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Picture of the Month




Illumination for a French translation of "Epistolae Heroidum" by Ovid, 1496-98
Bibliothèque Nationale de France

This is one of the very few examples of French late 15th century costume that has crossed my path so far. The first thing that struck me was the huge gold necklace, a fashion accessory that I've become to associate with German Renaissance as seen in Cranach paintings (e.g. Salome by Cranach the Elder, c. 1510). It makes me wonder whether that fashion started in France. I've heard people ask how they could wear such heavy necklaces: gold is heavier than iron, after all. The explanation that came with a museum exhibit solved the riddle: The chain links were hollow.

The closest match for the headdress I've found in my database is the 1480s portrait of Marie de Bourgogne. Again, there is a certain - albeit weak - resemblance with caps woen in Southern Germany, especially Nürnberg, e.g. Elisabeth Tucher (1499) or the Riemenschneider altar (c. 1510).

The square neckline with a black insert outlined in white resembles that of Margarethe of Austria (1490s) and Joanna the Mad (c. 1496), both Spanish. In the case of Margarethe, it seems that that there is a black garment beneath the red dress that is edged in white or maybe has white lining showing. Since there is white showing at the wrists of this here garment, it is quite probable that lining is showing at the neckline as well.

However, the rest of the dress is quite different from the two others: While the former has loose folds in front, the latter are form-fitting. The looseness, the overly long sleeves - note the folds along the forearm - and the under-cap that hugs the face are more reminiscent of earlier eras as far back as the 13th century. Even the shape and gesture of her right hand has something Gothic about it. Since we don't know what role the woman plays in the context of the manuscript, we cannot but wonder whether the painter tried to portray a historical figure and mixed fashion traits of his own time with what he perceived as historical dress. Mind you, I'm not saying that this is the case - I'm just wondering. I guess I should hit Piton and look it up.


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