Thursday, 5 April 2018

Clothing the Past – Book Review

Clothing the Past: Surviving Garments from Early Medieval to Early Modern Western Europe, by Elizabeth Coatsworth and Gale Owen-Crocker. February 2018. Brill, ISBN: 978-90-04-35216-2, £198

This is a seriously expensive book, which I have not bought for that very reason. However I can give an outline of what it includes and to an extent what it excludes. For even more information go the the Brill website at

The first thing to say is that although it says “to Early Modern” in the title, the scope of the book is actually to the end of the fifteenth century though, as the authors say, they have extended slightly into the sixteenth century by looking at the gibbones (doublets) of Cosimo and Don Garcia de Medici, but none other of the Medici grave garments, nor any other 16th century items are included, except Archbishop William Warham’s glove. 

The garments covered are grouped into chapters by type: Headwear, Outer garments, Priestly garments, Body garments of wool and linen, Rich body garments, Upper body (coat like) garments, Leg coverings, Minor vestments, Footwear, and Accessories. 

For each garment you are given the date, where it is, a general description, the materials it is made from, construction details, dimensions, a list of further reading, and an image. 

Obviously many of these garments survived because they were associated with a particular person, some of the examples included are Eleanor of Castile’s pellote (sideless surcoat), and the pourpoint of Charles of Blois. Others garments are from archaeological sites, particularly the Greenland garments, but also the Orkney hood and the Bocksten tunic. Some of the Lengberg Castle finds are also included. 

The book brings together one hundred surviving, mainly complete, medieval garments.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Gown, cap and slipper sets

What does the early seventeenth century gentleman wear for lounging around the house? Possibly a [night]gown, [night]cap and slipper set, perhaps with a waistcoat. We do have a very few survivals of, and references to, these sets.
Charles, Prince of Wales nightcap. Burrell Collection

A gown, cap and slipper set thought to have belonged to Francis Verney (1584 –1615), the black sheep of the Verney family, is at the family home Claydon House, which is now in the ownership of the National Trust. Unfortunately the items are not on display and there are no photographs of the outfit on the National Trust website. The record on the website says: “A purple silk damask man's robe, cap and slippers. The robe is lined with slate blue silk shag which is a fabric with a long pile simulating fur. The robe is decorated with gold and silver braid and has matching buttons. It was reputed to have belonged to Sir Francis Verney and to have been sent back to Claydon from Messina in Sicily where he died. Sir Francis left England and his family in 1608 and became a pirate on the Barbary coast of North Africa.” Janet Arnold took a pattern of the gown in her Patterns of Fashion, vol 3. (Arnold, 1985) All the photographs of the gown in that book are black and white. There is a colour photograph of the gown here, and in 17th century men’s dress patterns. (Braun, et al., 2016) Also a colour close up of the gown appears in The Art of Dress (Ashelford, 1996 p. 64), this shows the gown as a much more vibrant colour than the full length photo available online and you can see the damask patterning.

Richard Sackville, 3rd Earl of Dorset has a similar set in his 1617 inventory. The gown is described thus: “one faire tufftaffetie gowne of tawney laced with two faire gold laces about two downe the back and twoe down the sleeves, with faire buttons and loopes made of the same lace, lyned with a tawney unshorne velvet.” The matching slippers and cap appear in the inventory as “one paire of slippers of tawney tufftaffetie laced with six gold laces of a slipper” and “one capp of tufftaffetie laced with gold lace suteable to the gowne”  (MacTaggart, 1980)

In 1634 King Charles I purchased a nightgown “of skiecullor brocated sattin lined with rich aurora cullor plush and a waistcoat to the same of aurora cullor sattine, trimmed with a gold and silver frenchwork open compass lace and buttons.” He also purchases a chamber gown; “ of crimson wrought velvet with two broad laces, and short sleeves laced all over, the lace being six times sewd on verie thicke with bigg buttons and large loopes on all the santes, and all the sleeves lined with plush.” (Strong, 1980)

The online image of the Verney slipper is taken from above which gives it a rather strange aspect. Similar “slippers” do survive. In the V&A museum we have a heeled pair from the 1650s of red velvet with silver gilt embroidery. Another pair with silver gilt embroidery, this time on salmon pink satin, and also dating from the 1650s is in the Museum of London. This slipper in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, has a slight wedge heel and is earlier, from the first quarter of the 17th century. Another slipper, which was found in Scotland, has been dated to 1640-1660. King Charles in one year spends £28 19s 2¾d on slippers.

On a further occasion King Charles I purchases a waistcoat that is the same sky blue colour as his gown. The waistcoat is; “of skiecullor sattin, lined with sarcenet and ratine” and comes with “a nightcapp laced with gould and silver lace all in rich workes lined with taffaty.” The waistcoat and nightcap together cost him £11 16s 3d. Sky blue seems to be his colour for this type of garment as the following year he purchases, “a skie cullor sattin wastcoate with one gold and silver lace in a seame lined with plush, with a nightcap suitable wrought all over in rich workes with gold and silver lace.” (Strong, 1980)

The matching slippers, Burrell Collection

A waistcoat, nightcap and slippers set, reputedly belonging to Charles II when he was Prince of Wales is in the Burrell collection in Glasgow, and I have already blogged about them. The nightcap and matching slippers are shown here.


Arnold, J. 1985. Patterns of Fashion: the cut and construction of clothes for men and women c. 1560-1620. London : Macmillan, 1985.
Ashelford, Jane. 1996. The art of dress. London : National Trust Books, 1996.
Braun, M, et al. 2016. 17th-century men's dress patterns 1600-1630. London : Thames & Hudson, 2016. 978 0 500 51905 9.
MacTaggart, P and A. 1980. The rich wearing apparel of Richard, 3rd Earl of Dorset. Costume. 1980, Vol. 14.
Strong, R. 1980. Charles I's clothes for the years 1633 to 1635. Costume. 1980, Vol. 14.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Two Exhibitions: Charles I: King and Collector and Charles II: Art and Power

Charles I: King and Collector – at the Royal Academy, Piccadilly, 27 January to 15 April 2018. Adult £20. Book:  Charles I: King and Collector Catalogue  256 pages, over 200 colour illustrations. Hardback £40. Paperback £28 

Charles I was an eclectic collector and the ten rooms at the Royal Academy bring together many of the items of his collection that were sold by order of Parliament after the King’s execution. Many are back in the Royal Collection, but other have been borrowed from museums across the world. As an interesting side note the catalogue of the collection, taken in 1637, still exists and many of the items have a comment saying where the painting was originally displayed.

The exhibition starts with the fantastic triple portrait of Charles by Van Dyck, which is also the poster for the exhibition. The painting was for Bernini to sculpt a bust of Charles. The bust was lost in the great Whitehall fire of 1698, when much of the Palace burnt down, and though many have berated Cromwell for selling off the collection, one wonders how much more would have been lost if they had still been in Whitehall.

The start of Charles’s collecting career was when, having gone to Madrid in 1623 for marriage negociations, he came back with paintings by Titian, Veronese and others. He also purchased six of the Raphel cartoons for the Sistine Chapel tapestries, for £300, and the Mortlake tapestry workshop founded by James I in 1619 copied these, one room is dedicated to Mortlake Tapesteries.  In 1627-32 Charles purchased the Gonzaga collection from Mantua, including  Mantegna’s Triumphs of Caesar, which have a whole room to themselves at the exhibition. 

Other rooms in the exhibition include two of Italian Renaissance paintings, one of Northern Renaissance, and a room containing works that had originally been in the Queen's Hose at Greenwich. There are also vast amounts of Rubens and Van Dyck, including Van Dyck’s “Greate Peece” of 1632, and his painting of the two sons of the assainated Duke of Buckingham (shown left). 

An excellent exhibition.

Charles II: Art & Power – at The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, Friday, 8 Dec 2017 to Sunday, 13 May 2018. Adult £11.00. Book: Charles II: Art & Power  464 pages with over 400 colour illustrations. Hardback only £29.95

Detail from the Embarkation at Scheveningen
The Charles II exhibition starts with less of a bang than his father’s. The first room contains many prints, rather than paintings, including The Act abolishing the King,  and for even handedness Eikon Basilike, it also has the last portrait made of Charles I in his lifetime. However when you get into the room with John Michel Wright’s portrait of Charles II, Charles II dominates. The art, generally speaking is not as good as in the Charles I exhibition, though it does have the wonderful Leonardo da Vinci  drawing and many of Holbein’s drawings. Much of the portraiture of Charles court is by Lely, Kneller, Wright and Cooper. There are many depictions what is happening for example, Charles setting off for England in The Embarkation of Charles II at Scheveningen, and the Anglo-Dutch Wars of the 1660s in Holme’s Bonfire, and a couple of unusual portraits, The Chinese Convert by Kneller  and Bridget Holmes aged 96 by Riley.

 Much of what is on display is on the Royal Collection’s excellent website for the exhibition. Also you can take photographs at the Charles II exhibition, you can’t at  Charles I.