Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Jenny Tirimani – On late 15th and early 16th century linen smock and shirts, evolutions in cut.

This is the last in my series of notes from talks given at:  Well worn weeds: the MEDATS (Medieval Dress and Textile Society) meeting at the British Museum 27th October 2012. Jenny made reference to a lot of illustrations and where I can I have created links to the examples she used. As before any misinterpretations and misspellings are my own. I don’t do shorthand and I don’t write fast enough.

Jenny started by talking about women’s necklines in the early 16th century, and particularly the V in the back of some illustrations. She examined the wide square front neckline with a V back in Holbein’s drawing which shows both, and she speculated on how the smock underneath it may have been made. The construction is problematic because you don’t want the edge on the bias. She showed (and I haven’t been able to work out which painting it was) a c1500 crucifixion scene, so it may have been this one also showing the v back. In another painting, which she said was from a 15th century triptych in Metropolitan Museum of Art, the V neck back of the green dress shows her smock with a centre back seam, indicating that perhaps the edges of the V were on the straight and the seam was on the bias.

Jenny then looked at the extant c.1525 gown of Maria of Hapsburg, in Budapest. Jenny had a pattern from this, I don’t know who made it, which shows the smock back and front are each formed from 3 trapezoids, which of course you could top and tail when cutting to minimise fabric waste. The smock has incredibly fine gathers at neck and is embroidered over the gathers.

Jenny then looked at two Durer self portraits both showing very tight pleating. The better known of the two is probably this one, and here you can see that the top several inches are fine gathers, and at the very top they are confined by a band of braid. The lesser known one is very similar at the top, though the fine gathers do not go down as far.  Jenny looked at the V&A smock in Cut my Cote (1), which has no shoulder seam, and compared it to one in PoF4 (2) which has a shoulder seam. She posed the question, is this a smock or square necked shirt?

Jenny then showed a Portrait of a Young Man by Holbein c. 1520 National Gallery of Art Washington, pointing out that what we see is not a frill, just top of shirt gathered. Here we have perhaps the early origins of the neck and wrist ruffs.

Jan van Leiden 1536 by Aldegraver
Higher necked shirts were contemporary with lower necked shirts for quite a while. A discussion between Jenny and Jane Bridgeman at the end narrowed the introduction of the higher necked shirt into Italy to German influences around 1515. Jenny then showed a high neck shirt in a 1525 painting by Melzi showing that the neckline has a side opening.

The Jan van Leiden portrait of 1536 by H Aldegrever, shows an even higher necked shirt with a side opening, this time with 3 buttons and loops, and what might be a separate neckband.

Jenny then looked at the Platt Hall shirt, that was the subject of an article by Santina Levy (3), the re-examination of this shirt had dated it to c.1520, with alterations and the addition of seventeenth century lace having been made in the nineteenth century. The neckline of the Platt Hall shirt, is gathered and stitches worked over to produce a chevron design, this cannot be seen in the Platt Hall image of the shirt as it is under the later collar.

This type of chevron design appears again in an Aragon family shirt c1530-50 kept with the Aragon family graves at the Church of San Domenico Maggiore, Naples. There was some conjecture as to whether this could be Italian smocking, but because neck is lined you can’t see the stitching on the inside. Jenny also showed the portrait of a man by Moretto da Brescia 1526, if you use the zoom provided you will see the work around the neckline.

Jenny finished by discussing a reconstruction she is working on of a 1530 illustration, no 102 on page 96, in the Trachtenbuch of Matthaus Schwarz of Augsburg, the whole of the book is available from the hyperlink.  The shirt has really sloped shoulders, and the reconstruction has 3 and a half yards of fabric going into the neck.

1. Burnham, D. Cut my cote. Ontario : Royal Ontario Museum, 1973.

2. Arnold, J. Patterns of Fashion 4 : the cut and construction of linen shirts, smocks, neckwear, headwear and accessories for men and women . London : Macmillan, 2008.

3. Levey, S. The story of a shirt: a cautionary tale with an unexpected ending. Costume. 2010, Vol. 44.

2 comments:

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  2. It feels so nice to find somebody with some original thoughts on Linen Shirts. Really thank full to you for starting this.

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