There were some very mixed feelings about last week’s rose-garlanded frock, with some of you coming back multiple times to change your ratings. Alas, you’re going to have to wait a day to find out what the final tally was, as I’m desperately trying to get some work done before a deadline.
UPDATE: and the fringed and embroidered and laced 1850s frock came in at….(drumroll here)….5.7 out of 10. Ouch.
Today’s Rate the Dress heroine was quite the character. Through wit, determination, and a bit of luck, Margaret of Gorizia managed to succeed her father as Countess of Tyrol in her own right, independently divorce the rat of a husband she was married to at 12 (an act which resulted in her excommunication from the Catholic church, 175+ years before Henry VIII did the same thing, for (in my opinion) much worse reasons), withstand the resulting Europe-wide scandal, and a number of challenges to her throne.
As a result of her divorce, the Catholic church bestowed a nickname on Margaret that means, in its nicest interpretation, ‘ugly woman’ (the less-nice interpretation, and the one they probably meant, is a five-letter word starting with a w). Due to this, Margaret has gone down in history as ‘The Ugly Duchess’, possibly inspiring the title of Matsy’s painting, as well as some illustrations of ‘the Duchess’ in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
In real life though, Margaret was probably quite beautiful, and the portrait we are considering shows her as such (despite the paint wear that has turned her full-red lips into a strange grimace). She may have been a 14th century Tyrolean ruler, but her striking gown owes its fabric to the 16th century silk trade between Venice & the Ottoman empire, and 16th century dyeing innovations. European textile technology of the late Middle Ages & Renaissance was not capable of producing the rich cloth-of-gold on velvet pile ground – the Ottoman empire vigorously guarded the knowledge of how to create such fabric. The silk thread also came from the Ottoman empire, either from their own silk industry, stolen from China, or from China itself. The pattern also draws on Ottoman & Venetian influences, showing a love of fantastical botany, and a symmetry inspired by Ottoman art. Finally, the rich black of the background was a new invention, combining black dye sourced from the sap of trees from the Americas with indigo brought up from the south.
So her dress is a fantasy, but do you like it? The massive, bold print, the body-hugging bodice, the oversized pom-poms on the sleeves that, along with the white collar, provide the only additional ornamentation to the frock. What about the intriguing grey and red cloak she wears over it?
Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10