The Florence Diaries: Pale Sottana, mid 16th C Florence
Recreated by La Signora Onorata Katerina da Brescia.



This sottana is based on my transitional Sottana, using period construction techniques, and on the Bronzino's portrait of Bia, The Illegitimate Daughter of Cosimo I de' Medici 1542. (left).
The material used was furnishing brocade, from my material stash. ($5/m on sale. Total used was about 4.75m of 140cm wide brocade). It was interlined with a layer of cotton drill and canvas and lined with linen. 

I prefer the pleated style of sottana, so preferred this (again apparently transitional) style. It 
appears to be influenced by the current fashions of the area and by the 'official' fashions adopted by Eleanora di Toledo. This sottana is of a paler colour

The following are portraits of  sottana from 1540s Florence.

1. Bacchiacca's Portrait of a Woman with a Book of Music, 2.Bronzino's Bia, The Illegitimate Daughter of Cosimo I de' Medici 1542. 3.  Bronzino 1545-46. portrait 4.Bronzino's  Portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi, 1540. (Uffuzi). 5. Bronzino's Eleanora di Toledo, 1543.

Some similarities and some differences can be seen. This is possibly due to the differing social stature, with the more affluent wearing the more current fashions.
Bia's sottana is influenced by the general fashions, but also by the fashions worn by her mother, Eleanora di Toledo. (5). So it seems that there was a reasonable variation of  fashions, possibly local and influenced by Eleanora's fashions (?) Below is based on portraits 1-4, with the fifth to compare to Eleanora's 'official' fashion which became more fashionable in the 1550's.
  • 1-4 have smaller rouched baragoni, varyin in size. (they decrease in size as the decade progresses).
  • the lower sleeves can be of the same or different colours and were often slashed.
  • Most are red (this is not surprising as it was a very popular colour).
  • The first two have trim around the neckline, the first has trim that can also be seen around the hemline. The other two  have no trim.
  • there is no farthingale (Florentines were not keen on them).
  • Cartridge pleating is seen at the waistline in most portraits. The second portrait shows pleating that is becomes popular by the end of the 1540s.
  • The girdles vary from material, beads (not hanging and hanging) and a 'hanging' chain.
  • All are wearing two necklaces of varying size and expense. (not necessarily matching).
  • The giorgeria (partlet) ranges from a simple handkerchief type arrangement to a collarless giorgeria, fastened with a button. The final two are intricately pleated. Bia is not wearing a giorgeria.

I adapted the pattern from the extant burial dress of Eleanora d' Toledo from Janet Arnold's Pattern of Fashion, and the Red Pisa Sottana discussed in L'Abito della Granduchessa; Vesti di corte di Madonne nel Palazzo Reale di Pisa.(seen in the section on sleeves). I adapted the imbusto and waistline for a decade or two earlier. There were no available extant sleeves for the burial gown, so I based the sleeve pattern from L'Abito della Granduchessa. 
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I have never made a rouched sleeve before, so this is a learning experience.  

One way this can be achieved by making a two part sleeve with the full slender undersleeve which can be removed, and a separate top 'baragoni' over sleeve. This method also makes it easier if you are using a different coloured undersleeve, as seen above in Bacchiacca's Portrait of a Woman with a Book of Music and  Bronzino's  Portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi, 1540. It allows for versatility in the Lochac summers, where it can be worn without the lower sleeve.

There are a few non-Florentine paintings showing the wearer with no lower sleeve, such as Titian's Madonna and Child with St Catherine, St Dominic and Donor or Lotto's Vestiture of St Brigid, 1524 (right). So removing the lower sleeve is 
not  unheard of. La Moda a Fiorenze also states that sottana could be worn at home without sleeves. Eleanora's guardaroba also specifically lists sottana senza maniche - dresses without sleeves. This suggests that the sottana was actually ordered, or at least listed withougt the sleeves.
For the upper part of the sleeve, I used a base sleeve with a gathered (larger about 3x sleeve) on the outside.
Below are pics of the sleeve in progress. Left is the baragoni pattern for the 'base sleeve'. The gathered top was increased by 3x in size and gathered (far left).
Tabs were put on the bottom of the baragoni, as seen in Bia's portrait (seen in second pic).This can be worn without the under sleeve, for summer.
The under sleeve was clipped at the cuff, also to match the portrait. The third picture shows the undersleeve tied in. The baragoni was handsewn in at the top.
Below right is the final sleeve - both baragoni and undersleeve.

I had some braid that I bought very cheaply, a year or so ago. It was perfect for this project. I used two rows around the neckline and the sleeves, as in the portrait. I used two lines around the hem, as in Bacchiacca's Portrait of a Woman with a Book of Music, a contemporary portrait to the of Bia.
Middle right is the 

decoration on the sottana. Far right is the finished sleeve.


  • Alcega, Juan.The Tailor's Pattern Book, 1589 Facimile, Ruth Bean, Carlton, Bedford, 1979.
  • Arnold, Janet Patterns of Fashion, MacMillan, London, 1985. ISBN: 0-333-38284-6 
  • Kovesi Killerby, Catherine, Sumptuary Law in Italy 1200-1500, Oxford University Press. NY. 2002. ISBN:0-19-924793-5
  • Crowfoot E, Pritchard F & Staniland K, Textiles and Clothing 1150-1450, Boydell Press, Woodridge, 2001 (ed) ISBN: 0-85115-840-4
  • Frick, Carole Collier. Dressing Renaissance Florence.: Families Fortunes & Clothing. John Hopkins University Press. Baltimore. 2002. ISBN: 0-8018-6939-0 
  • L'Abito della Granduchessa; Vesti di corte di Madonne nel Palazzo Reale di Pisa. Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Reale, Pisa. 
  • Orsi Landini, Roberta & Niccoli, Bruna. La Moda a Fioenze 1540-1580. Pagliai Polistampa, Firenze, 2005. ISBN: 88-8304-867-9
  • Veccellio, Cesare. Vecellio's renaissance Costume Book. Dover Publications. NY. 1977. ISBN: 0 48623441X

Web Sites:

Medici Archive Project:  (1/06)
Web Gallery: Medici portraits by Bronzino.
Archeological Sewing by Heather Rose Jones (2001) (new adsottana: 8/06)
Sewing Stitches Used in Medieval Clothing:
Archive of Stitches from Extant Textiles.

(c) K Carlisle. Feb, 2007

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(c). K.Carlisle, 2009.