Early Tudor Project — Katherine of Aragon's Portrait dated 1502 — Part I

This is the first in a series of blog entries that will document the research and production of an outfit. I began researching this outfit when my local group announced that their 12th Night celebration would have the theme of the Court of Aragon in Spain in 1504. I don’t have much interest in Spanish dress but rather English. But then it occured to me that Katherine of Aragon was married to Henry VIII in 1501. So I began looking for a portait of Katherine of Aragon from as close to that date as I could find.

To make a long story short, some of my materials were delayed by the Christmas rush, so I didn’t get the entire ensemble finished in time to wear it to 12th Night.  Luckily this year’s 12th Night near my friends’ house in Virginia has a Tudor theme and I will finish the outfit and wear it there.

If you read my Blogspot blog last year, you’ve probably seen the first few of these posts.  But now I have a new camera to take better pictures, and I am expanding the entries with what I have learned in the meantime.  So there will be much more information here than in the original Blogspot entries.  Please keep reading.

And now, back to the process…

Katherine of Aragon by Sittow, 1502I found the portrait at right painted by Henry VII’s court painter, Michel Sittow, in 1502. It hangs in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna today.

Interestingly she’s not wearing the stereotypical gable headdress we come to expect to see on her. Instead she appears to be wearing what may be an early incarnation of what would become the French hood — less structured and more veil-like, but still a similar shape.

We also notice that she’s wearing multiple layers. The top edge of her smock is embroidered with small designs in alternating black and yellow. Over this she wears a yellow undergown that may be laced center front with gold thread of clasps. Over this is a black unclosed kirtle adorned with gold shells along its edge. And on top of it all, she wears a velvet gown. She wears a gold choker that repeats the initial “K” and a long chain. A pendant on a black cord may hide inside her smock.

But it’s rather dark and hard to make out details. And because her hands don’t show in the portrait, we can’t tell what the sleeves look like at all.

AngieteIt is not entirely unlike a portrait by Joos van Cleve of Agniete van den Rijne. Much more detail is visible in this painting owing to the light colour of the overgown. The sleeves are fur-lined and from the volume of fabric in folds over her arms, they appear to be the large triangular sleeves seen on French gowns in this time period. Additionally, the design of the fabric allows us to see that the sleeves are not set-in. The folds around the shoulder indicate that the sleeves are cut in one piece with the bodice of the gown. This is a strange sleeve treatment to see this late in history since set-in sleeves came into use almost 200 years earlier.

Unlike Katherine, Agniete wears a pleated smock more typical of the Low Countries, but she wears the same three layers visible in the painting of Katherine. Agniete’s underdress is light red and appears to not open in front like Katherine’s yellow one. Agniete’s neckline is decorated with gold and we may be seeing the sleeve of this dress on her right wrist. Agniete also wears a black undergown, hers decorated with gold embroidery or braid trim. Her brocade gown is fur-lined and overlaps at center front.

Like Katherine, Agniete wears a gold chain, a small pendant with a cross and perhaps another pendant inside her undergown as indicated by the black cord that disappears into her cleavage. A brooch is pinned to the center front of her red underdress.

Tomorrow:  That enigmatic Middle Layer…

© 2007, 2008 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice, author’s website address, and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.

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