The Mantua project
We saw our very first Mantua all the way back in 2013 during an extremely early Study Session in our research at the Bath Fashion Museum. It was our 3rd session ever and, in evidence of our greenness, we’d booked 8 garments to study over the 2 hour period. One of those garments, as the staff pulled the gown from the box, turned out to be a 1740s silk Mantua – heavily altered and even snipped down the back at one point in it’s history. We didn’t know any of this at the time – but it is interesting that we scribbled the words ‘strange gown’ in our sketch book, and had noted that this was ‘possibly a Mantua’.
This was before we even knew what a Mantua actually was but there was something definitely different enough about this gown, compared to the sack backs and nightgowns that were a-plenty, to get our suspicions up.
Part of our early problem was (and is) that the term Mantua would often get used to describe a non-sack back gown from the 18th c. Type in ‘mantua 18th c’ into google and not just Mantuas turn up.
This is not to say this use of the term ‘Mantua’ is incorrect. In fact part of our research is indeed looking at how the word was used and if it was treated like the way we treat the word ‘dress’ – as in a generic term – after all Mantua-makers made more than just mantuas. But there is also something very definite about the Mantua – and there was back in the 18th century. The fact that they were a kind of Royal Court uniform, and the proper gown to be worn in front of Royalty, shows that it was also treated as a very definite, distinct garment.
Our Goal with The Mantua Project is to look at the following areas:
- To plot the sewing methods and how they change throughout the century
- To plot the fashion styles and see if there are any links to a) the Sewing methods and b) to French Fashions
- To create replicas of the Mantuas in order to test out the sewing methods and to play around with how they were worn.
- To fully understand the term ‘Mantua’
- To understand the Mantua’s relationship with the Nightgown
- To understand the different levels of Mantuas and different silks used
In fact there are way more goals than this – and infact everytime we study a new gown we come up with a new issue to compare to other gowns, and a new idea of how these gowns developed.
Here’s a list of the Mantuas we have studied and replicated so far. You’re welcome to click on the link to take a look at the progress page which features photos of our construction, images of the original and other useful info.
See where we will be displaying or talking about our Mantua project in the Events section!