The Pre-Raphaelite painting shown below is a famous, but incomplete work by Dante Gabriel Rossetti called Found, which is meant to depict a drover taking pity upon a "fallen" woman. Like many of the works painted by the Pre-Raphaelites, it is meant to depict medieval clothing, in a general way. This painting is interesting because, to anyone even casually familiar with modern histories of medieval clothing, it evokes the 19th century much more powerfully than the Middle Ages.
|"Found" (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)|
|Late medieval shoe*|
The next item of clothing that is clearly not medieval in style is the drover's off-white garment. This garment was called a "smock", and was still worn by farmers and other rural folk into the early 20th century, as the photograph of the man in the chair shows.
|Tissot's The Confessional*|
Finally, the woman's gown in Found bears a printed floral pattern. Fabric printing does not appear in western European clothing to any great extent in the late Middle Ages, and the delicate floral pattern shown in Found would be beyond the fabric painting or dyeing technologies of the medieval period.
The object of this little essay is to show the peril of assuming that artwork from one historical period necessarily is a correct representation of the clothing worn in another, earlier, period. Artists in the Victorian period, though skilled as artists, did not have the benefit of information about medieval costume that we have developed, with the aid of archaeology, since the 19th century. As a result, these artists had to draw upon their assumptions, or imaginings, of what medieval clothing had been like, or perhaps, in the case of garments like the smock, assumed that existing unfashionable garments were older in origin than they truly were.
* All photographs from Wikimedia Commons unless otherwise specified.
** Photograph of "Countryman's Smock taken by Gertrude Jekyll, scanned by George P. Lindow. (This photograph may be found here on The Victorian Web. This image may be used without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose. More detail about the conditions under which similar images from The Victorian Web may be used can be viewed here).