The Layton jacket is an example of an early seventeenth century English women’s waistcoat (using the seventeenth century meaning of the word, namely a coat that came to the waist).
The garment is unusual because it is known who originally wore it, namely Margaret Layton nee Browne. Margaret was born circa 1590 to a wealthy London merchant Sir Hugh Browne and was the wife of Francis Layton (1577-1661) of West Layton and Rawdon (W. Yorkshire, England).
There is a portrait of her wearing this particular jacket and the jacket and the portrait are in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (painting; E.214-1994; jacket T.228-1994).
The artist, Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (1561-1635), spent his early years in Bruges (Belgium), where his father was as a painter and printmaker. When he was about seven, the family moved to London. Marcus had many commissions from the English court, both for portraits and for decorative work. He was popular at the courts of Elizabeth I and James I, but fell out of favour with James’s wife, Anne of Denmark, after 1617. After that date, Gheeraerts’s sitters came more and more from the gentry.
Oil-painted portraits of noble or wealthy men and women became increasingly common in the 17th century. Important as it was to dress magnificently, it was also essential to be portrayed in one’s finery. The portraits nearly always show the sitters splendidly dressed, in the height of expensive fashion, in order to emphasize their status.
Margaret’s jacket was made between 1610-1615 and in the 1620’s an edging of spangled silver-gilt bobbin lace was added. It is made from off white linen with a pink silk taffeta lining.
The outside of the jacket is embroidered with an overall pattern of scrolling vines worked in a plaited braid stitch using a silver-gilt thread.
From the vines spring a variety of flowers, fruits and insects. Many of these images derive from versions published in contemporary emblem, herbals and pattern books.
These are embroidered using coloured silks and silver-gilt threads. The embroidery stitches used for the work include buttonhole stitch, chain stitch, dot stitch, plaited braid stitch, stem stitch, as well as couching. In addition, parts of the design are highlighted with spangles.The same form of embroidery can also be seen on her plumed cap that is edged with lace.
Margaret Layton is shown wearing a high-waisted skirt, a red silk petticoat and a semi transparent apron decorated with whitework embroidery of some form.
She is also wearing an open sleeved gown with hanging sleeves and a falling ruff made from Italian needle lace with matching sleeve ruffs.
Although the waistcoat was made about 1610, the portrait was painted more than 10 years later. By this time, waistlines had risen. Margaret Layton adapted to the new style by raising her petticoat and covering the lower half of the waistcoat.
All images copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
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