As Seen In – Eleanor of Toledo’s 1562 burial gown

Eleanor of Toledo, c. 1560

Eleanor of Toledo, c. 1560

There may be a new contender for the oldest extant illustrated garment. Until now I thought it was the c. 1610 jacket of Margaret Layton, but Daniel Milford-Cottam alerted me to a possible earlier garment worn by Eleanor of Toledo in one of her last portraits that was also possibly  her burial gown.

Spanish aristocrat Eleanor of Toledo married into the Tuscan Medici family at the age of 16. The union brought blue blood into the Medici clan, money into Eleanor’s family, and produced 11 children. Ill health plagued Eleanor most of her life and in 1562 she died from Malaria at about age 40.

The recovered bodice from her tomb looking like a very possible match to the dress in her portrait

The recovered bodice from her tomb looking like a very possible match to the dress in her portrait

In the 19th century her tomb was opened and body exhumed. The funereal dress she had been buried in was removed and is now kept in the Pitti Palace in Florence (the home bought by Eleanor and Cosimo Medici in 1549 that became the residence of the ruling families of Tuscany.) The sleeveless dress has metallic embroidery that seems to resemble what can be seen of the same bodice in one of her last portraits.

There is an interesting article that talks more about Eleanor of Toledo’s portraits, gowns and makes the initial supposition that the burial garment may be the one shown in her portrait.

The first book of fashion…

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Schwarz depicted with his employee Jacob Fugger on left, and in an elaborate red and yellow slashed silk outfit. A recreation of this outfit was done by a costumer and is shown in a film on the BBC link at the bottom of this blog.

In 1520, 23 year old Matthaeus Schwarz began a record of his fashionable life. He started commissioning watercolour paintings of himself wearing his latest clothes. For forty years he kept a record of his fashions while he worked as the head accountant for the wealthy merchant and banking Fugger family of Augsburg, Germany.

His well-paid position afforded Schwarz the luxury of his habit for looking good. Starting with an initial commission of 36 pictures to cover a retrospective of his early life to age 23, Schwarz would ultimately have 137 watercolour portraits done of himself, painted by three different artists. When he turned 63 he had the pages bound into a volume, but continued to have portraits done until he was 67 years old.

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The outfit on the left depicts Schwarz wearing a doublet with a remarakble 4,800 tiny snips or ‘pinks’ in the fabric, and on right in four types of mourning dress following his father’s death.

As a member of the emerging middle class Schwarz had the money to dress well but not necessarily the right to wear whatever he chose. He was bound by social conventions and sumptuary laws that forbid certain luxuries or extravagances to those not of noble birth. However, in the typical pursuit of fashion, when something is suppressed something else blossoms to excess elsewhere in the outfit, and Schwarz’ cutting-edge outfits rarely show restraint.

Schwarz married at the age of 41, and although he tried to convince his son to carry on the project, the fashionable pursuit eventually ended, leaving a legacy of the first known ongoing period account of fashion. Schwarz died at the age of 77 and the fashion book was handed down through the family for generations. The book is now kept in a small museum in Braunschweig, Germany. For more information about this remarkable document and a video of one of his pieces being recreated and worn, check out this link.