Thursday 12 January 2017

Women of 1640s Western Europe – Theatrum Mulierum and Aula Veneris.

Dutch Sailor's Wife
Those who study English clothing of the mid 17th century are very aware of Hollar’s Ornatus Muliebris the Habits [clothing] of Englishwomen, published in 1640. Perhaps less well known are his engravings of women from across the whole of Europe, and parts of North Africa, which he published in two series Theatrum Mulierum and Aula Veneris. The Latin subtitle of the Theatrum can be translated as, “the variety and differences of the female habits of the nations of Europe.” The publication history of these two is incredibly complex, and the plates come in various states, not least because they were being reprinted until well into the eighteenth century. For those wishing to untangle the publication, the place to go is Pennington. (1) The links given above are to the University of Toronto, Hollar Digital Collection, which has most, but not all, the prints.

Hollar was well travelled in Europe. He was born in Prague in 1607, by the late 1620s he was studying in Frankfurt, by 1630 he had travelled through Strasbourg, Mainz and Koblenz.  His first book was published in Cologne in 1635 and by 1637, under the patronage of the Earl of Arundel, he was living in London. Sometime after the Civil War started in 1642, he moved to Antwerp. He returned to London in 1652 and died there in 1677. 

Woman of Cologne
Some of his engravings are of upper class women, but many are of “ordinary” women, tradesmen and merchants’ wives and daughters, and sometimes countrywomen. They show regional diversity in the use of garments like huiks, they show how long ruffs continued to be worn by the middle and lower classes, long after they had gone out of fashion, and also the ubiquity of other garments, such as the waistcoat.

In the first example we have a Dutch sailor’s wife, wearing one of those hats that are often teamed with a huik in Dutch paintings, as seen in this late 16th century painting by Lucas van Valckenborch. The huik was worn widely in north western Europe, and Du Mortier has suggested that it may have its origins in Spanish fashions.(2)  In the second image, a woman of Cologne you again have huik. As Fynes Morison described them, “all women, in generall, when they goe out of the house, put on a hoyke or vaile which covers their heads and hangs downe upon their backs to their legges; and this vaile in Holland is of a light stuffe or kersie, and hath a kind of horne rising over the forehead, not much unlike to old pummels of our women’s saddles. ... but the women of Brabant and Flanders wear vailes altogether of some fine light stuffe, and fasten then about the hinder part and sides of their cap, so as they hang loosely not close to the body....and these caps are large round and flat to the our potlids, used to cover pots in the kitchin.” (3) This last is an excellent description of the sailor’s wife’s hat.
Woman of Franconia

The third image is a woman of Franconia. She wears not a starched ruff, as in the two previous images, but a ruff which falls to the shoulders. Descriptions of the construction of surviving ruffs of all types are given in Arnold. (4) The garment (waistcoat/jacket) she is wearing is buttoned like a male doublet, much like the garment worn in the monument to Lady Elizabeth Finch, now in the V&A.  Similar buttoned garments can be seen in Hollar’s Woman of Vienna, and several of his women from Augsburg.

In the fourth image is a woman from Antwerp. She wears a falling collar and, since it appears to be summer, a straw hat. Her top is patterned, while her skirt is plain.

As a final example let’s add in Hollar’s English countrywoman. There are lots of differences between the Englishwoman and the other examples, but some things do carry across. All five women wear aprons and, as four appear to be marketing, they carry some form of basket, be it split wood, wicker or rush. All wear some form of headwear, and in three of the five you can see a coif under the hat. Discarding the lady from Cologne, whose huik covers too much of her garments, all wear some type of bodice/waistcoat/jacket which finishes at the hips, and skirts that finish short of the ground at the ankle bone.
Woman of Antwerp

If you go through the links to explore the collection you will find women from France, Spain, Italy and Greece. The further afield the subjects of Hollar’s drawings are, the less likely he is to have seen, or known, what was actually being worn. His Irish woman, for example, is copied from John Speed’s map of Ireland , and his “Virginian” is copied from a Theodor de Bry’s drawing in Thomas Hariot’s A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia. De Bry's drawing is itself based on John White’s originals made when he was with the Roanoke colony.

English Countrywoman

1. Pennington, Richard. A descriptive catalogue of the etched work of Wenceslaus Hollar. . Cambridge : CUP , 2002.
2. Du Mortier, B. In search of the origins of the huik. Arte Nuevo : Revista de estudios áureos . 2014, Vol. 1.
3. Moryson, Fynes. An Itinerary: Containing His Ten Years Travel Through the Twelve Dominions of Germany, Bohemia, Switzerland, Netherland, Denmark, Poland, Italy, Turkey, France, England, Scotland and Ireland. London : John Beale, 1617.
4. 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.

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