Old Master Paintings

How to Make a Fashion Statement in Elizabethan Times

By Sotheby's

This portrait of Anne Russell, which features in the Old Master Paintings sale in London on 2 May, features some of the most extravagant court fashion worn during the final years of Queen Elizabeth I's reign.

The elaborate outfit, which may have been gifted to Anne by the Queen, makes not only an impressive fashion statement but also contains references to the subject’s recent marriage.

Anne, the younger daughter of Lord John Russell and Elizabeth Cooke, went to court as one of Queen Elizabeth I's last maids of honour in 1594, and on 16 June 1600 the Queen herself honoured Anne and Henry Somerset, Lord Herbert, later 5th Earl & 1st Marquess of Worcester, by attending their marriage, one of the last dynastic unions of Tudor England.

In the painting Anne is portrayed in the costume associated with Elizabeth's maids of honour, such as the head-dress composed of silver wire and pearls. Her stomacher and leg-of-mutton sleeves are embroidered with intricate, colourful flowers, fruit, birds and insects, all overlaid with silk gauze, while the silver motif sewn into her black skirt would appear to represent a grapevine, or perhaps hops.

This portrait must have been painted after Anne and Henry Somerset married in the summer of 1600, as her wedding band is prominently displayed on her left hand. In addition to this, she wears a triple chain necklace of gold and pearls, a large locket on a jet necklace, bejewelled with diamonds and most probably containing a miniature of her new husband, as well as fine enamelled hearts at her neck, also indicating her recent marriage, with star and moon shapes with rubies suspended from the same string of pearls, typical of English jewellery in the first decades of the 17th century.

The rich and deliberately-placed spinel or ruby-encrusted pendant tied to her shoulder with red ribbon, representing either an acorn or a bunch of grapes (as in the skirt), must have been a specific and significant, but as yet untraced, jewel. The large, fashionable ostrich-feather fan complements these other rich accoutrements to express Anne's noble status and position of favour.

The little dog tucked under her arm, balancing on her farthingale skirt, represents not only another expensive accessory, but also Anne's virtue of conjugal fidelity.

Queen Elizabeth is known to have gifted clothes from her vast wardrobe (by the time she died her gowns numbered over 2,000) to those closest to her, and it is just possible that this dress worn by Anne correlates with one recorded in an inventory in 1600.

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