de nieuwe snede

the new cut – 16th century material culture in the low countries

Since 2006, I have been interested in the clothing seen on the Antwerpen women painted in the market scenes by Joachim Beuckelaer and Pieter Aertsen. My interest began when a friend showed me their copy of Drea Leed’s The Well Dress’d Peasant: 16th Century Flemish Workingwomen’s Dress in the summer of 2005. Utilizing the resources provided on her website, I constructed a kirtle and an overdress. While conducting my own research, I realized my interpretation was quite different. I taught a class on what I found at Estrella War in February 2008 and again at West Kingdom Collegium in 2008 and Arts and Sciences Tournament in 2015. I’ve since revised my original handout with updated information.  Using a wide variety of sources and texts, I will guide you through several interpretations of the layers of the Dutch market dress as well as help you gain a cultural understanding of the Low Countries in the sixteenth century. Throughout, I will use the term Dutch or Antwerpen as opposed to Flemish. The use of the term Flemish is a modern invention used to describe the language spoken in the Netherlands. More appropriate terms to describe the people and the costume would be Dutch or Netherlandish (Geyl 20, 21).

To understand the Netherlands in the sixteenth century, a basic understanding of the history of the  medieval low countries is important:

The Netherlands was divided among a number of distinct principalities, each with its own dynasty. North of the linguistic frontier running roughly from Dunkirk to the Ardennes forest, Flanders and Brabant were mostly Netherlandish-speaking, whereas Holland, Zeeland, and Utrecht were wholly so. To the south, Artois, Hainaut, and Namur were French-speaking. During the course of the Middle Ages each of these territories developed similar institutions, including local parliaments or “states,” and some of them formed dynastic unions among themselves. But it was only under the Dukes of Burgundy, a junior branch of the French royal house, that most of the territories of this region, while still preserving their separate institutions, were joined together under a single ruler.  (Tracy 2).

After Mary of Burgundy’s death in 1482, the Burgundian Netherlands came into control of her Hapsburg husband, Maximilian I. It was after this point that Holland went through two decades of economic decline, however for the towns linked to seafaring trade, this was a temporary setback (Tracy 9). Maximilian’s grandson Emperor Charles V came to rule in 1506,  and he “was largely successful in reestablishing the foundation of princely rule, thanks to an able government in Brussels led by his sister, Mary of Hungary” (Tracy 3).

Due to the declining health of Charles V, in 1555 rule of the Netherlands passed to his son King Philip II of Spain, who “was less inclined to take advice from Netherlands notables” (Tracy 3). He, along with his military governor the Duke of Alba, “rekindled a spirit of opposition in the provinces by pursuing to their logical conclusion the fiercely orthodox religious policies of his father” (Tracy 3). By 1572 the Dutch were in revolt against Spanish rule.  The independent Dutch nation would not be recognized until 1648 with the Treaty of Westphalia. It is also worth knowing what was happening specifically in Antwerp:

During the second and third quarters of the [sixteenth] century, Antwerp held the undisputed place as the center of this new commercial world. Baltic grain, English textiles, Portuguese spices, Spanish silver, German wines and metals all flowed in its markets, were exchanged, and flowed out again to their new destination. (Honig 4)

“Antwerp was an important central place in a prosperous and strongly urbanized region” (Deceulaer 135, 136). It is perhaps due to Antwerp’s importance in trade that attracted artists who painted what they saw around the bustling markets and kitchens of Antwerp.

Pieter Aertsen was born in either 1507 or 1508 in Amsterdam, Holland, where he also died in 1575. He resided in Antwerp until around 1556. When he first arrived in Antwerp he was initially linked to Jan Mandyn. Later Pieter Aertsen apprenticed to Allaert Claesz. He left Antwerp and returned to Amsterdam shortly before 1557. Many of his works follow a biblical theme. “Pieter Aertsen ran a workshop modeled on the Antwerp studios of the first half of the sixteenth century in all probability first in Antwerp and subsequently in Amsterdam, to which he returned shortly before 1557” (Kloek 28). Joachim Beuckelaer was a nephew of Pieter Aertsen. He was born in approximately 1533 and died in approximately 1574 in Antwerp. He trained in his uncle’s studio and like his uncle, he too painted market and kitchen scenes with biblical undercurrents. In 1560, he became an independent master.  Joachim Beuckelaer and Pieter Aertsen likely painted women who resided in Antwerp or Amsterdam, which were truly cities.

Contemporary to Beuckelaer and Aertsen, the Brunswick Monogrammist was an anonymous painter active in Antwerp in the second quarter of the 16th century, and painted many tavern and brothel scenes. Not much is known about he or she.

Often cited as a resource when it comes to construction of the market dress, Pieter Bruegel the Elder may have been born in Breda. He was accepted as a master of the Antwerp painters’ guild in 1551. Prior to that he was apprenticed to Pieter Coecke van Aelst. He traveled to Italy sometime after joining the painters’ guild. In 1553 he returned and settled in Antwerp. In 1563 he permanently settled in Brussels and married Coecke van Aelst’s daughter. He died in Brussels in 1569. The variations in the clothing seen in Bruegel’s and Aertsen and Beuckelaer’s artwork is of a regional and possible class difference. The area around Brussels is a primarily agrarian. Bruegel painted rural folk both at play and at work, and as such needs to be disregarded when considering the women in Beuckelaer’s and Aertsen’s work.

Currently, the widely available pattern reconstructions are that of Drea Leed and Kass McGann. Ms. Leed certainly pioneered the research into this style of dress and a key stylistic component of her recreation is a split front overdress worn over a kirtle, which she based off of a detail from Market Scene with Ecce Homo painted by Joachim Beuckelaer in 1566.

detail from market scene with ecco homo 1566

Detail from Market Scene with Ecce Homo by Joachim Beuckelaer 1566

Kass McGann bases her reproduction off of pictorial evidence in Beuckelaer and Aertsen’s artwork as well as a late sixteenth or early seventeenth century Irish dress, the Shinrone gown. Published in June 2008 on the Reconstructing History blog, McGann states that “constructing a garment from the smallest amount of materials with the least waste possible is the goal” due to the high cost for the working person of even relatively inexpensive wool. As a result of basing her recreation off the Shinrone gown and wishing to waste as little material as possible, McGann’s reconstruction avoids cuts and curves in the bodice fabric and believes a stomacher is worn under the gown as opposed to a kirtle. Her skirts are closed in the front.  

Antwerp had a booming secondhand and ready-to-wear market. In Entrepreneurs in the Guilds: Ready-to-Wear Clothing and Subcontracting in late Sixteenth- and early Seventeenth-century Antwerp Harald Deceulaer states “in 1568, the Antwerp second-hand dealers were said to ‘make or commission production of garments from new fabric daily’” though according to an ordinance from 1559, “second-hand dealers were forbidden to sell newly made clothing. Seven years later….this ordinance was not well respected” (141). Understanding the prices of the secondhand and ready-to-wear garments is another matter; “prices of ready-made clothes are hard to reconstruct, but it seems that most of them were not terribly expensive compared to clothing made to order” (137). The chances that these women were making their kirtles and gowns at home are slim, as at this point in time women “contributed to the family’s income by a separate occupation” and “there were skilled women contributing to the economy” (Zimmerman 393). In addition to the women not weaving the fabric or sewing the dress themselves, another fallacy is that the women had to be able to dress themselves. Dressing oneself is a modern convenience and ideal. The women in the market paintings likely had someone around, be it a spouse, child, or sibling to help them.

Considering the textual and the pictorial evidence as well as the evidence of a secondhand and ready-to-wear market, I believe that the layers of the dress are as follows; fabric hose, a white linen vrouwenhemd or smock, a woolen keurs or kirtle, an optional stomacher or borst, a woolen overdress, pin on sleeves (voormouwen), a white linen halsdoucken or partlet, a black wool collette which is the overpartlet, and a woolen jacket or a cloak called a huik. In addition, the women wear aprons (schortclene), veils (hooftdoucken) or hats.

Due to the climate in which I live, my kirtle layer linen or tropical weight wool. The overdresses remain woolen and I do not line my skirts as a concession to the heat.

I have made three different interpretations of the market dresses. I have made an overdress true to Kass McGann’s construction method worn with a stomacher, an overdress cut with a bodice that utilizes curved and cut construction worn with a stomacher, and an overdress using curved and cut construction in the bodice worn with a side lacing kirtle. As far as the visual evidence I used, I relied on Pieter Aertsen and Joachim Beuckelaer, pulling in a few other relevant artists as well. A website you might find useful is Morgan Donner’s Sewing Party, specifically her overview of women’s dress in Antwerp. Her collection of images are useful and I myself reference them when I need to see detail shots of certain items of dress.

The smock is the layer closest to the skin and was made of linen due to ease of laundering, The smocks seen on the market women are simply constructed.  The neck opening tends to be round or a rounded off square. The smocks lack gathered necks or cuffs and the sleeves are wide enough to be rolled up. 



My hose are made of fabric, although knit hose are a possibility. The imported knit stockings “were rather expensive at first, stockings in fabric remained an alternative for broader sections of the population” (Deceulaer 137). Hanna Zimmerman’s Textiel in Context features a hose analysis, stating that of the hose found in the moat in Groningen, all have the same basic shape with the leg being cut on the bias. The back seams of the hose are broad, and the gussets of the hose are triangular though the shape of the point varies. There were five sole shapes found, and on two thirds of the hose found the sole is a different and sturdier material than the leg. Most of the hose fabrics are coarse to medium materials in a tabby weave and stitched with linen thread, while the finer twills were stitch with silk thread. One hose contained a remnant of linen lining (Zimmerman, 387, 388). Though knitwear hose was available, I believe fabric hose to be the best choice for those depicting the market women.

The kirtle (keurs) would have most likely been made of wool or a wool-linen blend. As there are no extant Dutch kirtles that I am aware of and no extant linen kirtles, I base this assumption on the fact that a linen kirtle has not been mentioned in any inventory as as as anyone knows. The color range of the kirtles in the paintings are predominantly madder, followed by russet. Mustard and tawny are also seen. The stomacher only theory can’t be discounted as there’s no evidence either way, but I find it unlikely. Pieter Aertsen’s Peasants On The Way To The Market (date unknown) a woman is wearing what is clearly a kirtle under a jacket. Her kirtle does not have pleats that extend around the front, as is evidenced by the flatness of her skirt under the apron hem versus how the skirt falls in the back.

In Joachim Beuckelaer’s A Brothel Scene painted in 1562, a brothel employee can be seen wearing only a smock under her overdress.

She is fully dressed otherwise. I believe that if it were as simple as a stomacher only, she would be wearing one. All the other women in this brothel scene are fully clothed. In the cases of what looks to be a stomacher due to wrinkles under the lacing, the possible stomacher is almost always the same color as the apron. I believe in a majority of the cases people believe to be stomachers is the apron is tucked under the bodice lacing.

When what’s under the lacing is a different color than the visible underskirt, it could be a few different things. It could be a petticoat. Or it could be the bodice of the kirtle having a different color than the skirt, and while I long thought the artists were just making things up, a 1579 inventory of a miller’s widow from Leiden contains eene tanete keursse mit een rhoot lijf (a red-brown kirtle with a red bodice) It is not clear why this was done, more research is needed. This color combining trait continues into the overdresses.

The borst is a stomacher  worn under the overdress. I have seen one image where it is very clearly a stomacher, the others are less clear but due to to the excess fabric under the overdress lacing it could be a stomacher.

Screen Shot 2018-05-23 at 5.36.38 PM

detail from Brunswick Monogrammist An Inn with Acrobats and a Bagpipe Player circa 1550s

The overdress is most likely wool based on how the overdresses hang in the paintings – specifically the pleats. Zimmerman writes:

The common people wore ‘lappen’ and ‘landsticken.’ These were woollen fabrics, mostly of native wool woven in the region. The ‘lappen’ did now have the dimensions prescribed for proper cloth. Both were exempt from the official hallmarks. (383).

Deceulaer writes Antwerp, “was a major textile distribution centre in Europe. This may have lowered prices on the local market, enabling entrepreneurs to purchase fabric more easily” (140). The colors of the overdresses are very much the same as the kirtles, with the addition of more brown and green. Sometimes the bodices have a different color than the skirt, as noted above. It The overdress could have short sleeves, or be without sleeves. Regardless of whether there were sleeves set into the armscye, long sleeves were pinned on to the overdress. Like the sleeves on the smock, the pin on sleeves were wide enough to roll up. The overdresses do not appear to have a split skirt, and the one painting I have seen where the overdress can be seen without an apron, the skirt continues across the lacing gap remaining flat the whole time.
There’s no V-opening in that skirt. The overdresses on older women appear to lace through eyelets or rings, on the younger women it is almost always lacing rings. The color of the lacing varies, from off white to dark green to brown.

Over the overdress or under the overdresses between the kirtle, partlets (halsdoucken) are almost always worn.

Partlets and Partlets
Maritgen, whose inventory I translated, had 10 partlets –
3 vrouwenhemden mit 10 halsdoucken (3 women’s shirts with 10 partlets). The partlets come in a variety of styles. Almost all of the women in the paintings are wearing white linen partlets with a high collar and with gathers at the neck. The partlets extend around to the side of the bust, and sometimes appear to go most of the way under the arm. They always extend over the bust. Over the white linen partlets, the women can sometimes be seen wearing black wool partlets colliere or collette. The inventories make a distinction between linen partlets and wool partlets. The black wool partlets are shaped in three different ways. They can be little capelets and lined in white fur, though sometimes they are not lined in white fur. They can be triangular (possibly a square piece of wool folded into a triangle and pinned at the front) with or without a collar, or they can be rectangular with a high collar like the white linen partlets. The black wool partlets do not have pleats or gathers in the collar.

Another item that could be worn for warmth is a hallmark of Dutch fashion, the
huik. The huik, simply speaking, is a cloak. However it is a very specific style of cloak that is worn on the crown of the head and is almost always black. Deceulaer writes the “cloakmakers (huikmakers) also bought fabric, cut them into long cape-like coats, which they sold ready made” (137). Because of guild records, we know an average of 15 ells was needed for a huik (Deceulaer 138). The Antwerp ell measures .695 meters (Deceulaer 137) or roughly three-quarters of a yard. Another item worn when it cooled off were jackets. I have not seen a huik worn with a jacket.

The wool jackets span the same color variations as the kirtles and the gowns. The sleeves are usually gathered into the top of the armsyce, and the sleeve is wide enough to roll up. There is an example of an extant female jacket in Janet Arnold’s
Patterns of Fashion: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women c1560-1620, although this dates to 1616-18.  Construction methods could be inferred from this garment, though the Dutch jackets appear to be less form-fitting than the extant one would have been. In the painting below, a detail from Pieter Aertsen’s Market Scene,  I have seen what is probably best called a vest, but I’m not sure how often these were actually worn. Maritgen’s inventory mentions a ruglijf which literally translates as back bodice, but the English summary of the article states this to be an undergarment worn on the back (107). I find that translation to be problematic, but until I am able to examine the etymology further I can’t say for sure if there is a word for vest.  


Aprons are also worn by a majority of the women in the paintings. They span a wide range of colors, from white to tawny to blue to dark brown and even a few black. They can tie into a knot at the back, or they can tie using tape or string attached to the apron, they can tuck over a belt, or they can be tucked in over the lacing of the overdress. If they tie with tape, the tape wrap around the waist and tie in the front. Some paintings clearly show the corners of the aprons hanging down, but even in the case of aprons like these they wrap rather far around the body before the “ears” of the apron appear.

Topping off the look are the numerous options for covering the head. The foundation of the head covering are the taped braids. In the inventory of a miller’s widow from Leiden dated 1579, Maritgen the widow had
een laetdoucgen mit een vlechtsnour mit een lindt (one binding cloth with a hairtape with one ribbon) amongst her possessions. Over the braids the women frequently wear a coif. The coifs don’t often cover the ears in the manner of the extant coifs found in Patterns of Fashion. Over the coif, a hat can be worn. The hats vary in shape and material. They can be thrummed (see image below) hats or straw hats. There is also variation in shape. Some of the straw hats have the shape of an upside bowl, others have very shallow brims and are quite wide. If a hat is not being worn, a veil is. The veils are rectangular and on the older women or in the earlier brothel scenes painted around 1530,  they are not wired. These veils hit about jawline. In the later paintings and on the younger women, they are wired and hit at cheekbone level. The length of both of the veil styles goes down to approximately the shoulderblades. Widows wear something called a kinbaard, which is essentially a wimple and veil. This item is named in the 1579 inventory of a miller’s widow from Leiden. In her house, een wit zacgen mit 4 kinnebaerden (a white sack with 4 wimples) was found. The English summary of Huisraad van een molenaarsweduwe states “Oude Maria also had a number of hoods, undercaps made of linen. Over them a white ‘hooftdoucken’ (head kerchief) was worn. Further Oude Maria wore a ‘kinbaard’, a kerchief worn around the neck and chin forming one piece with the head kerchief. The ‘kinbaard’ was solely worn by widows.” (de Jong, 107).


Detail from A Dutch Kitchen Scene by Joachim Beuckelaer 1574

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