Functionally finished · Projects · research

Saint Veronica of Rome or The Dress of Exquisite Tackiness

This is my research for Northshield’s Kingdom A&S competition 2017, held March 4th in Hurley, Wisconsin.  I entered in the Introductory Division.


Illustrated in the latter part of the 15th century, this image of Saint Veronica is striking in its excess, colorfulness, and mishmash of styles.[1]  While this dress is fanciful, it fits into general sartorial themes that appear through what is now Southern France, Northern Italy and parts of Germany throughout the 1480s and 1490s. While there is no dress exactly like this, components appear in various ways in other images often as individual elements for effect.  The artist, however, was unlikely to have been a dressmaker, and some liberties must be forgiven in terms of his perception of female clothing construction and questions of taste

While this Saint Veronica is from Avignon, extant and accessible documents from Avignon that contain images of female dress are scarce, especially when looking at this relatively narrow period of history.  Therefore, aside from the original document from the Morgan, I have tried to work extensively with regional sources.  One of the major sources I will use repeatedly is the copy of Des cleres et nobles femmes, traduction française anonyme 1488-1496, also known as BnF française 599.[2]  This document is from nearby Savoy and from the same approximate period as the Avignon Book of Hours.  I have also looked slightly further abroad to France and Italy discuss fabric patterns and overall shifts in dress silhouette because of limited additional documentation.  Other primary sources are used as supporting materials, but none have the same breadth of styles as BnF française 599.

For ease of organization, the paper is organized from the neck down, with discussions of materials and process occurring last.  Since there is quite a bit going on with this dress, it seems feasible to take a look at the dress in parts before we consider the whole effect and how to recreate it.


599sleevesand neckline

Figure 1 BnF française 599, folio 14r

The neckline could be called a precursor to the square necklines we see in the early 1500s, but were the fashion among women in Savoy and the Avignon region during the 1480s-1490s.   This image from BnF 599, f. 14r[3] demonstrates a few of the elements present in the shape of the neckline that is present in both dresses.  This square neckline when created by a better artist is square and less strangely oval than the Saint Veronica dress.  Since this is a dress I plan on wearing, I made the adjustment to this slightly different shape, as I found it both in period and more personally flattering.

While it is possible to see the decoration around the neckline in the previous image, it is BnF599f40vnot to the same extent as Saint Veronica.  Another image from BnF 599 f. 40v[4] gives an
excellent example of the scalloping that is present in the image, as well as similar detailing.  As always, our artist decided to take this to extreme and add large pearls, perhaps to capitalize on the supposed purity of Saint Veronica.[5]



Figure 2: BnF française 599, folio 40v


During the latter part of the fifteenth century, short sleeves on overdresses became the norm.  There is a variety in the sleeves.  In BnF française 599, 14r[6] sleeves are short, and have fringe with the addition of another area of decoration above it, even though she is not wearing another dress underneath which is unique to that image.   There are additional images of fringed sleeves in this document, including in 48r (Figure 3).[7]


Figure 3 BnF française 599 folio 24v


Figure 4 BnF française 599, folio 14r

599sleevesand neckline

Figure 5 BnF française 599 folio 48r


There appears to be two different kinds of undersleeves when we look at short sleeved dresses.  Here, française 599 is strikingly different from the Morgan Manuscript[8].  There is a variety of underdress sleeves, including more large sleeves as seen in folio 48r[9] and narrower sleeves as seen in 24v.[10]   In the Morgan manuscript, sleeves are universally narrow, ranging from tight to slightly loose (Figures 6-8).[11]  This regional stylistic difference is striking, considering that large amounts of fringe is likely a sign of wealth and large sleeves would only add to that impression.  My suspicion is that climate is the major driver of this difference, as the mistral (a system of heavy winds) is a prevailing feature of the region, with current statistics estimating approximately 40-50% of the year having winds exceeding 41 miles per hour.[12] [13]   This would make larger sleeves impractical for anyone who wanted to go outside wearing them.



 Bodice and skirt shape


Figure 9 BnF française 599, folio 28v

During this time period, it is possible to see a variety of bodice shapes, including fitted bodices with a full skirt, as seen in the inspirational image, burgundians, fitted dresses, and the more familiar fitted kirtle. While her waistline is not visible in the image, it seems likely that the dress is constructed as a bodice and skirt with gathers.  The main evidence for this is the width of the skirt when compared to the rest of the woman which seems improbable if it were simply a standard kirtle.  Additionally there is evidence that such dresses were commonly worn, particularly in Italy and sometimes in Savoy.


Figure 10 Beatrice d’Este

In images, it seems likely that dresses like Saint Veronica’s were worn as over dresses with a standard fitted kirtle underneath.   This shape is not uncommon during the period and demonstrate a transition from more continuous looking gowns to dresses with a defined waist. The Italians also moved toward a defined waist at an earlier time. Since this Saint Veronica comes from Avignon during a period of renewed Italian interest in this papal state due to political tensions between the cardinal and pope, and between France and the Kingdom of Naples, it makes sense that she has taken some sartorial cues from the Italians.   Savoy was not on the bleeding edge of this particular stylistic change, but there is evidence that it was an option for women during the period in the illuminated manuscript 599 (Figure 9).[14]

Two excellent examples of the Italian style dress are the Beatrice d’Este’s dress from 1495 (Figure 10)[15] and Anne de Bretagne from 1492-1495(Figure 11).[16]  Both of these dresses demonstrate the bodice and skirt differentiation and how it looks substantially different from the more streamlined look of earlier period kirtles.


Figure 11 Prayer Book of Anne de Bretagne. Morgan MS M. 50 folio 10v

Additionally, many of these dresses appear to be worn, especially when looking at examples from Avignon and Savoy, to be worn with a standard fitted kirtle underneath, which gives the Avignon St. Veronica’s bodice shape a smoother line.  This is not precisely achievable using modern dress forms however.  When I initially wore the dress as a trial run, it was evident that the under kirtle was required for support and smoothing of the bodice to give the dress the correct look.


Figure 12 Bodice, pre-improved fit.  Photograph by Constanza de Seville


Fabrics and Materials



While it is likely that many of the images shown in this paper are of richer fabrics in silks, velvets and wool, linen was used for this project due to ease of access, weight, and issues with sourcing fabrics with the number and color of stripes required.  Saint Veronica is also the patron saint of linen, making this fabric a fitting choice for her, if not the most luxurious.

In period, stripes would have been more easily accessible as a cloth pattern because of the pattern’s ease to weave.  The use of stripes, while derided by some scholars were actually used in a variety of settings throughout the century on everyone from saints and patrons, royalty and allegorical figures.[17][18][19][20]  In his book, The Devil’s Cloth[21], author Michel Pastoureau asserts that stripes were used to denote transgressing individuals, but copious evidence of striped dresses on saints, patrons, and royalty demonstrates this as a valid and, in fact, popular fashion choice during the very late middle ages and early renaissance.

The scalloped neckline is made out of a cotton velveteen.  It was chosen for its color, strength, and fabric type, if not exact contents. It is a stiffer fabric than is used for the rest of the dress, but fits well with the overall look of the garment.  Added trim is a polyester and metallic blend with gold like coverings.  This kind of trim appears in when looking at the dresses from the area and period and is primarily on the dress in the image and in reality for additional shine.  Arm fringe was sourced from a member of the barony who donated it when they heard about my project.  It is the correct length, shine and color, and has a rather lovely trim on it as well.   It is also a polyester blend.


This dress was difficult to conceptually get started.  When making a standard dress with a bodice, a large skirt and sleeves, one relies on the fact that the fabric is already put together.  It was difficult to find a fabric that provided the number of stripes that were needed in the widths, in the correct colors, so I very quickly found that the best way to get the look I wanted, I would have to essentially create my own striped fabric.  What’s more, for ease in pattern making, sufficient volume in the skirt while keeping the more bell like shape meant that gores were not an option.  While there is evidence of striped gores in other images from the period, (See figure 5) it seemed less likely in this image, despite the fact that the dress nearly doubles from the waist while maintaining the same number, size and shape of stripes.  After looking around for fabric that fit my needs, I decided that 5.3 ounce linen would give me the colors that were needed, was cost effective and had sufficient weight to be a viable alternative.

To create the fabric, I counted the number of stripes visible in the three-quarters image that is presented. With 5 colors in each set of the fabric, the pattern most likely repeated 4 times around Veronica’s body and would then have to repeat four times around me.  I then measured my torso and divided the largest number by 20 (4 repeats x 5 stripes per repeat).  This number was used to determine what size each torso stripe should be.   For the skirt, I doubled this number to create the bell shape of the skirt as seen in the image.   All the stripes were sewn together to create then fabric.  I then started the (as of yet) unfinished process of flat felling all 40 seams.

The skirt was problematic.  The first iteration of the skirt worked well, although was not as full as I had hoped.  I remade the skirt by adding additional width to each stripe, rather than adding a gore.  I needed the additional fullness at the top of the dress, and the most practical solution to this issue was to double every stripe.  All stripes were then gathered and sewn by hand to the bodice.  More advanced pleating was attempted, but the small space available on each bodice stripe means that the standard gather was the best way to fit all the fabric.

By contrast, the bodice was relatively easy to construct and refit.   When I initially made the dress, I overestimated my size.  After wearing it for one event, I took in each stripe to create a better fitting garment.  I used my kirtle pattern to cut the basic shape of the bodice.


Figure 15 Assistant and period pattern weight, Glennie, helping with the bodice

For strength along the lacing, I used heavier linen remnants I had from another project.  I have had bad experiences when I have not strengthened the lacing portion on other dresses and decided that this would be a good idea.   That being said, while making holes to lac15878593_10108882270056540_1670184099_oe the dress, I chose to use gold embroidery thread.  While the lacing is not visible in St. Veronica’s image, I felt that since the artist did not feel the need to hold back on any part of this dress, that I should make the artistic choice to ensure that any openly visible stitching needed to be gaudy as well.  I also used gold embroidery thread to hem the dress, since the variety of colors made it more difficult to use the correct thread color for each panel.  Additionally, since the bottom of the garment is not shown, it seems only fair to use artistic license to hem in a more flamboyant fashion.

The neckline was cut to be a bit high in the initial dress, so to edit it, I cut it slightly more square and slightly further down by a about a quarter inch.  Scallops were designed by creating a circular pattern using an appropriately sized cup and flattening off the top.  They were then cut out using standard shears and pinking shears to create the additional details around the edge.


Figure 16 Supervisor and period pattern weight Mack, instructing me on neckline scallops.

Additionally, I lined the inside of the entire neckline with heavy linen to give the area more strength for the gigantic pearls. Real pearls were understandably not available in the size or quantities required for this dress.  I tried a number of substitutes.  Polymer clay painted the appropriate sheen was the correct size, but too heavy and painting evenly was difficult.  Styrofoam beads were the next attempt, but, while they are much lighter, are very difficult to cover with enough paint to hide the texture.  I purchased a number of standard faux pearl beads in an appropriate size.  I attempted to attach them using standard embroidery floss, but the pearls kept toppling over and did not remain upright as in the inspiration image.  Instead, they were attached using jewelry head pins.

Sleeves were difficult since I needed to line up stripes to each other over an additional portion of the dress.  This process, while not difficult in and of itself, caused a few headaches.  The pattern is an S-curve sleeve.  Additional challenges included my gaining additional arm muscle so the fringe no longer fits all the way around my bicep.

I would like to thank my two assistants Glennie and Mack for their help during this project, which also required their near constant supervision.


[1]Anonymous, “Book of Hours,” in Images from Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts, ed. The Morgan Library & Museum (Avignon: The Morgan Library & Museum, 1485-1490).

[2] Boccace, “Des Cleres Et Nobles Femmes, Traduction Française Anonyme,” ed. Bibliothèque nationale de France (Département des Manuscrits, 1488).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Anonymous, “Book of Hours.”

[6] Boccace, “Des Cleres Et Nobles Femmes, Traduction Française Anonyme.”

[7] Ibid.

[8] Anonymous, “Book of Hours.”

[9] Boccace, “Des Cleres Et Nobles Femmes, Traduction Française Anonyme.”

[10] Ibid.

[11] Anonymous, “Book of Hours.”

[12]“World Wind Regimes – Mediterranean Mistral Tutorial,”

[13] Anika Obermann et al., “Mistral and Tramontane Wind Speed and Wind Direction Patterns in Regional Climate Simulations,” Climate Dynamics 46, no. 5-6 (2016).

[14] Boccace, “Des Cleres Et Nobles Femmes, Traduction Française Anonyme.”

[15] Unknown Master, Detail of Beatrice D’este.   Virgin and Child Enthroned with the Doctors of the Church, 1494. Wikimedia Commons.

[16] “Prayer Book of Anne De Bretagne,” ed. The Morgan Library and Museum (1492-1495).

[17] Boccace, “Des Cleres Et Nobles Femmes, Traduction Française Anonyme.”

[18] Master, Detail of Beatrice D’este.   Virgin and Child Enthroned with the Doctors of the Church.

[19] Ovid, “Les Epistres D’ovide,… Translatées Par Feu Monsieur L’evesque D’angoulesme, Nommé Octovien De Saint Gelais,” (1501).

[20] “Lot 16: Three Miniatures from an Illuminated Manuscript of Martin Le Franc, L’estrif De Fortune Et De Vertu, in French, on Vellum [Central France (Probably Tours, Possibly Lyon), C.1470-80],” Sotheby’s,

[21] Michel Pastoureau, The Devil’s Cloth : A History of Stripes and Striped Fabric, 1st Washington Square Press trade pbk. ed. ed. (New York: Washington Square Press, 2003).


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