16th century

A Small Epiphany?

I’m not sure how many of you follow the debate over whether or not Venetian Renaissance women wore corsets or not, but it’s something I think about way too often. I just found an image that’s making me think! Look at the following images, all hosted at the fabulous Realm of Venus, showing women wearing ladder-laced bodices with decorative partlets tucked over or under the camicia/shift and into the bodice — sheer partlet, could be over or under, sheer tucked over, sheer, could be over or under. Okay, now look at this Bordone portrait at Sotheby’s and use the zoom to get a really, really detailed look at the center front bustline.

Call me crazy, but what I see is a decorative partlet tucked OVER the camicia/shift and into the bodice — but when I look at the center front opening (under the ladder lacing), it looks like the partlet is either VERY CAREFULLY measured, finished, and pinned/attached so that it EXACTLY aligns with the top row of lacing, or it is tucked OVER the camicia but BEHIND some kind of false-camicia-front. Or the artist decided to tidy things up. What do you think?

Previous Post Next Post

You Might Also Like


  • Reply athene July 24, 2008 at 6:40 pm

    I am always leery of using portraits as infallible reference materials fpr precisely the reason you state–artists change things to suit themselves, and thus the clothing might very well be akin to “fantasy” dress rather than an accurate depiction of what was worn. I am not familiar enough with early Venetian portraiture, or clothing construction techniques to site an example there, but consider for a moment, Sargent’s “Madame X” dress, which cannot exist in the world as we know it. I know that for early garments, portraits are the best thing we have to base design and structure on, but there is, I believe, a lot more wiggle room than one might imagine…

  • Reply Kendra July 24, 2008 at 6:45 pm

    Athene: definitely, of course. However, not having any extant Venetian costumes (that I know of – aside from a few shifts and drawers), we gotta have something to peer at in our spare time!

  • Reply Diana July 24, 2008 at 6:50 pm

    What it looks like to me is very similar to what you see in german ren portraits. There is a chemise/camicia, the partlet goes over it and the white under the ladder lacing is a false piece, probably stiffened (like the german brustfleck).

    From a construction standpoint, this makes sense also because why would you have just your camicia showing to the world with your bare skin underneath? And all the stress is taken by the laces? Doesn’t seem realistic.

    Just my two cents.

    Good find, BTW!

  • Reply Diana July 24, 2008 at 7:04 pm

    Hmmm…I also see that the partlet was pinned OVER the shoulder straps. You can see them as a darkened area near the sleeve poufs. That’s very interesting.

    And that proves to me that the artist did a faithful rendering of what was going on in the real garment…no liberties taken here (except maybe with her face-if she wasn’t really that pretty-which was common).

  • Reply Lady Kalessia July 24, 2008 at 7:45 pm

    I see a chemise, with partlet over, tucked into a stiffened underbodice or kirtle, with the gown laced on over it. Of course, I’m on the unique opinion that Venetian dress like this was very similar in construction to Tudor garments, since they’re (in this instance at least) contemporary. It’s interesting that the partlet is tucked into the kirtle below, but spread over the shoulder straps of the overgown.

  • Reply myladyswardrobe July 24, 2008 at 9:21 pm

    When I made my Venetian Gown, I made a “stomacher” which consisted of a piece of drill with silk roughly box pleated over it and stitched into place. It worked perfectly underneath the lacings of the gown and over the red corset. There was no way I was going to risk wearing a gown like that without a pair of stays to keep me all in place!

    The pictures that are shown on Realm of Venus and that you cited all show non-white “chemise” which can only be something other THAN a chemise. I have always been of the opinion it was a stomacher of some kind.

    Also, when Sarah and I went to Venice in 2005 we found a tiny ivory figurine in the Museo Correr of a lady in a smock, petticoat with some kind of open skirt and a CORSET on top – just like the effigy one. She was clearly in a state of undress but then the figurine was part of a handle of a mirror or something (the something was missing). Sarah made a very good drawing of it and so did I but sadly I’ve lost it! The only doubt we had was that the museum THOUGHT it was 16th century but we weren’t sure and wanted more information on it. We thought it COULD have been later 17th century (the overskirt looked a bit like those waterfall skirts one gets on the mantuas in the late 17th century) but the hairstyle and the “embroidery” (carving) on the chemise/smock screamed 16th century. So who knows? Perhaps the only visual evidence of a corset in Italy of the time?

    Whether it is or not, I would not wear a Venetian style open front gown without a pair of stays beneath!


  • Reply Inoui July 26, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    I have to agree with most everyone else weighing in…it looks to me like there’s a false-camica-front (or a stomacher/placket) that the decorative partlet is tucked under.

  • Leave a Reply