Pre-Raphaelite paintings in detail: outfits and armour
Katya (Kateryna) Liashenko
Reenactor with 11 years of experience. Since 2008 she has been engaged in historical dances, in 2010 she created the Royal Tailor historical costume studio.
has been engaged in historical reenactment since 2015. In 2013, he left his job in IT and began to create armour. In 2018, he retrained and became a carpenter who makes historical furnishings and household items. He founded the Woodandvil project, specializing in the recreation of antique handicrafts and furniture. He is fond of historical European duel fencing.
Why are the Pre-Raphaelite Middle Ages "not real"?Paintings by the
So, when does a study remain a mere drill, and when can we call it an artwork in its own right, full of life and having artistic value? Read more
• anachronisms: clothes, armour and furnishings are taken from different decades and even centuries;
• depicting only the most romantic, beautiful and pretentious things: that’s why the
• embellishment: for greater attractiveness, artists supplemented what they saw in historical sources with a lot of decorative elements, such as overlays, embroidery, braid, patterns, as regards outfits.
Differences in costumes and armour in different countriesThe fashion of the Middle Ages cannot be judged on the basis of the modern map of Europe: in different periods, countries, peoples, regions changed, split up and united, so there were differences in the elements of clothing, accessories, and hats. Moreover, the tone was set by climatic and territorial features, and not by formal borders between countries. These differences become more noticeable by the 15—16th centuries.
Armour could be different in different periods in different European regions, there also existed a fashion. The most noticeable difference began in the 15th century, when the European schools of armour were divided into two — the Italian and German schools.
Frederick William Burton. Hellelil and Hildebrand, the Meeting on the Turret StairsThe Meeting on the Turret Stairs painting was painted by Frederick William Burton; it was influenced by the poem of his friend, the famous celtologist Whitley Stokes. The poem, in turn, was created on the basis of an old Danish ballad. The watercolour drawing depicts the scene of the last one-on-one meeting of the legendary Scandinavian princess Hillelil and her lover, the English prince Hildebrand, who served as her bodyguard, according to the ballad, and later he became her lover and died in battle with her father and brothers.
The Hellelil’s dress is lined with fine fur, it is a winter version of the clothing. Whether fabrics of such a deep blue could have existed is impossible to say for sure, because the originals of clothing have not survived, and the colours on medieval pictorial sources changed over time. In addition, different pigments were used to paint the canvas and create paintings. Concerning the hairstyle, in general, braids at that time were the most common way of styling hair. All the little things drawn in the picture are the vision of the artist.
On the helmet, we see a bronze nosepiece, which was characteristic of the jarls (nobility) or simply rich warriors. In general, this is not a mistake: the author most likely wanted to show a fairly simple attire, but with high-quality decorative elements. Although it was more logical to depict a simpler version, something similar to a helmet from Gjörmundby.
Concerning the sword: its hilt, embossed leather and repeating patterns on it, rather, correspond to a later period. Moreover, we see a Romanesque type of sword, and it would be appropriate to depict a Carolingian one in the picture.
And lastly, the knight in the picture wears sharp-nosed crackows, which came into fashion later in the 14th century, and before that time round-nosed ones were popular.
John William Waterhouse. Tristan and Isolde with PotionThe Tristan and Isolde with Potion painting is based on the legend of unhappy love, popular in the Middle Ages, a story that came to Europe in a Celtic design. According to the plot, Isolde was supposed to marry King Mark, a feudal lord to whom Tristan was subordinate, but on their way to his domain, the young man and woman accidentally drink a magic potion and fall in love with each other. This very moment is captured on the canvas by Waterhouse.
On Isolde’s head, there is a veil, however, it should be attached to braided hair, a fabric strip or a cap.
John William Waterhouse. I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, Said the Lady of ShalottThe title of the Waterhouse’s work quotes a line from Alfred Tennyson’s poem, "The Lady of Shallot". The creation of this work by Tennyson was inspired by a legend from the Arthurian cycle, however it has been reworked and acquired a new meaning: the new emphasis was shifted to the forced imprisonment of a beautiful girl in a castle, at that she even cannot look out from the window because of the mysterious spells imposed on her. All her life she only watched the world through the mirror standing next to her, but one day she could not stand it and looked out the window at Lancelot galloping past, which led to her death. Waterhouse referred to different points from the poem three times.
A round mirror hangs behind the lady, but in the Middle Ages, such large mirrors did not exist yet, moreover, they were normally convex.
There are oil lamps hanging at the top — I personally am very interested in their availability and use in Europe in the 14—15th centuries, because it is convenient for reenactments. However, although there were oil lamps at that time, they looked completely different, not like the oriental "Aladdin's lamps" depicted on the canvas.
John William Waterhouse. A Tale from the DecameronThe Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio was and remains one of the most famous works of the
However the young ladies wear totally fancy dresses, the dress of the girl on the right looks a bit like the most simple Italian one, but only because of the slits. It is also difficult to find some similarities in hairstyles, although hats in 15th century Italy were not required, they were considered more of a fashionable adornment; ladies mostly weaved complex patterns of their braids, and laid them under hats, turbans or nets.
Edmund Blair Leighton. The AccoladeAccolade is the knighting process, which is captured on Leighton’s painting of the same name. There are still debates about the events, which formed the basis of the picture. One of the most beautiful versions says that The Accolade depicts the knighthood of Lancelot by Queen Guinevere.
The military cotte is worn on top of the armour — according to legend, it first appeared during the crusades to the Orient, during which the soldiers had to endure the heat, and they began to put long dyed cloths over the chain mail.
But the helmet is completely out of place here. It is an Italian barbute, it belongs to the 15th century. In fact, such helmets were still characteristic of Ancient Rome, but in the 15th century they were "reincarnated" by Italian masters, and began to be made of steel, not bronze.
The traditional women’s outfit of the Middle Ages was as follows: a chainse, on top of which one or two "bliaud" dresses were worn (depending on the occasion, the status of the lady, the season), and a cloak on top. Here, the heroine’s clothes look like bliaud with wide sleeves, but in that era, there was no such cut, fit, puffed sleeves, such a neckline. Bliaud was a very primitive garment made of squares and rectangles. For sure, bliaud could not be white or with such a decoration.
An essential point: the lady is depicted with her hair loose, while in the Middle Ages, a girl with an uncovered head, and even more so with loose hair, was either a saint or a libertine.
Edmund Blair Leighton. DefeatedThe subject of this picture is simple and clear: a young knight who has failed in battle leaves the battlefield at a knightly tournament. The winner and the jubilant crowd are left behind, but the main subject is clearly separated by a shadow from their sunlit world, he is frustrated and detached from everything that happens.
The page’s dress is appropriate for the era and is not at all poor. The only thing that bothers me is that he is holding a sword, which he took with his bare hand for some reason. This blade is the espada ropera, it is more intended for foot combat than for equestrian combat. Moreover, the knight has a spear: it is carried by a servant behind. Then why is there a sword?
In the background we see a tribune: everything is authentic, except for the size of the tents. They’re too big.
Edmund Blair Leighton. Call to ArmsIn this work, Leighton depicted a young man and a girl leaving the church after their own wedding. Just above them, we can see the parents of the young couple, gazing in horror at how the knight in full armour informs the bridegroom of the impending war and his need to join the battle. This work was the first in a series of large paintings showing different aspects of the life of the knights and their beloved ones (another one was the famous The Accolade), but the most interesting fact is that the artist collected armour and weapons and depicted objects from his own collection.
John Everett Millais. Joan of ArcIn Millais’s portrait, Joan of Arc is knelt, but holding her sword in both hands — the artist captured the moment when the Maid of Orleans hears the voices of the saints encouraging her and calling to fight against the British.
John Everett Millais. MarianaMariana is the heroine of Shakespeare’s play "Measure for Measure", who sailed to her future husband Angelo on a ship, but on her way, she got into a shipwreck, lost her dowry, and was rejected by her groom. Because of this, the girl had to lead a lonely life, spending days in longing for her lover. In the end, they still got married, but before that, Mariana spent a lot of time alone — Tennyson wrote his poem about this period of her life, and Millais accompanied his picture with his verse. His Mariana is a woman suffering from the abandonment of the world, the power of compelling circumstances and her own unspent sexual desire.
Glass windows began to spread from the end of the 14th century. Before that, instead of glasses, people used cloth, a bullish cloudy bladder or cloth. On the windows, we see stained glass, one of them depicts the knight’s coat of arms and motto. In fact, mottos were used to decorate fireplaces, furniture, and you’d never find such images on windows in medieval miniatures.
Mariana herself wears a classic cote-hardie dress, which was worn in the 14—15th centuries in Europe.
John Everett Millais. The RansomIn The Ransom, we see an agitated father giving jewellery to certain men in exchange for his daughters. We do not know the details of what is happening, however, based on the plot of the tapestry hanging behind the characters, it is suggested that the father did not watch his children properly, and they got kidnapped.
John Everett Millais. IsabellaThe painting is inspired by John Keats' Isabella and the Pot of Basil based on the novella from The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio. Its main character is a girl named Isabella, whose evil brothers killed her beloved Lorenzo, but she found his body and hid his head in a pot of basil.
On the canvas, we can see the moment describing lovers in Keats' poem:
"They could not sit at meals but feel how well
It soothed each to be the other by…"
The work reflects the bad temper of the brothers of the main character: one of them angrily kicks the hunting dog.
For Isabella, as for many other paintings, artist’s family and friends posed, but in this regard it is most interesting because it depicts three members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood: William Michael Rossetti as Lorenzo, Frederick George Stevens as one of Isabella’s two brothers (with glass in hand), and in the background on the right, we can see Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
On the other hand, everything is fine here with costumes, both for men and women — they are holistic and correspond to one period and region — this is Italy of the 15th century. On the foreground girl (Isabella), we can see a very distinctive dress and a hairstyle called the Italian braid. The man on the left (Isabella's elder brother kicking the dog) wears an Italian farsetto doublet and tight-fitting chausses, which were popular throughout Europe during the
Note that the heroes of the picture do not use cutlery, although spoons and one-tooth forks were already in use then. Perhaps only light snacks were served so that people would refresh themselves after the hunt — in the picture we see two hunting dogs and a falcon.
How it was in the Middle AgesTherefore, there is no everyday "truth" in the pictures by the