Sunday, 22 September 2013

The Mantua Gown

The Mantua style appeared between the last years of the 17th century and the early part of the 18th century and was used by noble ladies as a formal day wear. At first it was considered a loose gown in comparison to the tightly laced gowns normally used at Louis XIV's court. Originally, this style was only worn as a casual robe under the name of a robe de chambre which was considered informal but still decent enough to receive guests in. At this point it was more a robe than an actual dress. So at some point the style developed and it became acceptable to wear it outside the comforts of your private apartments.

When the Mantua began to be seen around court it opened up for a new opportunity to show off the stomacher beneath it - and everyone knows that that means you could spend more on having your stomacher decorated! This was a development in itself because originally the bodice had been completely closed. The sleeves ended at the elbows (just like it did with men's banyans). What sets this style apart is the trend to drape the skirt back and in this way reveal the petticoat completely. This also meant that more volume would be added to the area around the hips. As can be seen on the drawing of Comtesse de Mailly beneath the Mantua was sewn close to the stomacher and no longer hung as a long coat - it had made the transformation into a dress acceptable everywhere.
One of the reasons as to why it became popular is that it offered the ladies of the court an alternative to the otherwise very stiff and formal style normally worn at court. More over, this style did not require the bodice to be enforced by whalebone or the like making it much more comfortable. In the 1730's the skirt was still draped up and pinned to the back but a minor train had also been added.

The trend became so widespread that a trade was even created for the sole purpose of making mantuas: a Mantua maker who was normally a woman. The fact that it was mainly produced by women was completely new in 18th century France. It is quite possible that the name "Mantua" comes from the Italian city of the same name which was renowned for its high quality silk.

Billedresultat for mantua gown
Comtesse de Mailly in a mantua

Mantua back
The back clearly chows how the skirt is draped back and pinned up
(the Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Silver embroidered blue damask court mantua (an open fronted gown with an elaborate train), made between about 1730-40.
Beautifully embroidered Mantua (National Museum of Wales)

Marie Luisa of Parma

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