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Buy our full-size paper patterns with complete instructions and historical notes for Woman's Saxon Gown, commonly referred to as "The Cranach Gown", a German noblewoman's gown popular in the 16th century. High-neck and low-neck variations included. Fits busts 30½"-48" and waists 23"-41". All Sizes in one envelope. Embellishment suggestions included.
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silk velvet, drapery velvet, cotton velveteen, silk brocade, heavy wool or other natural fibre with good drape
linen or canvas for interlining
light linen or silk for lining
Gown: 10 yds 45" or 6 yds 60" wide w/ nap
9 yds 45" or 5 yds 60" wide w/o nap
Interlining(bodice & sleeves only): 4½ yds 45" or 1½ yds 60" w/o nap
Lining (bodice only): 3 yds 45" or 1 yd 60" wide w/o nap
thread, cord for front closure and elbow void lacing, closed rings, brocade trim, beading (optional)
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Below is an excerpt from the historical notes you will receive as part of this pattern:
The Saxon Gowns painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder
The Painter, Lucas Cranach
Lucas Cranach the Elder was a painter and graphic artist during the German Renaissance of the early 16th century. Born in 1472 in Kronach in Upper Franconia to Hans Maler, a successful artist in that town, Cranach was to take his surname not from his father but from the town of his birth. In the early years of the 16th century, Cranach lived and painted in Vienna where his work was influenced by that of Albrecht Dürer.
In 1505 Cranach became the court painter of the Electors of Saxony at Wittenberg. He was successful there and became a prominent citizen in Wittenberg, receiving a title and the mayorship in 1537. He painted the portraits of many prominent citizens and royalty of what is today Germany. As a friend of Martin Luther, Cranach also propagandized for the German Reformation in much of his work. Cranach ran a large workshop and produced hundreds of works. He remained court painter until 1550.
He died in Weimar, on October 15, 1553. Cranach's sons were both artists, but the only one to achieve distinction was Lucas Cranach the Younger, who was his father's pupil and often his assistant.
The “Cranach Gown”
The elaborately slashed and decorated gown that has come to bear Lucas Cranach’s name in historic costuming circles is more than likely the product of a gentle evolution from the waisted gowns of the late 15th century. One could even make the argument that they are the later German version of the V-necked “Burgundian gown” so popular in the 1470s and 1480s. However, many elements differentiate them from this earlier style. The defining characteristics of the “Cranach” style are the slashed or paned sleeves, the open-fronted gown held together by lacing under the bust, the heavily-pleated skirts, and the decorative bustband.
One of the first depictions of this style of gown is in the Martyrdom of St. Catherine from 1504/5. The unfortunate St. Catherine wears a furlined gown of burgundy or ox-blood red velvet. Her skirts are quite large, possibly trained, and if pleated, the pleats are disarranged by her position. Although the great portion of her gown is deep-red velvet, the bodice of Catherine’s gown does not appear to contain much more than a hint of that colour. Her bodice is elaborately decorated with gold brocade, beading and possibly jewels. Both the elbows and shoulders are voided to reveal the white of her linen shift. The sleeves are held together at these voids by black cords or ribbons. This heavy-looking bodice comes close to falling off St. Catherine’s shoulders but appears to be maintained by lacing under her bust and a gold clasp over her chest. Her white linen shift hides her breasts. A sheer fabric appears to be tucked into the neckline of the gown, possibly for modesty’s sake. The look of this fabric makes it distinct from that of St. Catherine’s white shift. A very similar painting of the same subject from 1506 clarifies things. Again St. Catherine says her last prayers as a soldier prepares to end her life. In this painting, St. Catherine wears a wine-coloured velvet gown with three gold brocade guard at the bottom of the skirts. These guards are matched by the gold brocade on her sleeves that alternated with bands of wine velvet. Her elbow and shoulder voids are held together this time by gold cords, but the same white linen shift shows at those areas. In this picture, a gold bustband covers the upper chest. Under the bust, the bodice is held together by gold zig-zag lacing to the top of the skirts. She wears a large chain around her neck and a necklace with a jewel hanging over the bustband. Because of the position of her arms in prayer, the pleating of her skirts cannot be seen.
Two years later, another depiction of St. Catherine gives us more insight. The Housealtar of Count William II of Hessen shows St. Catherine in a red gown with her elbows and shoulders voided and gold brocade guards on the skirts. Other than the voids held together by black cords, the sleeves are unadorned. A brocade placket covers the front of the bodice from the top to the waist and no lacing is visible. The skirts are guarded with four rows of gold brocade. Instead of the narrow guards near the skirt hem in the previous picture, these guards are of substantial size and spread from the waist to the bottom hem of the gown. The bottommost guard is well over a foot wide. The most interesting aspect of this picture is the tubular folds of the skirt. We cannot see the waist of the gown because of the position of St. Catherine’s hands. But from that point, the skirts of the gown fall in even, pipe-like rows to the hem. The brocade follows the flow of the red material, indicating that the brocade is applied on top of the red and not alternating with it. The way in which the skirts bend away from the body at the line of the second guard but return to vertical by the third guard indicates that the skirts are constructed from rectangular panels. The even size and shape of the tubular folds also contributes to this conclusion.
In 1516 St. Catherine helps us again in The Mystic Marriage of St Catherine. St. Catherine’s gown is made of a similar fabric throughout and only slashed at the elbows and shoulders. The skirts of her gown do not appear to be pleated at all and no waist seam is in evidence. However, this painting is more important for the clothing worn by the other ladies in it.
In the upper left, St. Margaret wears a reddish-brown velvet gown decorated with gold brocade on the chest and shoulders. Her long curls obscure much of the bodice detail, but we can see no lacing or white shift. We can see slashing at her elbows and a new type of decoration at her wrists and possibly her elbows. Here it appears that the fabric has been slashed vertically and sewn into rows of decoration. Although we can see no lower than her knee level, we can see that her skirts are pleated into tubular folds, much like St. Catherine’s in the previous painting.
On the far right, St. Barbara gives us even more to inspect. Her elbows are voided and her shift shows through, though she has no cords or ribbons to hold her sleeves together. Gold brocade guards decorate the sides of her bodice, front and back, as well as the hem of her skirts. Although her skirts are caught under her left elbow, we can see that there is tubular pleating at her lower back. A gold brocade bustband covers her bust and white is visible beneath it on her lower ribs. We can see no lacing in this picture, but her arm is partially in our way. She wears a large gold chain and a jeweled choker from which radiate gold brocade ribbons or perhaps bands of embroidery on the shift beneath. If this is indeed embroidery on her shift, the shift is very sheer and not the same white shift that shows at her elbows. However, other pictures demonstrate that it is possible two different shifts were worn with these gowns.
The picture “Christ and the Adultress” from 1532 gives us some indication of what might be going on underneath the bustband and lacing of these gowns. The Adultress stands without her lacing done or her bustband on (if indeed she wears one). The black lace cord can be seen tied through the first hole just under her bust. All that we see between her and indecent exposure is her white shift, which is not pleated or adorned in any way. It scoops low in front and lays flat on the lower ribs and abdomen. Along her neckline is a black line that disappears into her cleavage. If one looks more closely, this is not a cord but the edge of a sheer tucker or possibly an undershift. She wears a veil of similar fabric on her head. Beneath her left arm, we can see the tubular pleating of her skirts.
Another picture entitled “Christ and the Adultress” from the 1540s clearly shows two shifts of differing fabrics being worn one over another. A sheer shift that covers the breasts is gathered into fine pleats in a rounded neckline. An opaque white shift starts below her nipples and covers her upper abdomen.
Moving away from religious subjects, a popular theme in early 16th century German art was the rich old person courting the attractive young person. Two paintings from the 1520s on this theme show Cranachstyle gowns. “Amorous Old Woman and Young Man” from 1520-22 shows an old woman fashionably dressed in a black gown with gold brocade guards and bustband. She is wearing this youthful fashion out of intense and laughable vanity. The picture shows her handing coins to her attractive young companion, presumably to keep his interest. Her white shift shows under the lacing that holds the bodice together in front. The gold brocade of the guards matches her bustband and her soft cuffs. The viewer cannot see the neckline of her shift nor the pleats in her gown skirts. There does not appear to be any paning or slashing on the sleeves of the gown.
“Old Man and Young Woman” by Cranach depicts the opposite situation. An ugly old man slips a ring on an attractive young girl’s finger. The girl wears a heavily-pleated dark red velvet gown. A gold brocade bustband is visible just above her left arm. Her shift is sheer and finely pleated. The neckline is high and emerges from underneath a gold and jewel-encrusted choker. A black cord descends into her cleavage which may be a necklace or possibly the edge of a tucker that we cannot see.
The most interesting element of the young woman’s dress is the sleeves. Instead of being voided at the elbows and shoulders or simply slashed in those areas, these sleeves are entirely made up of narrow bands or panes of red velvet, arranged in successive rows all along the arm. From shoulder to wrist, her sleeves are alternating strips of fabric encircling the arm and panes attached to this fabric and pushed up to create the puffed effect.
'Portrait of a Woman” from 1526 shows another arrangement of sleeve panes. In this picture, the woman wears a black gown with gold brocade guards and bustband. The front of her bodice is laced over a white shift and no undergarment shows at her neckline. Her sleeves are constructed of four sections of panes alternating with gold brocade guards and bands of plain, unslashed black material. Her cuffs appear to match her guards but they are turned back and slightly bunched up in this depiction. The entire skirt of her gown is not visible but at the waistline, it is heavily pleated into tubular folds.
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This information © 2005 Kass McGann and Reconstructing History