Today, we’re going to think about Katherine of Aragon’s sleeves.
In Michel Sittow’s 1502 portrait of her (above), it is difficult to see precisely what’s going on because of the darkness of the velvet of her gown.
The bodice front is so wide and the sleeves so far back that it almost appears as if the sleeves and the gown bodice are two separate an unconnected pieces.
Yesterday when thinking about the use of a placket for the bodice front, we looked a Holbein’s 1537 portrait of Jane Seymour. Let’s look at it again and focus on the sleeves.
Jane Seymour’s sleeves are large and heavy, but the upper part of the sleeves fits very tightly on the bicep. The well-fitting upper part of the sleeve will help take the weight of the huge lower sleeve and prevent it from pulling the gown off the wearer’s shoulders. There are stress wrinkles caused by the tightness of the sleeve on the upper arms, but none of the folds present in Katherine of Aragon’s portrait, above.
Let’s also re-examine those other portraits from the early 16th century that show similar gowns to Katherine’s that may give us some insight into how Katherine’s gown was constructed.
- Joos van Cleve’s 1520s portraits of a man and a woman (woman only shown here) that hang in the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.
- Joos van Cleve’s early 16th century “Portrait of Agniete van den Rijne” in the Rijksmuseum Twenthe in Enschede, Netherlands.
- An early 16th century portrait by Netherlandish painter Jan Provost showing a donor with St. Nicolas and the donor’s wife with St. Godelina (St. Godelina only is shown).
I chose these portraits because they all have the folds on the upper arms, the soft torso, and the center front opening that I think I see in the 1502 Sittow portrait of Katherine of Aragon.
Looking at the sleeves, the Unknown Woman and Agniete both wear fur-lined sleeves (and bodices) while St. Godelina’s appear lined with a different colour fabric, nothing bulky.
It is not clear whether Katherine’s sleeves are tight like Jane Seymour’s or loose like the ladies’ above, but the amount of wrinkles and folds visible in the versions of the portrait I have seen lead me to believe that, if not as loose as the three other portraits, Katherine’s sleeves are at least looser than Jane Seymour’s by a fair bit and demand a construction technique that can accommodate the bulk of large unfitted sleeves.
I can’t shake the feelings that these sleeves look almost entirely unattached to the body of the gown. They look like “shrugs”, those tube-shaped sweaters that just cover your arms and span your upper back. Look at St. Godelina in particular. Don’t her sleeves look like they’re almost a completely different garment simply worn on her shoulders? Take a good look:
I cannot leave this discussion without mentioning The White Band, an enigmatic feature of English gowns of the 1520s, first brought to my attention on Hope Greenberg’s excellent website. More on that topic tomorrow.
Next: We digress about The White Band…
© 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, the author’s name and website, and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.