and reattached to the bodice back.

In construction it corresponds to the funeral dress of Eleonora di Toledo, so much that it's argued they might both be made of the same tailor; Master Agostino. The bodice has a pointed front and a square back, with lacing in the side/back. The skirt has the same bell shape as the EdT one, made of straight panels with inserted triangles, and similar train. Both have guards on bodice and skirt, the biggest difference being that the ones on the crimson dress doesn't continue down in the back of the bodice. This dress also has the same slashed facing at the hem and the same tuck, but unlike the EdT one this one also has sleeves. These sleeves have bands corresponding to the guards, attached vertically, and with small slashed in between. The guards also forms small puffed sleeves, from where the chemise would poke out.

The authors of "Moda a Firenze" writes that it probably belonged to one of Eleonora's lady-in-waitings. They are not able to match it to Eleonora's "guardaroba" like her funeral dress - while it at the other hand seems to match the description of her ladies being dressed in "sottane di velluto cremisi" (crimson velvet dresses) in a ceremonial trip to Siena in 1560 (page 74-75). The Pisa team, on the other hand, seems quite determined that it was Eleonora's dress, based on the fact that Cosimo I was patron of the San Matteo convent where it was found, the tailoring matching that of the funeral dress, and the use of crimson for high-ranked court lady only (of a law by 1562). Either how, as mentioned earlier, it's not unlikely they both were made by Master Agostino, which would explain the extreme similarities in construction and details.

The dress has signs of wear and tear at the typical places - hem, cuffs, neck opening, arm holes. This indicates that the dress has been used more than once. Whereas it was made in the 1560s, it could have been worn for a decade still, before being donated to the monastery. There's moth damages on the wool reinforcement on the hem, and still traces of alternations done, but the dress is overall in a very good condition, age considered. The skirt is fastened with velcro to a crimson satin bodice, to avoid stress on the original bodice. The sleeves are also lightly supported with Maline netting. The original bodice is lined with a natural linen, and with red and flesh coloured wool additions at the skirt hem, to stiffen it. From what I can tell the original skirt was not lined.

The dress is on permanent display in Palazzo Reale in Pisa, Lungarno Antonio Pacinotti 46 (along the Arno river).




ELEONORA DI TOLEDO'S FUNERAL DRESS, EARLY 1560s



1. Portrait of Eleonora di Toledo. Vasari? Variant of Bronzino's 1560 portrait of her (Museo Bardini, Florence).
2. + 3. Front and back of the restored bodice. 4. + 5. The dress, as it's on display in the Palazzo Pitti in Florence. 6. Janed Arnold's 1985 sketch of the dress.
7. The remains of the dress before conservation. Picture taken 1968.
8. Detail of lacing on bodice before conservation. Photo by Janet Arnold (early 80's).


Discovered when the Medici graves was first opened in 1857. Inside one grave were the skeleton of a woman between 36 and 46. and app. 1,58 m. tall, which seemed to correspond with Eleonora di Toledo. 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, one which was put on inside-out, and a pearl decorated hair net (hair net is 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 dress from the 1545 portrait painted by Bronzino.

The garb was made of a light-shaded satin (some rapports say yellow, other say white). The bodice was lined with linen originally, but little of it survives today. Applied embroidered guards in brown 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. There are no traces of ribbons or lacing holes on the shoulders, which might mean it was meant to be worn sleevelss under an overdress. The funeral dress seems to correspond with a description in the Medici Guardaroba: One with bodice and skirt in white satin with a band of brown sfondato velvet embroidered in gold and silver with narrow gold braid. It was delivered in August 1562, four months before the Duchess died, and the last dress made for her. It is not listed is the inventory list made after the Duchess died, according to the authors of "Moda a Firenze", which gives a strong indication of this being indeed her funeral dress.

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 5 centimeters (Bulgarella in Eisenbichler 2004: 215), and was possibly worn to fill out the satin bodice. As for her height, it all depends on the tuck going all around the hem. This is also seen in the crimson Pisa dress and in contemporary Spanish fashion. It is suggested the tuck is there so that the length of the skirt could be adjusted to the eventual wear of platform shoes. With the skirt untucked, the dress would be for a lady of about 1,70 m. height, which would be rather tall for a Mediterranean renaissance woman. But even tucked up the lady would have been app. 1,68 m. Analysis of the bones from the grave gives a height of app. 1,56 m, which indicates she wore platform shoes even with the skirt tucked and that the tuck was purely ornamental (Bulgarella in Eisenbichler 2004: 219).

The dress is on permanent display in Galleria del Costume in Palazzo Pitti, Firenze, a few minutes walk (across the river Arno) from Uffizi.




AN EARLY BAROQUE DRESS


1. to 8. Early Baroque dress seen from different angles (Palazzo Reale, Pisa) 9. Portrait of an Italian lady, early 17th century (From antiquares.it)

Just outside the time line of my preferred style, I still want to include this dress from Pisa. I found no exact dates on it. The first restoration team names it as "XVI sec., ultimo ventennio" (16th century, last two decades), but to my eye it looks more early 17th century. What's interesting about it, apart from being an extant 400 years old dress, is that the construction in large correspond to the court dresses of the mid and late 16th century. The skirt flares towards the hem, the bodice has lacing in the side/back, and the shoulder straps are still short and wide. The biggest difference seems to be the front of the bodice, which by now has grown a lot longer and more dominant. In public a dress like this would probably have been worn under an overdress, so only the front would be visible. A similar style can be seen in the portrait overneath. But at home it could be worn on its own.

This particular dress also comes from the San Matteo monastery, as the other Pisa dresses, and large chunks of the back is also missing here (though more of the skirt survives). Like the grey/blue day dress, the surviving pieces has been "filled in" with neutral fabric. The original fabric is a cut velvet in a green shade, with "zig-zaging" stripes being entwined with ranks of flowers. There are insertions of gold laminated threads, but much of these are oxidated and/or broken, distorting the original brilliance of the fabric. According to the book "Abito della Granduchessa" from 2000, this type of fabric was produced in Florence in the late 1500s and early 1600s, and was through sumptuary laws limited to the grand-ducal family. The hem is reinforced and stiffened with green wool felt, while the bodice is lined with natural linen, with elements of yellow taffeta.

The dress is on permanent display in Palazzo Reale in Pisa, Lungarno Antonio Pacinotti 46 (along the Arno river).




VARIOUS ACCESSORIES



1. Linen cap with silk and metal embroidery and glass beads, Venetian ca. 1500-1525 (The Met, New York).
2. Knitted silk stockings, originally red. A part of Eleonora di Toledo's burial attire, 1562 (Palazzo Pitti, Florence).
3. Knitted yellow silk stockings originally belonging to Maria d' Aragona, buried 1568. (San Domenico Maggiore, Naples)
4. Lace collar possibly cut loose from a camicia or a linen partlet (there are still linen strips in the bottom half, Venetian ca. 1610 (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam).
5. Apron of white linen with cutwork lace decorations, late 16th or early 17th century (The Met, New York)
6. Apron of white linen with red embroidery, Italian late 16th or early 17th century (The Met, New York).
7. Necklace or girdle, Italian or Spanish, second half of the 16th century (Walter's Museum of Arts, Baltimore)
8. Marten's head, used on a zibellini, ca. 1550, probably from the Veneto (Walter's Museum of Arts, Baltimore)




1. Linen drawers or breeches, with embroidery saying "Voglio il cuore" (I want the heart), early 17th century (Museo del Tessuto, Prato)
2. Linen drawers embroidered with silk, labeled "Donne San Teodoro", late 16th century (The Met, New York)
3. Linen shirt embroidered with silk, labeled "Donne San Teodoro", late 16th century (The Met, New York)
4. Linen chemise embroidered with silk, lower half a newer addition, labeled "Donne San Teodoro", late 16th century (The Met, New York)
5. Linen chemise embroidered with silk and gilt thread, possibly Venetian, late 16th century (The Met, New York)
6. Embroidered linen camicia, late 16th century, possibly Venetian (Boston Museum of Fine Arts)
7. Embroidered linen camicia, mid 16th century, possibly Tuscan (Museo del Tessuto, Prato)





LITERATURE LIST:

Arnold, Janet (1985), "Patterns of Fashion: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women c. 1560-1620", MacMillan
Arnold, Janet (2008), "Patterns of Fashion: The Cut and Construction of Linen shirts, smocks.... c.1540-1660", MacMillan
Burresi, Mariagiulia (curator), (2000), "L'abito ella Grandduchessa. Vesti di corte e di madonna nel Palazzo Reale di Pisa", Bandecchi & Vivaldi, Pisa
dal Poggetto, Paolo (editor) (2004), "I della Rovere, Piero della Francesco, Raffaello, TIziano", Electa publishing
Eisenbichler, Konrad (red) (2004), "The Cultural World of Eleonora di Toledo, Ducess of Florence and Siena", Ashgate
Landini, Roberta Orsi and Bruna Niccoli (2004), "Moda a Firenze, Lo stile di Eleonora di Toledo e sua influenza", Pagliai/Polistampa, Florence
Landini, Roberta Orsi (2011), "Moda a Firenze, Lo stile di Cosimo I de' Medici", Mauro Pagliai/Polistampa, Florence
Monnas, Lisa (2008) "Merchants, Princes and Painters. Silk Fabrics in Italian and Northern Paintings 1300-1550", Yale University Press
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