15th Century Female Flemish Dress: A Portfolio of Images

This site contains images of women from paintings and sculpture of the 15th century by artists working primarily in the northwestern part of Europe. I have also included monumental brasses, though these are more problematic for costume study: they often do not correspond in date to the figures they depict, and they are more likely to use standardized artistic convention than other forms of artwork.

The site is intended to show examples of the predominant trends in upper class clothing from the era. The focus is on representations of real clothing, thus some of the more highly stylized "allegorical" clothing is not included. I have also not included the many images of the Madonna which depict her in a loose gown with gathered neckline.

The gowns show a distinct evolution from the full, loose fitting overgowns, with fitted undergowns, of the early part of the century, to the narrower silhouette of the later part of the century, ending with the transition gown that crosses over to the 16th century. I have used the terms houppelande, Burgundian, kirtle, and transition gown for my own convenience. They would obviously not be the terms necessarily used by the people who wore these gowns, nor are they the terms used, with complete consistency, by clothing historians.


The full, high waisted gown, loosely pleated and belted, worn over a fitted undergown.
c. 1400
Detail from monumental brass
Unknown Civilian and Wife
c. 1400
Three Ladies. France or Bohemia
additional detail: evanspl131c.jpg
c. 1400
From the tomb of Isabella of Bourbon.
The statuettes are believed to be representative of family members. Unlike monumental brasses,these sculptures show seam lines. Note the shoulder/armhole seams and front opening.
c. 1400
From the tomb of Isabella of Bourbon.

Jacopa della Quercia, c.1405
Ilaria del Carretto
Though Italian, this houppelande displays the same characteristics of the others presented here. The headdress, however, is quite Italian! Note the interesting sleeve detail. Hunnisett discusses this gown and provides a drawing.
Detail from Monumental Brass, 1415
Joan Peryent
Collar of underdress follows line of collar of overdress. Note full bishop sleeves of underdress.
Rogier van der Weydan, c. 1425-30
(Vos,  p. 177)
Detail from The Crucifixion
The Magdalen wears a purple (velvet?) houppelande, lined with green over a red undergown. Her undersleeves are a gold/green patterned fabric. She appears to have a purse or some object hanging between her undergown and overgown. Her headdress is either elaborately wrapped or wrapped over a more fitted cap/wrapping. It is unclear from this reproduction whether the ends of her open houppelande sleeves are bound in black fabric or with the green of the lining fabric.
Jan van Eyck, 1432
(Dhanens, p. 99)
Detail from the Ghent Altarpiece (Adoration of the Lamb)
The loose rose wool houppelande (the color in this reproduction tends towards brown), lined with green,  has large open sleeves that do not really show the sleeves of the undergown. The linen inner collar follows the lines of the houppelande neckline, though the artist has depicted it as rather askew!
Rogier van der Weydan, c. 1435
Web Gallery of Art
Lady Wearing a Gauze Headdress
Fur lined brown houppelande. (Jean Hunnisett uses this image as a basis for one of her patterns.) 
Rogier van der Weyden, 1430-35
(Vos, p. 14)
Detail from The Descent from the Cross
Mary's supporter wears a green houppelande lined with gray fur. (Note the way the neckline is bound by the fur lining.) Her undergown is laced in the center front.
Rogier van der Weydan, c. 1438
(Campbell, p. 393)
The Magdalen Reading (fragment of an altarpiece)
The Magdalen wears a fur lined green houppelande over a gold underdress. According to Campbell her headdress is "recognizably different from those worn by contemporaries and which resemble the headdresses thought suitable for the Virgin and other women of biblical times." (p. 395)
Jan van Eyck, 1439
Web Gallery of Art
Portrait of Barbara van Eyck
Rogier van der Weydan, c. 1443-45
(Vos,  p. 235)
Detail from the Triptych of the Crucifixion
The donor's wife wears a black fur-lined houppelande with bagged sleeves and red undersleeves. The front opening extends below her waist. Her headdress resembles that of the "Lady" above more so than that of the biblical women in Weydan's other paintings. Note how her sleeve appears to be twisted at the wrist.
Petrus Christus, 1449
(Ainsworth, p. 97)
Detail from Saint Eligius (also known as "The Goldsmith's Shop)
The lady appears to be wearing a sheer neck drape or partlett. I was able to see this painting quite closely at the Met in NY last year but I'm afraid even close up the headdress was difficult to figure out. It appeared that the linen veils (one sheer and one more opaque) were supported by wire above the height of the ear pieces, that is, the structure covering the ears ends under the opaque veil and something additional actually holds the veil up.
Petrus Christus, c.1450
(Ainsworth, p. 133)
Detail from Portrait of a Female Donor
This gown is interesting as a burgundian/houpellande transition. It has the fitted sleeves and deep v-neck of the Burgundian but the fullness approaching a houppelande. In any case, it is fur lined and worn over a black undergown or insert. The truncated henin resembles that of the Weydan Portrait of a Woman. The sleeve head is interesting because it suggests that the sleeve is not a raglan sleeve, rather a regular set in sleeve that has a deep armscye.
Rogier van der  Weyden, 1453-5
(Vos, p. 299)
Detail from St. John Altarpiece
The two visitors are quite tiny images in the original painting, hence not a lot of detail. The woman in front wears a red houppelande over a black undergown.


The fitted, high waisted development of the gown that exemplifies the gothic ideals of tall and narrow.
Rogier van der Weydan, c. 1455
Web Gallery of Art
Portrait of a Lady
Rogier van der Weydan, c. 1464
Web Gallery of Art
Portrait of a Woman
Hans Memling, c. 1463
Web Gallery of Art
Detail from The Presentation in the Temple
Hans Memling, c. 1469
(Vos, p. 84)
Detail from exterior of the triptych The Last Judgment
Caterina de Francesco Tanagli, wife of Angelo di Jacopo Tani who was manager of the Medici bank in Bruges from 1455-1465 before Tommaso Portinari. She wears a red Burgundian with open sleeve seam and pearled/beaded veil.
Hans Memling, c. 1478
(Campbell, p. 377)
The Donne Triptych
Saint Catherine wears the "royal surcoate," Saint Barbara wears a fitted kirtle with pin-on oversleeves, Lady Donne wears ( detail: campbellp377a ) the purple Burgundian with fitted sleeves and fur collar/trim. Her daughter wears a fitted kirtle with front open and laced over a red undergown (or false front?).
Hans Memling, c. 1482
Web Gallery of Art
Wife of William Moreel

Burgundian, Later (Alternate) Type

Hans Memling, c. 1470
Web Gallery of Art
Tommaso Portinari and his Wife
Hans Memling, c. 1470
Web Gallery of Art
Portrait of an Old Woman
Hugo van der Goes, 1476-79
Web Gallery of Art
Detail from the Portinari Triptych
Hans Memling, 1484
(Web Gallery of Art)
Barbara Moreel and family


In this case the term kirtle is being used simply as a catch-all for the short-sleeved fitted style of undergown, evolved from the previous century. It is conjecture that the shortened sleeves were in response to the narrowing of sleeves of the overgown. A number of these dresses appear in late century with a clearly delineated lowered waistline, though they do not necessarily show a waist seam that becomes more common in the 16th century.
Detail from Rogier van der Weyden's "The Deposition"
(Davies, pl. 1)
The Magdalen wears a fitted kirtle, with waist seam and interesting piecing in the skirt . Her sleeves are pinned on.
Rogier van der  Weyden, 1430-35
(Vos, p. 24)
Detail from The Descent from the Cross
Additional detail of gown closure
Rogier van der  Weyden, 1438-40
(Vos, p. 211)
Detail from the Triptych of the Crucifixion 'Abegg triptych'
Fur lined purple kirtle over brocade undergown. Note the side and sleeve lacing and "biblical" headdress.
Rogier van der Weydan, c. 1450
(Web Gallery of Art)
Braque Family Triptych (detail)
The Magdalen's kirtle shows seam details and she wears that amazing, controversial, hat.
Rogier van der  Weyden, 1453-5
(Vos, p. 121)
Detail from St. John Altarpiece
Blue gown over green undergown
Dieric Bouts, ca. 1455
(Ainsworth, G. David, p. 127)
Detail from Deposition with additional detail of side lacing
The red kirtle is worn over a white undergown with deep fur border at hem.
rene small
King René, Le Cueur d'Amours Espris
The dark colors reflect the fact that this is a night scene. The linked image is a detail from the larger work, showing what may be a kirtle with a pinned on piece. This piece would be the visible portion at the neckline of the Burgundian gowns, above.

Hugo van der Goes, 1465-68
Web Gallery of Art
Detail from the Calvary Triptych
A rare example of a kirtle with an obvious separate bodice and skirt.
Hugo van der Goes, c. 1470
(Nikulin, p. 41)
Detail the Massacre of the Innocents. Right panel of triptych on early life of Christ.
Short sleeves, front laced, no visible waist seam. Note the v-neck back and rounded shift neckline in the detail of the other gown on this panel. Interestingly, she seems to have another layer under the false sleeve (visible at the wrist) and the false sleeve passes inside the short sleeve, that is, it is not pinned to the outside of her short sleeve as in other images of this style.
Detail from van der Weyden's "The Presentation in the Temple" from the Columba Altarpiece
(Davies, p. 28)
This detail from the right panel of the altarpiece , shows Mary's attendant holding the two doves required for sacrifice. Her hat is of interest because of its similarity to that worn by the Magdalen in another Rogier van der Weydan painting. Her undergown, like that above, has a deep fur border. This is the only example I've seen so far of a split skirt in an otherwise non allegorical type gown.
c. 1470-1480
(Kahsnitz, Rainer, and William D. WixomGothic and Renaissance Art in Nuremberg, 1300–1550), Metropolitan Museum of Art.
(and thanks to Julia for the reference)
Hans Memling, ca. 1480
(Vos, p. 171, and Web Gallery of Art)
Detail of Mary Magdalen from the Triptych of Adriaan Reins
Hans Memling, 1485-1490
(Web Gallery of Art)
Allegory of True Love

Transition Gown

Moving towards the square neckline, full sleeves, natural waistline and separate bodice and skirt construction of the 16th century.
Gerard David, ca. 1495
(Ainsworth, G. David, p. 123)
Detail from The Crucifixion
A fur lined green front-opening kirtle over a black undergown. Or is it? This is an interesting example of the three layer sleeves seen in several paintings of this period. The fitted button black sleeve is under a full bell gold silk/satin sleeve which is under the short kirtle sleeve. 
Gerard David, 1502-08
(Ainsworth, G. David, p. 227)
Detail from exterior panel of the Baptism Triptych
An excellent example of the transitional gown.
Gerard David, ca. 1501-9
(Campbell, p. 147)
The Virgin and Child with Saints and Donor
Saints Catherine, Barbara and Mary Magdalen wear the fitted kirtle. Saint Barbara wears the variation with side or back closure, short sleeves, tight sleeved undergown and the additional layer or false sleeve of white silk or linen. Mary Magdalen's gown appears to have a wrap over asymmetrical front closure. Saint Catherine's rich gown reflects her royal status.
Detail of Saint Barbara ( campbellp147a )
Gerard David, 1509
(Ainsworth, p. 74)
Detail from Virgin among Virgins
Saint Catherine is often depicted in the "royal" surcoate.
Gerard David, 1509
(Ainsworth, p. 74)
Detail from Virgin among Virgins
Gerard David, 1509
(Ainsworth, p. 75)
Detail from Virgin among Virgins
Gerard David, 1509
(Ainsworth, p. 75)
Detail from Virgin among Virgins
Gerard David, 1509
(Ainsworth, p. 75)
Detail from Virgin among Virgins

Additional Headdresses

Robert Campin, ca. 1435
(Campbell, p. 75)
Portrait of a Woman
Headdress made of three pieces of linen with fluted or goffered edges. Purple houppelande with gray fur lining.
Rogier van der Weydan, c. 1436-9
(Campbell, p. 423)
Detail from The Exhumation of Saint Hubert.
Attrib. to Justus of Ghent, ca. 1460
(Campbell, p. 290)
Detail from the Brazen Serpent, left wing of the Crucifixion
I have not yet found a color version of this painting. I include it here because if is the only other example I have found of the hat similar to that in the two paintings by van der Weydan shown above. 
Goes, Hugo van der: Deposition Diptych (Small Deposition, right wing), c. 1480
Web Gallery of Art. Click through to the large version and look at the top figure. At first her headwear looks similar to the Rogier van der Weyden's Magdalen wrap hat, but in close up it appears to simply be several layers of cloth. However, the effect is similar. (and thanks again to Julia for finding a large version of this image)
STOSS, Veit: High Altar of St Mary (Pouring the Bathing Water), 1477-89
Petrus Christus, after 1460
Web Gallery of Art
Portrait of a Young Girl
Hans Memling, c. 1484
Detail from the right wing of the Moreel triptych showing Barbara Moreel with her daughters. Note that the black loop appears to be attached to a headband. Could this loop/headband arrangement have been a structural support for henins, is the loop a separate pin or comb-like item upon which the headband or henin rests or is attached, or were these black loops attached to other headbands or henins? Also see the color detail above.

  1. Ainsworth, Maryan W. Gerard David: Purity of  Vision in an Age of Transition. (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998.)
  2. Ainsworth, Maryan W. Petrus Christus: Renaissance Master of Bruges . (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994.)
  3. Campbell, Lorne. The Fifteenth Century Netherlandish Schools . (London: National Gallery Publications 1998.)
  4. Davies, Martin. Rogier van der Weyden. (London: Phaidon Press, 1972.)
  5. Dhanens, Elizabeth. Hubert and Jan van Eyck. (New York: Alpine Fine Arts Collection, Ltd.)
  6. Evans, M. W. Medieval Drawings. (London: Paul Hamlyn, 1969.)
  7. Hunnisett, Jean. Period Costume for Stage & Screen. Patterns for Women's Dress, Medieval-1500. (Studio City, CA : Players Press, c1996.)
  8. Krem, Emil and Daniel Marx. Web Gallery of Art . Available online at: http://www.kfki.hu/~arthp/index1.html
  9. McFarlane, K.B. Hans Memling. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971.)
  10. Nikulin, Nikolai. 15th and 16th Century Netherlandish Paintings in Soviet Museums. (Leningrad: Aurora Art Publishers, 1987.)
  11. Panofsky, Erwin. Tomb Sculpture. (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.)
  12. Trivick, Henry. The Picture Book of Brasses in Gilt. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1971.)
  13. Vos, Dirk de. Hans Memling: The Complete Works. (Ghent: Ludion Press, 1994.)
  14. Vos, Dirk de. Rogier van der Weyden: The Complete Works. (New York: Henry N. Abrams, Inc., 1999.)

Hope Greenberg
Created/Updated: September 2000/November 2003.