England: vestments, shakespeare, blue and the virgin queen

A Set of 16th-Century Vestments 1916

Victoria and Albert Museum

History of objects, how they pass through hands and institutions.

Description of objects:

made of a deep crimson velvet, and ornamented with broad panels of embroidery,

worked with brightly coloured silks and silver and silver-gilt thread. The embroidery was made during the early part of the 16th century, but the velvet, as well as the gold fringe and the braid, is of a later, but perhaps not very much later date. For the most part the design of the embroidery consists of the figures of saints under foliated canopies on a background of gold diaper of various patterns, and surrounded with an edging of raised gold-work. Mermaids and grotesque heads are introduced, and on each vestment there appears a coat-of-arms, showing quarterly 1-4 vert, three fleurs-de-lys, argent I and 2; 2-3, gules a tree eradicated proper. The stitchery is fine and good, but, as is usually the case, does not quite equal that of an earlier date. The gold-work is sumptuous and profuse without overpowering the silk embroidery by undue relief or luxuriance.

cope: has a large hood and a wide orphrey along the edge; but the morse, if ever one formed part of the vestment, is missing. On the hood [PLATE II, E], which does not interrupt the orphrey but lies entirely outside it, there is a representation of the Virgin and Child, seated on a large architectural throne with a vase of lilies on each side, the whole being surrounded by the usual canopy.

The embroidery of the cope (and perhaps that of the other vestments) was at some time removed from the velvet, and these panels were replaced side by side with their top edges along the edge of the cope. It was subsequently rearranged as at present, so that the male and female saints come in the same order on each side of the cope

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chasuble  has on the front a pillar-orphrey with three panels of the same design as those on the cope. In the middle one is apparently S. John the Evangelist, with chalice and dragon. In the lower is S. Mary Magdalene; but the upper one is somewhat puzzling. The figure, apart from the emblem, is identical with the last mentioned and even the emblem is very similar in shape. Possibly it is a basket. The ermine cloak would suggest a royal personage, but too much reliance cannot be placed upon this inference, considering that the same figure has been used twice on the same vestment. The back of the chasuble has a cross-shaped orphrey

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dalmatics attribution of these vestments to the sixteenth century is due to several considerations, it is possible, on account of the treatment of the mermaids and grotesque heads, to put their date within much narrower limits. The style seen here of blending human forms with ornamental foliations was introduced at the beginning of the sixteenth century and was commonly used for perhaps only twenty years. It may be considered almost certain that between 15oo and 1520 A.D. the vestments were made.

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This dalmatic was a gift from the Byzantine emperor to Pope Eugene IV in the 15th century. It’s the only medieval vestment left in the treasury of Saint Peter’s Basilica.


Mannerism and Shakespearean Costume 1964

Shakespeare works within the limitations of the Elizabethan stage, his range is so great and complex that in his total output he mixes and merges most of the possible literary and visual styles prevailing in England in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.



Mary I







Flora Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Giuseppe Arcimboldo

The Reformation

Shakespeare began his career at the peak of England’s sense of power in the early 1590’s, and his early poems and symmetrically balanced comedies conform to the fashionable, humanistic tastes of the court, while his Chronicle plays appealed to the English sense of nationalism and patriotism. But by the late 1590’s, the playwright’s whole moral philosophy seems to have been transformed from a positive sense of balance and order to a pessimistic sense of dissociation from the world

Mannerism that appear in the plays of the “dark period” are readily paralleled in the painting, architecture, and sculpture of late Mannerism; and since late sixteenth and early seventeenth century dress is based on many of the same artistic principles, Mannerist effects can be seen in most contemporary civil dress and stage costume of the time.


“dark plays” in terms of costume, but in designs for any of the group, Hamlet, Lear, Measure for Measure, Troilus and Cressida, All’s Well That Ends Well, Timon of Athens, and possibly one or two others from this period, the pervading sense of unease, disturbance, imbalance, and psychological cynicism and pessimism should be reflected in the line, texture, and color of the costume

Mannerist work of art, whether it be architecture, painting, poetry, or costume is its superficial technical brilliance and ingenuity, behind which resides a frightening sense of personal unrest, the result of a complex, inner psychology that is agitating and baffling.

form and structure, this sense of disproportion, that is so striking, so unsettling, so annoying, yet so intriguing, may well be summed up by the term-disturbed balance.

Hamlet are clearly related to such costume effects as puffing and slashing, which in the later years of the sixteenth century reached such a complex interpenetration of outer and under garment that all concept of the true surface nature of a garment was lost. Also, decoration and ornament grow tighter and more complex and are forced into narrow bands of trim that seem to bind in the costume surfaces with even more rigid lines than those of the stiff garment lines themselves. Thus, the logic of the structure of human anatomy in no way coincides with the structural elements of the costume



ludicrous English court styles of the 1590 – 1600’s

(c) Salford Museum & Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) Salford Museum & Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

costume portraits, “Eleanor of Toledo” by Bronzino, or “A Noble Spanish Lady” by Sanchez-Coello.

frightening psychological effects of rich grotesquery are alternately whispered and shouted at the viewer. The overlarge, twisting, intertwined arabesques in the ornamental pattern of the fabric are tortured in their over scaled proportions and appear to devour the gown and the wearer.


further tension is created by the tight slashes down the sleeves through which lining is forced and then choked off by tight braiding, in much the same manner in which the eruptive emotions in an Angelo or an Isabella are choked off by the tight, unrealistic codes by which they live. The crisscross network of braid on each shoulder in the Bronzino, and the high collar and ruff in the Sanchez-Coello bind and lock in the neck; the rigid lines of the stomacher obliterate the bust line; the arms are so encased in padded stiffness that they lose all sense of life; and the waist and hips are removed through stiffened, distorted lines that make the entire figure below the waist seem absolutely immobile.


All this frighteningly inhuman paraphernalia seems to deny every aspect of nature in the human anatomy in much the same way that the rigid codes espoused by Angelo and Isabella seem to obliterate their true natures. Finally, the very unpleasant, corrupt, erotic mood that underlies so much of the action of Measure for Measure seems to have its counter part in Mannerist dress in the male codpiece and the female stomacher.


high Renaissance a cod piece seemed a symbol, along with the sensuous, casual, loose-fitting garments of the period, of the outgoing virility and strength of the age, while the cod- piece in Mannerist dress is shocking, disturbing, and seemingly at complete variance with the forced dignity of the rest of  the costume.  Its repressed eroticism is typical of that sense of equivocation, that maddening sense of being unable to find any single, consistent, unified effect in Mannerist art.


Dressing a Virgin Queen: Court Women, Dress, and Fashioning the Image of England’s Queen Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I, who ruled England from 1558 until 1603, lived and died a virgin, we do know she dressed like one. Elizabeth had to present herself as a chaste, virginal woman to prove that she was morally worthy of holding the traditionally masculine office of monarch.



By presenting herself as a virgin and controlling her sexuality (something women were considered incapable of doing), she could demonstrate her ability and right to control her realm. However, this image of virginity was not a static one, and it changed throughout Elizabeths reign.

female courtiers, especially the Elizabethan privy chamber women, helped to construct the Queens virginal image by contributing to the royal wardrobe which enabled Elizabeth to dress the part of the Virgin Queen.  Moreover, the women at court were in a unique position to help the Queen in this way because of their knowledge about the Queen’s body and the royal wardrobe.

taking care of her bodily needs and offering her companionship, have still been accepted as domestic, and thereby, apolitical tasks. To the contrary, it is precisely these domestic activities that are the primary source of the privy chamber women’s political agency

The time these women spent with Elizabeth, dressing her and undressing her, gave these women knowledge about and authority over the Queen’s body and wardrobe. They could exercise that knowledge and authority by choosing gifts for Elizabeth and advising others on gifts they could give the Queen that would help Elizabeth project her image as a virgin. (scene from film)

1580s when it became clear that she would not marry or bear an heir, and the cult of her virginity hoped to calm fears over the issue of succession and to maintain support for the aging Queen


1580 John Bettes

Symbols of virginity could also take the form of jewelry or embroidery—for example, the crescent moon, which invoked the chaste goddess Diana.


As her reign progressed, more and more women in the social ranks of countesses, baronesses, and ladies, some of whom served in the privy chamber or attended court, also gave more dress-related gifts than they did cash. Male courtiers also gave more sartorial gifts in the second half of her reign, but still not as frequently as their female counterparts. For example, Frances Cobham, who served Elizabeth in the privy chamber from the time of Elizabeth’s coronation until Lady Cobham’s death in 1592, gave Elizabeth a clothing-related gift twelve times (out of the fourteen times that she was listed in twenty rolls), and six of these garments were made out of white material, such as her 1585 gift to the Queen of a white satin doublet. Her husband, who did not show up on the gift rolls as frequently and tended to give gold, also gave the Queen a sartorial gift in 1585, a white satin skirt.


Elizabeth’s image as a virgin queen depended less on the state of her hymen and more on the pearls and clothes that covered her purportedly virginal body. The Queen’s virginity was, in a sense, materially fashioned in layers of black and white cloth and swathes of pearls and diamonds.





Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Ermine: Elizabeth I’s Coronation Robes and Mothers’ Legacies in Early Modern England

Elizabeth Is use of her despised sister Mary’s coronation robes, and explain Elizabeth’s choice of clothing as a way of simultaneously representing, interpreting, and disposing of Mary’s legacy.

Elizabeth was crowned a few months after Marys death in November 1558, she wore the very same robes Mary had worn for her own coronation. I argue that this unusual sartorial decision—especially given their troubled tie (and Elizabeths later reputation as a clotheshorse)—is a way for Elizabeth both to reify and obliterate her connection to Mary Tudor, making it crucial and empty all at once.


Elizabeth’s choice of clothing on such a formative day actually has a variety of meanings and supports a variety of values. For one thing, it can also help us understand what women’s wealth consisted of, and to whom it most properly belonged.

Elizabeth’s decision has something to do with controlling reproduction: the reproduction of cloth, most obviously, but through this activity the reproduction of power, relations, and influence

Painted more than forty years after the fact, the 1600 “Coronation Portrait” of Queen Elizabeth I shows the queen wearing the same ermine trimmed robes at her 1559 coronation that Mary had worn five-and-a-half years earlier this borrowing and the feelings it symbolizes, suggesting that”the robes of clothe of gold and silver tissue’ which [Elizabeth] had watched her sister wear in 1553, must have seemed like a triumphant and tangible symbol of safety and freedom.  identical dress would seem to untangle the complicated relationship between the sisters by making Mary’s ambiguous legacy appear ready-made for Elizabeth, something that she might appropriately recycle—or at least easily remake.

Queens and kings often wore the clothing and jewels and gowns of predecessors for reasons of economy and tradition. Clothes were frequently left as bequests in wills because of the value of the material: many of Elizabeth’s gowns were “translated” into furnishings after her death or given to players, the pearls and spangles sold, other items given to her ladies-in-waiting.

“translation” of royal regalia could have the public effect of killing off a predecessor, too. In adopting the livery of her older sister and thereby advertising her secure position in Mary’s royal household, Elizabeth officially buries her sister’s royal claims: if clothes make the queen, Mary has been royally divested

queen regnant queen consort

less than fully royal monarch,” with the loose hair of a bride, an open rather than closed crown, and a dress of white cloth of gold, not the purple robes of a king.

Political reasons: Protestant reformers in England strategically made use of Catholic relics including priestly vestments and altar cloths to unveil or discharge those items’ ritual magic, turning them into furnishings for Protestant homes or costumes for professional player

Defining ancestors, maintaining lineages and identifying progeny, sumptuary codes regulating cloth distribution and display operate in small-scale societies much as they did in early modern England, where mourning robes were distributed by kin of the deceased at funerals as a way to “channel death into regeneration and political gain

death into regeneration and political gain” (see Weiner and Schneider, 11). What anthropological accounts also tell us is that if, by definition, clothing is practical, superficial, and decorative, it is also always a rich and valuable tool precisely because of its exteriority, its ability to recreate the owner as part of its symbolism.

Samplers produced during this period similarly attest to the fragile, implicit state of links between many early-modern women and to the collective anonymity now fostered between mothers and daughters in an increasingly isolated domestic sphere. As cloth-weaving was replaced by embroidery and households were supplanted by workshops, for example, the same few needlework patterns were reworked, the same few symbols transmitted in smaller and smaller circles.

we learn about women’s ideas by knowing what they have taught themselves to relinquish.






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