Thursday 10 April 2014

A 1620s fashion: virago sleeves and over gowns

Marie-Louise de Tassis by Van Dyck 

This started when someone posted a detail of a SebastianVrancx painting onto the English Civil War (ECW) and Mid-17th Century Living History Group page on Facebook, the detail is in the bottom right of the painting. While others were discussing the fact that she’s wear a partlet under her gown I was looking at two other features. First since she is taking off the gown, the painting is entitled travellers attacked by robbers, you can see that it is a bodice with a skirt attached, an over gown. Second that she has “virago sleeves,” and as the museum date the painting to 1617-19 these are early.

The over gown.

1620s and 1630s outfits from Kelly and Schwabe
Over gowns with separate skirts attached to them rarely survive from this period, the only adult one I can think of is the 1639 gown worn by Pfalzgrafin Dorothea Maria von Sulzbach. (Arnold, 1985) The loose gowns examined by Janet Arnold cover the period 1570 to 1620, but they are one piece from shoulder to ground, and the next examples are the manutas from the late 1690s, early 1700s, again one piece from shoulder to ground. (Arnold, 1977)  There was a surviving over gown of the 1620s in France before the Second World War which appeared in Kelly & Schwabe’s (1929) book Historic Costume 1490-1790, shown left. I have no idea where this garment is now, it was originally in the collection of the Société de l’Histoire du Costume, Paris. This is the sort of over gown which appears in the Vrancx painting and here in the Van Dyck portrait of Portrait of Marie-Louise de Tassis. In the Van Dyck portrait, like the example in Kelly & Schwabe, the virago sleeves are on the under bodice, and the over gown has a simple sleeve open at the front and caught together only at the cuff. Whereas in the Vrancx painting the virago sleeves appear to be on the gown. The pattern in Kelly and Schwabe is described as after Leloir, Leloir’s Histoire du costume, tome VIII, Louis XII (1610-1643) was not published until 1933, but the authors acknowledge his help in their introduction. The pattern gives only the under bodice and the bodice of the over gown with no pattern for the skirt, nor any information as to how it was attached, and is shown below.

Pattens from Kelly and Schwabe

 Emily Gordenker (2001) has commented that Van Dyck, in his later years, removed the over gown from the ladies he painted in order to simplify the garments worn, so that he could paint the costume more rapidly. However the gown does appear to be going out of fashion by the middle of the century, though at least one of Hollar’s Ornatus prints seems to show this style.

The sleeves.
According to several sources Randle Holme in his Academie of Armory, 1688, described virago sleeves as ‘The heavily puffed and slashed sleeve of a woman’s gown, then fashionable.’ I haven’t actually been able to find this quote. Comments I can find in Holme are that sleeves have “As much variety of fashion as days in the year,” and “The slasht-sleeve, is when the sleeve from shoulder to the sleeve hands are cut in long slices or fillets; and are tied together at the elbow with ribbons, or such like.”  When looking at a series of dated women’s portraits the earliest I have previously found was 1620 and the latest 1632, giving a fashionable period of some ten years. There is some slashing at the top of Queen Anne’s 1617 sleeve in the painting by Somers, but it is not a virago sleeve. In most of the portraits the virago sleeve is on the garment worn under the gown and not, as in the Vrancx painting, on the gown itself. 

Hollar. Plate from Ornatus
Arnold, J., 1977. Patterns of Fashion 1: 1660-1860. London: Macmillan.
Arnold, J., 1985. Patterns of Fashion: the cut and construction of clothes for men and women c. 1560-1620.. London: Macmillan.
Gordenker, E., 2001. Anthony Van Dyck and the representation of dress in seventeenth century portraiture. Turnhout: Brepols.
Kelly, F. M. and Schwabe. R., 1929. Historic costume. 2nd ed. London: Batsford.

Some paintings with virago sleeves.
Princess Magdalena Sybilla, unknown artist c.1630
Queen Henrietta Maria by Mytens 1630
Queen Henrietta Maria by Anthony Van Dyck
Grace Bradbourne (d.1627), Wife of Sir Thomas Holte attributed to  Cornelis Janssens van Ceulen
Charlotte Butkens, Lady von Anoy, with her son. Anthony Van Dyke C. 1631
Abigail Sacheverell, Mrs Humphrey Pakington by Cornelis Janssens van Ceulen 1630
Katheryn Spiller, Lady Reynell attributed to Cornelis Janssens van Ceulen 1631 
Elizabeth Wriothesley, née Vernon, Countess of Southampton, unknown artist,  c.1620

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