By far the best thing about my job is the people I meet– you get a fascinating array of folks wandering into a lace museum that sells obscure needlework supplies and vintage clothes.
A couple Saturdays ago I met a very cool couple who are involved in the Society for Creative Anachronism, which is an organization I’ve long had mixed feelings about. Theoretically a group of incredibly nerdy obsessive people who meet up in fields to chat, spin, weave, eat, and attack each other with swords should be so far up my alley that I’d give up my lovely house to squat in a cardboard box in it.
That metaphor got away from me. But whatever. Long story short, SCA should totally be my thing but joining up is kind of intimidating– there are Kingdoms and Principalities and Shires and Royalty and Chatelaines (not the 19th century cool belt thingies, those I am good with) and just a lot of stuff.
The nice sewing lady and her ex-army sword-fighting husband were pretty convincing though, so after my shift I went home and started researching. All SCA members have a character, and the website suggests picking a place, then a time, then a person.
Well, place was easy. Spain was the obvious choice.
(Note that this might have been a bad choice, for reasons I will explain later. It was still the obvious choice)
Some of you might know that I started learning Spanish when I was very young and took classes all the way through AP Spanish Lit in High School. As a result I know a lot more about medieval and Renaissance Spanish history than I do of any other country, and Medieval Spain was a really incredible place. The “Moors” from North Africa ruled Spain from about 400 AD to the 15th Century and they had an incredibly open and educated society.
Except I hate Medieval clothes (so boring! giant sleeves do not redeem you!) and later Renaissance clothing is kind of terrifying (wheel farthingales???), so I thought, maybe, early Renaissance? And sticking with Cataluña because I love Catalan and I found a list of cool late Medieval women’s names. Awesome.
Now the problems start, though, because it’s easy to find documentation for early Renaissance clothes in Italy, and Germany, and Burgundy, and England, but Spain….. not so much. Wilcox’s The Mode in Costume has chapters on Spain but they’re before and after what I was looking for. I also needed something I could find a paper pattern for as I have minimal practical experience with pattern drafting and draping. I also don’t have a dress form.
I looked at a lot of paintings. Two painters in particular were extremely helpful– Pedro Garcia de Benabarre and Pedro Berruguete. Benabarre was on the early side of what I was looking for– he painted mostly in the 1470s– but he was actually located in Cataluña. Berruguete was a little later and lived in Castille.
This is Berruguete’s Suitors of the Virgin, and it was extremely helpful in that unlike most religious paintings, it shows more than one woman. Note the slightly elevated waists, square necks, embroidery around the neck, sleeves and hem (usually in gold, and of a geometric style that reminds me of early blackwork), and the split sleeves of the lady who is sewing. There’s a lot of red, black, and green, which corroborates the Spanish Renaissance chapter in The Mode in Costume.
This is the Pedro Garcia de Benabarre painting most frequently cited for costuming, and for a very important reason– it’s the earliest documented evidence of a farthingale. I thought it was important that I include it in case other people want to use this post to help them with Spanish Renaissance garb. That being said, I am choosing to ignore the fathingales as I just escaped making a crinoline for an 1850s dress and I do not want to get into that again.
That being said, the tied back hair is very useful, we see more red and black, and we also see laced-on sleeves, which is good to know.
More Berruguete, and more green, red, and gold. I love the clearly shown pattens as well! We also see split sleeves (although narrower than in Suitors of the Virgin) square necklines, slightly elevated waists, and gold embroidery.
So here’s what I’m doing:
Yes, I know, that pattern very clearly says “Italian Renaissance” on it. And I also know that if you do research on the internet you will find statements saying that no other country was doing clothes like these during that time period. But you see a square neckline (check), slashed sleeves (check), and a slightly elevated waist. Check.
My fabric came over the weekend, although I managed to um….. completely ruin….. my camicia fabric, so that’s going to have to wait. I have the stuff for the dress, though, so I’m going to start cutting it out when I finish typing this sentence.
I hope you learned a little something about clothes in the Spanish Renaissance, and I also hope this acts as a resource for people going forwards so that you don’t have to peer at a bazillion paintings and dig through all the available patterns to find something similar.