Robe volante, 1730s
Purchase, Friends of The Costume Institute Gifts, 2010 (2010.148)
This robe volante is an exceedingly rare example of a well-documented form of dress that marked the transition from the mantua of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries to the robe à la française, the dress style that became ubiquitous in the eighteenth century. The unstructured silhouette of the robe volante, with its unbroken expanses of cloth, made it particularly appropriate for the display of large-scale patterning.
The vivid blue silk damask, in pristine state, is in a pattern that was popular in the 1720s, a decade before the style of the dress came into vogue. The textile, together with evidence of contemporaneous alterations, suggests that an earlier dress was reconstructed to create the robe volante, as was the practice at the time. To judge from the size of the bodice and the length of the skirt, the gown was adapted for a prepubescent girl. It retains its original closed center front seam. The fullness at the back of the dress is gathered into pleats at the neckline in a variation of the double box pleat, a detail that Jean-François de Troy recorded in a gown in his 1731 painting The Declaration of Love.