Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Anna of Austria by Anthonis Mor

Last week I showed you a rather plain 1890s dress with enormous puffed sleeves.  Thanks to some rather fabulous fabric and some very clever stripe-work, the dress was very popular.

Right up until my Mum showed up and pointed out that it looks like an elephant.  Thanks Mum!

Still, 1890s sexy librarian or elephant, it came in at a VERY impressive 9.2 out of 10.

Since I’m on a 1570s kick, this week’s Rate the Dress is on-theme.   Rather than staying with English Elizabethan styles, we’re travelling to continental Europe to discuss the fashion choices of the 21 year old Anna of Austria, Queen of Spain:

Anthonis Mor, Anna of Austria, Queen of Spain, 1570, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum Gemäldegalerie Inventory number GG_3053

Anthonis Mor, Anna of Austria, Queen of Spain, 1570, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum Gemäldegalerie Inventory number GG_3053

In typical late 16th century Spanish style, Anna’s clothes are quite severe, with large expanses  of expensive black fabric.  Equally typically, the black is livened with copious amounts of precious metals and stones: her bonnet is circled with gold braid and jewelled ornaments, there are more jewelled pins in her hair, she wears an elaborate gold necklace with an enormous double-headed bird pendant, each head holding a ruby in its mouth, while a large pearl dangles below, and what is probably a diamond sets off the whole thing.  An equally elaborate and impressive belt highlights her slender waist and the fashionable pointed bodice of her dress.

Slightly less typically, the black is also relieved by a vivid yellow doublet, giving a bit of youthful zing to the ensemble.

Anthonis Mor, Anna of Austria, Queen of Spain, 1570, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum Gemäldegalerie Inventory number GG_3053

Anthonis Mor, Anna of Austria, Queen of Spain, 1570, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum Gemäldegalerie Inventory number GG_3053

Anna was, by all accounts, quite charming and personable.  She was known for being her father’s favourite daughter and her husband/uncle’s (yes, eww.  It’s the Hapsburgs.  We know what happened to them because of it) favourite wife.   Does this outfit do a good job of balancing youth, power, status, and personality?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10.  


  1. redbarngirl says

    The yellow parts look like Big Bird in the full portrait, but they look better in the close-up. I like the black and the jewels, though, so 7/10 for all of it.

  2. The colors are beautifully coordinated; the trim is gracefully arranged on the headgear. The shoulder ornaments are somewhat odd, but at least restrained in their application. The only downside is the feeling of almost paralysis I get from the sheer weight of the overgarment (I know it is typical of the period, and the actual fabric may have been less weighty than it appears, but it still leaves me with an impression of discomfort).

    8 of 10

  3. Lyn Swan says

    I quite like the overall effect of this ensemble. There is a sense of symmetry and fitting proportion in all of the bits, as no one thing overwhelms the whole. I am ignorant about this period, so do not know the correct terminology for all of the pieces. The fabric of the doublet shot with the gold threads adds richness. I also like the buttons all the way down the front…As always I wish that I could see more and touch the fabric. The construction of the skirt of the dress and the capelet are a mystery to me. I am also distracted by the left hand holding the handkerchief. I looks like a deformed hand in a glove…? I did look at more of Anthonis Mor’s portraits, and he does seem to do odd thing with hands. 9/10 for the dress being elegant in spite of all that black.

  4. I like the color combination of the yellow and deep green. The dress shows that the owner has status without being extremely gaudy with embellishments. I’ll say 8/10.

  5. I do like this too – the greenish black and the yellow are a wonderful combination. Don’t like the necklace but I guess it does what it’s there to do. But those aglets are gorgeous. It does have a real presence without being gaudy. Overall effect is fabulous and she does avoid looking like lamb dressed as mutton. Oh, 10/10 – I really can’t see anything to properly niggle at to downgrade it, as I like the look so much.

    • Oh THANK YOU, now I can’t unsee the “deformed hand”. 9/10, point has to be knocked off for that really ugly glove.

      • Lyn Swan says

        Sorry…I almost didn’t mention it just for that reason.

  6. Rachel says

    I always like how authoritative and strong this style of dress is. The playful yellow messes with that vibe, so do I still like what’s left? Yeah, I think so, though it takes some getting used to.

    The hat’s good. I like the hat a lot. Not a fan of belt-buckle-sized two-headed bird pendants. The belt though, I dig that. Also the high collar and deep neckline with not-really-sleeves sleeves. And the buttons.

    However, the blobby yellow ice cream cone effects on her shoulders … what are those? The aglets? Even though they wouldn’t have suggested ice cream cones to the original designer, I don’t think the shape itself is very appealing.

    Also, I’ve always been curious – Why do so many portraits have the sitter only wearing one glove? What is the symbolism?


  7. I would have said this was from Bohemia or Austria; the Hapsburg connections at the time meant Spanish fashions were big here at the time, and goodness, how I hate them.
    I guess it’s because they, especially the ever-present black and the stiff ruffs, make every single person I’ve ever seen painted in them look uncomfortable and uptight and just plain seem like an awful person even though they probably weren’t. It makes that time in my country’s history seem like a very dreary time when you look at the portraits, even though it was, in fact, a fairly free and culturally rich time still, despite the Hapsburgs on throne (it only got really worse after Rudolf II’s death when his brother moved his seat from Prague to Vienna and everything went downhill from there).
    So. Ahem. That’s my bias.
    I like the yellow. But I just can’t shake the hate for the rest of the era’s features. Inside that era’s context, it could rate quite high, I guess, but I just can’t bring myself to rate it high because it still has the era’s characteristics. The detail, with the higher percentage of yellow around her blonde head, makes it look quite nice, but the huge expanse of black in the skirt brings it down, back to the dreary levels I dislike.

    • … seeing MrsC’s comment below, part of that impression must also come from the dark background. If this were actually put in a garden, for example, I think I could bring myself to like it more, but the portraits never do that, that’s a later feature in portraits. 😛

      • Lori Watk says

        toI realize I’m late to this party but if I were to comment else where I would not be understood properly.
        So two okay maybe six questions here.
        1) Is yellow and black their colors? Answered below and is it in any way possible that she is in mourning? Yellow is the color of mourning in Spain, is it not? Okay sooo that was three questions but it went along the same thought line.
        2) Ewww to the uncle/husband thing as well but she looks quite — happy. She’s got a playfully small smile on her face, which adds to the beauty of the dress. I’m sorry I lost my question…. found it! Was she in fact married when this was painted? Because the rubies at her breast would signify virtue, a gift from her husband? Maybe a family heirloom since I’ve seen her wear that two headed bird in another painting.
        3) The first thing some people do in paintings is look for mistakes, I look for the eyes. I have even taken to use card stock to cover everything but the face of a person. However a sitting for a painting could last a single sitting, over a few days to a few weeks to an entire month. Was this painted during the winter?
        I know how did I go from being painted in sessions to what the weather was. Just lucky I guess.
        In the other painting she seems to have the same small smile but the color of her gown is different. Some things are the same, same placement, same chair, same backdrop, everything is the same except the gown. ODD! Even her hair is the same, even the “‘memento mori’ little skull tucked into her hair above her right ear?” is the same after comparing.
        (Please post this so I can reference this for future research, thank you.)

  8. Well apart from illustrating why performers should not wear black on stage, I love it. It’s hard to see the silhouette, but I really fancy swanning about the house in one of these dresses. Very elegant. I am sure that the appearance of relative comfort, not having the fitted bodice going on, is in reality not true as the Spanish seemed to be particularly sado-masochistic in their choice of fashions for the wealthy in general. But a girl can dream. (Oh, on second viewing I realise it is a waisted dress. Darn it.. but it does rather reinforce the point about black on a dark background)
    I love how the painter has recreated the way the satin lining ripples a little at the edges from the stitching. Getting velvet and satin to play nicely together (velvet and anything!) is something we modern seamstresses share with those of the 16thC!
    Also yay for the yellow. All that black would be really harsh on such a delicate red headed beauty and the pops of warm colour really suit her. I’d like to think that is why she is wearing it. But I am not so naive, it’s probably political!
    So a 7 from me. Because I can’t really love it completely. It is too suffocating and disturbing and every time I love something I realise that there’s probably a downside.

  9. Black and cadmium yellow are not the best of colors for a fair-skinned blonde such as Anna, but the costume itself is dignified and beautiful in its way. I especially like the severity of the black (the jewels, bold as they are seem understated by comparison) and its contrast with the bold yellow of the underdress. A 9 for the outfit as a whole.

    • But then yellow and black are the Hapsburg colours, how dreary to have been an Austrian princess and to have known that at least once in your lifetime you would be portrayed looking like a wasp. Much nicer to have been a Bourbon princess, it’s much easier to look great in blue and gold. 🙂

  10. Barbara Stevens says

    Poor Anna looks totally overwhelmed by the weight of this outfit. I bet it took a bit of an effort to get mobile once it was all trussed together.
    The colours work well, and the painter has caught the different fabrics beautifully. I don’t know much about this era’s fashions, but they always look decidedly uncomfortable to me and this one follows the pattern. The gloved hand is just weird, and is that a ‘memento mori’ little skull tucked into her hair above her right ear? It’s a gorgeous outfit anyway, just so glad it’s no longer fashionable. 9/10 from me – that glove is the spoiler.
    Poor girl, there’s no doubt she’s a Hapsburg is there – goggle eyes, long nose, and big bottom lip. Can’t disguise that lineage!

  11. I’m having difficulty seeing the black clothing because of the black background and because it’s often harder to see details on black clothing in general which makes it hard to rate this one. I’m not sure what I’m looking at – a loose gown over a doublet, a doublet and skirt over another doublet, something else entirely? It makes me feel weirdly uncomfortable not knowing what’s going on, I don’t know why!

    I don’t like the two high necklines (even if one of them is open). I also don’t like the colours on her. (Neither black nor yellow are a good choice for a strawberry blonde, not that close to the face anyway.) I also don’t like the necklace or the girdle.

    I do like the hat, the hanging sleeves and that the yellow sleeves are quite close fitting. I also really like this period (if not this particular representation so much) which I think is effecting my rating. 5/10

  12. The green silk lining (not black) and deep green velvet with the yellow doublet is lovely. By this point in time, fashion started to be more “European” and less regional, at least in the upper classes. You’ll see the same style in Naples, Spain, England, France, and pretty much everywhere where they wanted to impress their cousins. The woven buttons on the yellow doublet hide away to the background, making the metal buttons on the dark green overdress that much more impressive. The flat cap reminds me of the one Helena Snakenborg wears in her portrait and the shape is the same as the one found in the Mary Rose digs (although much plainer and knit!). The doublet gown was considered too masculine at the time and, thus, suggests power. Even the one glove is a symbol of power – to have gloves (rather than knitted mittens!) was a sign of wealth. This portrait is all about power and I really love the style it’s done in. 9/10

  13. Nope…paintings…I just can’t rate the dress, it wouldn’t be fair.
    But I just need to tell you that Anna was famous for having the most beautiful and most admired hands of the age. 🙂

  14. It’s weird to think how all that black looks very practical and sensible now, but was totally extravagant back then because the dye was so expensive. It’s a good colour even if it does fade into the background on the painting — it contrasts well with all the jewellery and the beautiful yellow doublet. The black gown helps that yellow to really shine. Also, I’m really impressed with how Mor has rendered the colour and sheen of the wool satin lining on her gown.

    I give the outfit 9/10. It would have been the full 10, except that it all looks so hot to wear. Poor Anna must have been boiling alive.

    • Well, if the weather was like today, she certainly would have, but it may have been the middle of winter, and Europe was going through a mini ice age, so she may have been very grateful for all those layers!

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