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Dummy board - Woman with Fontagne Head-Dress

Woman with Fontagne Head-Dress

  • Object:

    Dummy board

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1700 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil paint on softwood

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Dummy boards are life-size, flat, wooden figures painted and shaped in outline to resemble figures of servants, soldiers, children, and animals. The taste for using illusionistic painted figures as a form of house decoration probably originated in the trompe l’oeil, or life-like interior scenes painted by Dutch artists in the early 17th century. Dummy boards continued to be produced into the 19 th century. They were placed in corners and on stairways to surprise visitors, or in front of empty fireplaces in the summer. Most were made by professional sign-painters, who also produced the hanging street signs prevalent until the late 18th century.

Physical description

Life-size cut-out painting on wood of a woman dressed in a winter emsemble. The headdress is an assemblage known as a fontage, consisting of high tiers of wire-supported lace. For warmth, this has been topped with a black hood which is loosely tied in front. Her brown gown is mostly covered by a black, fur- trimmed shawl, with the decorative underskirt exposed by the overskirt being looped-back and gathered at the rear. White kid gloves and a fan accessorise the ensemble.

The figure is painted on a single wide softwood board cut to shape, with chamfered edges, which has warped to a convex profile. A modern prop support has been added, and it is not clear what preceded this. Losses to the wood are visible along the top and bottom edges.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (made)


ca. 1700 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Oil paint on softwood


Height: 171 cm, Width: 46 cm, Depth: 33 cm Including foot, Thickness: 2 cm

Object history note

Bought from Mrs. B.B. Gordon, 109 Osborne Park, Belfast NI, for £20.
RP 45/835

Stated by the vendor in a letter dated 16th December 1945 to have come from the house of her great grandfather, William Courtis, Greenbank House, Scotland. Dated by the dress to about 1700 (unfortunately, there are several Scottish houses of this name).

The stand is probably not original. The small, filled holes on the back of the dummy board could have been for hooks to secure the object to the back of a chair which would have allowed it to 'stand'.

Historical context note

Life-size cut-out painting on wood of a woman wearing a winter ensemble intended for outdoor wear. The tall fontage headdress is topped with a black hood which is tied loosely in front. Consisting of a small, close cap of linen topped with wired tiers of lace, the fontage was elaborately supplemented with long lace lappets and ribbons. Just visible in this depiction, lace is seen framing the side of the face and at the shoulders; this is likely to be part of the fontage’s lappets which would normally hang loose when not covered by a hood. Additional lace at the chest front is perhaps part of the gown’s bodice, though the placement suggests that this is the ends of the lappets, pulled forward through the hood to ensure the lace remains on display. Green ribbons trimmed with red are also seen incorporated into the headdress, mirroring the ribbons of the gown’s bodice. Lace is further depicted spilling out from the elbow; here it emerges from the sleeve of the chemise, worn under the gown, which was typically trimmed with lace ruffles.
Much of the gown is covered by a black shawl arranged around the shoulder, draping the gown front. Likely composed of velvet, the shawl is trimmed (or lined) in red fur. In the final quarter of the 17th century, the open-fronted overgown with trained skirt was favoured. A close-fitting bodice joined the skirt in one piece, worn over a petticoat or underskirt. Gathered and hitched-up to the rear, the overskirt is arranged such that the ornamental underskirt can be appreciated. In this example, three bands of red trimming decorate the skirt. Standing in profile, the gathered, looped-back skirt of the gown is visible. However, the long train of skirts typical of this era is absent. This may be down to the structural limitation of accurately depicting dress in a solid medium, or, is indicative of an artist working later than 1690, hazily recollecting the fashions of an earlier time. Gloves of white kid and a fashionable fan further accessorise the outfit, whose components point to a date of 1690-1700.

For an excellent surviving example of how the fontage was arranged, including a back view, please refer to object T.846N to P-1974, a doll created around 1690-1700 dressed in the fashions of the era.

Comparable dummy boards
Female figure, 1702-1714, 175.6 x 46.1 cm., at National Trust, Knole, Kent. NT129476

Female figure, English, late 17th c., H. 42 in., from the Collection of Hanover House at Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina. Illustrated in: Silent companions:Dummy Board Figures of the 17th Through 19th Centuries. Exhibition at the Rye Historical Society (1981), p.20

Pair of dummy boards, probably 19th c., measurements 113 x 106 cm. Illustrated in the auction catalogue: The Autumn Country House Sale, Snowders, Stansted, 13/03/2016, Lot 478.

Pair of dummy boards, early 18th c., H. 51 1/2 in. (131 cm). Illustrated in the auction catalogue: Style and Spirit, Christie's, London, 17/09/2013, Lot 68

Descriptive line

Dummy board, oil on wood panel, woman with fontagne head-dress, British ca. 1700

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Graham, Clare. Dummy Boards and Chimney Boards. Shire Album 214, Aylesbury: Shire Publications Ltd, 1988. p.4.
ISBN 085263921X.





Subjects depicted



Clothing; Fashion


Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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