The idiom goes the clothes make the man. In the 1600s that was certainly true. Through fabric, colors, and style, a person’s position in society was announced without a word.
In this installment of What Was Worn, we are continuing with Renaissance Artemisia Gentileschi’s work of art entitled Esther Before Ahasuerus.
The last installment centered around Esther’s garments and accessories. This month will focus on Ahasuerus and his rich clothing.
What Is He Wearing: A Stylish Man
This post is all about male fashion. And Ahasuerus can only be described as fashionable. This work of art was painted c.1630. During this time, male fashion was shifting. Yet, Ahasuerus clothing reveals the timeline of this era.
Let’s start at the top of this rich outfit. On his neck is an untrimmed, crisp yet soft, white ruff of accordion pleats. It was fashionable at this time period for some to be trimmed with lace as well. He is wearing a rich, green velvet doublet with a long row of small, gold buttons. The armhole is a rolled sleeve that matches the doublet. Both the fabric and color were expensive and not easy to care for. Those big sleeves are paned, leg-of-mutton sleeves of green velvet trimmed in gold with a white silk lining. Beneath his luxurious clothing would be a linen shirt to protect the outer garments from sweat.
Ahasuerus’ bottoms certainly catch the eye. He is wearing trunk hose, which are padded hose with strips of fabric or panes as they are called over a full, inner layer or lining that reach mid-thigh. The trunk hose are fastened to the doublet by ties or points (short laces or ribbons pulled through matching sets of worked eyelets) . These points are not seen in the painting. At the era, men were also wearing breeches but not our man.
Seventeenth Century Bling: The Finer Touches
The accessories of Ahasuerus clothing are minimal. He isn’t wearing jewelry but he isn’t without finishing touches. First off is his hat. A matching, green velvet hat that flops. It’s reminiscent of a beret but larger. Men had been wearing a variation of this style since the sixteenth century. Two large feathers–a gold one and a white one–that flutter to the right side. He also seems to be wearing a diadem upon that hat. The golden pyramid appearing from the fullness of the hat.
The next accessory is his wine-hued scarf trimmed in gold embroidery with green details. It seems to be a wrap around scarf and from the draping of the garment it is a satin made of silk. A fancy item that still works in this day and age.
Next on our fashionable man is the bottom half of his outfit. Those boots. When I took notice of them, I couldn’t stop thinking of Nancy Sinatra’s song, These Boots Are Made For Walking. The soft, white leather boots are calf-height with a small heel and trimmed with black, short hair fur. Perhaps, mink, squirrel and trimmed with a gold and ruby brooch in the center.
The last item are white stockings. Even in this day and age, it is a trial to keep whites bright and clean. So in the seventeenth century such a task was even harder and only the rich wore such a color. I feel for the poor laundry maid who cared for those things. Those stocking are probably constructed like modern day leggings so they are pulled up with pants and tied so they remained smooth and upright.
During my education, I took many Art History classes. I learned about the old masters—Dutch, English, Spanish, and Italian. Yet, I never learned about my favorite artist. Artemisia Gentileschi.
I first learned about this female baroque Italian artist from a historical fiction novel entitled, The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland. After reading this book, I had to learn more about this woman and her art. That is why the next two months Historical Costume posts center on this grand dame
Artemisia Lomi Gentileschi was born on July 8, 1593 in Rome. She was the eldest child of Prudenzia di Ottaviano Montoni and Tuscan painter, Orazio Gentileschi. In 1605, her mother died and she began painting in her father’s workshop. In those times, an artist learned by apprenticing with an artist. Artemisia showed talent and love for art that her siblings lacked. There she learned drawing, how to mix color, and how to paint.
By her later teenage years, she showed great talent and her father proclaimed she had no peer.
She took after her father’s style which was inspired by Caravaggio. Yet, this great talent had a style of her own. She was highly naturalistic.
In 1611, her father was working with Agostino Tassi to decorate the vaults of Casino delle Muse located inside the Palazzo Pallavicini-Rospigliosi in Rome. In May of that year, Tassi visited the household where he raped Artemisia. In those days, a rape survivor had to marry her rapist to restore (I write that with a sneer, snort, and great derision) her reputation and secure her reputation. Her father pressed charges against Tassi but not for the rape but his failure to marry Artemisia.
The trial lasted seven months. During the trial, Artemisia was tortured to discover if she was lying. Thumbscrews were used on her hands, which could have destroyed her artist life. During the torture, it is recorded that she cried out repeatedly, “It’s true. It’s true.”
Tassi was found guilty and banished from Rome, a sentence that was never carried out thanks to the pope who wanted him to stay so he could continue creating art for him.
During this time, her father was trying to save his daughter from ruin. He wrote to the Grand Duchess of Tuscany pleading for her to intervene in the trial. He also found a husband for his daughter.
On November 29, 1612, Artemisia married a Florentine named Pierantonio di Vincenzo Stiattesi in Rome. Soon after her marriage, she and her husband departed for Florence where with the Grand Duchess’s—Christina of Lorraine— support she found a place in the Medici court and thrived as a court painter. In 1613, on September 21, Artemisia gave birth to her first child, a son named Giovanni Battista. During her seven years in Florence, Artemisia produced great works of art that I encourage you to seek out as well as three more children. On November 9, 1615, she gave birth to her second son Cristofano and on August 2, 1617, her daughter, Prudenza, was born and October 13, 1618, her last child, Lisabella, made her appearance. Sadly, Lisabella died less than a year later.
Artemisia continued to create art and sold to the great collectors of the time period throughout Europe. And her works brought much recognition. Artemisia was the first woman to be accepted in the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno on July 19, 1616.
Yet, she did not remain in Florence. In 1621, Artemisia and her family returned to Rome where she continued to paint. In 1623, her husband leaves and she lost all contact with the man.
Her works were so in demand that she traveled to Venice, Naples and even joined her father in England and Charles I’s court. She departed England as the English Civil War began. She continued to paint even to an old age. It is believed she died around 1656.
This month’s work of art is entitled Esther Before Ahasuerus. For this month’s Historical Costume post, I will be focusing on the female named Esther or the Queen’s outfit. Next month, I will be breaking down the king’s garments.
Esther Before Ahasuerus is dated to 1630 and the garments confirm that date. The style of the sixteenth century changed at this time from the decades before this time.
Esther’s garment is soft and shimmering satins (made of silk) of the luxurious golden yellow or a bright mustard yellow. The robin’s blue egg sash is of the same material and reflects the light on our fainting figure. The upper half of the sleeves, which are called Virago Sleeves are the same yellow satin of the dress. The lower half of the sleeves are damask and embroidered with gold flower and leaf pattern. Lace peeks out at the end of the sleeves and along the bodice. She’s donned a bejeweled belt and with a jeweled- brooches pinned at the virago sleeve.
Beneath this striking gown, Esther must be wearing a chemise made of linen and corset that is shorter than the bodice, that are a looser design than the style of the previous decade’s stiff style that ended lower on the waist. The gown’s natural bodice is high waisted and styled with a jeweled belt. The undergarments that gave the previous decades that wide-hipped, stiff look has vanished. The soft and natural look is all the rage. Yet, women are donning a padded roll or the French Farthingale so the skirt, now closed all around, has a rounded, soft shape that falls at folds to the ground. According to my research, the garment called an unfitted gown. An unfitted gown’s silhouette is loose and with long hanging sleeves, which brush against the floor. (Bottom left of the painting). The bodice has a low square neckline with white lace trim.
Naturally, the rest of the look changed. Esther’s hair is curled and wavy hair in a style and most likely, uncovered as was fashionable during this era. She wears a gold crown with spikes.
I encourage you to research the tale behind Esther Before Ahasuerus to learn the story behind this great work of art.
In May 1499, months after the birth of the Tudor’s sixth child, Prince Arthur married by proxy Katherine of Aragon, Infanta to King and Queen of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella. Henry, now, had his connection to the powerful Spanish nation. Katherine would arrive in England when she reached fourteen in December along with ladies who were beautiful in order to make “English” connections.
Those connections were endangered with the arrival of another pretender appeared on the scene and though, Henry took care of him quickly, the Spanish King and Queen’s faith on Henry’s hold on the English throne. Especially since there was a very true threat to Henry’s crown, that threat was the Earl of Warwick.
Henry had to rid himself of the claimant to the throne, one who had a better claim than Henry since he was the son of the Duke of Clarence (brother to Edward IV and uncle to Elizabeth of York). Alison Weir writes in Elizabeth of York, “the likelihood is that Ferdinand warned Henry VII that while Warwick lived, the Infanta would not be coming to England.”
How was Henry to accomplish this when Warwick committed no crime and was locked up in the Tower of London? But Henry needed the Spanish alliance and wasn’t the king the law? He just had to find a way.
Robert Cleymound met with Lord Warwick in his cell and plotted to “fire and seize the Tower, thus facilitating his escape to Flanders, whence he would make war upon Henry VII.” Then contact was made with Warbeck who was locked in the Tower and just below Warwick’s own cell. The plot was that Warbeck and Warwick would escape from the tower and Warbeck was told that Warwick would make him king whereas Warwick was told he would be king. But Cleymound claimed Warbeck informed the king of the plot.
Warwick was tried on November 19 in Westminster Hall. He plead guilty perhaps because he did not understand since he was considered simple-minded (as his contemporaries called him). He was sentenced to a traitor’s death.
On November 29, Warwick was beheaded on Tower Hill. He was twenty-four years old. He was buried in Bisham Priory beside his grandfather, Warwick the Kingmaker. Years later, Katherine was said to say, that her marriage to Prince Arthur had been made in blood.
After the executions, Henry fell ill and recovered by the middle of December. That same year, the plague so to over the pandemic the King and Queen traveled to Calais. This was the first and last time Elizabeth had traveled abroad. While in English-held territory in France, Elizabeth and Henry met with the Archduke Phillip and his Archduchess Juana of Castile, sister to Katherine of Aragon. Forty days after departing England, Elizabeth and Henry returned to the realm.
Upon the arrival at Greenwich, they received distressing news. Prince Andrew’s health was a concern yet the worse was the death of their infant son Prince Edmund at fifteen months. The baby prince was given a state funeral, provisions which Henry VII had laid down.
During this time, Katherine departed Spain. She arrived in England on October 2, 1501. Prince Arthur and the King traveled to with the future Queen of England.
Preparations for the marriage began. On November 9, Katherine met Prince Henry. Then on the 12th, Katherine entered the city of London to bells ringing, banners fluttering about and crowded streets where music played and wine ran free. The next day, Elizabeth met her future daughter-in-law. “During her audience, she and Elizabeth both spoke in Latin, and they enjoyed ‘pleasant and goodly communication, dancing, and disports. Thus, with honor and mirth, this Saturday was expired and done,’ and it was late when Katherine departed for Lambeth Palace to make ready for her wedding day.”
On November 14, 1501, Arthur and Katherine were married in St. Paul’s Cathedral. Their wedding night would play an importance years later when Henry VIII sought a divorce.
The young royal couple departed for Ludlow Castle on December 21, 1501. That royal marriage wasn’t the only one being arranged. In January 1502, Henry arranged a treaty of marriage with James IV of Scotland. His daughter, Margaret would become Queen of Scots but would not travel across the border until September 1503.
The good cheer of the wedding wouldn’t last. In February, Prince Arthur sickened. And another threat reared up. Henry dealt with the menace but the King’s power meant nothing with his son’s health. Prayers were said, pilgrimage was made by two priests Elizabeth hired, and offers were given to the church.
Arthur’s health improved enough that he was well enough to wash the feet of fifteen men on Maundy Thursday on March 24.
Four days into April, the worse happened. Arthur, Prince of Wales and future King, died. The fifteen-year-old was buried at Worcester and not Westminster Abbey. According to Weir, it has been suggested that Arthur died of something contagious since his body had to be buried as swiftly as possible.
Alison Weir says of forty-five-year-old Henry’s reaction, “‘When the King understood these sorrowful, heavy tidings, he sent for the Queen, saying that he and his wife would take their powerful sorrow together.’ Thus it was the Elizabeth heard the shattering news every parent dreads to hear, that her child was dead in the flower of his youth.”
Elizabeth reacted as any mother would. She collapsed. Henry rushed to her and comforted her. Her son’s death impacted her health. There are reports of the Queen’s health taking a turn for the worse.
Katherine, widow of Arthur afterward stayed with the King and Queen then went on to reside at Croydon Palace. The young Prince Henry Tudor was now being groomed as the heir to the English and Irish throne. But that’s another story.
Dressed in her mourning attire that Henry set down in his ordinances, the royal couple decided they were still capable of bearing more children. Elizabeth and Henry had always lived together. She accompanied him on his journeys yet on 1502 Elizabeth departed from Windsor and Henry’s side. By the end of September, Henry reunited with his wife.
Royal duties resumed but Elizabeth was with child again. She wasn’t due until February and preparations being made for her confinement.
Elizabeth, meanwhile, celebrated the Christmas season. Meanwhile, Henry was consumed with the construction of the new Lady Chapel. In January 1503, Elizabeth came by river to Westminster to reunite with the King. They, then, traveled onto the Tower.
On February 2, 1503, Elizabeth was still at the Tower (her father’s favorite residence) when the baby arrived ten days early. After the difficult birth, the daughter was christened Katherine on the Saturday after her birth at the parish church of the Tower.
That same time, Elizabeth fell ill. She worsened swiftly. The king sent a man for the physician and paid a boatman to wait for the doctor along with horses and guides to get him to the queen’s side through the dark night.
Elizabeth of York–the Bloom of the House of York–died in the early morning of Saturday, February 11. Her thirty-seventh birthday. Henry was at her side along with priests for last rites and her attendants and servants.
Henry was heartbroken. He traveled to Richmond to mourn his wife alone. For six weeks he was so low with grief that he sickened and was said near death. Tradition decreed that he would not attend her funeral. He ordered a new velvet cloth of estate of blue, the color of royal mourning. Books were bound in this fabric and mourning attire in black and blue. He slowly came out of mourning ten months later. He also abandoned the Tower, which led to the decline as a royal residence. Future royals only stay there for their coronations as tradition had set.
In London, six-hundred and six masses were offered by the king and fifty-six pounds of wax candles burned at Walsingham for the monks while they prayed for her.
Henry now the lone king became even more of a miser than he was before along with being suspicious and harsh since Elizabeth’s influence was now absent. He never married again.
Henry VII died on April 21, 1509 at Richmond Palace of tuberculosis.
Yet the blood of Elizabeth flowed through Stuart monarchs, Hanoverians monarch and the House of Windsor and her namesake, Queen Elizabeth II, her sixteenth generation descendant.