|Recueil des modes de la cour de France, 'Dame de Qualité en Manteau' |
by Nicholas Bonnart, 1682-1686
The mantua appears in the late 17th, a loose gown that is pleated to fit the body and with a split skirt that is folded back to reveal the lining or wrong side of the fabric. Formal gowns of the time had boned and rigid bodices and even if the mantua were worn over stays, the folds gave it a fluid and less formal appeance. In the 18th century the mantua developed into three directions. In England it turned into the ultra formal court mantua, which the English prefeered over the Robe de Cour. It also evolved into the Robe Anglasie, first with the folds sewn down, but later the folds disappeared into seams and the bodice and skirt got separated. In France it turned into the Robe Battante or Volante, allowing the pleats to hange freely, and then into the Robe Francasie with its fitted front and loose back pleats. When, in the late 18th century the Anglaise and Francasie married into the Robe Piemontaise we get a gown which is quite far from its great-grandparent the mantua.
There are few extant mantuas from this early period and even fewer seems to have been researched to any great length. To my knowledge there are only three which have had their pattern taken.
The earliestt mantua I have seen depicted is from 1672 and is indeed a very informal painting of the artist's children, but the mantua is still quite lavish. It has two typical characteristics of the early mantua, very short sleevs and the skirt is folded back well below the hips. Although it can't be seen here, it probably also had a closed front. Mantuas worn by the upper classes always seems to have had a train.
|The artist's daughter combing her brother by Claude Lefebvre, 1672|
In the 1680's the sleeves remained quite short, but the skirt is folded back atop of the hips. Stripes were very popular and the mantua could both match or contrast with the petticoat. There were also a rather wide array in how the petticoat was decorated.
A collection of mantuas from Recueil des modes de la cour de France, 1670-1693.
A mantua and petticoat in both different colours and patterns, the petticoat trimmed with either a fringe or a flounce.
Matching mantua and petticoat, decorated with gold galoons and red bows.
Three striped mantuas where the direction of the stripes are used for different effects.
Blue mantua and petticoat decorated with dots, the petticoat decorated with three flounces.
Mantuas were worn by the lower classes as well. They were shorter and the skirt didn't have to be bunched up over the hips. In fact, it is very easy to see how it evolved into the Robe Anglaise from these pictures. All comes from The Cryes of the City of London Drawne after the Life, from around 1688.
There was a fad in the late 17th century to be painted informally dressed in what was called a nighgown, gowns worn without stays and in reality not worn outside the home. Unfortunately that means that it is quite rare with portraits of women wearing mantuas from the 17th century.
|Eléonore Desmier d’Olbreuse, ca 1680|
|Mantua in striped wool with silver gilt embroidery, 1690-1695|
|Mary II, engraving by John Smith after a painting by Jan van der Vaardt|
The Kimberley gown may have a contender when it comes to age in the Valdemar Castle gown from Denmark, which is dated to 1695-1700. The information about this gown is very scant, but you can read more about it in Anéa's article about it, here. EDITED: There is a pattern of this gown, which can be found in Ellen Andersen's Moden i 1700-årene, fra 1690 till 1790 from 1977.
|Eleanor James, 1690-1700|
|Portrait of the Marchioness Angela Maria Lombardi, ca 1700|
A midnight blue mantua from ca. 1700, gorgeously embroidered in gold. So beautiful and clearly designed to be worn over a stomacher.
|Mantua in silk with gold embroidery, ca. 1700|
An extant mantua that seems to be virtually unknown is the one on the effigy of Frances Stuart in Westminster Abbey. It is said to be wearing her coronation robe, presumably for Queen Anne's coronation in April, 1702. Frances herself died in October he same year, A picture of the front can be found here.
|Funeral Effigy of Frances Stuart, Duchess of Richmond and Lennox|
The style is quite similar to this one.
|Elizabeth Percy, Duchess of Somerset with her son Algernon, by John Closterman, ca.. 1692|
A salmon pink mantua with a petticoat with two flounces, which gives it a wider siloutte. Paniers weren't in vogue yet, but there is a trend toward a fuller skirt profile. I'm uncertain if the stomacher is original or not. The style is different, it is quilted and embroidered, but the colours matches the mantua very well.
|Mantua in silk brocade, ca. 1708|
The Shrewsbury mantua has lost both stomacher and petticoat, unforunately. The pattern can be found in Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion 1 and differs quite a lot from the Kimberley mantua. The former consists of separate front and back pieces with set in sleeves, while this one is made from a continous length of fabric with a kind of kimono sleeve. The sleeves look similar to the Valdemar Castle gown with its tight pleating, but those are set in sleeves.. Arnold has also written a longer article of this gown for the journal "Costume", Volume 4, Number 1, 1970, which can be purchased here. Personally I find £15 a bit steep for one article, though.
|Mantua in green silk brocade, ca. 1710|
In the 1720's the skirts gets wider still.
|Mantua in silver brocaded pale blue silk, ca. 1720|
|Mantua in silk, ca. 1720|
There is also a mantua at Nordiska museet in Sweden, but unfortunately there is no more information about it than this black and white picture from a book several years out of print.
EDIT: Some addtional information in a later blog post.
I could go on posting mantuas as they were worn for a couple of more decades, but as we are quickly moving away from the style of mantua I want to make, I will finish with this recently restored mantua in Lincolnshire. It is made from Spitafield silk dated to 1737. More information can be found here, here and a pdf article here.