The history of the ruff

January 27 2015

Image of The history of the ruff


Sotheby's Old Master specialist Jonquil O'Reilly has a new column in Harper's Bazaar* on ruffs, and their importance in pictures:

Popular in the mid-17th century were the larger cartwheel ruffs, which were worn tilted forward to better show off the visage and to prevent you from inhaling a face full of lace. One of fairly impressive circumference is sported by the lady in Johannes Cornelisz. Verspronck’s portrait from the 1640s (pictured top), which will be offered in the Sotheby’s Master Paintings sale on 29 January. The angle was achieved with the help of a supportasse or “underpropper,” made of stiffened, fabric-covered cardboard. Resting on the shoulders behind the head, it served to slant the ruff upward at the back and downward at the front.

Achieving the more diaphanous ruff styles required the very finest linen. A close look at the ruff in the Portrait of a Young Lady by Anthonie Blocklandt van Montfoort (pictured above left) reveals how the flat linen has been looped into figure eights. For her cap, the same linen is shown in a single layer and you can see just how delicate and gauzy it is; it’s so transparent you can almost make out the lines of her ear beneath. But wafer-thin linen came with its own draw-backs. The more delicate the fabric, the more likely it was to droop when it came in contact with the elements. A wilted ruff was bad for anyone’s look.

*NB, Mr Feigen et al, this is one of the ways you can engage new audiences with Old Masters.

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