Sunday 5 July 2020

The Brandenburg

What was the Brandenburg(h) that was worn in the final quarter of the seventeenth century? We have several references to it, but no definitive description. Was it a loose coat or overcoat, as stated by Hayward (2020) and Maitra (2007) or, as the Oxford English Dictionary and the  Fop Dictionary (Evelyn, 1690) refer to it, a morning gown? It is generally though that it was large, loose and unfitted, Maitra says it was cut with the sleeves in one with the rest of the garment. 

Fredrik III's underkjole 1630s
In France the term is brandebourg, and obviously both come from Brandenburg, one of seven electoral states of the Holy Roman Empire. The French believe the term came from interaction with soldiers from Brandenburg,  in the Thirty Years War (1618-48) or slightly later. While English seventeenth century references are to it as a coat or morning gown, the French describe it as “Casaque à longues manches, ornée de boutons en olive reliés par des galons,” – a casaque or cassock, with long sleeves, ornamented with olive buttons fastened with frogging. Olive buttons are long, olive shaped buttons covered with silk or braid. (Cumming, et al., 2010) By the mid eighteenth century the term Brandenburg refers only to the ornamentation, the buttons and frogging. 

The first reference we have to a Brandenburg in England is in William Wycherley’s play The Plain Dealer (1674), where Oliva complains, saying that Capain Manley will make “my Chamber perfum'd with his Tarpaulin Brandenburg.” In this quote tarpaulin refers to the fact that he is a mariner. The idea of it being loose can be seen in an exchange in George Etherege’s 1676 play Man of Mode “Y' have a very fine Brandenburgh on Sir Fopling”. “It serves to wrap me up after the fatigue of a ball.” “I see you often in it.” “We should not always be in a set dress, ‘tis more en cavalier to appear now and then in a dissabillee.”

Assuming that a Brandenburg by definition is fastened with oval buttons and frogging, it may have looked like the “Polish coat” owned by Fredrik III of Denmark. This dates from 1630-40 and is described in the Rosenburg Castle’s inventory in 1666 as an underkjole (under gown) and in the 1718 inventory as Polish.(above right) It is in yellow silk damask. (Rosenburg Castle catalogue number Ka.1 31 L 1b) (Rangstrom, 2002). They could also be made from far plainer fabrics, in the Countess of Caithness accounts, she paid in1690 for one to be made of Irish frieze. (Hayward, 2020)

Sir Robert Shirley c.1627
This style of eastern, loose fitting, coat like garment was known in the west before the term Brandenburg is used, as in the portrait of the English traveller Sir Robert Shirley (1581-1628), painted around 1627 (left). Shirley travelled mostly in Persia, but also to Poland, Lithuania, and other countries.

Cumming, V., Cunnington, C. W. & Cunnington, P., 2010. The Dictionary of Fashion History. Rev. ed ed. London: Bloomsbury.
Evelyn, J., 1690. Mundus muliebris: or, the Ladies dressing-room unlock'd, and her toilette spread. In burlesque. Together with the Fop-Dictionary, compiled for the use of the fair sex.. London: Printed for R. Bentley.
Hayward, M., 2020. Stuart style: monarchy, dress and the Scottish Male Elite. London: Yale U.P..
Maitra, K. K., 2007. Encyclopedic dictionary of clothing and textiles. s.l.:Mittal.
Rangstrom, L., 2002. Modelejon Manligt Mode 1500-tal 1600-tal 1700-tal. Stockholm: Livrustkammaren.

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