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…


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.


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.

On a Pedestal – Renaissance Chopines to Baroque Heels – Exhibition Review

(Originally blogged December 9, 2009)

Xray of a chopine showing spikes used to strengthen and attach the two blocks of wood used in its construction. Photograph copyright 2009 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston / X-ray courtesy of Joel Thompson, Associated Textile Conservator and Richard Newman, Research Scientist

I love it when I find preeminent exhibitions. The Met’s Poiret exhibition in 2007 and the Yves St. Laurent retrospective in Montreal in 2008 were both superlative shows that could not have been better.

The Bata Shoe Museum now joins this prestigious circle with its newest exhibition On A Pedestal: From Renaissance Chopines to Baroque Heels. This is the best assemblage of Renaissance and Baroque footwear ever seen – in fact I think about a half of all extant Chopines are in this display. The exhibition is small (these are shoes we are talking about, and even if they are upwards of a metre tall they are still usually not more than a size 4), but the privilege to see these all gathered into one gallery is memorable.

It is a miracle that the twenty or so examples of Chopines (some pairs, some singles) survived at all considering the oldest complete dress dates only from 1640, at the end of the Chopine’s height of popularity which had begun over a century before – fifty years before the rise of the heel. It is the story of the heel that makes up the second part of the exhibition. The origin of the heel is traced from Middle Eastern horseback riding (the heel kept the shoe in place in the stirrup) to Baroque Northern European high-street fashions. Most amazing and amusing are the cross-over styles that use both platforms and high heels and look surprisingly familiar (yes Nicholas Kirkwood I am looking at you.)

Cover of the Exhibition catalogue ‘On a Pedestal’, by Elizabeth Semmelhack, curator, Bata Shoe Museum

There is an excellent catalogue to accompany the exhibition, available in the museum’s gift shop, that traces the history of the platform and the heel back to ancient times and foreign lands. This is a wise purchase as my only complaint about the exhibition is the usual unavoidable problem of trying to read text in a dimly lit gallery, but the shoes are five hundred years old and I am not yet fifty, so they need more care than I do…

I highly recommend making the trip if you can because the shoes in this exhibition come from museums around the world (from Boston to Venice to Stockholm) and they don’t normally travel because of their age and rarity. One of the examples on display is at the museum only because the funds were donated to conserve it before being sent to the Bata Shoe Museum. On A Pedestal runs until September 20, 2010, so you have plenty of time to make plans for the pilgrimage!