tisdag 12 april 2016

The late German 15th century woman´s headwear, a plunge into pleats, vulsts, strange veils and vimples

This will be a long and rambeling blogpost since it mainly consists of a research paper entered in the Kingdom Arts and Science competition held at Drachenwalds Spring Crown Tourney of this year. I have edited it a bit after going through my judge´s very thorough comments. So take a deep breath before you take the plunge...

Portrait of Barbara Dürer, née Holper, attributed to Albrecht Dürer, c 1490 when she would have been around 39. Oil on oak panel, 47 cm x 36 cm. Germanisches Nationalmuseum,Nuremberg.
As I have dabbled with late 15th century german garb for some years now and having a keen interest in all forms of headwear, the stranger the better, I have come to the conclusion that the simple square linen veil with pleats in one end, really doesn´t seem as accurate. I have done them as well as many others that have studied the period art. Looking at pictures like Albrecht Dürer´s portrait of Barbara Dürer above, it clearly shows that it cannot be a simple square veil with sewn pleats. It could surely be something completely different, more like the headgear consisting of an evolved hood, worn with the facing against the forehead and the liripipe reformed to make a vimple. Or is it simply a long veil, wrapped around the head, thus creating the pleats over the forehead and then simply folded in the middle in the loose hanging part? And that part can also be used as a wrap over the chin, pinned in the back of the neck. There might be different ways in creating similar but somewhat differing looks (differing in details as the shape of the vimple, the use of pleats over the forehead or not, with or without the bulging Vulst in the back…)

Here comes a short dictionary of terms in German that I will use:
The Vächer, the pleated part over the forehead, comes in many variations.
The Vulsthaube is the headdress with a bulge creating height and width, in the like of a mushroom.
The Steuchlien is the veil covering the head, a name mostly used in Nürnberg for the Vulsthaube
Schleier – the veil covering the head, an earlier headdress than the haube
The Gefrens, the fringe of string/yarn hanging in the neck

My main focus of interest in this article is the more simple styles of veils, with or without Vächer, mostly called schleier in German, thus differing them from Haubes, that is easier to wear, since it consists of a cap of some sort (there are many many different Haubes). I will show some examples where a Vulst seems to be used underneath for comparison. It ranges over the last two decades of the 15th c and into the first decade of the 16th c. My aim is to discuss different versions of this headdress, try some of my theories on possible ways to make them and, if possible, see if there is a clear line of evolution over time. I will try to discuss materials as well and the main source I will use is period artwork.

Some background info, mainly taken from the book “Textiler Hausrat – Kleidung und Haustextilien in Nürnberg von 1500-1650” by Jutta Zander-Seidel, will also be used since she discusses the written sources, mainly wills and dress regulations. It states for instance that the Schleier were worn long into the 16th C, but being out of fashion only by modest married women and in more rural areas, were the aim to keep up with high fashion was not that important[1]. Even if her time range is later than mine, the terminology and the sources are of great value for this article as well.

 Schleier with Vächer in the artwork

The early examples in period art seem to be rather flat, without the Vulst or with just the wearers own braids used to fill out the veil.

This is an early depiction, showing simple wrapped layers of what looks like a long rectangular veil with a golden-yellow frilled edge.
Begegnung an der goldenen Pforte 1438-1440

Here is a good example of a very simple and plain one, giving me a lot of information on the possible ways to create this. It stands clear to me that it is a simple veil in one piece, wrapped one time around the head and then left to hang down over the shoulder.

Oberrheinischer Meister: Die Geburt Mariens. 1460/65

 The construction of Vächer

Looking closer on the pleats it seems that it, in some of the more elaborate cases at least, might not be sewn as a part of the veil at all but made as a separate piece. This makes it possible to reuse the pleated piece and changing the veil. Looking closely at the portrait of Barbara Dürer one can make out some kind of decoration pinning just over the pleated part, suggesting it being pinned or stitched together thus making it into two separate pieces, or a way to hold the wrapped layers together. In Textiler Hausrat it is stated that the overlapping pleats/striped layers were named “vach” and held together with punctuating stitches, clearly shown in period art. And there is a dress regulation stating that if a woman living in the town wore more than six “vach” she would have to pay a fine. Even so, there are a number of examples showing up to ten “vach”[2].

On that thought, given the amount of work a pleated and most likely starched frontpiece takes, I would think it must have been worn over something simpler covering the hair and protecting the pleated and starched part from getting greasy and worn. I have however not found anything implying this in Textiler Hausrat. When comparing to the earlier and more west-oriented fashion of frilled veils, it is clear that the frontpieces were sewn onto the veil and starched to keep in shape. Isis Sturtewegen writes in her thesis on frilled veils that the fashion was well spread across Europe around the later half of the 14th C, and after 1460 it started to disappear as a noble fashion, but still being used by wealthy townswomen[3]. The evolution of the “vächer” seems to follow the same pattern. First it is high fashion among the wealthiest and then it is kept in the fashion by the wealthy burgerclass in the towns, to eventually fade out of fashion entirely. I will not do the huge work that Isis Sturtewegen did, comparing iconography of some 200 pictures/statues etc just from the Low Countries to form a typology and a timeline[4], but settle for making some iconographic comparisons, thus forming a theory of types and timeline.

And from this thought I have given a lot of thinking into how to best make the pleats, to get that full and a bit more “built-up” look you see when browsing period artwork. When having done my early attempts of pleated veils, I tried to not use as much fabric, thus the single pleats just barely covers the previous one. Now I will have to try to pleat the forehead-covering piece with pleats that begin big and successfully decreases in width, thus building on the height just as much as lengthwise. On this picture it definetly looks like that has been done, and then the pleats are fastened to the Steuchlien by two parallel rows of stitches.
Albrecht Dürer, Nürnberg woman dressed for dancing
 In this picture the wimple part is wrapped around the head and thus covering the chin as well, and the pleats look like they are either pinned or stitched to the Steuchlien.
Master of the Housebook of Castle Wolfegg, Last quarter of the 15th C, showing hair and using the gefrens

Here you clearly see a bit of the white Steuchlien hanging down and covering the neck, on top of the gefrens.
Master of the Housebook, Showing hair but without the gefrens
In this next portrait of Ursula Tucher the pleats are tiny but building up quite a bit before the vulst. Looks pinned together, with the little pinheads clearly visible. This could be a way to simply hold the layers together or indicate a separate pleated piece over the forehead with a plain veil fastened to it and then wrapped around the head and chin. The backpart of the Steuchlien is also partly visible hanging down in the neck.
Michael Wolgemut - Portrait of Ursula Tucher, 1478

Tiny tiny pleats en masse, not likely something you re-do after the wash. Unless it is simply wrapped,but I find it unlikely that one did wrap ten layers or more. The schleier would probably be rather bulky and unflattering, and this is not the case in the depictions of Albrecht Dürer and others. This will be shown in my later experiments.
In this following picture it looks like it is wrapped around the head, forming pleats, and then used as chin-wrap and finally, wrapped up around the head and fastened with some pins. The height and width looks like it is created with simple wrapped layers and not a vulst. You can clearly see that the chin-part is folded in the middle and even pinned/stitched along the edge under the chin. Since it is a common trait with the fastening stitches, I wonder if that would make the schleier stick together in the wash. But considering how linen was washed during old times I doubt it. And on that note, the known materials for schleier, taken from the Nürnberg testimonies, are linen and cotton[5]. I would think they were washed in similar fashion, since both materials can take heat and beating without suffering from it like a silk or wool would.
Schweiz, Maria und Engel der Verkündigung, detail,  ca 1470,
now in the  Bavarian National Museum in Muenchen (Photo by Elsa Hahma)
Here is a rather simple version, clearly wrapped in four layers over the forehead, then folded double and wrapped around the chin and head. And it looks rather bulky with just four layers. For science I did cut and hem a five metre long veil, that would be long enough for it to be wrapped six times around my head, forming six Vächer, and then enough to form a vimple hanging over the shoulder or wrapped around the chin. It was rather difficult to wrap it in front of the mirror, since the amount of fabric being handled, it tangling around me like a toga and then, when all was on top of the head I fastened the Vächer with four pins over the forehead. The veil was certainly to wide, since it bulked up way too much fabric in the back, but I did manage to wrap it in forming a large bulb in the back. (Note – this headwear is not for driving. It is very difficult trying to hold your head straight in a car seat, I had to pull back the back of the seat in order for my now rather large head to fit in the car without me having to hit my head on the steering wheel.)
Zwei Wunder aus der Kindheit des hl. Nikolaus, Hans Traut Nurnberg, End of 15 C (Photo by Elsa Hahma)
In this picture it looks like a number of layers simply wrapped around the head and the loose hanging part is folded in the middle.
Portrait of a Woman of the Hofer Family, artist unknown, c. 1470

There are also a number of Schleier with frilled edges and Vächer, somewhat a combination of the earlier fashion with the frilled veils and the later ones with Vächer. There is also a geographic difference since frills is predominantly used in the western parts of Europe and the Vächer more in the German speaking cultures. In this portrait the Schleiers is supported by a Vulsthaube of a rather unusual shape, the edges are frilled and it is definetly pinned or stitched together. It seems that the part hanging down in the back is also pinned/stitched along the edge so that it will hang neatly together.

Hair showing and the use of the Gefrens

Portrait of a Burgerfrau
Sebald Bopp attributed, 1475
A number of portraits and the main part of women depicted in the Hausbook of Castle Wolfegg part of the hair, braided, is shown over the temples and hiding the ears. The use of the Gefrens, the little fringe of string covering the back of the neck, seems to be the fashion, often seen in combination with the Vächer (pleated Steuchleins), but it does not seem to be used when the Vulst comes into use. I would say, after having studied this in many pictures covering the period 1440-1510, that the Gefrens falls out of use as the Vulst gets popular in the last decades before 1500. The same goes for showing of hair/braids over the temples and ears, it too is not to be seen in combination with the Vulst and is also seen in the earlier decades and fades away towards the end of the 15th C.

Pair of lovers, Master BXG, detail, Germany, 1470-1490


15th century (1486?) Germany Basel, Universitätsbibliothek, AN II 3: Matriculation Register of the Rectorate of the University of Basel, Volume 1 (1460-1567) fol.69v - Rektorat von Ludwig Odertzheym, SS 1486; coat of arms 

 Wrapped layers? 

Lägg till Detail from the Birth of Mary, 1490-1510, Ansbach, Germany (Schwanenritteraltar, St. Gumbertus)
Another possible solution is wrapping a long band of hemmed linen fabric to create the “pleats”. Like the well known picture of Mary Magdalene by Rogier van der Weyden. Just compare these two pictures and you will see what I mean.

Rogier van der WEYDEN. St Mary Magdalene 1450s Silverpoint on prepared paper

Steuchliens without pleats and using patterned fabrics

There are also variations showing Steuchliens without the pleats, using other elements of decoration, and being used with or without the Vulst. Here are some examples:
Wife of Dr. Johann Stephan Reuss - Lucas Cranach the Elder

In this portrait it looks more like a woven piece with black (or dark blue) and red stripes. It looks like it is simply tied in a knot in the back and then the longer wimple-piece is folded and pinned in the back instead of hanging down. And in the following it is a thin three stripes in black on the veil.

Anonymous German Artist active in Swabia
ca. 1480 Portrait of a Woman

Testing theories
According to sumptuary laws one was not allowed more than six Vächer (folds) in a headdress in Nuremberg[6]. Obviously this was not obeyed, as can be seen in the picturematerial provided earlier.

I have some different theories to try concerning construction of Vächer. First I want to try the simple wrap a really long veil around your head letting the hem form Vächer. So I started with a long light-weight linen veil, long enough to wrap six laps and leaving a vimple to hang around the neck. This meant that I had to hem about 5,5 metres of veil. Then the veil turned out too wide, so I had to cut it down and re-hem it down one side. It is not easy to wrap it neatly around the head either, the length of it lying in a heap on the floor. And the weight is a strain on the neck with just the six Vächer. It also is very hard to get that very neat and tight row of pleats as I have shown in the period art examples. Jutta Sander-Zeidel describes these Schleier as finely layered pleats referred to as Vach/Vächer and also states that they are held together by a punctuating fastening of some kind[7]. Some of the depictions I have shown indicated pins, others might be either a single or multiple rows of stitches.

Considering these findings I am convinced that any headdress showing more than six Vächer needs to be constructed otherwise. I mean, in some of those pictures the lady is wearing up to 20 or more Vächer. Even if you made it in silk it would be a huge amount of fabric that you have to manuever around your head.

So I had to look for other options in order to get that look with a stack of pleats over the forehead. A separate section with just the pleats seemed to be a promising thing to try, better than the widespread used solution on sewn pleats at the end of a veil that I, as well as many others, have used. First I will show a few examples of my tryouts to get the right look with the pleated veil.

First picture shows the plain rather square veil with pleats at one end, folded over the forehead, pinned in the back and then simply tucked in. The second picture shows additional long veils wrapped on top of the pinned pleated veil. It works but does not really add up for me. I favour the use of gefrens and braids showing over the ears.

So back to the drawing board. I wanted to get the look of stacked pleats and when discussing this with Meisterinne Katheryn we both agreed that a separate piece, pinned or basted onto a small cap, with or without a vulst, would be a logical solution. Then the cap can be washed while the pleated piece can be kept in good condition, maybe even starched to keep the shape. That also gives you the ability to use the piece with or without the vulst or with different caps.

I started with hemming a lot of linen strips, stacking them up and then basting them together to form a neat little row of pleats.

I formed the basted stack of pleats into a piece and fastened it all together at the sides.

Then I went on to construction of some kind of cap to pin/baste it too. I decided to try with a very simple version of a vulst, a piece of linen rolled around some wool yarn forming a padded roll at one end. Then I formed it in the sides with a simple gathering and finally stitched on a band to tie it with. But since tying it with a knot would not go well with putting a veil on top I decided to pin the tiebands together over the forehead instead. The vulst leaves the back of the head uncovered.

With a smaller veil wrapped and pinned on top the separate vächer looks rather neat and it is so much more comfortable and easier to wear then the 5,5 meters of veil. This will also work very well with a longer veil hanging down in the neck and forming a vimple as well. So the 5,5 meter veil will most likely not live very long but will be divided into two or maybe even three long veils, to be used on top of this separate Vächer-piece.

Zander-Seidel, Jutta “Textiler Hausrat – Kleidung und Haustextilien in Nürnberg von 1500-1650, München 1990

[1] Zander-Seidel 1990, pp 112-113
[2] Zander-Seidel 1990, p 110
[3] Sturtewegen 2008-2009, p 2
[4] Sturtewegen 2008-2009. p 2
[5] Zander-Seidel 1990, pp 110-111
[6] Zander-Seidel 1990, p 110
[7] Zander-Seidel 1990, p 110

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