Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: 1540s Noblewoman in Green

Last week I showed you an embroidered ensemble said to have belonged to Madame Élisabeth, sister to Louis XVI.  There must be some magic in being a princess, because the full first 10 scores were perfect scores, and the frock managed an incredibly impressive 9.4 out of 10 (which is practically a perfect score these days), though some of you did make it hard for me by giving it multiple scores.

Personally I wanted to love the outfit, but every time I looked at it my eye tried to tweak the motifs and rearrange the embroidery ever so slightly, and if it isn’t perfect as it is, I really can’t give it a perfect score, so it was really only an 8.5 out of 10 from me.

This week we’re downgrading from a well known princess to an unknown noblewoman, with this portrait of a wealthy Florentine woman (presumably a noblewoman) of the 1540s, possibly by Bronzino.

Portrait of a Florentine noblewoman, ca. 1540, possibly by Agnolo di Cosimo (Bronzino) San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego California

Portrait of a Florentine noblewoman, ca. 1540, possibly by Agnolo di Cosimo (Bronzino), San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego California

Mid-16th century Florentine fashion can be much the same, but this woman has chosen a dress with just enough of a difference to stand out.  The deep green shade of her dress is slightly unusual, and lends an air of simplicity and visual relaxation to the elaborate brocaded or cut velvet patterning of the fabric.  The vivid grass shade plays off the gold of her jewellery and the white of her linen and lace, and subtly highlights the rosary she holds: emphasising her piety as a desirable trait.

The garment plays with a balance of structure and softness, symmetry and serpentine.  The overall shape is quite formal and structured, the delicacy of her partlet is offset by the stiffness of its high, standing collar, which appears to be supported by wires, foreshadowing the late-16th, early 17th century rebato.  The partlet sports soft surface tufts and loose, dangling strings (which could presumably be used to tie it closed in front) as a counterpoint to the engineered shape.  The tufts of the partlet are echoed in pert little ties ornamenting the sleeve slashings, which lead the eye down to the fine lace of her cuffs, and back up to the white of the partlet that frames her face.

What do you think?  Is this different enough to stand out from the mundane ranks of mid-16th century Florentine styles, and attractive in its differences?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10 

28 Comments

  1. Green is my favorite color, so this portrait scored a point in its favor from first glance. 🙂

    I think the lace partlet and cuffs are exquisite and it pleases me that she did not load herself down with jewelry, a common Renaissance (noble) fashion trope I don’t like. Another 10 out of 10 from me.

  2. I love the color and pattern of the main dress, but am less enchanted with the puffed fabric between the slashings – for some reason it seems like the “wrong” color, so 9 of 10.

  3. I’ll give it a 9 out of 10. I love much of the detailing, but the cuffs don’t quite seem balanced with the rest of the dress.

  4. I really don’t know anything about 16th century Florentine fashion, nor am I necessarily a fan of renaissance styles, but I do like the color scheme that was used. I don’t mind the color of fabric used in the sleeve slashings. I think it goes fine with the dress, just not so well with the gold jewelry. Conversely, I think the gold goes well with the dress just not with the under fabric of the sleeves. The slashing all the way down the sleeve does seem a little strange to me. All in all, 7/10.

  5. I love the green. I love all the little puffs/slashes, and I love her sleeves and her mossy green gloves and her white partlet with the visually odd little dangling strings. I think this is the right balance between simplicity and visual detail and interest. She has attitude too. Definitely a lot more interesting than last week’s slightly wishy washy princess.

  6. Charly says

    Dammit now I have to try to make this dress. I have a pattern but will I do it justice? Brilliant dress.

  7. Charly says

    Oh and 9 out of 10. I am not keen on that gold braid location.

  8. ceci says

    Very ignorant about this era but I’m worried about her breasts – is she just very young/undeveloped or does the front really squash her early sports bra style?

    ceci

    • As someone who looks exactly like that in a stiff 16th c bodice, I’m not worried about her breasts at all! 😉 And no, it’s not uncomfortable – very supportive actually.

  9. Jennifer says

    I loooooove this painting. I’ve been wanting to recreate this for a while. I’ve actually been looking for this green or a bit more blueish green brocade. (Anyone know where to find that..?) I like the colors together and the exaggeration of the collar.

    10/10

  10. Lynne says

    Now you’ve done it! I love this dress. Back in the day when I cherished hopes of being able to sew again, this was one of the dresses I put in my ‘want to make’ file.

    10 out of 10.

  11. Elaine Orazem says

    I think this is exquisite, and give it a 10. I’m curious if this green would have been produced with a poisonous dye ( was it arsenic they used?)

    • Kathryn says

      This green would have pre-dated arsenic dyes by a couple centuries, I think. Chemical dyes were an innovation of the late 19th century. Which makes me wonder what exactly they dyed this with-some combination of Indigo or Woad and a yellow-producing plant like Marigold? As far as I understand, there is no plant that makes a proper green dye. Though I could very well be wrong.

      Also, this is my favourite colour and one of my favourite collar styles. And I love the wearer’s face, she seems like an intersting, complicated person. 9/10

  12. I can’t decide whether it is the dress or a painting that makes her look so broad-shouldered that it makes her look disproporionate to her head, so I can’t deduct points for that despite being the most distracting thing about it. But the gold trim and the strings at the neck are kinda irritating and not the painter’s fault, so 9/10.

  13. irene del mar says

    After back-reading years of “rate the dress” (I honestly love it!), finally I’m rating for the first time.
    10 out of 10. I usually hate this time period re: fashion, but it looks elegant and delicate while not being over the top. Also, that shade of green is divine.
    i wonder what the skirt would be like.

  14. Staffordcastle says

    This has been a favorite of mine for many years; everything about it is wonderful.

  15. Anna says

    The fabric reminds me of those Victorian poisonous wallpapers 🙂 Overall it’s a nice dress so 6/10 Would be more but i don’t like the collar (something about those string feels wrong)

  16. Julia Ergane says

    This is another winner! I love the colour and just everything about it. 10/10 from me (want!!)

  17. Elina G says

    The partlet strings are somehow too prominent and the placement of the gold chain a bit off, BUT they are minor problems and easy to put right if somebody gave me that costume. Yes there’s definitely space for the ensemble in my wardrobe and on my person. 10 points!

  18. Buttercup says

    I like the overall look of the dress. It’s not floaty and dreamy but more solid and complements the determined look on her face. She definitely suits the style. The only thing that distracts me are her hands. They look a bit like “man hands” to me. I rate this dress 8 out of ten.

  19. It’s a high ranking piece from me, but not in the top. The chain is a bit off and I think the strings on her partlet looks a bit too much like party streamers. 8/10 from me.

  20. India says

    I’m woefully ignorant about dress fashion in that place and time but I do rather like the dress. It manages to be opulent without being excessive. However, like Buttercup I find I can’t keep my eyes off her hands. They’re far better painted and more realistic than most from this era when painted hands almost always looked boneless and formulaic. These look real and, yes, like a man’s hands. Or maybe she wasn’t nobility but a “working” aspirational middle class wife who still took her turn in the house and kitchen. Back to the dress, though – 8/10.

  21. I really love this portrait, especially the color and the fabric. Only thing I don’t like are the little ‘strings’ hanging from her partlet. 9 out of 10

  22. Emma says

    I love this one. It’s pretty much perfect. 10/10

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