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 (Bora).

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

The woman in the portrait by Bernardino Campi wears a pale blue gown with a wide, boxy neckline. The center front of the bodice is filled by a white triangular piece with appplied foliate decoration in blue and gold. Her white undersleeves have the same decorative pattern as well as regular diagonal slashes applied. At the square edge of the bodice, a bit of her chemise is visible, which has gold and blackwork embroidery ornamenting it. The blue, short-sleeved bodice has a square pattern produced on it by an overlay of delicate gold lace. She wears pearl pendant earrings and a gold necklace with delicate pendant pearls as well.

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 to fill  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 center front of the bodice. The golden girdle below the bodice and attached fan handle are almost identical as well. This chain was not always necessary in women’s dress, as it explains 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 an almost sheer, delicate lace.

The woman in Campi’s portrait holds an ornate golden fan handle, featuring feathers with a stripe-like pattern in blue, red and white. A similar striped fan (though pink and white) appears 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. 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. 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” (216).

Another portrait of a woman by Zucchi from the 1560s (Fig. 3) features the same type of garment being worn again, though this time in red velvet. Although the colors differ, both feature extremely similar details, with squared necklines, and applied decoration on the bodice in a linear strip, as well as a jeweled golden girdle at the waist.

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. The long narrow sleeves, pointed bodice, full flowing skirts, and stripe decoration extending vertically down the center front echo the dress in the portrait by Campi almost identically.

Sofonisba Anguissola painted a different unknown noblewoman around the same time (Fig. 5) and while her dress now featured the very fashionable ruff rather than the ruffled partlet in Campi’s portrait, the applied colorful foliate stripe decoration is quite similar. Both stand in front of a silky green background.  As this fashion-forward portrait suggests, Campi’s noblewoman is wearing slightly older fashions that remained popular in Italy, but did not fully reflect the doublet styling and prominent ruffs typical by the mid-1560s.

Portrait of a Woman

Fig. 1 - Jacopo Zucchi (Italian - Florentine, c. 1540-1596). Portrait of a Woman, ca. 1560/65. Oil on wood; 97.8 x 76.2 cm (38 1/2 x 30 in). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 32.100.66. The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Portrait of Isotta Brembati

Fig. 2 - Giovanni Battista Moroni (Italian, 1525-1578). Portrait of Isotta Brembati, ca. 1555. Oil on canvas; 160 x 115 cm (63 x 45 3/10 in). London: The Royal Academy of Arts. Fondazione Museo di Palazzo Moroni - Lucretia Moroni Collection, Bergamo. Source: The Royal Academy of Arts

Portrait of a Lady

Fig. 3 - Jacopo Zucchi (Italian, 1540-1596). Portrait of a Lady, ca. 1560. Oil on canvas; 48 x 37.75 cm (18.9 x 14.9 in). Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art, C10015. Courtesy of The Clowes Fund. Source: Wikimedia

Red dress of Pisa

Fig. 4 - Designer unknown. Red dress of Pisa, ca. 1560. Red velvet with gold couched trim. Pisa: Museo di Palazzo Reale. Source: Pinterest

Unknown noblewoman

Fig. 5 - Sofonisba Anguissola (Italian, 1530-1626). Unknown noblewoman, ca. 1560-65. Oil on canvas. Private Collection. Source: Grand Ladies

Diagram of referenced dress features. Image: Author.

Its Legacy

While 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. 

Fall 2013 Couture, Vogue

Fig. 5 - Valentino. Fall 2013 Couture, Vogue, September 2013. Paris. Model: Ondria Hardin. Source: Vogue

Fall 2013 Ready-to-wear, Vogue

Fig. 6 - Alexander McQueen. Fall 2013 Ready-to-wear, Vogue, Fall 2013. Paris. Model: Karlie Kloss. Source: Vogue