Dress and Textiles, Portraits: British 16th and 17th C 38 Who can tell us why there are holes within Buckingham’s clothing in this portrait?

George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham
Topic: Subject or sitter

Why are there holes depicted in the hose and doublet of the subject? [assigned discussion leader: Lou Taylor]

Andy Cox, Entry reviewed by Art UK

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Scott Thomas Buckle,

I always understood that it was the fashion in the 16th/17th Century amongst the wealthy to slash their clothing in order to show off the rich material of the undergarments beneath, the fabric of which was sometimes pulled through the cut holes in the outer garment.

M M Gilchrist,

These look to me more as if they're for tying on other bits to the sleeves – slotting something through; not slashes.

James Brown,

16th c. fashion to reveal hints of the undergarment. I think it was called 'slashing and pinking', Image of Sir Thomas Kennedy of Culzean herewith.

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Jacob Simon,

As Scott says, well-known as a fashion. Not an obvious subject for Art Detective?

Howard Jones,

These look like damage from a knife attack. Could they have been added to the painting after Buckingham was assassinated by John Felton at Portsmouth Docks in 1628.

A few days before his murder Parliament had called on the King to dismiss Buckingham but King Charles would not withdraw his support. Clearly Felton decided to take matters into his own hands fatally stabbing the Duke at Portsmouth Docks While this act was well received by the many of Buckingham's enemies, who considered that the Duke thought himself to be above the law, Felton was still executed as a murderer.

Unless the work by this artist was prescient I suspect the slashes to the Dukes clothes were added to the painting some time after the Duke had been stabbed to death.

Tamsyn Taylor,

Those little nicks in the doublet are not of the type known as slashing.
That was a very expensive decorative technique that require each cut to be embroidered around the edge with eyelet embroidery to prevent the garment from fraying. (It could also be done in leather, with the need for stitching. The holes were not random as they are here. They were arranged in a decorative pattern.

One of Buckingham's particular skills was fencing. In this picture he is showing off his finest attributes and awards. I think that the little holes in his clothes demonstrate his fencing ability.

Jacob, yes, but then the question wouldn't have been seen by anyone else. That fashion is probably not well known except to anyone with a background in history, art history or curating.

If anyone is interested (and there's so much more to learn) they can follow the link above right to the good selection of published material on the National Portrait Gallery website, where they can read much more about the art, the fashion and the times.

Lou Taylor, Dress and Textiles,

These are are related to fastenings:
Susan `Vincent, ‘When I am in Good Habit’, 1550-1670,’ PhD Dept of History, Univ. of York, Jan 2002 p. 62 [https://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/]
All upper hose styles were held up by being attached to the doublet. This was done by lacing through holes in the breeches’ waistband to corresponding eyelets at the waist of the doublet. Sometimes visible, a decorative virtue out of functional necessity – more often this line of points was hidden by the tabbed doublet skirts.’

Sarah Bendall-
‘Points were laces of leather or ribbon tipped with a metal tip (aiglet) that threaded through eyelet holes in garments and tied to attached them together.

See Fig 1 A point consisting of five strand braid of cream and silk threads tipped with an aiglet, c. 1550-1650. Museum of London, London.

NORAH WAUGH- The Cut of Men’s Clothes , 1600-1900, 1964. p. 15
‘The early method of lacing the breeches to the doublet- by tags around the waist, visible when tied outside – was discarded by about 1620. The breeches were then attached by large hooks, sewn on their waistband, which hooked into rings or straps inside the doublet waist.

FIg 2Janet Arnold: Patterns of Fashion 3: The cut and construction of clothing for men and women c.1560-162, 198: 1615, Silver cloth doublet, Middleton Collection , Hever Castle, drawn by Janet Arnold- showing silk ribbon points lacing doublet and hose together. Pp84-85

Fig. 3 Doublet c 1615 wool, .V and A T 147-1937 ‘Doublet fastens with an interior lacing band covered with crimson silk with 47 worked eyelet holes

Jacob Simon,

This discussion seems to me to be at cross purposes. More caution is needed in launching such discussions on Art Detective.

Jacob Simon,

The two different questions asked at the outset of this discussion have led to confusion.

(1) "Who can tell us why there are holes within Buckingham’s clothing in this portrait?". The attachment labelled npg-3840-detail relates to the slashing visible in the sleeve.

(2) "Why are there holes depicted in the hose and doublet of the subject?" The holes used to attach the two garments have been clearly explained by Lou. But these are hidden in the image so the question is misformulated.

Jacob Simon,

Both questions have been answered, question 1 by Scott and question 2 by Lou.

Ideas that the holes were added after a knife attack or demonstrate Buckingham's fencing ability must remain unsupported speculation unless contemorary or early evidence can be produced.

I remain confused. The cuts or tears are solely on the sleeves of the doublet: the hose and how it is supported (at least in this case) is not relevant.

A Tamsyn commented above, fashionable 'slashing' on sleeves, at whatever scale of cut, is usually shown much more regular and tailored: so the question might more usefully be revised as 'are the apparently random cuts/tears on them shown here a form with other known exemplars -in paintings or otherwise - of the same sort?'

Jacinto Regalado,

I do not think this is good enough to be by William Larkin, though it might be a studio work or copy.

Mark Wilson,

The basic principle of slashing is well known, there's various quotes and examples here (https://bit.ly/30mxlhT) and here (https://bit.ly/3HjGWGM). Though, as the second article notes, as fashion moved into the 17th century the slashings were often larger and more irregular.

The usual explanation given is to expose the rich lining of the garment - often in 16th century examples in a patterned way. But you can't help feeling that these later examples were sometimes displays of 'conspicuous consumption'. Given the price of all clothing then, never mind such high status garments - and the consequent value retained secondhand - rendering something apparently unreusable with rips and tears is very much a display of wealth.

That said I also quite like Tamsyn's suggestion that they could be related to Buckingham's prowess at fencing, perhaps portraying him as a man of action. Despite the ostentatious hilt and tassels, the sword blade isn't shown, but that seems standard in other Larkins of the period, perhaps to do with court rules. The NPG date it to 1616, presumably based on insignia and regalia - Buckingham was rising in favour rapidly at the time, so that should be fairly accurate.

But in the end you have to ask yourself why did the punks show rips in their clothes and why did people wear (often very expensive) pre-ripped designer jeans? In the end people do such things because they think it makes them look cool. Maybe these smaller tears were a passing fad that we have no other evidence of.

The NPG give it the rather odd description of "attributed to William Larkin, and studio of William Larkin" and while it is very much in the manner of Larkin (or at least the painter normally identified with Larkin) it doesn't really appear to be of his usual standard, especially in the face and clothing.

Jacinto Regalado,

Style or manner or William Larkin would be more appropriate, since "attributed to" implies it could be autograph, which is dubious.

Jacob Simon,

The attribution of this picture is complex and is influenced by its condition. As it says on the NPG website (click on the "read more" against the guide by John Cooper):

"This splendid portrait has undergone some changes. Acquired by the Gallery with the background curtains painted green, it was so displayed until 1985, when close examination revealed fragments of paint of the present colour which under analysis proved to be the original. Skilfuly restored to its full glory, by removing the green paint and matching the garments, we can now enjoy the voluptuous splendour of its original colour scheme."

A further post will follow once I've had my breakfast.

Jacob Simon,

Jacinto provides links to two stunning portraits by Larkin. I was responsible for cataloguing both paintings in the 1970s. In my opinion the handling of the setting of the portrait of Buckingham fits well with autograph works and warrants an attribution to Larkin. It is the head, and parts of the costume, which are weak, especially the head. Quite how far the history, restoration and conservation of this portrait over 400 years has impacted on its appearance is difficult to say, especially without access to the conservation records.

The designation (not mine) as “attributed to William Larkin, and studio of William Larkin” is perhaps a bit clumsy but may hide a truth. To my mind the portrait emanates from Larkin’s studio but to go further is not altogether straightforward. Larkin’s style is individualistic and I don’t know of other artists working in his style and manner.

Kieran Owens,

It might be worth noting that the carpet upon with Villiers is standing is, to all reasonable extents, identical to the one upon which Lady Diana Cecil is standing in Larkin's portrait of her:


It also appears in Larkin's portrait of Lady Burghley:


as well as in the attributed portrait of Lady Anne Sackville:


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Kieran Owens,

It is also worth noting the obviously fashioned small cuts in the dress that is worn by Lady Diana Cecil.

Marcie Doran,

Notice, too, that two indentations in the curtain, close to the sitter’s head, are in this work as well as two of the Larkin works cited above by Kieran: ‘Lady Diana Cecil’ and ‘Lady Anne Sackville’. I have attached a composite that also shows that the pattern of the folds in the curtain is very simliar in the three works.

Kieran Owens,

On the basis of the above discussion, it seems more likely that the cuts were a fashionable treatment of Villiers' fabric and not the results of some external intervention, such as a duel. Has the original question, therefore, been satisfactorily answered?

Jacinto Regalado,

When I referred to the drapery earlier, I was only speaking of the curtains, and I still feel the same way about the other elements in the picture. I suppose there may have been enough restoration-related alteration over time to account for such deterioration, but this is by no means prime Larkin, despite retaining a certain charm. It feels like the work of an imitator.

Scott Thomas Buckle,

I attended a talk at the National Portrait Gallery in the early 1990s where it was suggested that the curtains in these paintings were probably painted by a journeyman drapery painter. The inference was that many works were ascribed to Larkin due to the similarity of the draperies, but they weren't all necessarily by his hand. This might explain disparities within the execution of some of the portraits, but a consistency in the quality in the painting of the curtains.

Jacinto Regalado,

Very similar curtains appear in other works of the period attributed to people other than Larkin, and I expect they may well have been done by a specialised assistant.

Lou Taylor, Dress and Textiles,

I contacted Prof. Maria Hayward, Deputy Head of the History Dept at the Univ. of Southampton. She is an internationally renowned specialist on Royal/Court dress in Britain in the 16th and 17th centuries. Here is her reply:

'Thank you for sending me the detail from Buckingham's portrait - it is one of those details which is really tricky to assess and indeed one which is easily missed because of the mass of other details in the portrait. As you say, there is so little slashing here compared to other examples, so I wonder whether these are not decorative but for ease as the sleeves are very tight and so these slashes would allow just enough ease for him to be able to move comfortably and because there is some tension on the fabric that the slash has pulled a little and worn a little. '

Nicola Underhill,

maybe its symbolic? considering Buckingham's position to James I, maybe its a snidey commentary on his lifestyle? though im none the wiser what it might be. though i do know that nothing is there by accident. its there because its meant to be and i doubt Buckingham would be seen dead in shabby attire!

Marcie Doran,

I am not commenting on the slashing but the attribution.

I have attached a composite based on this work and a portrait by William Larkin on Art Prints on Demand.

There are many similarities, including the shoes, the collar, and the pattern on the carpets, which Kieran had highlighted. Note the two indentations on the curtain near the face of each sitter.
'Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke'

A Wikimedia Commons page indicates that the work is from 1615.

Kieran Owens,

And here is that same carpet again:

Marcie Doran,

A very good match, Kieran.

I’ve attached a higher resolution composite of Villiers and Herbert. It uses a downloaded version of the Villiers painting and a screenprint of the Royal Collection Herbert painting. I had to cut off the top of their heads because the screenprint does not show the entire Herbert painting.

Is it possible that they were painted at the same time? Notice how the drapery matches up in in two places in the centre, and how each man has (possibly) part of the motto “Honi soit qui mal y pense” below his left knee.

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