Girdle thumbnail 1
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 62, The Foyle Foundation Gallery

Girdle

ca. 1540-1580 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This length of braided silk and metal thread is the sort of passementerie, or decorative trimming, that was used for both dress and furnishings in the sixteenth century. However, the weighted knots at each end make it seem most likely that it was a dress accessory, in which the two ends would hang down decoratively. The majority of illustrations showing women wearing girdles in this period suggest that they were fastened by a clasp, for which there is no evidence in this piece, but there are occasional illustrations of girdles knotted. Other sixteenth century portraits show decorative braids or chains looped up at the waist. The relative fragility of this braid would probably not have allowed anything to be suspended from it, so it was presumably decorative rather than functional. It is also possible that it was used by a man rather than a woman. The portrait of Henry VIII after Holbein in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, shows the King with a relatively narrow sash, presumably of silk, passed twice around his waist and knotted decoratively. The length of this braid, at nearly 4 metres, would entail it being passed at least twice around the body, however great the height and girth of its wearer.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Braided silk and metal thread
Brief Description
braided silk and metal thread, possibly made in France or Italy, ca. 1540-1580
Physical Description
Braided silk and metal thread, probably intended as a girdles as it has decorative knots at each end. The two outer elements are of narrow green silk with metal thread comprising gilt strip wound around a white silk core. The sets of loops are regular and are joined cross-wise at intervals with short denser bands of green silk and metal thread, and between them linking them, are open and tight knots of metal thread.
Dimensions
  • Length: 375cm
  • Width: 3.8cm
Measured for the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries
Object history
Purchased. Registered File number 1989/1718.

Leopold Iklé (1838-1922) was a Swiss textile industrialist and collector. We do not have a provenance for the braid before it entered his collection.



Historical significance: This is a rare survival of such a braid, as its length, decorative quality and the precious metal content could all have made it subject to reuse, or burning to extract the metal (which often happened to metal lace and other textiles containing metal thread).
Historical context
This length of braided silk and metal thread is the sort of passementerie that was used for both dress and furnishings in the sixteenth century. However, the weighted knots at each end make it seem most likely that it was a dress accessory, in which the two ends would hang down decoratively. The majority of illustrations showing women wearing girdles suggest that they were fastened by a clasp, of which there is no evidence in this piece, but there are occasional illustrations of girdles knotted; for example the drawing of An English Lady Walking c.1540 by Hans Holbein (Ashmolean Musuem Oxford; illustrated in A Visual History of Costume by Ribeiro and Cumming, no.37). Other sixteenth-century portraits show decorative braids or chains looped up at the waist, for example the Portrait of a Woman by Francois Quesnel in the Kunstindustrimuseet, Oslo (illustrated in A History of Costume in the West by Francois Boucher, no. 469).



The relative fragility of this braid would probably not have allowed anything to be suspended from it, so it was presumably decorative rather than functional. It is also possible that it was used by a man rather than a woman. The portrait of Henry VIII after Holbein in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, shows the King with a relatively narrow sash, presumably of silk, passed twice around his waist and knotted decoratively. The length of this braid, at nearly 4 metres, would require it to be passed at least twice around the body, however great the height and girth of its wearer. This painting is also a useful point of reference for the pattern of the braid, as the decoration, both on Henry's short outer gown and on the curtain hanging behind, resemble the form of its open knots.



The braid may have been made in Italy or France, as there was manufacturing of such passementerie incorporating metal thread in both countries.
Summary
This length of braided silk and metal thread is the sort of passementerie, or decorative trimming, that was used for both dress and furnishings in the sixteenth century. However, the weighted knots at each end make it seem most likely that it was a dress accessory, in which the two ends would hang down decoratively. The majority of illustrations showing women wearing girdles in this period suggest that they were fastened by a clasp, for which there is no evidence in this piece, but there are occasional illustrations of girdles knotted. Other sixteenth century portraits show decorative braids or chains looped up at the waist. The relative fragility of this braid would probably not have allowed anything to be suspended from it, so it was presumably decorative rather than functional. It is also possible that it was used by a man rather than a woman. The portrait of Henry VIII after Holbein in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, shows the King with a relatively narrow sash, presumably of silk, passed twice around his waist and knotted decoratively. The length of this braid, at nearly 4 metres, would entail it being passed at least twice around the body, however great the height and girth of its wearer.
Bibliographic Reference
Silk: Fibre, Fabric and Fashion, edited by Lesley Ellis Miller and Ana Cabrera Lafuente with Claire Allen-Johnstone, Thames and Hudson Ltd. in association with the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, United Kingdom, 2021, p. 243
Collection
Accession Number
T.370-1989

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record createdJuly 8, 2005
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