Cranach and Holbein and Durer, Oh My…

“Judith Victorious” Cranach, c 1530

Something I’m thinking about, but I’m not *sure* about right now.

I’ve had an itch, a tiny only mildly itchy itch, for some years now, that I would like to make a 16th c. German noblewoman’s gown.  I mean the full on goodness here, not a Kampfrau ensemble, not a Flemish ensemble, we’re talkin’ gold embroidery, beads and bits, velvet, piping, slashings, feathers.

I’m having trouble wrapping my head around this because of a couple things.  One is that the beautiful “Cranach Gowns” we love so very much are all around the 1530s, which makes them quite a bit too early for most Renaissance Faires in my area, which all feature a c. 1570s Queen Elizabeth.  St. Maximillian, the German Landsknescht (sp?) guild, dresses in 1530s, however, and nobody seems to be the wiser of it.  It works for the Henrician Fairs (of which there is one), but not for Elizabethan.  Then again, as a good Landsknescht friend of mine put it – “If you want to make it, do it regardless.”

Here are the sources for the “correct” time period, mid-16th century:

I absolutely ADORE this ensemble…but it looks really quite English does it?  What’s the point of doing a German gown if you’re going to look English?

They look kindof boring, wouldn’t you say?  I would say, especially compared to THESE, from the 1530s and 1540s:

What do you think?

I have a lot of blue velvet, but it doesn’t look like blue is very represented, or at all represented, in these gowns.  Looks like red and black, even forest green, are the ways to go, and add to that pretty contrasting brocade.

I haven’t much of a clue on how to start.  I need to research more of course, but a good place to start I suppose it with the chemise, which is high-necked, of very thin materials, and very tightly gathered at the neck.  I see portraits without the high-necked chemise, so I may go with a low-necked one with massive sleeves, to puff out through the slashings.

So much to think about!  And more on this later…it’s percolating 🙂


  • MrsC (Maryanne)

    September 27, 2010 at 1:30 AM

    My they are all very alike! And quite funny to go from a Madonna holding a baby to several Judiths with severed heads! hehe. The dresses all seem to have that white, laced midriff. I can't help but feel that they were all painted by different painters of the same model, perhaps at an early version of Dr Sketchy? 😉
    I am loving the high collar one. I can really see you in this style, you have a very early Renaissance face. 🙂

  • American Duchess

    September 27, 2010 at 1:34 AM

    I'm diggin' the high collared styles too, like the first image. Seems interesting, and I tend to go for "mannish" details – love me a lady's doublet :-D.

    I think the archetype for German ladies persisted through these paintings. They do all look alike, huh, or look like a couple models sat for all the paintings. Might have been! the 1530s ones are all the same artist I believe.

  • MrsC (Maryanne)

    September 27, 2010 at 1:39 AM

    Actuaslly I've just been and looked at a whole bunch of Cranach too and my theory is that he had a dress in his head that he could remember and just stuck everyone in it! That's why there's so much red, because 'the dress' is red. There's even a picture of three saxon princesses allw earing it in the same picture!Being a bloke he probably wasn't very interested in frocks and once he'd mastered 'the dress', that was it 😉 I'm sure people wore blue also.

  • Isis

    September 27, 2010 at 5:31 AM

    It seems that our costume wish list goes hand in hand, as a German 16th century gown in VERY high there! I can make it early with good concience, because German fashion was THE fashion in Sweden at the time and we don't ave Ren faires here, like you do. My favourite is the fourth from the bottom.

    I have a couple of the pictures with unlaced gowns, if you want to see.

    It must be possible to find what materials and colours used in Germany at the time. I don't think blue was a big in fashion at the time, but tat doesn't have to mean it wasn't used. 🙂 I have bought Reconstructing History's pattern for a German gown, but I haven't ctacked it open yet, so I don't know how good it is.

    MrsC, you are not the first person who has ntoiced that. 😀

  • American Duchess

    September 27, 2010 at 8:18 AM

    Isis, we share a brain! I think the gowns consist of a kirtle and a gown, with the lacing placket across the front. I've seen some examples with the gown skirt pulled up to reveal a damask kirtle underneath, like the lady is holding it up just for that pretty purpose. The skirt and the sleeves look sewn to the bodice, no? I dunno, it's going to be an interesting and a-typical way to go about things.

    I'm also thinking against the blue now. I wouldn't be happy with it. I like to do my costumes on a budget and challenge myself to get something fabulous without spending an arm and a leg, but at the same time I don't want to compromise on important things like color. I'm going to hunt about for red, black, or dark green, at a reasonable price, and no, it won't be silk velvet!

  • Isis

    September 27, 2010 at 9:35 AM

    We must! 😀
    Yes, I'm quite sure that the sleeves and skirt are sewn to the bodice, and then a kirtle underneath, or perhaps just a petticoat. The breastplacket seems to be loose, but I suppose it must be pinned in some way to stay put.

    I think brown would suit well too. Silk velvet may be a bit pricy, yes… Wool would work too, I think. Pity they don't make wool velvet nowadays.

    Perhaps we should sew erman gowns togther? I need a push to get out of my sewing funk.

  • Unknown

    September 27, 2010 at 3:15 PM

    I say go for it. In my opinion, the best 'period' films are the ones that recognize the fact that older ladies may be a bit reluctant to give up their style of dress or that fashion changes are slow to come to smaller, hard to reach villages. Maybe your noble woman lives in a remote village and has not heard the news of recent fashion trends. What ever the reason, I'm sure present day fashion is not the only time women reached into various time periods for inspiration.

  • The Dreamstress

    September 28, 2010 at 5:47 AM

    The first mid-16th century image does have a lot of the same details as the Cranach's that you like. Just be an old-fashioned girl!

    And please, please, please tell me that you are going to do a hat covered in ridiculous feathers!

  • Isis

    September 29, 2010 at 3:53 PM

    In case you haven't noticed, Denver Fabrics have a sale on cotton velvet right now. I must confess to have splurged on 8 yards of black velvet and has my heart set on something like the sixth from the bottom…

  • American Duchess

    September 29, 2010 at 7:24 PM

    Oh Isis, you baddy, I just went and spent *money* on velvet and taffeta, (at FFC instead of Denver's, but they're having the same sale looks like), although not for this project, but another! I realize I haven't bought fabric in awhile…feels good! anticipation!!

  • Anonymous

    October 17, 2010 at 5:55 AM

    Lauren – I've made 3 of the Cranach style gowns now, as well as a recreation of Anne of Cleve's dress as displayed in the Wax Museum in London for my 6 Wives Project. (We recreated all 6 wives, Henry, etc. last year from their most famous portraits.)

    I took a class at costume college on Cranach gowns and learned a slightly different way of making them that I think would eliminate a lot of bulk fabric, etc. for you. I can't get your e-mail to work on my computer for some reason, but if you e-mail me I would be happy to send the information to you. Thanks.

  • American Duchess

    October 17, 2010 at 6:13 AM

    accidental – I visited your livejournal but couldn't find your e-mail address. Could you comment here again with it? I really want to know your tips and tricks for this gown!

  • Élisabeth

    August 2, 2011 at 8:14 PM

    I am very interrested! I also want to sew such a dress since last year and I could not find eanought time to do and the prpoper velvet…
    I think Reconstructing History made a pattern for the Cranach gowns.
    I can't wait to see you version!

  • Unknown

    June 6, 2017 at 7:23 AM

    I too want a blue Cranach gown so I've been researching stuff and…blue is not represented in *paintings*. This is probably because blue pigment for oil paint came from finely ground and painstakingly processed high quality lapis lazuli. Which was increeeeeeedibly expensive and in the early 16th century, wasn't really used much north of Italy and pretty much never shows up in German art.


    Medieval and Renaissance Germany had a thriving native woad industry, to the point of banning importing indigo as a protectionist measure. So clearly they are dyeing fabrics blue on a large scale.

    So mostly I've concluded that blue Saxon gowns probably existed, but weren't painted (as blue) much.

    And I just want a blue dress anyway so I'll be the sartorial weirdo.

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