Monday, April 2, 2012

Deciding on a dress.

You know how it is; so many dresses, so little time. The above "Portrait of a Lady" by Prospero Fontana held in the Museo Davia Bargellini in Bologna has been calling me for some time. The image here is from Anea's site because the only other images I could locate are black and white. The painting is actually flipped from this and she's looking in the opposite direction. There's an interesting discussion of the imagery of this portrait in Patricia Phillipy's book Painting Women: Cosmetics, Canvases, and Early Modern Culture. Her 3/4 turn to the right is part of the symbolism of her chastity and status as a good wife. Her zibellino, ruby necklace, and the flowers on the table add to that. I've quite obviously been having too much fun learning the conventions of Italian portraiture in preparation for my class at Collegium later this month.

I was all set to do this portrait dress for IRCC II and had it in the back of my brain for most of the winter. I love the intricate pinking and the fabulous sleeves. The color is very different from the two dresses I have. There's even a hat. Then I started second guessing the underbust cut. I've got a pretty generous bust and am rather lopsided and being held in place by just a partlet is rather worrisome. So I talked myself out of it and never got around to buying the green velvet for it.

Then, I got an amazing deal on a really pretty rosy gold colored brocade and bought the whole bolt. Primarily because I have no restraint when it comes to sales, and not in fact because I wanted a gold dress. In point of fact, I probably don't want a gold dress. Not because gold isn't pretty, but basically every late Italian persona in the Kingdom of Artemisia has a gold gown. There are some truly lovely gold gowns. Several totally fabulous ones actually. As I enjoy doing things differently, that isn't really a good place to start for me. Then, I found 60 yards of vintage silk twill ribbon in a scrumptious peacock blue. For no particular reason I became obsessed with it. While I was considering its purchase, I found this picture on Angela Bacci's site from the Travels of Carlo Maggi. It's a gold dress. With spiral sleeves and an interesting hem treatment all done in a thin blue. I bought the ribbon.

And with that, I seem to be committed to making a dress way outside my comfort zone. I'm doing an open front Venetian. Every example I see painted has them further off the arms than I'm really comfortable with and about halfway down the bust and low in the back. Add to that the open front, pointed back, conical shape and low point and I'm more than a little concerned that my body is just not going to work for this. If I was mildly disturbed by the underbust, I'm biting my nails over doing a full on Venetian style. The fitting is going to be so critical. I wish I weighed at least 100 pounds less. But, I'm going to try it anyway. If it doesn't work, there's a couple of other dresses I have my eye on and I can certainly buy more fabric if I have to, but I've got the bit in my teeth just now and am being stubborn and contrary and am in a "what the hell" mood. Nothing lost by giving it a try and maybe I'll be pleased by what happens. I've been nothing but pleasantly surprised by my other Italian costuming adventures. It will be another learning experience regardless of what happens.

Tomorrow I'll get some pictures of my fabrics and talk about some of the design choices I'm thinking about.


  1. Oh! That's so funny, I've been thinking about doing the same (Travels of Carlo Maggie) dress!

    Well, that's over (at least for now) but I wish you much luck making that pretty, pretty gown.

    I don't know how much help it will be, but I'm about 54" (bust) 49" (waist) 79" (hips) and I've have good results with making my bodices with a corded hemp inner bodice. They're both supportive and flexible in the right places and help give me a smooth but not rigid line in the torso which is exactly right for the Venetian look I most admire in portraits. So that's my tip, but more importantly I am sure that if I can make a low-cut (but not under-bust in the bodice) Venetian gown work, so can you!

  2. That is really encouraging. My measurements up top are a little larger than yours, but it is certainly nice to hear that it has been done. I have the hemp to try. My last two dresses were duct tie boned with canvas and wool interlining and I like the extra support, but might have to put away the safety nets and try for a more period construction rather than adding the heavy boning.

    I'd love to see your version of the dress of the Maggi when you do it.

  3. Someday it would be fun to have a bunch of us work on the same portrait dress all at the same time!

    Then maybe we could all go to tea together or something....

    We could hold a Gathering!