New research from the University of Warwick reveals that Queens and prostitutes bared their breasts in the media of the 1600s to titillate the public, and that the exposure of a single breast in portraits and prints was common in portrayals of court ladies. While Janet Jacksons action of baring her right breast at the Super Bowl earlier this year was considered outrageous, such exposure in 17th century media wouldnt have raised so much as an eyebrow.
In expensive portraits and cheaper engraved prints the exposure of both breasts tended to be restricted to court ladies who were known as mistresses. But, the exposure of one breast was a different matter- depictions of court ladies as St Catherine, for example, could involve the exposure of a single breast.
Further, court ladies and town misses actually wore extremely low cut décolleté fashions that revealed breasts and, sometimes, nipples. While royal breasts were not usually depicted in high art, they may well have been shown. A dress designed by Inigo Jones to be worn by Charles Is wife Henrietta Maria would have fully revealed the Queens breasts, if worn.
Jenny Murray | University of Warwick
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