Rhieinwylydd would like to make clear she is not responsible for what follows.

A brief explanation: this was prepared for an orange-themed event, in which A&S entries featuring oranges were requested.  They are perhaps sorry they asked.

Artful Renaissance Objects Reminiscent of Oranges

A Static A&S Entry

(well, sort of static)

Galeran Chanterel1 and Mariana de Salamanca

Of all the objects of the Renaissance that resemble oranges or other citrus fruits, none compare with the perfectly spherical orb captured in immortal paint by Jean Fouquet (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Jean Fouquet, Virgin of Melun, from the Melun Diptych. 1453-4. Full panel from portion of diptych stored at Antwerp, plus closeup.

Figure 1. Jean Fouquet, Virgin of Melun, from the Melun Diptych. 1453-4. Full panel from portion of diptych stored at Antwerp, plus closeup.

Upon close examination, we were able to determine that this sphere is not in fact an orange, lacking as it does a rind, pith, leaves, or cloves. Neither can it be a grapefruit, as grapefruits are native to Barbados and were not known to western science until 17502. Rather, this delicate and gravity-defying orb appears to be a womanly breast, providing excellent documentation that breasts are in fact, period. It is also notable that the “Virgin” in this work is likely to be Agnes Sorel, mistress of Charles VII of France3. In recognition of her many services to the crown, Agnes received her own castles, jewels, and a retinue larger than the queen’s, not to mention an annual stipend of 300 pounds4. Holding the King’s kumquats in the palm of your hand apparently had it benefits. But we digress.

Shockingly, a brief survey of the art of the period shows that the breast-as-citrus motif is common, even ubiquitous. Other examples using virginal iconography include this painting by Gossaert (1478-1532), which again depicts a perfectly citrus-like globe affixed to a womanly chest (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Jan Gossaert, Virgin and Child. 1527.

Figure 2. Jan Gossaert, Virgin and Child. 1527.

Note that the fruit motif now transcends citrus alone, as shown by the pear in the palm of the Christ-child. Clearly this is meant to show a veritable cornucopia of plenty . . . her cup runneth over, as does that of the Renaissance world whom she sustains by implication. Indeed, so bountiful is her plenty that the iconographic breast is completely compression resistant. But again, we digress.

Other paintings of the period retained pseudo-religious overtones, but with a less virginal feel. Take, for example van Haarlem’s (1562-1638)5 “Monk with a Nun” (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Cornelis van Haarlem, Monk with a Nun. 1591.

From this painting we learn that monks in the 16th century enjoyed oranges and other fruits, and that naughty nun fantasies are nothing new. We can also see that cleavage is period to the Netherlands in the late Renaissance, a discovery that will no doubt be of comfort to certain purveyors of fine Renaissance corsetry and their customers. Finally, it is shown the preference for breasts-in-the-shape-of-citrus spanned many levels of society, from Kings (Figure 1) to members of the clergy (Figure 3).

Depictions of breasts were not limited to religious iconography, and it would be erroneous to ascribe any particularly religious significance to oranges on the basis of the earlier works. For example, this following painting (Figure 4) of Gabrielle d’Estrees, mistress to King Henry IV of France, seems quite far from virginal.

Figure 4. Master of the Fontainebleau School (name unknown), Gabrielle d'Estrees and one of her Sisters. 1594.

Figure 4. Master of the Fontainebleau School (name unknown), Gabrielle d'Estrees and one of her Sisters. 1594.

Thus painting demonstrates clearly that oranges and their feminine counterparts were enjoyed by both genders, much as they are today.

So what’s the A&S entry?

Having documented the existence, nay, the ubiquity of breasts in the SCA period, and shown that the period aesthetic demanded that breasts be as citruslike as possible, we have been dismayed to find that this costuming element has been overlooked in many recreations of period clothing and style. To correct this oversight, one of us (M. de Salamanca) has undertaken to produce a set of breasts that will appeal not only to Renaissance ideals of beauty and eros, but also the modern palate. We respectfully submit her work of artistic recreation to the judging of experts and novices alike.

What about the Orange, er… enhancement?

Orange dyes were known throughout the Renaissance, being obtained from marigold flowers, for example6. Body painting or tattooing with colored dyes was known among the cultures of the modern British Isles such as the Picts, who were a group that endured well into the 10th century7. Furthermore, Masques were a common entertainment of the nobility in the 15th and 16th century, and it was quite common for the performers to adopt fanciful, allegorical or mythical costumes8, which sometimes included the color orange. Therefore, orange dyes and the use of dyes in body decoration are documentable to SCA period, as are elaborate games of dress-up involving orange hues. We think it likely that Picts or their descendants may have attended Carnival at some point, and should they have encountered orange dyes during the celebrations, would have likely put them to the same use that we did. Furthermore, the subtleties of the orange-obsession of the Renaissance may be lost on the modern gentleman, who has typically not been raised in a fully Renaissance culture. By rendering our A&S entry even more orangelike, we are attempting to elicit the same reaction that would have been experienced by a native of the Renaissance upon viewing the “Virgin of Melun”.


We would like to thank the various Renaissance painters for bringing citrus-like breasts to us across the ages, Katel of Ipswitch for insisting that we actually execute this idea, Rhieinwylydd for not executing Galeran, and Mariana’s parents for providing raw materials. Mariana was responsible for the growth, care and feeding of the breasts, Galeran prepared the “documentation” and was responsible for color enhancement of the otherwise finished product. No Laurels were harmed in the making of this entry; we’re not sure whether any were harmed by the entry itself.


  1. Katel made me do it . .. . . — Galeran
  3. Yalom 1998, page 49
  4. ibid
  6. Van Stralen 1994


Van Stralen, Trudy. 1994. Indigo, Madder and Marigold: A Portfolio of Colors from Natural Dyes. Interweave Press. 128 pages.

Yalom, Marilyn. 1998. History of the Breast. New York, Ballantine, Books. 352 pages. (Webmuseum Paris) (Virtual Art Gallery)


2 responses to “Oranges

  1. barleysinger

    I hate the censoring of history. It has happened so much that people do not even know the truth..

    What I find most bizarre is :


    even in those parts of the SCA well known for lots of open mixed gender nudity (skinny dipping and such ) at “closed events” nobody ever wears an actual “Decolletage Gown” let alone an “Extreme Decolletage Gown”: despite the long length of time in which they were NORMAL CLOTHING..FOR ALL CLASSES, most especially any lady of station. Wearing a gown that covered up that much skin (as what is worn by most most later period scadian ladies) would have been a INSULT to their husbands…and for sinlge ladies it would have screamed “I am not a virgin” (due to the meaning of the bared breast in that era.

    Where is the corset with the proper “stomacher” flattening the bust upward and shoving it way up so that the nipples line up with their arm pits (the actual location for the small to mid size busted lady).

    Unfortunately most of the paintings from that era are censored in this regard (either in the original painting or by later censorship…as with many a later added fig leaf). I have seen half a dozen obviously incorrect breast regions on decolletage paintings on various noble ladies today in my internet browsing (I know what would have been on view in those gowns with those HIGH LIFTING corsets…my wife, an avid costumer and an ITHRA attendee since her early childhood, agrees with my assessment of the paintings – censored at some point in their existence, there would have been pink showing on the real person in that dress)..

    We know that lots of important ladies of the court dressed this way on the European Continent from the 1400s forward (Agnès Sorel and others) and usually appeared in public showing a fair amount of aureola pink… all the way to the entire breast region (even if the fashion took a while to make it to England). Elizabeth I wore that style into old age (there were complaints form the Venetian ambassador that survive complaining of his having to look at her “old withered dugs”) , as did Mary of Orange. It was quite common in the Puritanical reign of Oliver Cromwell (they would av eben confused by our anti-breast exposure fetish).

    We ought to know better. Yet the SCA copies HOLLYWOOD instead of reality in this area, even in private, even at a private ladies only ITHRA. . Most gowns after 1400 on any important young woman would have at least shown her upper aureole, and if she was not married her entire breast (as proof of her pure status).


    The movies ALL cop out on this. The female actors of Hollywood are quite happy to go fully nude for sexual reasons for most of a movie, but NEVER just because it was HOW PEOPLE DRESSED. As a result our grand movie “costume dramas” from several centuries (even as recent in time as “Sense and Sensibility”) get the bust on the gowns utterly wrong…and then they get awards for being *WRONG*…and NONE of the worlds Shakespearean companies have the women in the right decolletage exposure for any women who is not either 80 years old, a nun, or pre-pubescent. No adult woman who was still pretty ever wore that much fabric over their breasts in Elizabeth’s era on the throne unless she was VERY old, VERY young, VERY unusually flabby in the breast, or the wife of a very conservative priest (the wife of a bishop would have been too important not to be opening showing she was “in the pink”)..

    And the censorship trundles on.unchallenged.

  2. SOmetimes, people live in an alternate reality.

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