So I never got around to making my early German Renaissance dress last summer (I did make costumes for the niblings though!) and instead have now found myself coming back to the dress lo these six months later. Today was a surprise day off work, so I spent it working on the foundation layer.
There seems to be no firm consensus as to what exactly was worn beneath 'Cranach' dresses of the early 16th century, but there is a particular style of undergarment which I've seen in a bunch of images both before and after this time period which makes lots of sense as a base layer. It's basically a sleeveless sort of chemise; tight enough in the torso to support the bust and provide the smooth white layer seen under the open front lacing of the dress itself, as well as having full skirts attached at the waist (which I imagine would also help keep the front waistline of the dress' skirt up where it should be in spite of the wide front opening... I'll guess I'll find out later if that's true or not!)
I've seen other bloggers/costumers refer to this type of undergarment as a bra-dress (based off the Lengberg Bra I believe), or a bra-shirt, or some other bra variation. Which again, these garments all have attached skirts, so I can't really get behind calling it some sort of bra, and am just going to stick with 'Sleeveless Chemise' for now. Probably not at all what it was called back in the day, but no-one in Saxony around 1515 ever said "I'm going to have a new Cranach dress made" either, so we'll all just be inaccurate together forever. Amen.
Isis over at Medieval Silkwork has done some great research into the earlier 14th and 15th century versions of this garment which seems to have mostly existed in areas of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. It must have been highly practical and comfortable as you see it clear on through into the later half of the 16th century!
Hofämterspiel, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, second half 15th century
Broadside of a Nuremberg bath attendant; with a hand-coloured woodcut of a lightly dressed female holding two pails of water, and with letterpress verses in German. (Nuremberg, Drechsel: [c.1585])
These two images are roughly100 years apart, and both depict nearly the exact same undergarment, which I am now it the process of making. As someone who gets twitchy about how chemise sleeves sit and layer on the body, I am super exited to be trying out this blessedly sleeveless chemise!
I'm using a white handkerchief weight linen for this project, with two layers in the main bodice, and one layer for the 'breast bag'/bust section, and one layer in the skirts. It will close with lacing on the sides of the bodice, and I'm using velvet ribbon for the black band at the front neckline. I imagine that velvet or a wool band along the top would help grip onto the dress itself and stop the Brustfleck from slipping or moving around. Again, total conjecture on my part at the moment... we'll see how it works out.
You can see here on my pattern how the shoulder straps curve out away from the body on the front piece. This is so the straps won't show beneath the nearly off-the-shoulder look of the dress itself.
I hemmed the top of the bust piece before gathering it and stitching it into the bodice. I'll gather up the bust/front neckline once it's on my body for a final fitting. I tried at on the other day as best as I could with no eyelets for lacing yet, and it looks like it'll be a good fit, so fingers crossed!