Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Titian’s Lady in White

There was no Rate the Dress last week due to frantic-business, so we have to go back two weeks, to the end-of-the-crinoline-era, what-is-this-thing gown?  There were a number of suggestions, but after a bit more research I think it is basically an early tea gown, which makes it (as Daniel and a couple others suggested) essentially a morning dress – something for informal, mainly indoor wear.  Things you liked about it included the impressive applique, and the lush fabric.  Things you didn’t like were the tassles (universally), shoulder bows (mostly), and the colour (mostly).  As a group you were divided on the loose fit and the peplum.  All that division really divided the score as well – down to a 6.9 out of 10

For this week’s Rate the Dress I present the serene simplicity (in a Renaissance sense of simplicity) of Titian’s Lady in White, with her fortune in pearls and flag fan.

Lady in White, Titian, 1553

Lady in White, Titian, 1553

What do you think?  Does the monochrome frock make an impact with just a few (in a Renaissance sense of few) jewels to ornament it, or is it too boring?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. I very much like the monochrome pearl white, especially since she would likely be a glowing focus of attention in candlelight/torchlight, surrounded by others in more typical Renaissance brocades.

    Charming touch of lace below the shoulder puffs, and overall I like the restrained touches of ornamentation.

    Only thing I don’t care for is how the skirt front seam appears distorted, and how uncomfortable that style of bodice must be to wear.

    Is that a Renaissance version of a hand fan she’s holding?

    8 of 10

    • Cyanetta, re: your comment about the fan. Yes, that is a Renaissance-style “flag fan”; they are commonly seen in photographs and some original examples survive. My impression is that they were used more for flirting (i.e., peeking at someone over the fan) than for actually fanning oneself.

      • Might they have also been used for screening one’s complexion from the fire? I don’t have any support for this theory, I’m just wondering!

    • Yes, it’s a flag fan. They do work! I know many ladies that have used them and love them. The one I use is a later version – it swings around the center stick to create the fan motion we are more familiar with now.

  2. I love this style, partly because as fitted styles go it’s relatively simple to make (the skirt is a long, usually pieced rectangle pleated onto the bodice) and partly because the open lacing scheme means that a small weight gain won’t require you to remake the bodice. 🙂

    Although I agree that this style of dress cries out to be made in a bold, brightly colored brocade, I don’t think this white dress would have been “boring” in period. If anything, it would be dramatic–think of how plain white satin or a tonal white brocade would stand out in a sea of women wearing vividly colored brocades.

    Re: Cyanetta’s comment–I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the front seam; I think the distortion results from the way she’s holding her skirt. On the other hand, there *is* something unusual going on with the way the skirt is pleated to the bodice–there a pattern of pleating-spacing-pleating, emphasized by the use of gold studs. While I don’t think that detail does any favors to the dress’s design, I also don’t think it detracts from the impact of the whole very much. A 9 (would have been a 10 without the odd pleating and with some gold or other colored accents).

  3. I’m really torn on this. If I saw a real version of this dress, in some thick luxurious silk, I would probably love it, but in this portrait it feels a bit bland. I’ll give it a 7, it’s not bad it’s just a bit boring.

  4. I would say that Titian had little interest in capturing the accuracy of a garment’s construction, but really LOVED chiarascuro. I can’t imagine even the most crumpled silk satin actually featuring that much shadow and light! But yes, in the flame light of a Renaissance evening, how gorgeous this would have looked.
    7/10 because it’s just a really rather conventional dress of its time done in white. That is as exciting as a bride choosing black and white for her bridesmaids (with red roses) because it is ‘different’ (read, the same different as everyone else who wants something different, therefore not different, just predictable. It looks great, but it is still predictable!)

  5. I love it! I just wish that the trimming was more consistent (have the beading around the cuffs match and add that same thing along the neckline.) The lace around the sleeves should either be removed or echoed elsewhere. Under the assumption the weird pleating is Titian being dramatic 9.5 out of 10.

  6. I know very little about clothing from this era. However I admire this beautiful dress – love the simplicity of the style, colour & beautiful fabric. Divine pearls to finish off a stylist look.
    PS: thanks for your blog, I have only recently discovered it & am enjoying it!

  7. I love it! I agree that the simplicity is so elegant and would have been very striking in candlelight – especially against the usual Renaissance favorites of dark colors. I remember reading a passage of Catherine de Medici and her personal love (almost obsession) of luscious fabrics. She absolutely shocked the staid Florentines, but the Milanese were much more known for their opulence of dress. I think this would have been too simple for her, but this lady looks very elegant.

    10/10 for me!

  8. I really like it. And I think the pearls are perfect. Anything else would overshadow the simplicity of the dress. I suspect that in person the richness of the fabric would just take your breathe away. I know that Titian loved the light/shadow thing, but maybe the fabric had some tone-on-tone texture to it. 9.5 of 10

  9. Susan says

    Typically for Titian, his “Lady” has red hair. So this ivory dress would have benefitted by the wearer’s coloring, whereas someone with less vibrant coloring would not have worn the dress with the same effect.

    Thanks to the “Lady”‘s “titian” hair, 9.0 from me. That tight bodice looks SO uncomfortable…

    • …Her hair doesn’t look red to me. It looks like she is a brunette that lightened her hair to a blond – very very typical of the 16th Century Italians.

  10. In its purity it is beautiful. The beauty from this gown comes from the rich silk (I think) and the demure pearls and jewells.
    It is not my favorite era of clothing because of the rigid proportions (ok other eras have rigid proportions too but I like the cut of the clothing more).

    9.0 from me

  11. One of my favorites, but not because of the monochrome – but the use of detail. The bit of lace right under the “puffed” part of the sleeve, the small goldish beads at various parts of the dress, the striped partlet, the small amount of pearls – just enough to let us know she is a lady – it’s a great example of the Venetian dress in the mid 16th C. 9/10 only because I know of several others from this era that I like better. 🙂

  12. I like the deceptive simplicity of it – those are my favourite kinds of clothes. But this doesn’t quite reach the upper heights of favouriteness… 8/10? It does look a bit unnatural, in some odd way that may have something to do with the shape or something to do with the way it is depicted.

  13. This is an excellent portrait because you really notice the wearer rather than her clothes. It focuses all the attention on her beauty. The dress itself doesn’t really register other than as a beautiful mass of cream and white. But looking closely at it – there’s not an awful lot there really. I hope she didn’t have much bosom naturally, as that bodice looks incredibly uncomfortable otherwise, but she is stunning. So it’s a 7.5/10.

  14. Elina G says

    Tastefully understated and subtle. White is not my favourite colour, but this ensemble is so elegant. 9/10

  15. Julia Ergane says

    Titian is one of my favourite portraitists of the 16th century. So, yes, she has the famous Titian red-gold hair. The total gorgeousness of that gown –WOW!. I’m afraid this was one of the most popular silouettes of the 16th-early 17th century. QEI wore it quite frequently along with a farthingale. At least she’s not wearing that contraption. 10/10 I loves it!

  16. I like the use of white fabric and pearls. They look lovely together, and I bet the combo looked lovely in person. I’m not a hundred percent sold on the sleeves, but the bodice and skirt are nice. 7/10

  17. Lynne says

    Oooh! I forgot! Thank you for the reminder. I love it – clean, simple lines, love the white on the fair girl. This one would be fairly simple to re-create, too. And I am always amused by those little rectangular fans that look like pretty hatchets!


  18. Marilyn J. Hollman says

    The freshness and vivacity of this young woman make this like a debutante portrait — from last New Years. The dress and pearls are terrific. Look how lean she is (corsets? maybe) and fluid and modern she appears. Wow!

Comments are closed.