Wednesday, August 28, 2013

1912-1913 Purple Cotton Summer Day Dress



It all started with a few metres of purple cotton that had been sitting in my sewing pile for over two years. I was in the process of beading my 1920s flapper dress and needed a break from hand beading so I decided to create something else.

At the time (now a few months ago) I had been watching a lot of Downton Abbey, in fact I'm pretty sure I watched three seasons in 2 weeks.... :/ Anyway, when looking at the purple material and trying to work out what to do with it my mind went straight to this purple dress worn by Lady Sybil in season one.



Looking at Sybil's purple dress I think it's made with a cotton sateen, a silk blend or something similar, definitely not the daggy cheap, plain cotton like I have! However I wanted to make more of an 'everyday' person's dress, so cotton would work just fine.

I also drew further inspiration from other fashion plates from the era:

1912 Summer Dresses
1912

1912 ?

1913
Summer 1913
1914

I also looked at extant examples:

Dress is from Steel Magnolias Vintage Clothing found here

And photographs:
Joseph Laroche and Juliette Lafargue in 1912 taken before they boarded the Titanic. Unfortunately Joseph didn't survive.
Paris around 1910
I drafted this pattern from scratch using the bodice of an 1880s gown and a 1912 evening gown as guides, as at this point I had no idea how to make patterns and I didn't have a dress form to drape. I also used the trained skirt from a 1912 evening gown to help draft this one. I was originally going to do the dress up from the back (like the one in Downton Abbey) but then I realised a) it was too hard to do fittings on a back fastening dress when you don't have a dress makers mannequin and have to try it on yourself, and b) who the hell would I get to do it up for me?

As a result the dress has a seam up the centre back which wouldn't be there if the pattern was spot on historically accurate.


The sailor collar that was very typical of day dresses from this era is made from white cotton sateen. 

Doing the initial fitting for the collar using scrap fabric

Like the dress that Lady Sybil wears I wanted a white panel down the front of the dress which I made from the same material as the collar. Rather than sewing this with white cotton I decided to use the same purple from the dress to add a bit of decorative detail. 


 

Initial fitting 
I had a few issues with fitting the bodice and the neckline as it didn't quite sit right but after a bit of fiddling with seams I got it to a place that I was happy with. However because of these fit issues the sailor collar doesn't sit as flat at the seam as I would have liked it to. So I may have to go back and reattached the collar at some point.

After the bodice fitting issues were sorted the rest of the dress went together like a dream. White cuffs were added to the sleeves and buttons were added all over the dress for decorative effect. The dress fastens with hooks and eyes that run all the way down the front seam to mid-thigh, making it quite easy to get in and out of.


Here are pictures of the finished dress on the dress form:



And here are some photos of me wearing it, thanks to my sister Jane for taking them!

My version and the inspiration
Of course to get the correct period silhouette you need the correct underpinnings. The dress was worn over my Edwardian combination underwear and my nearly complete 1910-1914 corset (I say nearly complete because at this point it doesn't have garters).


We decided to try and find some Edwardian buildings in my home town in rural New South Wales. The town was a mining town that was a tent settlement in the 1880s until the Edwardian era when permanent buildings were erected. So a lot of the main buildings in town are Edwardian or teens era but I wasn't quite ready to walk down a busy street in the dress, so the old mine was the next best option.

Being cotton, this dress is typical of what a middle class / working class person would have worn in my home town during the teen era so I felt the setting was rather fitting! The hat I made using a cheap $10 one I bought off eBay, some left over material and material flowers I bought from a two dollar shop. 



The shoes are actually a pair of leather ankle books I wear all the time during winter but they are very Edwardian looking which is partly the reason that I bought them.





The above photo reminds me of this one which poked fun at the hobble skirt fashion in the early teen era:


Although not a hobble skirt it wasn't exactly the easiest dress to take big strides in!

Scandalous!!!
Fabric:  4 metres of plain purple cotton, 0.5 metre of white cotton sateen
Pattern: Self drafted with the help of 1880s bodice and 1912 evening dress
Year: Based on other examples in fashion plates, photographs and extant examples, it's around 1912-1913.
Notions: Purple thread, self-covering buttons, hooks and eyes.
How historically accurate is it? Fabric, design and silhouette is accurate. Construction and seam lines I have taken liberties with. 80%.
Hours to complete: Not quite sure! Basic dress probably 5-10 hours, all the notions which had to be hand sewn probably at least another 5.
First worn: When taking photos for this blog post!
Total cost: The purple cotton was from my stash but probably was $20 when I bought it, cotton sateen $5, buttons and hooks and eyes probably around $15. Total $40-50.


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Virgin Mary or Protestant Queen? Visual Communication and Understanding the Portraits of Elizabeth I

'The Rainbow Portrait' attributed to Isaac Oliver c. 1600

It was during the 1970s and 80s that historians Frances Yates and Roy Strong first proposed that there existed a ‘Cult of Elizabeth’ in the late sixteenth-century England which saw a revival of iconography similar to that of the Marian Cult of the Middle Ages. During the English conversion from Catholicism to Protestantism and the resulting iconoclasm of the sixteenth century, ‘false’ catholic images were destroyed and replaced with ‘true’ protestant images.[1] However, as with the overthrow of any religion absolute iconoclasm was impossible, and certain ideas were transported to a new setting and given new meaning. Thus Elizabeth I was re-envisioned through iconographical representation in both art and literature, as well as “quasi-religious” ceremonies such as Accession Day which developed around the Queen. This positioned her as a protestant equivalent of the Virgin Mary and helped to secure not only her place as Queen but also as the head of the Anglican Church and god’s representative in England.[2] Since the proposal of this theory in other historians such as Stephen Greenblatt, Louis A. Montrose, Jean Wilson and Susan Frye have built upon the work of Yates and Strong determining that the creation of the royal image was the result of a diverse interplay between the Queen and her subjects.[3] This theory has not been without criticism however. Helen Hackett and Susan Doran have questioned the extent to which historians should interpret Marian iconography in the representation of Elizabeth I in both literature and art, as well as her engagement in the fashioning of her identity as such.[4] 

Many historians tend to treat images as secondary to written sources, merely using them to illustrate the point that they have concluded from their textual documents. The portrait in particular is one type of visual image which is treated this way.  Although portraiture involves the act of mimesis, or the copying of likeness, this was just one simple step which occurred in the process of portrait production. As a result, portraits should never be treated as an object which simply captured the likeness of a subject, especially those that were produced during the Renaissance period.  They like any other form of painting were part of an artistic genre which was composed according to a wide and varied system of conventions.[5]  Elizabethan portraiture in particular presents a peculiar case to the historian. These artworks were quite different, yet not totally divorced from artistic conventions on the continent.  They were rather basic in the portrayal of the human form, yet could also be incredibly ornate in its representation of dress and surrounds. In portraits of the Queen, signs, symbols and allegory abound creating as Roy Strong has noted riddles that were meant to be read.[6]  In order to study Elizabethan portraiture the historian must be able to ‘tap into’ this complex system of visual communication which occurred between the image and viewer. 
It cannot be denied that there were connections being made between Elizabeth and other religious figures such as the Virgin Mary, as well as goddesses from Antiquity such as Cynthia in portraits of the Queen painted during the years 1570-1603. However these connections are not always overt.  What makes the visual communication of Elizabethan portraits so complex and hard to access by historians is the uniqueness of portraiture during this period in England which, as I see it, drew on two different artistic techniques. The first was a return to the iconography and ideology of religious cults most prominently the medieval cult of the Virgin Mary, as well as older goddesses cults from antiquity which functioned in a similar way. These representations were then harmonised with the more contemporary Renaissance endeavour of dualism - to convey both an external likeness of the subject as well as their internal character.
Thus this essay will identify three key areas in the portraiture of Elizabeth during this period within this framework. Section one will analyse the ways in which this iconographical revival and its Renaissance harmonisation created the so-called ‘mask of Elizabeth’, whilst section two will discuss how the role of clothing, gesture and props was magnified within these portraits as a result of her iconographical representation. Finally section three will draw particular attention to the visual experience of the portrait viewer and the ways in which the very nature of viewing enables multiple interpretations. By understanding how these portraits drew on these artistic techniques, the modern viewer can gain a greater understanding of the complex visual communication between image and audience in regards to Elizabeth’s representation as pseudo-religious figure.

I
     During her reign, and specifically between the years 1570-1603, the Queen was known in certainty to have commissioned and sat for miniatures which were given to her court favourites as tokens of favour.[7] Although the Queen did release certain proclamations to secure her image, there was never any official government censor released which inhibited who could produce portraits of the Queen, as long as they were done in a way which was flattering almost anyone who wished to commission them could. Thus the overwhelming majority of portraits of Elizabeth I that have survived today were in fact not ordered by the Queen herself, nor was the Queen present for their sitting. In fact often the hands of the Queen were those of a model, and in portraits where clothing and jewels were painted in intricate detail these pieces of clothing would most probably have been worn over a course of many sittings for the artist by a lady in waiting to the Queen.[8]  Elizabeth I was also a well-known critic of the use of shade and light which was used by Italian and Flemish painters to create strikingly realistic looking portraits of their sitters.[9]  A prominent artist employed by her court was Nicholas Hilliard, who was the painter of both the Pelican and Phoenix portraits, as well as many miniatures of the Queen. In his treatise called The Art of Limning from 1600 he wrote that his minimal use of shadow was due to the Queen wishes, stating that dislike for them meant that when he painted her she “chose her place to sit for that purpose in the open alley of a goodly garden, where no tree was near, nor any shadow at all...”[10] 

Queen Elizabeth I by Unknown Netherlandish artist, c. 1575. 
Elizabeth I of England, oil on panel. Early 17th century variant (reversed) of portrait of c. 1571-75
Elizabeth’s dislike for shadow may explain why her face in these portraits shows very little detail. Her face was always quite open and light, and contours, expression or aging usually depicted in images through the use of shadow are very rarely present.  This resulted in an unrealistic, two-dimensional looking ‘mask’, recognisable as the Queen but with very little detail, which could be used over long periods of time and reversed either left or right.[11]  This was a great contrast to work which was being undertaken on the continent using techniques such as chiaroscuro.[12]  However as William Gaunt notes, it was more than sheer vanity that must have led to the creation of this ‘mask’ which always lacked expression as well as detailed personal characteristics that would be found in others from the time.[13] It is this problem which historians have faced when using portraits of Elizabeth I, and one which complicates the ability to ‘tap’ into the line of visual communication between image and audience. 
The ‘mask’ of Elizabeth found in some of her most well-known portraits such as The Phoenix Portrait and The Pelican Portrait painted by Nicholas Hilliard between the years c. 1574-1576. This ‘mask’ consisted of several approved facial templates of the Queen, the result of a proclamation issued in 1563 which sought to control the Queen’s image so that only appropriate representations were allowed:

“... all manner of painters have already and do daily attempt to make in short manner portraiture of her majesty in painting, graving, and printing, wherein is evidently seen that hithero none hath sufficiently expressed the natural representation of her majesty’s person, favour or grace, but that most have so far erred therein as thereof daily heard complaints among her loving subjects…”[14]

These pre-approved templates appear in nearly all portraits of the Queen throughout the 1570s and 1580s.  Hairstyles and clothing were updated to current trends yet this simple face template remained up until the Queen’s death, with the same expressionless and ageless features.
During the Renaissance portraiture changed from the simplified iconic representation of monarchs, saints or other rulers to a style which captured the dualist representation of self.  By the mid-sixteenth century portraits were theorised to present the external features of the sitter, the face and body, whilst at the same time rendering visible the inner character, virtues or soul.[15] In the artistic movements of this period increased focus on the facial expression captured during the sitting was stressed thus the resulting image was believed to produce a physiognomic likeness, meaning that the audience was supposedly able to ‘read’ the soul and inner virtues by observing detailed facial expression.[16]  This had been a well-known concept within the artistic community of Europe since the early sixteenth century, however use of this theory does not seem to be familiar the case in portraits of Elizabeth and so, historian must look for reasons why.[17] 
Catherine M. Soussloff has suggested that the basic and foundational mimetic image, in the western tradition, is icon.[18] The portrayal of Elizabeth as the protestant substitute for the Virgin Mary propelled her image to not only the status of a ruling icon, but also to that of a substituted religious icon, mother to her people and Virginal ruler of the Church of England.  The detailed painting of Elizabeth’s image, the correct copying of intricate facial detail to capture certain expressions from numerous sittings with the Queen to create a physiognomic portrait was therefore not necessary if her image were to act as icon.  Johanna Woodall has noted that iconographically the portrait without physiognomic likeness had previously been associated with universal exemplars, “figures [usually religious] whose transcendent qualities or achievements merited emulations”. [19] This may explain why portraits of Elizabeth were never painted in a traditional way, as the purpose of these images was not to read the Queen’s face to gain an understanding of her.  However the visage of Elizabeth did have to adhere to some Renaissance conventions to allow for her image to act as icon in the context of the sixteenth century. No longer could a simplistic image with a crown substitutable for any other monarch be acceptable.  Her iconographical representation did have to be harmonised by the more common mimetic representation of Renaissance portraiture and the union between the ideal and realistic likeness was personalised to better articulate the idea of socio-spiritual authority.[20] The audience was thus intended to view the face as a signifier which would then trigger what they already knew about the Queen through literature and propaganda and enforce the idea of Elizabeth as the pure, youthful and virginal Mother to her people.

II

     The role of Elizabeth as a pseudo-religious icon affected the way in which her face was presented to the audience. The simple capturing of likeness was all that was needed to signify the image as that of Elizabeth and thus the ‘mask’ was produced. However Shearer West has pointed out that besides capturing likeness “portraits also stress the typical, conventional, or ideal aspects of their sitters… [that] emerge through pose, expression, setting or props.[21]  This role as icon meant that other elements in the portrait took on new meaning. Dress was no longer just clothing or jewellery; it became an element of visual communication, symbols which helped in the iconographical representation of Elizabeth as the protestant virgin mother and Queen. Props also took on more important purposes, with each element of the portrait meant to assist in Elizabeth’s representation. Thus the purpose of dress and props in traditional portraiture was magnified in that of Elizabeth’s. Therefore to tap into this complex visual communication between image and viewer the historian must understand the ways in which dress functioned both in and out of portraiture.
Dress consists of material objects used to clothe and protect the body; however they are also a material objects that engage in visual language through use of signs.[22]  Sociologists have noted that clothing, costume and cloth all engage in dialogues with culture turning them into symbols used on a daily basis to communicate, consciously and unconsciously, information about the wearer to those who view them.[23]  As cultural artefacts which communicate visually, the symbolism of dress is bounded by the social context in which they occur, so to understand clothing and its symbolic meaning the historian must understand the way in which clothing functioned in a certain society at a certain time.[24] However as a symbol which communicates meaning, especially through a medium such as portraiture, one must also be aware that clothing was constructed on the sitter for the portrait, or may not have belonged to the subject of the portrait at all, and should not always be taken at face value. [25]    
Catherine Richardson has noted that during the medieval periods, “identities and subjectivities were mediated and constructed through materials objects” [26], and Stephen Greenblatt later discussed this issue in regards to the early modern period which he called ‘self-fashioning’ whereby he observed that during the sixteenth-century it appears that there was an “increased self-consciousness about the fashioning of human identity as a manipulable, artful process”.[27]  Particularly in the sixteenth century new uses of colour, texture and cutting techniques helped to deliberately manipulate the social meanings attached to clothing, initiating the heightened significance of clothing as a symbolic vehicle of communication.[28]  Thus clothing was often employed in portraiture to ‘speak’ for the sitter when the artist’s attempt at physiognomic representation could not, or in the case of Elizabeth, when this type of representation was forsaken for the mask-like facial template. Clothing is a symbol that is not only constructed, but can have such a profound influence on the way that the body and a person is ‘read’, therefore historians should also be aware of how this clothing was organised to mediate a certain understanding of reality. [29]  This is especially necessary for portraits of Elizabeth where clothing “articulated the human form as a series of different elements” making ‘body’, the face ,hands and clothes of Elizabeth, into ‘person’, the interiority of self. [30] 
Christopher Breward has stated that, “choice of garments, colours and applied decoration [in the Elizabethan period] was governed to a great degree by an understanding of, and engagement with, both hidden and blatant visual codes that communicated” which were carefully considered and highly measured.[31] Patricia Fumerton also noted that the typical portrait of Elizabeth used the face as a background to support the intricate depictions of hair, jewellery, ruffs and other clothing.[32]  During the years 1570-1603 the Queen surrounded herself with an elaborate and coherent system of symbolism which served to not only reinforce her status as a sovereign ruler, as many other monarchs had done with the use of heraldic arms, but also to reinforce this idea of her as the ‘new’ virgin mother to her people. The use of dress, as symbols and ‘visual codes’ in portraits commissioned both by her for her by their loyal subjects was therefore vital to this establishment and maintenance of image.  In fact William Camden recording his thoughts during the early reign of James I stated that it would warrant a whole book to explain the devices that she used in her image.[33] 
Clothing however was not just used by the Queen to show wealth and status, this was and had been the norm in royal portraiture for a very long time. However in the case of Elizabeth as Virgin icon, clothing look on a new role often with multifaceted meanings.  A pearl for example, was not longer just a pearl which indicated the obvious wealth and status of the person who wore it. 

The ‘Armada’ Portrait, George Gower, c. 1588. 
When Elizabeth wore pearls, such as in the Armada Portrait by George Gower c.1588, which celebrated the English victory over the Spanish Armada, these pearls became tokens of her virginity. Louis Adrian Montrose has made an interesting comparison between the positioning of a large pearl at the over bottom of Elizabeth’s stomacher and the codpiece on rulers such as her father Henry VIII, stating that its positioning gave it emblematic significance and must have been a reference to impregnable chastity.[34] The succession of pearl which line bodice and in the Queen’s headdress have also been said to emphasise the symmetry between virginity and majesty.[35] 
Elizabeth’s association with the Virgin Mary was also made reference to through props. The most famous portrait where this is so is the Sieve Portrait by Quentin Metsys the Younger c. 1583. 

Elizabeth I, The ‘Sieve’ Portrait, c. 1580. 
In this portrait Elizabeth, face expressionless and ageless, and displaying the pre-approved mask, wears a black dress with white sleeves and a ruff. Pearls circle her neck and the bottom of her bodice. Whilst the significance of pearls has been established previously, more interestingly in this portrait Elizabeth is depicted a holding a golden sieve. The sieve symbolised the Queen’s virginity through allegorical reference to the Vestal Virgin Tuccia from antiquity whose chastity was questioned. To prove her virginity she carried water from the River Tiber back to the Temple of Vesta in a sieve.[36] By the middle ages, the sieve was well known through a series of didactic aphorisms and anecdotes and closely associated with the virtue of chastity.[37]  Thus attention is first drawn to the face recognisable as Elizabeth and then to the sieve that she is holding, functioning to signify Elizabeth invoking “the magic power of chastity”. [38]
It is obvious that for the historian to read the portraits of Elizabeth, they must not only be well versed clothing but also in Renaissance allegory.[39] This is especially true for the Pelican and Phoenix portraits. The phoenix and the pelican were both personal devices to the Queen and in these two portraits it is her dress, in the form of a jewel, which depicts both of these creatures and acts as an allegorical device. Both of these emblems held great religious and Marian meanings; however their use in these portraits through dress harmonised them within a sixteenth century setting, and allowed for multiple interpretations to be had. 

The ‘Pelican’ portrait, Queen Elizabeth I attributed to Nicholas  Hilliard, c. 1574-75.
The Pelican Portrait c. 1574-75 takes its name from the pelican jewel which is worn by Elizabeth on her stomacher just above her hand. In a religious sense, the pelican was closely connected with Christ and the idea of self-sacrifice as they were though to prick their own breast until they bled to feed their young. It however was also closely associated with the Virgin Mary through its image of “self-denying maternal care”.[40] Susan Doran has drawn attention to the fact that their use in other sixteenth century artwork shows that this symbol adopted a range of other meanings during this period.[41] It could also refer to personal self-sacrifice and the charity of one who used his/her talents on behalf of others, or in this case on behalf of her country.[42] 

The ‘Phoenix’ Portrait, Queen Elizabeth I attributed to Nicholas Hilliard, c. 1575-76. 
The Phoenix Portrait c. 1575-76 can also be viewed in a similar way. This portrait derives its name from the phoenix jewel that the queen wears on her stomacher in the same position as the Pelican jewel above her raised hand. The phoenix symbolised not only Christ’s resurrection but also the “fecund virginity of Mary” since these creatures were said to have been reborn asexually through their own ashes.[43] Again however, in the context of sixteenth century portraiture it could also refer to beauty and virtue[44], as well as hereditary rule – a symbol of the monarchy reborn through each successive monarch.[45] This allegory of Elizabeth, established through the use of dress in her portraits shows a harmonisation of religious referrals to the Virgin Mary with other Renaissance meanings. In the context of Elizabethan times, where the substitution of Elizabeth for the Virgin Mary could be seen as a hypocritical stance by the Church, it is completely possible that these jewels were meant to be read both ways, not just one or the other.

III
     Vision was one sense that many Renaissance philosophers ranked at the very top, yet it is also one sense which presents an interesting challenge to the historian.[46] To know how others saw and how they perceived vision allows the historian to ‘tap’ into complex visual communication that these portraits had with their audiences. More specifically however to understand how these portraits made meaning, how they expressed the notion of Elizabeth as the a replacement Virgin Mary as discussed in the previous two sections, one must take a step back and analyse the process of symbol, recognition and meaning – or as audience as author.  On canvas, the face of Elizabeth, her clothes, her jewels and her sieve were just a collection of objects and symbols, it was up to the viewer of the portrait to put them all together consciously with their cultural knowledge and make meaning.
Portraiture can be said to have one of the most complex systems of communication as by its very nature a portrait will contain three qualities left over from the act of production. These three qualities as explained by C.S. Peirce’s semiotic theory are: icon (looks like the thing it represents, in this case Elizabeth), index (draws attention to something outside of what is being represented) and symbol (as it contains clothing, props and gestures that must be “read with knowledge of social and cultural conventions”).[47]  The communication between a portrait and viewer relies not so much on what was intended by the sitter and the artist, but on the recognition and comprehension of these three qualities which could include references to a wide range of things such as “colour, shape, texture, and specific recourse to figures taken from mythology, history and the natural world.”[48]
Symbols are vessels for emotional meaning, however not all symbols are autonomous, they are in fact mostly received from those around us and from culture, thus they can be loaded with many different meanings and their interpretation relies on the viewer making a connection between the symbol and what is symbolised.[49]  Michel Foucault has labelled this process as one of ‘resemblance’ which he discusses in his book The Order of Things stating that up until the end of the sixteenth-century:

 “Resemblance played a constructive role in the knowledge of western culture. It was resemblance that largely guided exegesis and the interpretation of texts; it was resemblance that organised the play of symbols, made possible knowledge of things visible and invisible, and controlled the art of expressing them. ”[50] 

Catherine M. Soussloff has further added to this stating that it is consciousness that finally completes this circuit of representation, portrayal and recognition and that “every act of recognition of another requires imagination”. [51] Thus the projection of meaning when viewing a portrait came from within the viewers themselves, not the other way around as one would assume.[52] This intricate use of symbolism was worth nothing unless the audience viewed it and consciously placed together the pieces of the puzzle. This may explain why so many interpretations can be gained from the portraits of Elizabeth, and why there is so much debate regarding whether they were intended to depict Elizabeth as a substitute to the Virgin Mary or not. Depending on the audience that viewed it, their context and the extent of their cultural knowledge, the projections of meaning onto the portrait could be quite different.
Doran has argued that many of the people who commissioned these large portraits of Elizabeth were in fact her courtiers who often drew attention to themselves through symbolism contained in the portrait. For example, she states that Sir Christopher Hatton, a favourite of the Queen, probably commissioned the Sieve Portrait to “memorialise the success of his good council to the Queen” as a sieve was also a symbol of wisdom.[53] However the question must be asked, was this the interpretation that everyone who viewed it would have gained from the portrait? Probably not. It is more likely that the audience of courtiers, with their cultural knowledge of the Queen as a Virgin, would have projected their own ideas the painting and seen it as symbolic of the Queen’s virtue.
Doran has also stated that due to the location of these portraits in the households of courtiers, many ordinary early moderns would have never have seen them. However what she fails to note is that these households often housed sometimes hundreds of servants who may never have had any contact with the Queen before. The historian must also then be aware of how they may have viewed these portraits. This is where the interpretation of Elizabeth as a substitute Virgin Mary could possibly have come into being. As has been previously stated, the mask of Elizabeth acted as icon, signifying in style reviving medieval conventions that the picture depicted the Queen. In the history of portraiture the icon has demonstrated most clearly how the act of viewing an image can involve the viewer projecting her “otherwise invisible God, onto or into the portrait”.[54] This was certainly so with religious art, but could it also have been so with portraits of Elizabeth viewed by the ordinary man who had never met the Queen yet heard wonderful and elaborate stories about her?
Helen Hackett has stated that before England’s break with the Catholic Church in Rome, Marian iconography was firmly rooted and thus familiar in the culture and society of sixteenth-century England.[55] A break with Rome by the monarchy did not always mean that certain psychological ties to specific religious imagery could always be broken or stigmatised. During the 1570s onwards Elizabeth was increasingly addressed as a saint and goddess in discourses on courtly love. [56] The most famous of these is the play Old Fortunatus (1599) by Thomas Dekker which asserts:

“Are you then travelling to the temple of Eliza? / Even to her temple are my feeble limbs travelling. Some call her Pandora: some Gloriana: some Cynthia: some Belphoebe: some Astraea: all by several names to express several loves. Yet all those names make but one celestial body, as all those loves meet to create but one soul”.[57]

Although this literature was meant to praise the Queen, and courtiers who had daily contact with the Queen would have been aware of her mortality. It is completely possible that these discourses may have filtered down into culture which influenced those at the bottom of society, who then, informed by their cultural context, may have projected these ideas onto the images of Elizabeth interpreting them as the Virgin Mary or if they were more well read, the Goddess Cynthia.[58] This idea is especially relevant for the English context as Roy Strong noted in his work on the cult of Gloriana that historians often overlook this “lost sense of sight” whereby portraits of Elizabeth conformed to an earlier neo-gothic convention, which rejected the realism of the continent and thus allowed for such iconic representation and interpretation. [59] Whether or not Elizabeth was a part of her owning making as icon or whether it was done for her in praise by her courtiers, it is perfectly realistic to assume that “a psychological transference” could have occurred which made her a substitute for the religious conception of the virgin through analysing the way that audience acts as author of portraits, no matter what the primary intention of the portrait was by artist, sitter or commissioner.[60]  

The fashioning of Elizabeth’s image as pseudo-religious icon, whether by herself or by those around her who commissioned these images therefore had a great impact on the way that the Queen was presented in her portraits. The ‘mask’ of Elizabeth was created by the rejection of physiognomic likeness for a more simplistic and iconographical representation of her face and as a result, the meanings of dress and props in her portraits was magnified, these material items speaking for the Queen where her expressionless and ageless face could not. An intermingling of artistic techniques, simple iconographical styles borrowed from medieval art, and more conventional renaissance techniques of mimetic representation and the painting of elaborate detail when it came to dress and props meant that these images of Elizabeth could often have a large variety of intricate and multifaceted meanings. By taking in an understanding of audience of author, and the ways in which the early modern visual experience interpreted this vast puzzle of icons and symbols, the historian is thus able to not only ‘tap’ into this complex system of visual communication, but also gain an insight into why Elizabeth’s images of a protestant Virgin Mary was established and how it persisted throughout the later years of her reign.




[1] Helen Hackett, Virgin Mother, Maiden Queen: Elizabeth I and the cult of the Virgin Mary (Basingstroke: Macmillian, 1995), p. 3
[2] See: Hackett, Virgin Mother, Maiden Queen: Elizabeth I and the cult of the Virgin Mary), p. 3 & Roy Strong, The Cult of Elizabeth (Hampshire: Thames and Hudson, 1977), pp. 118-121
[3] See:  Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), p. 168, Louis A. Montrose, ‘Idols of the Queen: Policy, Gender and the Picturing of Elizabeth I’, in Representations, vol. 68 (1999), p. 133, Jean Wilson, Entertainments for Elizabeth I (Woodbridge: D.S. Brewer, 1980), p. 21, Susan Frye, Elizabeth I: The Competition for Representation (Oxford: 1993).
[4] See: Helen Hackett, Virgin Mother, Maiden Queen: Elizabeth I and the cult of the Virgin Mary (Basingstroke: Macmillian, 1995) & Susan Doran, ‘Virginity, Divinity and Power: The portraits of Elizabeth I', in The Myth of Elizabeth (New York: Palgrave McMillian, 2003)
[5] Peter Burke, Eyewitnessing: The use of Images as Historical Evidence (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001), p. 25
[6] Strong, The Cult of Elizabeth, p. 16
[7] Roy Strong, The English icon: Elizabethan & Jacobean Portraiture (London: Pantheon Books, 1969), p. 3
[8] Janet Arnold,  Queen Elizabeth's wardrobe unlock'd : the inventories of the Wardrobe of Robes prepared in July 1600, edited from Stowe MS 557 in the British Library, MS LR 2/121 in the Public Record Office, London, and MS V.b.72 in the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC (Leeds: Maney, 1988), p. 22
[9] William Gaunt, Court Painting in England from Tudor to Victorian times (London: Constable, 1980), p. 38
[10] Nicholas Hilliard, Treatise,… Walpole Society (1912), p. 29
[11] Strong, The English icon, p. xi
[12] Andrew Belsey and Catherine Belsey, 'Icons of Divinity: Portraits of Elizabeth l' in Renaissance Bodies: The Human Figure in English Culture (Reakton Books, 1990), p. 162
[13] Gaunt, Court Painting in England from Tudor to Victorian times, p. 38
[14] From: P.L. Hughes and J.F. Larkin, eds., Tudor Royal Proclamations, II: The Later Tudors, 1553-1587 (New Haven and London: 1969), pp. 240-1
[15] See: Lorne Campbell, Renaissance portraits: European portrait-painting in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), p. 21 & Roy Strong, The Elizabethan Image: painting in England, 1540-1620 (London: Tate Gallery, 1969), p. 7
[16] The concept of physiognomy was defined in 1504 by Pompponius Gauricus as “a way of observing by which we deduce the qualities of the soul from the features of the bodies…”. See: Campbell, Renaissance portraits, p. 27
[17] Nicholas Mann & Luke Syson, The Image of the Individual: Portraits in the Renaissance (London: British Museum Press, 1998), p. 11
[18] Catherine M. Soussloff, The subject in art: portraiture and the birth of the modern, (Durham : Duke University Press, 2006), p. 10
[19] Johanna Woodall, ‘Introduction’ in Portraiture: facing the subject (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997), p. 2
[20] Ibid, p. 2
[21] Shearer West, Portraiture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 29
[22] Alison Lurie, The Language of Clothes (New York: Random House, 1981), 3
[23] See: Mary Lou Rosencranz, Clothing Concepts: A Social-Psychological Approach (New York: Macmillan, 1972), viii  &  Lurie, The Language of Clothes, p. 1
[24] Rosencranz, Clothing Concepts, viii
[25] Anne Rosalind Jones and Peter Stallybrass, Renaissance Clothing and the Materials of Memory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 34
[26] Catherine Richardson, 'Introducion', in Clothing Culture, 1350-1650 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004), p. 8
[27] Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning, p. 2.
[28] Christopher Breward, The culture of fashion : a new history of fashionable dress (Manchester: St. Martin's Press, 1995), p. 42
[29] Richardson, 'Introducion', p.8
[30] Richardson, 'Introducion', p.9
[31] Breward, The culture of fashion, p. 63
[32] Jones and Stallybrass, Renaissance Clothing and the Materials of Memory, p. 35
[33] Strong, The Elizabethan Image, p. 46
[34] Louis Adrian Montrose, 'The Elizabethan Subject and the Spenserian Text', in Patricia Parker and David Quint (eds.), Literary Theory/Renaissance Texts (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986),  pp. 312-315
[35] Belsey & Belsey, 'Icons of Divinity: Portraits of Elizabeth l', p. 157
[36] Gaunt, Court Painting in England from Tudor to Victorian times, p. 39
[37] Kathleen Coyne Kelly, Performing Virgintiy and Testing Chastity in the Middle Ages (Psychology Press, 2000), p. 63
[38] Belsey & Belsey, 'Icons of Divinity: Portraits of Elizabeth l', p. 158
[39] Strong, The English icon, p. 30
[40] Hackett, Virgin mother, maiden queen, p. 81
[41] Susan Doran, ‘Virginity, Divinity and Power: The portraits of Elizabeth I', in The Myth of Elizabeth (New York: Palgrave McMillian,2003), p. 178
[42] Doran, Virginity, 'Divinity and Power’, p. 178
[43] Ibid.
[44] Ibid, p. 81
[45] Ibid, p. 178
[46] Patricia A. Cahill, 'Take FIve: Renaissane Literature and the Study of the Senses', in Literature Compass, vol. 6, no. 5 (2009), p. 1
[47] West, Portraiture, p. 41
[48] Breward, The culture of fashion, p. 65
[49] Donald Meltzer, 'Concerning Signs and Symbols' in British Journal of Psychotherapy, col. 14, no. 2 (1997), p. 1
[50] Breward, The culture of fashion, p. 63
[51] Soussloff, The subject in art, p. 14
[52] Ibid, p. 8
[53] Doran, Virginity, 'Divinity and Power’, p. 190
[54] Soussloff, The subject in art, p. 11
[55] Hackett, Virgin mother, maiden queen, p. 35
[56] Ibid, p. 12
[57] Thomas Dekker, Works (London: 1873), p. 83
[58] Mann and Syson draw attention to similar occurrences: “Interpretations of portraits wither in Platonic or physiognomic terms were further encouraged by the reading of biographies, such as those by Suetonius of the Caesars, which combined physical descriptions with enumeration of the emperor’s virtues or vices. In saying this, it would be nonsensical to claim that the average viewer of a renaissance portrait would carry such rarefied philosophical baggage to his interpretation of a portrait, but it is more than likely that he would have been influenced by such theories, however watered down or amalgamated they might have become.” See: Mann & Syson, The Image of the Individual: Portraits in the Renaissance, p. 11
[59] Roy Strong, The Cult of Elizabeth, p.43
[60] Gaunt, Court Painting in England from Tudor to Victorian times, p. 38

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Victorian/Edwardian Combination Chemise & Drawers: How to turn an op-shop find into historical underwear



It's definitely not the sexiest underwear you'll ever see, but the combination chemise and drawers were an everyday staple for the late Victorian and Edwardian woman. The layers of underwear worn during this period was staggering (not to mention hot, especially in climates like Australia) and consisted of the chemise and drawers, over which was placed the corset, then the corset cover. Stockings and then a further layer consisting of a petticoat was added before the actual dress.  So its not surprising that the combination chemise and drawers came about in the 1870s to alleviate some of this bulk.

The Ugly Duckling aka. the Op Shop Nightie

When I was shopping with my cousin we decided to have a look in an op-shop in Coogee (thrift store for anyone in the USA) and among the racks I found this hideous monstrosity.

Classic granny nightie
  

However I did see some potential in it and for only $10 it had everything I needed to make a set of combination Victorian/Edwardian underwear.

The Inspiration

Before I went about transforming the nightie into something a little less hideous I wanted to do my research and try to make it as historically accurate as I could, which I knew I could do, even though I was making it from a pre-existing and commercially available modern garment.

Most underwear during history was made from linen, which is made from the flax tree, as it was quite light and cool to wear and long lasting. Unfortunately linen is not as readily available now, and most are a cotton blend. This nightie is 100% cotton, however that's not a problem because by the end of the nineteenth century cotton became a common material used in undergarments. So in terms of fabric, this is a historically accurate base to use.

In terms of the look and shape of the garment I looked at extant garments and fashion catalogues and plates from the time. First there is this extant garment (1890-1900) from the MET in New York made of linen, silk and lace:


Then I found this from a Macy's catalogue from 1911 advertising combination chemise and corset cover (chemise):

There are also these early Edwardian photographs:




The biggest inspiration for the project came from this extant example owned by Carolyn over at Lady Carolyn's blog which can be found here



There is also this very similar set:

And this vintage set that was listed on etsy:

 

As with all drawers from this period, combination or single, the crotch was left open. Yes that's right, drawers contained an open or half open crotch which explains why drawers were so baggy - otherwise one would have a very breezy and exposed backside! In a combination undergarment the open crotch was really necessary, as anyone who has ever worn a playsuit or jumpsuit would know, otherwise you would have to get completely undressed to go to the toilet. And with all those layers the last thing you'd want to do is spend half an hour undressing just to relieve yourself.

Finally there was this Edwardian sketch that I found somewhere, in which you can clearly see sets of combination underwear on the two ladies who are standing.


The Transformation

The first thing I did  was to cut off the sleeves of the nightie and lower the neckline. The next thing I had to do was to get rid of some of the volume on the chemise section of the nightie. I did this by bringing in the seams at the sides and creating darts on the front and back with the material.


The next step was to create the legs. First, I cut off the frilly bit of material at the bottom of the nightie. I then cut the skirt in half and then hemmed the material. I made the split in the front of the nightie longer than in the back as I wanted to add some buttons to the front like the LadyCarolyn garment above. After doing that I ended up with this:




Using the frilly bit of material that I had cut off previously I added this to the bottom of each of the legs. When doing this I created an open channel in the seam where the two bits of material meet. I then cut holes into this (which I hand sewed around) so I could later add ribbon to create a decorative weave effect.



According to Tudorlinks, "Though perhaps meant to be a fashionable innovation, the combination garment was hijacked, as it were, by the dress reform movement, who wanted to reduce the number and weight of clothing worn by women as a rule. A reformed version, sometimes called a combination divided skirt (still a chemise and drawers combined) had long, wide legs that were intended to replace the petticoat too. It is not surprising that highly fashionable ladies did not really take to this garment until the Edwardian era."

This 'reformed version' that had long wide legs was the version that was more common in the Edwardian period and in the extant Edwardian examples that I have based mine on, whilst Victorian examples were more tapered around the knees.

  vs. 

I want to be able to use this combination set with Victorian and Edwardian garments, so with the finished product I've tried to hit two birds with one stone. To do this I used satin ribbon to allow the drawers to be adjusted, bringing it in around the knee for a more Victorian look or leaving it loose for a more voluminous Edwardian one.

Finally to finish off the combination, I added some decorative trim from the discarded sleeves to the arm holes. I then used bias tape around the waist to create a channel to put ribbon in so the garment can be pulled in and taper around the waist.




The Swan aka. the Finished Garment!

After adding the final touches of ribbon, here is the finished combination chemise/drawers.



 



 

So if you need some historical undergarments, keep an eye out in your local op-shop for a granny nightie!


Before... After...