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Mantua and petticoat of pink silk brocaded in purple, blue, green and brown with sprays of flowering trees.
From exhibition label, early 2000s:
Court Mantua, figured Spitalfields silk, 1740s
When this fine court mantua was bought at auction it was partially unstitched, but with all its pieces present, and specialist conservation brought it back to its original condition. Mantuas were, by the early to mid-18th century, formal court gowns of fine fabric, descended from a looser, informal gown. A distinguishing feature of the formal mantua was the manner in which the train was folded and pinned up. (Incidentally, this need for pins to assemble 18th century dress required 'pin money', hence the term). The relatively very high price of fabric in the 18th century meant that gowns were as far as possible restyled using existing fabric when fashions changed. The lavish and uncut quantity of cloth in mantuas was reused so commonly that few survive in their original state. This is a particularly good example in a very subtle blend of colours made from silk woven in the Spitalfields area of London, where Huguenots refugee weavers had settled in the late 17th century.
From 'Reflections Costume 1730-2013' exhibition label, 2013-2014
Mantua c. 1730
The mantua was a fashionable style of dress in the 1700s and these dresses were worn for formal occasions. Floral motifs, such as the vibrant flowers on this woven-silk mantua, were very popular at the time; stiff corsets and underskirts worn under the gown create the shape. Silk was a luxury fabric and very costly, so it was not unusual for dresses to be re-made as fashions changed. An unaltered mantua like this one is therefore a rare survivor.