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Undergarments and Means of Support: I. Some observations.

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  • Brenda Bell
    This three-part post started out from two separate influences: a group of Judith and Holofernes images, including several of Judith in deshabille, and the
    Message 1 of 1 , May 12, 2002
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      This three-part post started out from two separate influences: a group of
      Judith and Holofernes images, including several of Judith in deshabille,
      and the continuing questions about those Venetian front-closing gowns with
      the pleated white garments beneath. It's expanded into something a bit more

      Undergarments and Means of Support: I. Some Observations.

      Looking at the paintings featured on Bella's site, under "The Look/The Mid
      16th Century" <http://au.geocities.com/bella_lucia_da_verona/thelook3.htm>,
      I'm seeing some interesting details (or perhaps they're wayward pixels?),
      some of which form the bases of a couple of hypotheses. Since I will be
      referring to the large versions of several images on this page, it might be
      useful to either browse to the page or to print out this/these page(s).

      Figure 1: Bordone's "Family Group"
      Focusing on the mother's bodice, I notice first that the pulls on the sides
      of the ladder-lacing might not match the pulls that would occur if the
      ladder lacing were the points of stress across the center front; second, I
      notice what looks like more typical lacing at the side, under the woman's
      arm. Third, I see indentations that look like there is some sort of
      stiffening fabric that starts at the second lace from the top, goes out to
      about the shoulder, then drops down to the waist; the lateral (side) edge
      of this stiffening being about where I'm seeing the lacing. I'm also seeing
      a bit of wrinkling at the waist and a bottom "lace" that does not look like
      it could possibly be load-bearing.
      Hypothesis 1: this gown is a separate bodice and skirt.
      Hypothesis 2: this bodice is stiffened with something that
      presents as a solid "sheet" (possibly one or more layers of canvas stiffener)
      Hypothesis 3: the gathered, open center is part of the bodice, not
      part of the camicia.
      Hypothesis 4: the load-bearing elements of the bodice are the side
      This still leaves the questions of where the bodice entry point is
      (possibly still the front) and where the camicia falls, as well as what
      exactly is being used as a stiffener.

      Figure 2: Bordone's "Portrait of a Woman"
      I'm noticing a couple of "lines" in the painting that seem to extend from
      the ladder-lacing lines out vertically to the sides. I'm also seeing in the
      shadows under the woman's right armpit something that looks like the
      modern-placement of a side seam, or possibly the artifacts of lacing (as in
      the figure above).
      Are these horizontal lines artifacts of painting (my thought is,
      most likely so), are they indications of these ladder laces being carried
      out to the sides and used as load-bearing laces (less likely, IMO), or
      something else?
      Does the underarm detail support the side-lacing tightening
      hypothesized above, or is this just an artifact?

      Figure 3: Titian's "Portrait of a Girl (Lavinia)"
      It seems to me that the top of the bodice appears to stand slightly away
      from the woman's chest/breasts. This would be the way a too-high corset (or
      stiffened bodice) might fit, or the fit of a corset/stiffened bodice
      designed for someone whose breasts are still developing. Since this appears
      to be a front-closing bodice with little, if any, open lacing exposed,
      could this have been designed for a "developing young lady"?

      Figure 5: Veronese's "Countess Livia da Porto Thiene"
      Notice the curvature beneath the woman's breast. This form could be created
      by Jen's hemp-corded corset, or possibly (to a lesser degree) by a
      midriff/underbreast support (see separate post on this topic).

      Figure 10: Veronese's "Portrait of a Woman"
      The side and bottom edges of the bodice look like they are pinned on with
      brass pins, not unsimilarly to the stomacher on [IIRC, Jane Seymour's]
      dress in the Holbein portrait. I see fitting stress at these points. I can
      follow each "pin" by a visual (but mostly unpainted) line to a ladder lace,
      so it's possible that what I am seeing is a series of side-laces similar to
      what I hypothesized as unlikely for Figure 2, or that the side is laced
      with more traditional lacing rather than being pinned (or that I have been
      looking at this bodice for too long!).

      Figure 15: Titian's Portrait of his daughter, Lavinia
      Again, I'm noticing some wrinkling at the front waist as might be found
      with a canvas-stiffened bodice. I'm also noticing some detail of paint at
      the front-side of Lavinia's bodice, not unsimilar to the trim placement on
      the Eleonora de Toledo dress, and enough forward of the point seen on the
      mother or Bordone's Family Group (Figure 1) to account for a
      similarly-conceived dress made for someone with a relatively broader waist.

      Figure 19: Detail from Fasolo's "Games" fresco
      The breasts of the woman in profile seem to be "overflowing" her bodice.
      This, and the curvature of her back, indicate stiff corseting.

      Brenda F. Bell
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