Campi’s portrait of an unknown woman exemplifies 1560s Italian fashion with its squared neckline, filled in with a sheer partlet, and its pointed bodice with decoration applied at the edges and down the center.
About the Portrait
ernardino Campi was an Italian Renaissance painter born in Cremona in 1522, but he was of no relation to the Campi family of artists from that same city. His last documented paintings are the frescoes in the choir of S. Prospero in Reggia Emilia, where he passed away in 1591 (Bora).
Campi’s fame boomed in the 1550s, when he moved to Milan and went on to paint several paintings for the nobility, now lost (Bora). This portrait was painted in the late 1560s, at time when he also produced a few altarpieces for Milanese churches with Carlo Urbino, some still surviving today, as well as the Crucifixion in Scuola dei Genovesi, Milan (Bora).
The sitter in this painting is unknown. She looks as if she is in her late twenties to thirties. This woman could also be assumed to be of wealthy status, as she wears this elegant garment and holds a delicate, ornate fan. The woman may also be of higher class, as Campi is known to have begun painting the nobility beginning in the 1550s.
Bernardino Campi (Italian, 1522-1591). Portrait of a Woman, late 1560s. Oil on canvas; 141.3 x 97.2 cm (55 5/8 x 38 1/4 in). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1963. 63.43.1. Gift of Eden Neuman de Végvár, in honor of her husband, Charles Neuman de Végvár. Source: The Met
About the Fashion
he woman in the portrait by Bernardino Campi wears a gown with a wide, boxy neckline. Women’s dress in the 16th century was inspired by Spanish farthingales (Squire 65), which often featured conical shaped bodices and flowing skirts that were more full and long. She inserted a partlet underneath the square neckline area, which was a very popular style for the time.
Jacopo Zucchi, a Florentine Mannerist painter, also painted a woman (Fig. 1) c. 1560 wearing very similar garment–a long-sleeved dress with a delicate partlet placed neatly underneath the neckline.
Both dress designs are extremely similar in shape and noticeably have a “T” shaped embroidery or decorative motif along the front chest area of the bodice. The silk cording or ribbon below the bodice and attached fan handle are almost identical as well. This cord was not always necessary in women’s dress, as it states in the Handbook of English Costume in the Sixteenth Century:
“A Girdle was usual, though not essential. It was narrow, and consisted of a silken cord, a band of ribbon or a chain of goldsmith’s work, lined with material. It followed the waistline, curving down to the point in front, whence one end hung vertically to a short distance from the hem of the skirt, and frequently terminated with an attached pomander” (Cunnington 155).
This dress itself is most likely made of some sort of luxurious fabric, like maybe an embroidered velvet textile or a brocaded silk of some sort. By the technique in which it is painted, the lower portion of this look is probably a silk material. The partlet is very likely made of a delicate lace.
The woman in Campi’s portrait holds an ornate and dainty fan, featuring a stripe-like pattern. A similar fan is found in the portrait of Isotta Brembati (Fig. 2) painted by Giovanni Battista Moroni in 1555.
At this time, ideal physical beauty was to actually look a bit bigger, or in today’s terms, ‘curvier.’ “Bum-rolls” were attached and worn underneath skirts, sometimes with layers of skirts, to give the illusion of a larger backside for women. In this portrait, the woman is fairly of the ideal beauty, as she is wearing a form fitting bodice, compressing the breasts down, and wearing a more flowing skirt or gown below, giving off the look of a larger rear area. As fashion historian Phyllis Tortora explains:
“The overall silhouette was rather like an hour-glass. Bodices narrowed to a small waistline. Skirts gradually expanded to an inverted cone shape with an inverted V opening at the front” (216).
Another portrait of a woman by Zucchi from the 1560s (Fig. 3) indicates the same type of garment being worn again. Although the colors differ, both feature extremely similar details, as Tortora explains:
“Skirts became more rigid. Many dresses were untrained and floor length. Although the petticoat was separate from the dress, its visibility through the inverted V at the front of the skirt made it an integral part of the ensemble. Petticoats were usually cut from rich, decorative fabric (often brocade or cut velvet). The back of the petticoat was covered by the skirt of the dress, which made it possible to make the front of the petticoat of expensive fabric, and the invisible back of lighter weight, less-expensive fabric” (217).
A surviving dress (Fig. 4) well represents women’s garments of the 1560s, showing the heavy, yet beautiful textiles worn to achieve the desired look and to appear wealthy and shapely. The long sleeves and embroidered details echo the dress in the portrait by Campi almost identically, even though the color of the garment differs.
hile designers today may not necessarily be inspired directly by Bernardino Campi’s Portrait of a Woman, there are modern and contemporary fashion designs seen on the runway now that have been influenced by the fashion of the late 16th century and the Italian Renaissance.
The partlet-inspired look was prevalent in the Fall 2013 collections of both Valentino (Fig. 5) and Alexander McQueen (Fig. 6), which featured a sheer, exposed square neckline–a popular style for in the 16th century.
- Bora, Giulio. “Campi, Bernardino.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed November 18, 2016, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T013524 (subscription required).
- Cunnington, C. Willett, and Phillis Cunnington. Handbook of English Costume in the Sixteenth Century. London: Faber and Faber, 1954. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/362761.
- “Portrait of a Woman.” Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed November 18, 2016. http://metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/435835
- Squire, Geoffrey. Dress and Society, 1560-1970. New York: Viking Press, 1974. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/990496156.
- Tortora, Phyllis G., and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume: A History of Western Dress. 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Publications, 2010. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/920927653.