Monday, July 23, 2012

Breast Sacks and Medieval Ideals of Female Beauty

The Fall of Adam Hugo van der Goes

Henri de Mondeville wrote in his Cyrurgia (1306-1320)
Et aliquae mulieres non potentes aut non audentes habere cyrurgicum aut nolentes suam indeoentiam revelare faciunt in camisiis suis duos saccules proportionales mammillis tamen breves et eos imponunt omni mane, postmodum quantum possunt, eos stringunt cum fascia competenti. Et aliae, sicut illае de Montepessulano, cum strictis tunicis et laqueis ipsas stringunt, non stringentes muliebria, quamvis sit ibi majas periculum, attendentes propter casus fatuitos et diurnos, quod non faciunt anni quod facit una dies, et ideo faciunt suas tunicas inferios laxiores.

Some women, unable or unwilling to resort to a surgeon, or not wanting to reveal their indecency, make in their chemises two sacks proportioned to their breasts, but shallow, and they put them on every morning, and compress them as much as they can with a suitable bandage. Others, like the women of Montpellier, compress them with tight tunics and laces...

This passage immediately follows his discussion of medicines, such as topically applied rosewater and vinegar, for women who wanted to reduce the size of their breasts. Unlike 21st century surgeons, he does not discuss enlarging them.

Hugo van der Goes' Eve, shown above, shows a common medieval ideal of female beauty; pert, modestly sized breasts, a slim body and a rounded belly.

1 comment:

Marion said...

Interesting idea about the rosewater and vinegar treatment. I've recently started using rosewater as a skin tonic, and it really does do wonders for the skin.