Lady Jane Grey

Lady Jane Grey, c. 1545
Attributed to Master John
National Portrait Gallery, London

In the elongation of the torso, the very smooth line of the skirt and the narrowness of the arms, as well as the exceedingly pale skin and small features, you can see the fashionable "ideal" towards which English women strove.

This picture is a splendid example of the classic late-Tudor silhouette, namely a smaller inverted triangle over the larger triangle formed by the skirt. This triangular shape was achieved with the recently imported Spanish farthingale, an essential item of dress for all fashionable court ladies of the time. The overdress, or gown, has the wide neckline and sleeves of the preceding 1530s dress, but the front bodice has developed a distinct V shape echoed by other portraits of the time. The skirt is heavily pleated at the waistline and arches out at the waist. There is also an underskirt visible beneath the v-shaped opening in front. These bell-shaped undersleeves and the underskirt started out as an actual dress beneath the gown, called the kirtle, but as the century progressed they became detatched--the undersleeves were sewn into the large, bell shaped oversleeves, whilst the underskirt became a separate forepart--a richly decorated triangular piece of fabric sewn onto the front of a plain petticoat, and worn beneath the overskirt of the gown.

The greatest difference in costume between this portrait and the preceding Portrait of Jane Seymour is the headdress. The all-encompassing, bulky gable headdress has given way to the more delicate and graceful french hood--a style which is thought to have been worn and popularized by Anne Boleyn, after her stay at the french court. Although a lady's hair was covered by the veil of the hood, it was visible at the front. This was a notable departure from previous fashion, and one which was to culminate in the elaborate curls, wigs, and hair decoration of the late 16th century.

When it first came into fashion, the french hood was considered a headdress for younger girls; more mature women tended to prefer the respectable and old-fashioned gable hood. This difference in fashion between older and younger women is wonderfully shown in the movie A Man for All Seasons, Where Thomas More's wife and daughter wear very different headdresses and gowns, and in Holbein's drawing of Thomas More's family.

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