Best-dressed: Jonquil O’Reilly’s top 10 from Classic Week

In reverse order, our Old Master paintings specialist selects her sartorial highlights — from high-heeled clogs with gemstones to voluminous red garters and ‘epic’ virago sleeves — from paintings that caught her eye during Classic Week in London


10. Spectacular Ottoman clogs

Venetian School, 16th century, Portrait of a Sultana, full-length, wearing white salvar and gömlek, and a red and gold embroidered yelek, a view of Constantinople beyond

Venetian School, 16th century, Portrait of a Sultana, full-length, wearing white salvar and gömlek, and a red and gold embroidered yelek, a view of Constantinople beyond. 54½ x 38⅝ in (138.4 x 98.1 cm).

‘This spectacular Ottoman clog, known as a nelin, started life as a humble, raised, wooden shoe for wearing at the bath house. This pair, though, which are ornately embellished with jewels and gemstones and inlaid with mother-of-pearl, are clearly all about status. The higher the shoe, the higher the wearer’s standing in society, and the better they were able to afford elaborate decoration.’

9. Check out the intricate needlework

Follower of Gossaert, The Virgin and Child

‘I think the Christ Child’s hand gesture sums up my thoughts here nicely: the intricate needlework embellishing the neckline of the Virgin’s gown and undershirt is… 👌’

8. A straw hat and racy neckline

Jan Baptist Weenix, Italianate landscape with a shepherd showing a woman his flock

‘This shepherdess’s enormous straw hat is everything. I suspect the white linen garment discarded in her lap is a shawl or partlet, a triangular linen scarf worn round the neck and tucked into the bodice at the front. Without it, that neckline is pretty racy — it rather undermines her gesture of modesty upon seeing the amorous goats.’

7. On point in the 1620s

Attributed to Paul van Somer, Portrait of Sir Thomas Dallison, 1st Bt. of Laughton (1591-1645), three-quarter length, in a red doublet and breeches

‘I love this doublet and hose number with diagonal stripes of applied braid. Not only is the braid decorative, it also stiffens the fabric to give the outfit a more structured appearance, which was on point in the 1620s. The functional ribbons fastening the hose to the doublet add a nice flourish at the waist, and set off his spectacular silver brocade sash with silver lace trim.’

6. Bulk that makes a statement

Circle of Frans Pourbus II, Portrait of Marie Marguerite de Berlaymont (d. 1654), full-length

Circle of Frans Pourbus II (Antwerp 1569-1622 Paris), Portrait of Marie Marguerite de Berlaymont (d. 1654), full-length. 77 x 47½ in (195.6 x 120.7 cm).

‘As a lover of shoulder pads, I have a lot of time for these epic virago sleeves. The outer layer of fabric is a heavy, black patterned damask, cinched at intervals, and slashed to reveal a layer of plain black silk beneath. She needs a voluminous sleeve to balance out that wheel farthingale which gives her skirt a wide, cylindrical form. All that bulk may not be flattering by today’s standards, but it definitely makes a statement.’

5. An updo to die for

Sir Thomas Lawrence, Portrait of Lady Selina Meade (1797-1872), half-length, in an ivory satin dress, with the spire of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna, beyond

‘Anyone who’s seen Pride and Prejudice knows this updo is a tough one to pull off, but Lady Selina Meade really has the face for it. It’s parted into three sections, piled high on her crown, combed smooth at the front and then curled at her temples, finished with a simple gold hairband. That low, wide neckline and the puffed shoulders show off her swan-like neck an absolute treat.’

4. A dream in red and cream

Dirck Hals, Elegant figures feasting in a garden

‘The outfits at this picnic party are pretty strong overall, but the red and cream get-up worn by the chap at left really stands out. I’m quite taken with the voluminous red garters, tied around his knees. They are supposed to keep one’s stockings from slipping down, but this pair add plenty of flair to the function. Their ends are garnished with delicate gold aglets which not only pick out the precious metallic-tipped ribbons on his shoes and waist, but also the racing stripes down the sides of his hose. Just think how they would have twinkled and chimed as he walked.’

3. An outfit that broadcasts just how much you’ve spent

Sir Anthony van Dyck, Portrait of Princess Mary (1631-1660), daughter of King Charles I of England, full-length, in a pink dress decorated with silver embroidery and ribbons

‘Princess Mary’s spectacular gown is made from cloth of silver, a silk woven with genuine precious metal threads to provide a glittering sheen. This was notoriously difficult to capture in paint but, given its value, it was vital it was represented accurately — you’d want to make sure people knew just how much you’d spent on it after all. Shimmering highlights, applied in swift, cross-hatched strokes, were used as a form of shorthand by artists, mimicking the lustre of metallic threads as the textile caught the light. 

‘Mary is also wearing a mega diamond brooch, a present to her from her new husband the day after her wedding. Jewellers hadn’t yet mastered the art of cutting diamonds to exploit the light and produce that sparkling effect we expect today. Instead, they were admired more for their hardness than their brilliance and so were often backed with foil to boost their colour — that’s why they look black here.’

2. Glossy satins and fur — just divine

Gerard ter Borch, Glass of Lemonade

‘This shimmering petticoat with matching fur-lined jacket is just divine. Gerard ter Borch is an absolute master at depicting glossy satins and paints every sartorial detail faithfully, right down to the tiny darts at the shoulder and elbow that give the sleeve that beautiful, rounded form. While the jacket looks very soft and cosy, in reality this young woman would be wearing stiff boned stays (a sort of bodice) beneath it, as you can tell from that immaculate posture. 

‘Note how she has a little linen tucker around the neckline to make sure she doesn’t dirty the pale silk with grease from her skin. My favourite detail of all, though, is the little glimpse of her slipper, peeping from beneath that voluminous skirt — so delicate compared to the clumping leather shoe beside it.’

1. A flawless ensemble

Studio of Anton Raphael Mengs, Portrait of the Archduchess Maria Theresa von Habsburg-Lothringen (1767-1822), full-length, in a white satin dress with purple embroidery and ribbons, beside a parrot in a cage

Studio of Anton Raphael Mengs (Aussig 1728-1779 Rome), Portrait of the Archduchess Maria Theresa von Habsburg-Lothringen (1767-1822), full-length, in a white satin dress with purple embroidery and ribbons, beside a parrot in a cage. 47 x 34 in (119.3 x 86.4 cm).

‘For this season’s chart-topper I found it impossible pick a single detail to highlight — the whole ensemble is flawless. The ruched hem, the organza apron, the sweeping hip paniers, the pearl bracelets and, best of all, that exceptional cap. Would I wear this myself? No. But that doesn’t mean I question the little Archduchess’s choice for OOTD. She looks like a frosted fairy cake — and I dig it.’

Related departments

Related lots

Related auctions

Related content