Sophont
Saturday, May 22, 2004
 
Breast Baring Popular in 1600s
Discovery Channel:
"Women of the 1600s, from queens to prostitutes, commonly exposed one or both breasts in public and in the popular media of the day, according to a study of fashion, portraits, prints, and thousands of woodcuts from 17th-century ballads.

The finding suggests breast exposure by women in England and in the Netherlands during the 17th century was more accepted than it is in most countries today. Researchers, for example, say Janet Jackson's Super Bowl baring would not even have raised eyebrows in the 17th century.

Angela McShane Jones, a lecturer in history at University of Warwick in Coventry, England, became interested in the subject while studying the nearly 2,000 woodcut ballads housed in the Samuel Pepys collection at Cambridge University. Additional ballad sheets located at the British Library, the National Library of Scotland, Harvard University, and other institutions fuelled her study.

Ballad sheets served as the pop music and pulp fiction of their time. With a cost between half a penny and a penny, they were affordable, and could be purchased from street hawkers, and at fairs and markets. Most featured a woodcut that illustrated 10 to 14 verses of song.

Many of these woodcuts showed women with breasts bared.

Jones told Discovery News that the ballad depictions of women coincided with popular fashion. At the time, women often wore low-cut dresses that exposed the chest and breast.

In paintings, breast exposure could have symbolic meaning, particularly when only one breast was shown. Jones explained that high court ladies often were painted in allegories as classical figures or as female saints, whose martyrdom usually involved breast removal.

Far from being a sign of tawdriness, Jones said breast exposure during the 1600s could indicate a woman's virtue."

..... He added that some conservatives and court outsiders, such as the 17th-century Puritan lawyer William Prynne, objected to the popular clothing, which female actresses often wore.

Capp said Prynne once criticized Henrietta Maria after she performed in a court masque, and in 1633 wrote, "... women actors (are) notorious whores."

The government responded by having his ears chopped off.

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