Peacocks of the Midcentury

Hours of Catherine of Cleves, in Latin

Illuminated by the eponymous Master of Catherine of Cleves

The Netherlands, Utrecht
ca. 1440
192 x 130 mm

Purchased on the Belle da Costa Greene Fund and with the assistance of the Fellows

MS M.917, pp. 64–65
Item description: 

Catherine of Cleves Shows Off
Although duchess of Guelders, in the northern Netherlands, Catherine was also the niece of Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy. For reasons of culture — and snobbery — she leaned toward the duchy of her famous uncle with its opulent court and extravagant clothes. In this portrait, Catherine, while humbly distributing alms, could not be more richly attired. Her voluminous ermine-lined houpeland, with cascading bombard sleeves, harks back to the luxurious early decades of the century. Her hair is enmeshed in reticulated gold temples. The boy receiving her coin is dressed in a hand-me- down, a handsomely tailored gown once owned by a wealthy man.

Exhibition section: 

Peacocks of the Midcentury

In 1435, during the final chapter of the Hundred Years' War, Duke Philip the Good switched sides and supported King Charles VII. By the following year, the English occupation of Paris ended. When Charles VII regained Normandy and Aquitaine in 1453, the long war was finally over. In the ensuing period of peace and prosperity, fashion revived.

These decades saw the last of the houpeland. It continued to be worn by men and women in provincial areas, but in France and Flanders it was appropriate only for formal occasions. Men more often wore the gown: full or knee length, belted at the waist. Over the course of these thirty years, men's gowns, via flaring pleats and ample shoulder padding, assumed a flattering, V-shaped silhouette. While the chaperon remained popular, new hats also arrived.

Women's gowns featured wide V necks with contrasting collars and partlets (plackards worn at the midriff). Headgear atop the temples continued to evolve, growing ever more extravagant. Burlets got thicker and climbed higher. Butterfly veils, supported by wires, floated like sails above ladies' heads.