The Florentine Persona
Women's Clothing in 15th Century Florence
by Vangelista di Antonio Dellaluna
during this period was in general free-form and flowing, but heavy! Follow
below for how to "read" portraits.
Paolo Uccello, Birth
of the Virgin, Detail, 1435. Florentine school.
A servant girl in what is typical for the
period -- a high waist, unstructured bodice, gathered skirt, and
close-fitting sleeves. It would be worn over an underdress called a
"chemise" or "camicia". Note the length of this garment
-- it doesn't look like it'd hinder the girl's movement much. You'll also
want to check out her coif -- a close linen cap she wears over her head,
leaving her long hair free flowing behind her. The sleeves, incidentally,
don't reveal closure details, but a typical way of handling it would be
laces. A similar treatment probably closes the gown in back or down the side
seams -- since we don't see any kind of lacings on the front.
As to undergarments, you'll notice that the
skirt is very free-flowing -- there are no hoops or other stiff underskirts
under here. The bodice reveals a good bosom, so there probably isn't a formal
corset under it, either.
Paolo Uccello, Birth
of the Virgin, detail, 1435. Florentine school.
All kinds of things to talk about here. First,
note the two dresses. An underdress closing at the lower arm with buttons is
worn beneath a heavier outer dress with slit sleeves. The underdress looks
like it's trimmed in dark fur at the wrists and neckline (the black band
there), and its skirt can be seen beneath the folds of the outer dress; its
sleeves presumably use a set-back seam, so the buttons attach conveniently.
The outer dress is built very similarly to men's garments of the period, with
a pleated front and back, and pleated full sleeves. The sleeves are slit in
front, so that pretty red undersleeve can show through, but they fall to the
floor. The camicia is not visible here, without the poofs through the seams
one sees in later periods. This would without a doubt be a fairly heavy
outfit to wear. To offset that heaviness, note the model's hair -- a simple
braid worn around the head, and no visible jewelry or veiling. (The outer
dress would be held on by way of a belt. The buckle was worn in back.)
Do notice that the lower hem on the underdress
is cut high enough to walk around in. The outer dress is much longer, and the
woman is only holding up that one.
Fra Filippo Lippi, Portrait
of a Man and Woman at a Casement, 1440. Florentine school.
Here we see the same basic outfit as in the
well-dressed lady in Ucello's portrait detail, with an underdress and
overdress, with some interesting differences. We get a far better view of the
lady's underdress, seeing here that it is black with lighter embroidery
(perhaps metallic). Its edges cannot be seen, nor closure details, but it
looks fairly close-fitting. The trim is also not visible. The outer dress is
also pleated in front, and probably in back, in the standard way men's
garments of the period are. The sleeve is cut in much the same fashion as
well, with the wide, circular opening that shows off the inner sleeve. The
outer sleeve's edges do not appear to be gathered into a cuff, and probably
hang down. All available edges are trimmed in a narrow band of pale fur. The
jewelry consists of a brooch, pinned high up on the left shoulder almost at
the collarbone, and a close-fitting necklace with no visible pendant.
The hat is more elaborate than one generally
sees of the period, but like just about every headdress, reveals the
hairline. The hat almost looks like a hennin, with a structured headpiece
covered by a filmy silken veil. Also, note that the model is holding her
skirt up to her belly. This is something you will see frequently in the
period. I speak from experience -- it really does help you walk in these
outfits, and it does give you that fashionable "kind of pregnant"
Fra Filippo Lippi (Italian, Florentine, born
about 1406, died 1469) Marquand Collection, Gift of Henry G. Marquand, 1889
(89.15.19). Copyright © 2000–2002 The Metropolitan
Museum of Art. All
Benozzo Gozzoli, The
School of Tagaste,
Detail, 1464. Florentine school.
This is a detail of one of the only women in
the painting. While the woman is clearly meant to be a saint of some kind,
possibly Mary the mother of Christ, her costume bears many resemblances to
contemporary fashion. She seems to be pointing out the youth to her right,
perhaps a divine signal of encouragement.
She wears a dress that is very familiar to
students of Tuscan fashion, with a roomy outer dress with 3/4 length sleeves
over a more fitted inner dress. The trim on the outer dress is made of the
as the inner dress, which itself is decorated in a darker blue trim near the
hem. Note how much longer the outer dress is than the inner one. Also note
the veil and how it is arranged (though this is likely to be anachronistic to
the period), and that gorgeous belt, which looks like it's got gemstones set
into it. Also note the v-back neckline of the outer dress.
Cossa, belt detail from Triumph of May, 1466-1470. Florentine school.
This is a detail from the "Triumph of
May" series of frescoes, located in the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara.
I'm including it because it's really a cool detail of a belt. This is worn by
a young-looking female model. Fancy belts are mentioned in several sources,
namely "Dress in Renaissance Italy". One will note that one does
not see a pouch or anything else dangling from the belt, but that could well
be because the young lady in question is part of what amounts to a fantasy
Cossa, Portrait of St. Lucy,, 1470. Florentine school.
An interesting portrait. Lucy is shown in a
very striking overdress, open in the front, apparently at least down to the
thighs. The overdress closes in front by way of a red ribbon-like belt
similar to the ties on the sleeves.
The overdress is trimmed interestingly as well, with a golden trim along all
edges, including the "little windows" of the sleeve openings.
The underdress is of a sturdy scarlet material,
with the openings in the forearm that one comes to expect in the late 15th
century. Note that the wrists are tied only halfway up the forearm, and that
the opening goes past the elbow. There's no WAY this sleeve can tie together
-- there has to be that gap. The ties go through what appear to be 3 or 4
pairs of holes or top-sewn rings in a spiral-lacing pattern, with the length
of the cord coming out at the wrist and just hanging free.
I haven't seen this form of collar before. It
may be an extension of the head-dress, or it may be a very big camicia
collar. Either way, it's unusual. The head-dress itself is very similar to what
one sees in the "Triumph" frescoes, with a simple coif and tape
arrangement keeping the hair out of the way.
Note that one can see the barest rim of white
at the wrists, above the red dress' sleeves, and above the bodice.
Garb, Page 3
Garb, Page 1
This page last updated: July 10, 2009
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