20 January 2013

The 14th Century bust: part 3

I spoke in Part 2 about the fashionable female silhouette of the first 3/4 of the 14th Century and how it is very different from the 15th Century fashions, particularly in the bustline which is de-emphasised through flattening of the bust and the lack of visible cleavage, even on reasonably low/wide necklines. Here I'm going to do a quick jaunt through female fashion of 1375-1400, again with emphasis on the bustline.

Part 3: The Fashionable Female Silhouette 1370-1400 ~

So, we finished up last time with one of my favourite effigies, that of Katherine Mortimer, whose silhouette shows the beginnings of a curved bust and whose dress retains the wide-but-reasonably-shallow neckline of the earlier 1300s.

Katherine Mortimer, St. Mary's, Warwick, England, c. 1369.
This is an echo of things to come. The bust is still low to very low but it is not compressed into complete non-existance and there is a definite curve of bust-out, waist-in, belly/hips/bottom-out rather than a mere vertical plane. 

Similar shapes are seen on the female weepers of her tomb, with a few showing a slightly higher bustline and more extreme waist (though one can argue whether this is related to the more crude carving of these figures, which may tend towards caricature and cartoon-like emphasis to convey an idea in the absence of fine detail).

Selection of female weepers from effigy of Thomas Beauchamp and
Katherine Mortimer, St. Mary's, Warwick, England, c. 1369.
From this point on, things start to get rather conflicted...

From 1375, there begins to be indications of cleavage in English effigies and brasses:

From left to right:
Margaret de Cobham, St. Mary Magdalene, Cobham, Kent, England, d. 1357, brass has (incorrect?) date 1375.
Isabel de Malyns, St. Andrew's, Chinnor, Oxfordshire, England, c. 1385.
Margaret de Cobham, St. Mary Magdalene, Cobham, Kent, England, d. 1395.
Left: Wife of Robert Hiltons (d. 1372), St. Mary the Virgin, Swine, Yorkshire, England. Effigy may be c. 1390.
Right: Maud de Grey, St. Michael, Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire, England, c. 1394.
However, these are only a few cherry-picked individuals. As can be seen from a perusal of The Medieval Combat Society's wonderful effigy and brass resource the majority of English effigies and brasses from 1375-1400 show no cleavage. Equally, even once you ignore effigies whose clothes don't match their date, the predominant bust silhouette is still either compressed flat or, as with Katherine Mortimer, moderately compressed with no visible cleavage resulting in a visible but quite low bustline. For example:

Compressed bust resulting in flat front; no curves in torso; wide but not deep neckline.
Lady (Margaret Carew, wife of Sir Thomas de Grandison?), St. Mary's, Newent, Gloucestershire, England, c. 1380.
Compressed bust resulting in fairly flat front; moderate waist/hip curve; wide and low neckline; cleavage.
Maud de Grey, St. Michael's, Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire, England, c. 1394.
Compressed bust resulting in flat front; mild waist-to-hip curve; wide but not deep neckline (?).
Eleanor Dinham, St. Mary's, Kingskerswell, Devon, England, c. 1394.
Compressed, very low bust; moderate curves; emphasised waist; wide but not deep neckline.
Nanarina Thornbury, All Saints, Little Munden, Hertfordshire, England, c. 1396.
15th C style; compressed, flat bust; emphasised waist/hips; wide but not deep neckline with partlet (?).
Emma Pollard, St. Michael's, Horwood, Devon, c. 1400.
If we turn to (admittedly mostly French) manuscripts we see a somewhat different tale. From 1365-ish and on the silhouette is markedly more curvaceous and the bust rarely compressed and often lifted. Also, the neckline is deep, as well as broad, resulting in a greater expanse of visible flesh and the occasional visible cleavage. For example, if we compare the "Dance in the Garden of Deduiz [Delight]" illustrations from various copies of Roman de la Rose:

Extreme curves and high bust but moderately deep neckline.
UC 1380, folio 4v, Paris, France, c. 1365.
High bust and emphasised, columnar torso; wide and somewhat lowered neckline; no cleavage.
Français 1665, folio 7r, France, 14th C.
Moderately high bust (see pink dress) and tapering torso; wide but not deep neckline; no cleavage.
Français 380, folio 6v, France, c. 1400.
High bust and nipped-in high waist; very wide, fairly low neckline; no cleavage.
Ludwig XV 7, folio 6r, Paris, France, c. 1405.
Very high bust; narrow torso draping from underbust; extremely wide (off-shoulder?) neckline; possible cleavage.
Douce 332, folio 9v, France, 15th C.
The super-high, very emphasised bust on a "cotehardie"-style dress continues throughout the first quarter of the 15th C, as is well known from the ever-popular Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. Then, as the 15th C continues, the "cotehardie"-style dress becomes less and less popular (as outerwear, at least) and it is replaced by the houppelande and, later, the so-called "Burgundian" dress. (Notably, both of these vary in their bust silhouette from country to country, decade to decade and person to person but as often as not lack very low necklines or visible cleavage).

And, as a final note, although many 1365-1400 manuscripts show a curvaceous silhouette and lifted bust, there are exceptions which more closely follow the shapes seen in effigies, e.g.:

Compressed, moderately raised bust; no or mild waist emphasis; wide but high necklines; no cleavage.
'History Bible': Den Haag, MMW, 10 B 23, France, c. 1372.
(L-R): Job's wife (245v), Judith & maid (267v), Judith's maid (268v), Susanna (425r), background women (425r).
So, what can we make of this all? Really, it is quite hard to interpret. However, I can think of several possibilities (which are not mutually exclusive):

  1. Maybe... some of the manuscripts are mis-dated (e.g. UC 1380) and there really was a simple trend for a higher bust, more curvaceous silhouette and lower neckline as the 14th C progresses.
  2. Maybe... some of the effigies are mis-dated, or the correlation between date and costume is not precise, and there really was a simple trend as in possibility 1. This could be similar to armour, where indistinct correlaions between effigy date and armour are known to occur due to:
    1. Effigies being constructed decades after an individual died
    2. Effigies (or, more often, brasses) being commissioned as a selection from a standardised set of options ("I'll have that veil and that nose and that dress, but skip the cloak and put two dogs at her feet instead of one." maybe...)
    3. Effigies portrayed as wearing their real armour, which may have been made decades before the individual died and not necessarily even worn for years as the individual became increasingly infirm
    4. Individuals portrayed in their effigy as they looked in their prime, not as an old individual
  3. Maybe... there were several different fashions concurrently present (compressed bust, flat torso, high but wide neckline vs. high bust, curvaceous torso, deep and very wide neckline, and everything in between) based on region, class, age and where you were going (court vs. church feast day vs. market vs. funeral, maybe).
  4. Maybe... there was a (probably unwritten) moral censor on funereal effigies, resulting in individuals being portrayed in comparatively conservative clothing - nothing too risque - as their families would wish them to be remembered (in their Christian monument) as God-fearing, righteous Christians, not as vain, fashion-conscious sinners. This may also explain the more subtle silhouette in the Den Haag history bible, as all the individuals are biblical figures.

So, what do you think? Is the female silhouette of the last quarter of the 14th C one of increasing extremes? Or is that a phenomenon of the first quarter of the 15th C? Can you think of any other reasons for the varying female silhouettes seen?

I would love to hear your ideas and opinions.

(All effigy and brass images are from The Medieval Combat Society. All Roman de la Rose manuscript images are from the Roman de la Rose Digital Library. Den Haag, MMW, 10 B 23 is from the Museum Meermanno.)

No comments:

Post a Comment