Summer 2008

Chronicling the recreation of a gown from the tapestry La Vie Seigneuriale


In the mid 1800s, a series of six related tapestries depicting the nobility in everyday pursuits was discovered in a French chateau. Subsequent studies have dated the series, now called “La Tenture de la vie Seigneuriale” (scenes from lordly life), to the early 16th Century, approximately 1500-1520. This figure is from the tapestry known as “La Promenade” (the walk). A full view of the panel can be seen below:

The tapestries fall into the style known as millefleurs (thousands of flowers) for their highly decorated floral backgrounds. They were most likely woven in Flanders (now part of France), a center for tapestry manufacture in the era. The figures present an interesting view of transitional fashion, between the styles of the late Middle Ages and the high Renaissance. Some of the figures wear clothing reminiscent of earlier, medieval tastes, while some are wearing more modern, fashion-forward styles that would evolve into the clothing popular at the English Tudor court in mid-century. And our young lady in black and red, there, is dressed in an unusual mix of Italianate and pre-Tudor styles.

This is proving to be a bit of a challenge, in terms of recreating her clothing, as it’s difficult to know precisely what some of the pieces are. For instance, is that a partlet at her neckline, a string of beads, a jewel-necked chemise, or some combination thereof? What is that band of pleated white above the neckline of the gown?

At this point, my ability to recreate the gown with complete historical accuracy is limited not only by the above-mentioned mysteries, but, more significantly, by my sewing skills. When deciding how to copy a particular component, I will be guided not only by research, but also by what I am capable of producing. I will endeavor, however, to create something that looks as close as possible, in terms of silhouette and general impression, to the picture.