Tuesday, January 5, 2016

An Early Renaissance Outfit?

Painting of Mary Magdalen, attributed to the
workshop of the Master of the Mansi Magdalen 

(c.1490 – 1530 C.E.) Photo from 
Happy New Year!  I'm starting this New Year with something a bit different; a piece of period art showing a style of costume I have never encountered before.  Maybe one of my readers with better knowledge of early Renaissance costume can help me learn from what I'm seeing here.

I found the painting to the left on a Pinterest board, and chased the link to track down this larger copy of the image. The painting apparently is attributed to the workshop of the Master of the Mansi Magdalen. The Master of the Mansi Magdalen was a Flemish artist who painted at the very beginning of the 16th century.  Wikipedia reports the supposition that the artist's real name was Willem Meulenbroec, a pupil of Quentin Matsys

However, my concern is not with the artist, but with the subject's costume.  Although one cannot count upon pictures of saints to be wearing period fashions, they sometimes do, and the painters from the Low Countries were more likely to depict real clothing on saints or allegorical subjects.  

In addition, the outfit shown on the Magdalen has elements that appear in period art on real people. Her body-hugging gown is trimmed with fur and has long, hanging velvet sleeves and a broad sash. A diaphanous black veil hangs from the back of her oddly shaped but sumptuously jeweled hat. Similar elements appear in other late 15th century and early 16th century art--though not in quite these forms. For example, voluminous sleeves and fur-trimmed velvet gowns with close-fitting bodices, appear in the art of this period.  But I can't recall seeing another dress that features a close-fitting bodice with voluminous sleeves.  The hennin, a conical hat often worn with a sheer veil, is seen in art of the late 15th century.  But I've never before seen a hennin or other 15th-16th headdress that flared out so awkwardly over the ears, or had a black veil.

I would really like to hear from anyone who has any information about whether similar outfits appear in other early 16th century works by Flemish or Netherlandish painters, or whether there is other evidence for the wearing of a similar style in the real world at that time.  Also, does anyone have ideas about how such a gown might have been made?  Please, educate me in the comments!


  1. I don't know anything about this painting or style of dress, I'm sorry, but her outfit is beautiful. Looking at it, I would say the construction of the dress is probably much the same as a 14th century dress, but with those lovely green sleeves attached instead of 14th century sleeves.

  2. There is an SCA costuming laurel in Lochac (Australia/New Zealand) that specializes in clothing from the "low countries". https://dutchrenaissanceclothing.wordpress.com/

    She might have some thoughts/insights.

    Good luck and thank you for the blog - I enjoy reading it!

    1. I will certainly see what I can learn from the Laurel! Thank you.

  3. It turns out that I know the Laurel that Harpmary referred me to; she was one of the moderators and active posters on the old MedCos (MEDievalCOStuming) board. Although her site has already been helpful, I willcontact her more directly, if only to say hi! Thanks again.