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Mad Love: The other side of European Renaissance

The European Renaissance spans into a long period of time and has its own characteristics in every of the different countries where it develops. This is something that is generally ignored in movies, which only focus in the span between 1530 and 1580 in England. Therefore, the general image of the Renaissance Fashion is that of the Tudor Fashion.

And so, Mad Love (2001), a Spanish production directed by Vicente Aranda is a welcome break from that monotony.

The movie tells the story of Queen Juana of Castile, more commonly known as Juana La Loca (Mad Juana) who is said to have been "loca de amor" (crazy for love). And it takes place between 1496 and 1506 (only covering her married years).

The movie takes a highly accurate route both in the sets and the costume departments, creating a mesmerizing image. What makes it so fascinating, partially, is the fact that it focuses on a time period and a place which is often overlooked. So it's very refreshing seeing a movie that focuses on an earlier Spanish Renaissance instead of focusing on Tudor England.

The costumes were done by Javier Artiñano, who also designed the costumes for The Dumbfounded King (El rey pasmado, Imanol Uribe, 1991) and The Conspiracy (La conjura del Escorial, Antonio del Real, 2008), two of the most important historical movies done in Spain in these past 20 years.



The first part of the movie covers her time in Brussels right after her marriage. In this part of the movie, the most prominent color (both in the sets and the dresses) is deep red.

The strong presence of red is there to illustrate the lust-based relation between the young couple; Juana and Felipe. The first years of marriage will be filled with raw and unadulterated passion for her. And because of this, in this first part of the movie, she is always dressed in red.

But red is also important for another character: Felipe of Habsburg. Red is a key color that helps define his character.

He is young, virile and an unashamed womanizer. For Juana, he represents this raw passion that drives her, and so; he is dressed completely in red.

But Juana is defined by more than the color she is wearing. Take a closer look at her dresses in this first part of the movie: the dress she's introduced in is a very simple one, very innocent looking.

But as we move on the narrative, her clothes progressively become more richly embroidered and more complex.

It's the only still I could find of this dress, so yes,
I'm sinning myself for repeating this photograph.

This is a very subtle way of showing her slowly evolving mentality as it progressively grows more and more complex and unstable.

In regards to the more historical aspects of this part of the movie; she is wearing different versions of a Moorish dress with heavy Italian influences.

It's true that Moorish influences on clothing were uniquely found in Spanish Fashion, but the overall shape of the dress is much more influenced by Italian Fashion than Spanish.

This is a portrait of Isabel of Castile (Juana's mother) dated around the late 1490's. This was the standard fashion for women in Spain at the time this movie begins.

This, instead, is a portrait of Isabella D'Este, an Italian Marquise dating the same period. As you can see, Juana's dress is much more similar to that, than to his mother's dress. From the high waist to the laced dress with the undershirt popping out.

This, in and on itself, is not an historical inaccuracy. Quite the contrary. At the time, Italian fashion was the reference for the rest of Europe. Because of this, a young rich woman like Juana would have tried to dress accordingly. This is even truer in her case; her father was Fernando of Aragon, and at the time, the Crown of Aragon had had control over certain areas of Italy for more than a century, so it is only logical that there would be a certain Italian influence on her clothing.

This is a portrait of a very young Juana (before she married) and she is clearly dressed in Italian fashion, thus demonstrating my theory.

Another historical detail that I really like is how they dressed Queen Isabel of Castile.

If you compare it with her portrait (above), the dress is really accurate. And the piece of detail that seals the deal for me is this:

Look at how they pinned her veil!!

They actually held her veil with pins! This seems really silly, but in movies, generally, they always stitch together all the pieces of the hairdress so that it will be easier to put on and off. But in real life, they did it this way: they pinned the veil to the head. It's a really stupid detail, but it shows how much effort and care went into this production.


During her stay in the court of Brussels, she enjoys a period of prosperity and joy as she lives side by side with a husband she adores and gets the chance to become a mother. This is shown through a change in coloration: her dresses go from deep red velvets to glorious golden fabrics.

As she becomes a mother, she also becomes more mature as a woman, and starts dressing more accordingly to the Spanish fashion of the time.

The structure of this dress is very similar to the one she is wearing in this other portrait of her done during her years in Brussels.

This real historical change is used here to show that she is growing into a woman. She is no longer a young innocent girl, but a grown woman.

Another little detail that makes me really happy is how they really did a layered dress. Historically, this type of dress consisted of several layers. Mainly: an  underdress and an overdress (generally in different colors). In most movies they are sewn as one piece, while pretending to look like it's a two-piece.

But here, we clearly see how the golden dress is removed, revealing a dark green underdress. These little details make me appreciate the work of Javier Artiñano much more.


After her mother's death, Juana returns to her homeland and becomes Queen of Castile. This marks a turning point in the movie, as it coincides with her finding out that her husband is regularly cheating on her. From here on, as the movie, and her supposed madness progresses, the golden hues turn to dark blues and eventually, to blacks.

Also, she starts dressing completely according to the Spanish fashion, which is only logical. She can't afford any more to be a young fashionable girl. She's a ruler and needs to be seen by the public as one of their own.

I particularly adore this one dress as it's clearly taken from one of her portraits.

From the shape, to the fabrics, everything is practically identical. But my favorite element of the design is the hood.

They went through all the trouble and actually dressed her with a really accurate hood. Many Hollywood productions would have simple put any reused English hood they had from any movie about the Tudors.

This is a 1530's English Hood and was not worn in Spain

The English hood was widely popularized by Katherine of Aragon (Juana's sister), but it was not widely used outside England. Every European country had its own version (that's why we differentiate between and English hood and a French hood). And although it isn't very widely known, this is the Spanish hood:

It's refreshing to see that they actually took the time and were so accurate in these little details.

Also, in regards to hoods, she's also shown wearing a more light and flimsy version of the hood shown above in many scenes of the film.

This is a Catalan Hood; a real historical type of headdress popular in the early 1500's in Barcelona. Again, one must remember that her father was the King of Aragon and Count of Barcelona, so it's only logical that she would be influenced by certain fashions.

Another real nice detail is the usage of high-waist dresses for pregnant women.

At the time, high fashion for women dictated a lower waistline (as seen in her first dress as Queen), but fashion for pregnant women was slightly different. The baby bump forced the waistline of the dresses upwards to avoid crushing the baby with the pressure of the corset (as shown in the picture above).

Also remarkable is the recurrent use of overdresses (a very historically accurate practice that many movies ignore).

For instance, in the picture above she is shown wearing a black overdress lined with golden thread. And throughout the scene we can see that she is wearing another dress beneath as a separate layer.

This is the dress she is wearing beneath the black and gold overdress

And said dress also appears repeatedly without the overdress. This is definitely a nice touch because this is how a woman would have dressed at the time.

As for the men's clothes, they are also very historically accurate. And this is probably my favorite men's costume in the entire movie.

To me, this costume reminds me very much of this painting, particularly the sleeves.

circa 1526

And definitely another bonus point for the movie: Felipe gets to wear visible codpieces!


Perhaps my favorite scene in the whole movie happens right at the end and it also happens to have my favorite costume in the whole film.

As the assembly of Nobles is trying to decide whether or not to use her supposed madness to push her aside and crown her husband instead; she appears in the room completely dressed in Queenly Regalia bearing the banners of her domains to make a statement, claiming that it is time to show them that she will not be cast aside.

This is a highly historical piece of costuming. It's funny because nowadays we imagine Kings and Queens to look very fashionable and pretty. But the official Regalia for the Monarchy at the early 1500's was not that pretty, but it sure was imposing.

It consisted of a tubular overdress (usually with a dragging tale) in which were sewn all the banners of the different domains ruled over by said King or Queen, usually in golden and red. This type of dress is an heirloom from medieval times that was maintained largely during the Renaissance.

This, paired with the highly historical headdress makes for a really nice image. And it's very nice to see that they did not need to make concessions to "current taste" in order to make the scene work.


Mad Love is a rather peculiar film, and can be very polarizing for audiences, but one must give them credit for their commitment to history and accuracy.

This commitment is very admirable, especially in this day and age, where shows like "The Tudors" and "Reign" set a very clear trend on disregarding history.

Sometimes we say that we disregarded for narrative purposes, but the truth is that it's way easier to ignore history and do whatever you want. Because creating a 100% historical wardrobe takes a lot of effort: a lot of research and a lot of money. So, to see that they made a genuine effort to create a historically accurate image in regards to the costuming and the sets of the movie, is something that I appreciate very much.

My only quirk about the movie is that most of the time she is shown to wear her hair loose. I do understand that this is done to differentiate her; to show her naiveté and inner innocence. But it still bothers me sometimes.

The thing is, no one else in the movie wears it loose. All of the background characters are shown wearing real historical up-does, and this makes her stand out like a sore thumb.

But I do understand the need for that, and I know I'm just nitpicking. All in all, this movie has an impeccable costume design that makes the most out of what it's given to work with and clearly shows that you do not need to "modernize" anything to make a story work.


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