German (Cranach) garb – theories

In my previous post, Short-notice German garb, I showed a number of paintings that were helping me decide on what direction I wanted to pursue for a future German outfit. I decided between the Cranach-style (Saxon gown) and the Landsknecht-style… deciding that I wanted to try the Cranach style instead.

From there I had a few thoughts about construction – namely wondering how the bodice attaches (if at all) to the skirt, and how the main bodice attaches (if at all) to the bust and stomach covering. I also wanted to clarify best-practices for how the skirt might be pleated.

I started off with Pinterest and blogs…

Skirt pleating theories

I started off with zanabizarre’s blog, Truth is Stranger than Fashion. In one post, they explore the difference between the portraits showing the rolling folds, and the only extant gown from nearly the right period, which is a circle-skirt, and not gathered at the waist at all. This is similar to some of the portraits I saw, which appeared to have smooth fronts at least, with some perhaps additional fullness at the back. They ultimately chose to do rolled pleats to get the effect. (Unfortunately the blog doesn’t show the finished product yet.)

Books n’ Threads also used rolled pleats.

Direct link from Pinterest - Salome by Caravaggio

Direct link from Pinterest – Salome by Caravaggio

This painting of Salome, is almost certainly knife pleats however. This is the “Cranach gown” – but a painting by a different artist (One google search suggests Caravaggio – Italian, 1571 – 1610 – but I don’t think that’s correct, and can’t find it using reverse search otherwise) instead… (larger version here)

In reading a few different blogs about the skirt pleating,  there is some suspicion that the “rolled” pleats that appear in Cranach’s paintings may be a unique aspect of his style, rather than an actual depiction of how the skirts fell.


How the bodice attaches to the skirt

Books n’ Threads made a panel from the main bodice to close at centre front, with the white and gold part that will go somehow over this. Not sure how this is going to work.. and she doesn’t illustrate – but since this means at the waist the bodice goes all the way around, it attaches to the skirt here.

Tarlwen appears to have made her bodice and skirt as two separate pieces, though since the main fabric is black, it’s difficult to see how the layers sit.

One of the two 'The suicide of Lucretia

One of the two ‘The suicide of Lucretia”‘s Genoveva examined – direct link from Pinterest

Genoveva shows two paintings of Suicide of Lucretia, and suggests that the white bodice part appears to be attached to the skirt in both images. In another post, she also writes

“The Saxon court gown is also one of the more complicated German styles to create, as its construction is somewhat of a mystery with no surviving garments in existence. We have only paintings, drawings, physics, and our own common sense to guide us in recreating this style.”

Tina Vadász-Hain writes that in her creation “The skirt is sewn to the placard. And both opens on the left hand side.”

Another painting

Direct link from Pinterest - LUCAS CRANACH (1472 - 1553) - The suicide of Lucretia.

Direct link from Pinterest – LUCAS CRANACH (1472 – 1553) – The suicide of Lucretia.

I also looked at some painting for this.. This is one of the paintings that Genoveva looked at, another painting of “The suicide of Lucretia”. Looking at the both of the paintings, I can see how the white part of the bodice might be attached to the skirt, but I don’t think that is definite. It could also be tucked in, or in some other way held in place.

However… in looking at these two images, I noticed something about the skirt – while the shoulders of the bodice have fallen down – the skirt does NOT seem to have slipped at all… Think if you had a shirtwaist dress, opened the front, and let the shoulders fall off – the waist of the dress would ALSO fall down. Now, if the modern dress had an elastic waist band.. it wouldn’t… or if the outfit was a top and a skirt… In the second painting, the sides of the bodice definitely seem ‘open’ – which would definitely affect the skirt if it were attached.

In this second Lucretia painting, the black laces are visible hanging loose under the folded-down flap (the plastron) as well as from the side under her arm.

Direct link from The Semptress. Used without permission for research

Direct link from The Semptress. Used without permission for research

Blogger the Sempstress writes that her creation has an overdress where the skirt and bodice are sewn together at the back (from side  seam to side seam) but that the two articles are separate at the front. She writes that the skirt can be fastened (I’m assuming here that there’s a waistband and opening at the front, or side-front) and then the bodice can be fastened. This method would account for the skirt in the portraits above hanging normally even though the bodice is open.


How the bodice attaches to the bust/stomach covering

Tarlwen's bodice - direct link from Pinterest

Tarlwen’s bodice – direct link from Pinterest

Tarlwen appears to use hooks on the main bodice, which hook into hand-sewn eyelets on the white part. The main bodice then also has additional loops that the lacing goes through over the white.

Sylvie has her white part permanently attached to one side of the bodice, and laced on the other side under a flap of the main bodice fabric. I can’t see how the front lacing fits into this, nor how the gold part fits in. Theoretically, since the white part is attached permanently to the main bodice on one side, the skirt could open here too.

Genoveva names the “bust/stomach” thing a plastron, and a brustfleck. She notes that the bottom part is usually white, but not always, and that there is a decorative band at the top. (The gold part).    She examined a number of paintings, and decided that the brustfleck is either sewn into the sides of the bodice, pinned, or hooked. She states that the white material is a separate piece – not an undergarment (kirtle, chemise, etc), and that it might be attached to the decorative band, or perhaps not. Despite the lack of wrinkles in depictions of court gowns, she doesn’t think any boning was used, but rather canvas or buckram to stiffen this plastron. I would consider that depictions of court gowns probably wouldn’t include undesirable wrinkles anyways… even if they were there in reality.

Direct link from Pinterest

Direct link from Pinterest

This painting shows the neckline style that I’m not going to do – the one with the high collar… BUT because the collar clearly opens from the front neckline… it MUST go OVER the brustfleck – rather than be a one-piece bodice. The red “lapel” (not really a lapel… but whatever) is actually folding back over the gold area, so it’s clearly a separate piece.

Blogger The Semptress writes about her creation that the bustfleck laces into the main part of the bodice with internal lacing strips. The visible laces over the stomach aren’t stress bearing.

Skirt shape

If the skirt is pleated into the waist, then a large rectangle would make sense – and it would make adding on the bands of contrasting fabric very easy – they could just be long strips.

However, if the shape of the skirt pieces are wedges or semi-circles, the bands would be much more difficult to apply, and would almost certainly need to be on the bias.

Direct link from Pinterest

Direct link from Pinterest

Genoveva shares her pattern (direct link from Pinterest, not her blog) showing a rectangle for the skirt.


I also looked at the information about Reconstructing History’s Saxon (Cranach) gowns pattern – however the information alone didn’t address any of my questions. “Another Place, Another Time Costuming” used this pattern to make a version – though the photos alone don’t give a lot of answers to my questions. I did not that it looks like she used heavy gathers, and I don’t really love the ultimate effect as I imagine it would translate to my figure.

Argent Kraken also used the Reconstructing History pattern and shows some of her process and results.





One comment on “German (Cranach) garb – theories

  1. […] German (Cranach) garb – theories […]

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