Our painting is one that can inspire grief. The woman who is the focus of today’s detail is weeping, although I suspect she is trying to do so silently, and to herself. Her brow is furrowed, and tears fall from her eyes, which are sparkling with fresh tears, and a little red. Her mouth is only a slightly open – no loud wailing, no grand display of lamentation here. She lifts a hand to her face, maybe to wipe the tears away with her fingers, or with her scarf, or maybe to hide her eyes. Given the proximity of that rope, and the sheathed sword running alongside her head, she probably doesn’t want to step out of line. Next to her is a child – I think it’s a child – with the most extraordinary headgear.
Of course, it is a child, but one of the features of this artist’s style is that he (or maybe she?) couldn’t do children. Or rather, it might be more art historically accurate to say that the artist painted children like small, gnarled adults (exactly like some babies, if we’re honest). It’s not that they ‘couldn’t do children’, but that they chose ‘to do children’ like this: we’re not in a position to hypothesize why. And as for the headgear – well, fashion is clearly important today. I’m not an expert on historical clothing, but it’s a fair guess to say that no one has ever worn anything like that child has on its head. This is just a hint that, as far as the artist is concerned, we are ‘elsewhere’, even ‘far away’.
The woman’s outfit does not seem so unusual, being familiar from many costume dramas on stage and screen, not to mention the occasional painting, of course. She wears what is called a reticulated headdress – i.e. her hair is caught up in a net. Have said that, it is made to look as if her hair is caught up in a net – that’s not her hair though, the headdress it is padded to look as if it is. As you can see, her own hair is tied into plaits which emerge on either side – although the plaits could, of course, be extensions. Now yesterday we were talking about court musicians in the early 16th Century, and the day before I said that I thought that parts of the palace dated to the same period. However, as far as I can tell, reticulated headdresses like this date to the end of the 14th and beginning of the 15th centuries. And that might not be a scarf, but an attachment to the hat – it does look to be more or less the same colour as the hat band. If it is, then it is a liripipe, an item of fashion that women adopted from the male chaperon at some time in the 1440s – still a long time before the 16th Century. The decorations – i.e. the tear-drop gold beads hanging from the gold band – are not a feature of European dress though. Basically, if this is an early 16th Century painting, as other indications suggest, then with these two hats the artist is saying, ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…’ just like the opening of Star Wars. So maybe we should be looking for a young rebel from out in the sticks fighting against an evil empire…
Meanwhile, thank you to all those of you who came to Going for Gold 2 yesterday. Both talks were sold out (hoorah! thank you again!) and there are just a few tickets left for next Monday’s lectures. As well as those, I’ve just updated the diary page with other talks that are coming up over the next few weeks and months, in case you are interested.