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Family of Jan Brueghel the Elder

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Catharina's dress

Catharina wears a long, black overgown or jacket known in Dutch as a vliegher (or vlieger), which literally means 'flyer'. The Netherlandish vliegher developed from a similar Spanish garment known as a ropa; it hung down to the hem of a lady's ankle-length skirt and was worn open in front so that her bodice and skirt - which were separate garments - could be seen.

Her bodice, which ends in a V-shaped point, was known as a borst - that is, a 'breast', or 'stomacher' as it is better known in English. This was often - as it is in Catharina's case - an article of great splendour. Catharina's is of silver silk or satin and is embroidered with gold flowers and trimmed with more gold. Whalebone and leather padding gave it its shape.

The figure shape of wide sleeves, slender bodice and tubular skirt was known as the vertugadin, which was called fardegalijn in Dutch and farthingale or verdingale in English. The word, like the basic shape of the dress itself, derived from the Spanish verdugado. Women of high social status in the Netherlands took Spanish fashion (which entered the Netherlands through the court of the Archdukes Albert and Isabella at Brussels) and gave it a distinctly Netherlandish expression.

Two years earlier, Rubens painted his wife Isabella Brant wearing a very similar type of dress.

Catharina's Jewellery

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Portrait of Rubens and Isabella Brant in a Bower

Peter Paul Rubens (Artothek, Weilheim)

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