14th-15th Century

Do you see what I see?

La Belles Heures de Duc de Berry, Nativity, 1409

Random observation is random.

Sometimes I’m too modern for my own good and it takes me two or three tries to spot the weirdness in an image. That is, something that would be immensely weird and out of place to the medieval eye but is commonplace to the modern eye.

I just stared at this for a while. At first I thought it’s because her dress is orange.. I mean orange -is- an odd color for these things.. I think this is possibly the first orange short-sleeved kirtle I’ve seen (the other one I can think of may possible be a bad scan which has mucked up the colors of the image (now it’s orange), (now it’s not)). But.. even after identifying the odd color the image still felt weird to me. Last night I woke up with a gasp and realized what it is… I can see her bare arms.

There’s no hint of a chemise pushed up to elbow height.. it’s just skin as far as you can see. Aside from “bathing beauties” I think this is the first time I can remember seeing bare arm skin on a fully clothed medieval woman.

Scandalous… and right next to our Lord and Savior. Harlot.

10 thoughts on “Do you see what I see?

  1. That “boy” is wearing a dress and has his braids crossed over on the top of “his” head.

    That said, I doubt your assertion that she is a “he”.

    And modernly speaking.. I can think if plenty of boy harlots.. just sayin’.

  2. There is evidence of chemises/smocks that were sleeveless (the ones in the Wenceslaus Bible are probably the most well-known). There are other examples, starting in the mid-14th century, which is incidentally when cotte/kirtle sleeves became very fitted, in upper class examples, the look nearly skin-tight. A regular chemise sleeve might have been too bulky in those cases.

    There is some thought that the sleeveless chemise was shown in manuscripts as a “cheesecake shot”. And that could very well be true of the example above, but evidence and the practical arguments are solid, so it may be a combination of both: practicality on the part of the wearer, prurience on the part of the illuminator and his/her audience.

  3. Interesting. I’m aware of the lost extant sleeveless chemise shown in Kohler.. and the bath babes in their strappy chemise.. but somehow I’d never thought about what kind of dresses that would be worn under.

  4. The chemise shown in Kohler is a problem. Kohler is writing in the 1920s; his statement that the chemise is from the 14th century is based on _Korperflege und Kleidung bei den Deutchen_ by Moritz Heyne 1903; Heyne apprarantly says the chemise was discovered at Burg Rhanis (Ranis), Thuringia, in 1867. In 2002, Cainder nic Shanloich of Madrone/An Tir wrote to the curator of the Burg Ranis museum, who wrote back saying that the chemise was no longer in the museum’s collection because the Russians took everything when they came through in WWII. (Posted in the Slavic Interest Group / Yahoo, 6/6/2002.)

    Kohler doesn’t give any information about how the chemise was found – it may have been from a 14th century tomb (it looks like it came from a grave), but that’s just speculation on my part. Of course, now I need to get a copy of Heyne’s book (it’s still in print) and a good translation program to find out more…

  5. aastg- you’re sort-of in luck, “Körperpflege und Kleidung bei den Deutschen von den ältesten geschichtlichen Zeiten bis zum 16. Jahrhundert” is available online for free. You want page 310 (p. 322 if you download the PDF).

    Why it is only sort-of lucky, is that it provides more information, but not very much more. (I’ve tried to preserve the sentence structure of the original German, but it makes for very long sentences that don’t read as well in English, sorry.)

    “Wie früh das leinene Hemd in unserem Sinne sich bei der Frau einbürgert, darüber fehlen Zeugnisse; aber es wird sich damit nicht anders verhalten haben, als mit dem gleichen Kleidungsstücke beim Mann. Und wenn an Frauenbildnissen jede Andeutung davon fehlt, so erklärt dies die Form, wie sie aus einem erhaltenen späteren Stücke erhellt: in einem Hause der Burg Rahnis in Düringen fand man um 1867 zusammen mit Sachen aus dem frühen 14. Jahrhundert ein leinenes Frauenhemd, das nicht nur für den Schnitt dieser Zeit, sondern wohl auch der früheren zeugt: die Länge (70 cm) reicht nicht über das Knie, der tiefe Ausschnitt fällt bis zur Brust hinunter, statt der Ärmel sind nur Tragbänder angebracht. Bei dieser Form ist natürlich Sichtbarkeit auf Bildern unmöglich.”

    “How early the linen chemise in our [modern] sense was a normal part of the female wardrove (einbürgern literally means ‘to acclimate’ or ‘to naturalise’), is unknown due to a lack of evidence; but it does not have to be retained differently, than the same item of clothing of men.
    And, if in portraits of women they lack any hint of it [ie. a chemise], this is so explained by the form that is preserved by a later piece: In a house in Castle Rahnis in Düringen, one found in 1867, together with stuff from the 14th century, a linen womens chemise, which is not only evidence for the cut [of clothing] at this time, but also for the earlier [periods]: the length (70 cm) does not reach below the knee, the deep neckline drops down to the breast/chest and instead of sleeves, only narrow straps are fixed [angebracht, means things like fitted, fixed, attached, mounted…]. This style [of chemise] is, of course, impossible to verify from examining images.”

    1. ffride – that’s very interesting, and detailed enough to imply that Heyde could actually have seen the original chemise. The length of 70cm (27.5 inches)seems a little short for knee-length on an adult woman (assume height of 5 ft./1.5m), but there’s no way to know if the original chemise had been shortened or if it had been made for a child. Thank you for the quote & translation!

  6. I found another source that may help:

    Hermanii Qaantz 1907. “Ein spätmittelatterlicher Fund von Burg Ranis.” Zeitschrift des Vereins für Thüringische Geschichte und Altertumskunde pp. 187-192.

    “An der Westseite der Borg Ranis bei Pößneck… wurde im Jahre 1867 — 68 bei dem Abbruch einer Wand, an der vordem eine schmucklose Kapelle gestanden, das vermauerte Biegelloch eines Fensterladens in einer Höhe von etwa 3 m geöffnet. In dem schützenden Versteck von ungefähr 80 cm Tiefe lagen neben einem eisernen Hammer kleine Vogelknochen, ein „Schädel”, der verloren gegangen ist, nnd der Best eines schlichten Holztellers. Außerdem ein Frauenhemd, welches die Bruchstücke eines geschnitzten und bemalten Holztellers barg. Ob alle Gegenstände zusammengehören und in einer bestimmten Absicht hier verborgen wurden, ist eine offene Frage.”

    “On the western side of the Castle Ranis in Pößneck… a wall was demolished in 1867-1868, where previously a plain/unadorned chapel stood, the walled-up bent-hole (Biegelloch) of a window-shutter was borne approximately 3m up [the wall]. In the protected hide-away of about 80 cm depth lay bird bones next to an iron hammer, a “skull” that has since been lost, and the remains of a plain wooden plate. Also a women’s chemise, which contained the fragments of a carved and painted wooden plate. Whether all the objects belong together and were buried on purpose here, is an open question.”

    “Von dem Frauen hemd hat der unlängst verstorbene Geheimrat Moriz Heyne in seinen „Fünf Büchern Deutscher Hausaltertümer von den’ ältesten geschichtlichen Zeiten bis zum 16. Jahrhundert” (Leipzig, Hirzel) eine getreue Abbildung nach einer Photographie veröffentlicht. Es ist aus ziemlich grobem Leinen verfertigt und trägt dick umgenähte, doppelte Säume. Es weist unten beiderseits Einsatzkeile, sogenannte Spiele, auf, ist 68 cm lang und zwischen den Achseln 29 cm breit. Von Interesse sind an ihm die schmalen Tragbänder.”

    “On the women’s chemise, the recently deceased privy councillor Moriz Heyne in his “Fünf Büchern Deutscher Hausaltertümer von den ältesten geschichtlichen Zeiten bis zum 16. Jahrhundert” [Five Books of German House[hold] Antiquities from the Oldest Historical Time to the 16th Century]* has faithfully reproduced it’s appearance by a photograph. It was made from very coarse linen and the doubled-seams** are sewn together with thick/bulky/fat stitches. There is evidence the bottom [of the shirt] of inserted wedges on both sides – so-called ‘Spiele'[lit. games] – and it is 68 cm long and between the shoulders 29 cm wide. Of interest on this shirt are the narrow shoulder-straps.”

    * It’s the same Heyne I linked to before, and it’s the same book – volume 3 of “Fünf Büchern” covers the textiles, and is titled “Körperpflege und Kleidung bei den Deutschen”.

    ** I believe this means the fabric edge was folded over twice before being hemmed, like this: http://www.albatross-air.at/archiv/bau/naehen/naetipp.htm#der%20doppelte%20Saum

    This seems to match up somewhat with the Burg Ranis website:
    “1868 Beginn der Abbrucharbeiten am westlichen Burggebäude nachdem ein Sturm das Dach schwer beschädigt hatte. Das Gebäude beherbergte die Burgkapelle, ein Trinkerstübchen u.a.m.
    Im Verlauf der Abbrucharbeiten wird ein Skelett eines Kleinkindes mit Hemd und Beigaben entdeckt. Es war ein mittelalterliches Bauopfer von dem bereits die Sage vom eingemauerten Kind berichtet. ”

    “1868: Start of the demolition work on the western castle-building after a storm had severely damaged the roof. The building housed the chapel, a small cellar, etc.
    In the course of demolition work a skeleton of an infant with a shirt and gifts was uncovered. It was a medieval foundation-deposit of the already reported the saga of the walled-in child.”

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