Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Elisabeth Amalie in black and blue, ca. 1655

Sorry!  I’ve rather  dropped the ball on Rate the Dress this  weeks.  Between travelling, switching time zones, and Costume College, I’ve just completely lost track of days, and my brain is too tired to remember which day of the week I ought to do it in the US, rather than NZ.

Last weeks Rate the Dress, which I posted from NZ, was a tea gown made from a paisley shawl.  It copped a bit of criticism for the use of the lavender fabric as a match to the shawl, though some of you noticed that there were definitely lavender elements in the shawl, or simply liked the unexpected contrast.  Whether or not the lavender worked was definitely the biggest consideration for rating the dress, and it balanced out at a perfectly round, if not perfectly awesome 7 out of 10.

For this weeks Rate the Dress, I have a little request:

Please don’t look at the baby.

Or, at least, please don’t include the baby in your consideration of the dress Rating.  I can’t imagine that will go well.  Spilberg was a fantastic artist in many ways, but babies were clearly not his strength.

Johannes Spilberg (1619-1690), Portrait of Landgravine Elisabeth Amalie of Hesse-Darmstadt probably with her daughter Eleonor Magdalene of the Palatinate-Neuburg (1655-1720)), 1654-55, Stadtmuseum Düsseldorf, via Wikimedia Commons

Johannes Spilberg (1619-1690), Portrait of Landgravine Elisabeth Amalie of Hesse-Darmstadt probably with her daughter Eleonor Magdalene of the Palatinate-Neuburg (1655-1720)), 1654-55, Stadtmuseum Düsseldorf, via Wikimedia Commons

Other than the unfortunate facial expression bestowed upon Eleonor (unless that was actually what she looked like…), Spilberg had provided a fantastic look at mid-17thc. fashions in the Holy Roman Empire, as worn by  her mother, Elisabeth Amalie of Hesse-Darmstadt.  Elisabeth Amalie, famously pious and famously blonde, is about 20 years old in this portrait.  She wears a typical  1650s ensemble, with fitted, heavily boned bodice with wide sleeves and low neckline, of black velvet trimmed in silver, with matching overskirt and petticoat-skirt in turquoise blue, with the same trim.

Though  black was becoming less common and fashionable as a colour in the 1650s, it was still an expensive shade to achieve, and helps to set of her unusual (and coveted) extremely fair colouring, and her blue under-skirt probably matched her eyes.  The flower she holds is probably a rose, as camellias weren’t grown in Europe until the 18th century.

What do you think?  Is Elisabeth  the ideal picture of a Countess Palatinate in her ensemble?  Regal, wealthy, demure, pious, beautiful, and, most importantly, as shown by her daughter, fertile.  Beyond that, is it an attractive example of mid-17th century fashions?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. Deanna says

    That’s rather like the “don’t think of a bear” experiment, isn’t it? 🙂

    I like the strong contrast of the main colors, the lengthening effect of the design, the bit of pleating at the sides of the bodice, the shade of blue, and the large cuffs, even though they struck me as a bit out of proportion at first. I’m fond of silver, and at least at the size I’m viewing it, the “bling” doesn’t look over the top for the period. I’m rating it at 8.5.

    Elisabeth Amalie looks very pretty, but rather as if she’s grown weary of posing.

  2. I like the way the contrast emphasizes the lines, elegantly dramatic without being garish. 9 of 10

    The baby is hilarious.

  3. I laughed so loud the dog left the room when I saw the baby.

    Not my fave era. I find the stuff between Renaissance and 18th Century a little… droopy and long-bodied.

    However, it appears to be doing exactly what it says on the box. And her hair actually looks PRETTY in that terrible style. I’d give it a 9 for panache and just going ahead and doin’ what it wants to do, with a snazzy silver and black look.


  4. Robin G. says

    Pretty much a textbook example of how one should look in that era! It is not a commonly seen period, but the costume is wonderful. Yes, the mother’s flower looks like a camellia, and I wondered if the baby, (and rather dull tulip?) had been a later addition by another artist. Anyway, a 9 out of 10.

  5. Lynne says

    So funny! Poor baby.

    I do like this period and style – very sleek, while still using a lot of fabric. The black and silver, blue and silver are beautiful and very smart. I particularly like the sleeves – the look of Tudor panes given by the appliqued lace, and the wide white ‘cuffs’.

    9 out of 10.

  6. Elise says

    “Droopy and long-bodied” are great words for much of the 17th-century. Honestly, I find this one to be nicely in proportion. It’s an interesting dress, and I think really quite pretty (if black can be described as pretty), and I really like the trim–again, silver trim on black rendered in perfect proportions and design. 9/10

    Another commenter above posited that the baby could be a later artist’s addition. Could it be possible? Could it also attempt to show a definitive likeness of the father to emphasize parentage–and fidelity– along with fertility?

  7. Grace says

    Lovely dress. 8 points for me.

    However you are mistaken about roses not being grown in Europe til the 18th century. Many were brought back during the crusades. One will also recall the “War of the roses”. Cultivated roses became more available in the 18th century with the introduction of the China rose but roses were fairly common before that just not as popular or available.

    Grace e (roses are my thing. Love them!!)

    • I think you’ve read my post incorrectly. I say “the flower she is holding IS probably a rose, as camellias weren’t grown in Europe until the 18th century” (emphasis added). 🙂

      I’m quite aware that roses were grown in Medieval Europe.

      • Grace says

        Yes you are right. Misread your post. My apologies.


        • No worries! It’s good when people do correct me when I do make mistakes though, so I don’t propagate (heh heh) misinformation and we all learn something 🙂

  8. ceci says

    What pretty hair…..the long waist/body effect seems odd, its so contrary to our current expectations, perhaps. I don’t have dress expertise to rate, but I do join those who think the baby was added after the fact….perhaps there was something else under the red drape that was subsequently eliminated and the horrid little imp painted instead? Its even offering her a grey tulip…..


  9. Good colour combination, love the wide silver against the black, love the turquoise petticoat. The sleeves do peculiar things to her arms, making them look really short and stumpy even though they’re not…. That asymmetric black necklace thing is interesting.

    Hmm. I suspect in reality it is a fabulous gown, but in the painting it isn’t as good as it ought to be. 7.5/10.

    As for the…. “baby…” I can’t say anything nice, so….

  10. Julia Ergane says

    I won’t rate the painter (not the best portraitist of his age). I will admit to being rather fond of the styles from the 17th century and I would want her dress in my closet (ignore the left arm — that is the painter’s error). This lovely gown earns a 9.5 out of 10 from me.

  11. Lyn Swan says

    8.5/10 I very much like this dress, especially the black with silver and touch of blue. I do have a question. With this style of gown, droop or off the shoulder, what holds the sleeve in place? It seems that the fabric would be slipping off the shoulder, which would be awkward and uncomfortable. I have wondered this about some of the mid 1800 dresses as well.

  12. Rachel says

    Oh my, Elisabeth, that’s a – a beautiful gold tablecloth you have! And a beautiful scarlet cushion! And a gorgeous indistinctly-lit backdrop!

    The – the baby? Oh, what a darling little impractical see-through smock. But let’s talk about your dress. You know, I do think the long flat bodice feels a little severe, and I’m not sure how I feel about the blocky, truncated sleeves. Well, I don’t hate them, it’s just that I think I would have gone for some other length myself. Maybe shorter? That’s not done? Oh, well, then maybe something fuller and a bit more bell-like?

    Yes, yes, it’s amazing little Eleonor can sit up already. Now, by and large, I do love your dress, you know. The black and the silvery blue look amazing together, especially in how it edges the overskirt and in the skirt beneath. And those stripes on the sleeves! And that hip pleating! How did you ever think of it? The heavy black beads on your neckline (LOVE the neckline, Elisabeth) are the perfect touch, though – I mean, I don’t mean to question your taste – but why only on the one side? Were you economizing because that’s the side you were being painted from?

    Oh my goodness gracious, I’m sorry I said anything! Well, at least I don’t have to ask why your hair ornament looks like a DEVIL’S horn! A cheap devil who only bothers to get one horn because she thinks no one will notice!

    …I’m sorry, Elisabeth, I really didn’t mean that – No, no, it was my fault. Even with my reservations, the dress is exquisite. And you’re exquisite. And I’m so glad we’re friends again.


    By the way, Elisabeth, if you ever look at this picture and, er, rethink things, I’m pretty sure the backdrop is dark enough that a good artist can easily obscure anything that wasn’t, um …

    Never mind.

  13. Ooh, I see what you mean. Babies are hard to paint if you’re not used to painting them, because they’re proportioned differently to adults.

    The dress is lovely, and is a good choice for Elisabeth given her fair hair and skin. This style of dress works well with bold, high-contrast trim, and I particularly like the turquoise petticoat. It breaks up the black and adds some visual interest, and at the same time harmonizes really well with the other colours. 10/10

  14. ProfessorBats says

    I mostly love the dress, though I admit I’m not very knowledgeable about that era at all. Black velvet trimmed in silver, how could that not appeal to my gothic tendencies! I like the bold Y trim on the bodice, and love the open skirt with contrasting underskirt. The blue does seem a good choice for her. But I do not like the sleeves, especially in combination with the tight, low on the shoulders, scarf-thing neckline. It ends up squishing those big tubular stiff sleeves in a way that I find most ungraceful. The 5/8 length also doesn’t help, with that particular sleeve design. All in all, 7.5.

    • Annabelle says

      I’m CRYING laughing over the Dobby comment. Definitely can’t even look at the dress with that…….creature…..off to the side, lmao. I think I know where the phrase “a face only a mother could love” comes from. No, I just can’t rate the dress without rating the ‘baby’ as well so I will refrain.

  15. I CAN’T stop looking at the baby. It’s so…. disturbing.

    Her dress is lovely, and I quite like it, but the baby distracts me from analyzing it too well.

    I’ll give it a 9 out of 10.

  16. Lalaith says

    It’s a very nice dress for the time, though I’m partial to the colour combination, so that may affect my opinion. 8/10

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