Medieval men and women wore aprons while working in a variety of occupations. Note that aprons are almost always white linen, though solid-colored aprons appear in 16th century Flemish artwork.
Women's aprons are generally on a separate waistband (either attached via a drawstring-casing, or gathered directly onto a waistband); men's aprons are more likely to be tucked into a belt at the top corners.
Aprons are generally worn as an article of occupational clothing, but in some few 16th century instances, decorated aprons are worn by young children in wealthy families; there are also pleated aprons on fashionable women in 16th century Germany.
Last updated: Nov 7, 2021
- Fols. 49v, 109v, 139r, 139v, 146r, 162v, the Smithfield Decretals (Brit. Lib. Royal 10 E IV, fol. 49v), c. 1300-1340
of the Luttrell Psalter (Brit. Lib. Add. 42130), c. 1325-1340
- Mary’s servant (?), the Holkham Bible Picture Book (Brit. Lib. Add. 47680, fol. 12v), c. 1327-1335
- A cook or kerver at a feast, Voeux du paon (PML G.24, fol. 44r), c. 1350
- Cabbage (fol. 23r), leeks (fol. 25r), celery (fol. 30r), dill (fol. 31v), butter, fresh cheese (fol. 60r), white cheese, Tacuinum Sanitatis (ÖNB Codex Vindobonensis, series nova 2644), c. 1370-1400
- Tacuinum Sanitatis (BNF Nouvelle acquisition latine 1673), c. 1390-1400: Millet-Bread (fol. 56), Mutton (fol. 61v), Various Meats (fol. 65)
Fair was this yonge wyf, and therwithal
As any wezele hir body gent and smal.
A ceynt she werede, barred al of silk,
A barmclooth as whit as morne milk
Upon her lendes, ful of many a goore.
The Miller's Tale from
The Canterbury Tales, ll. 125-129
- The badger hunt, Gaston Phoebus' Book of the Hunt (BNF Fr. 616, fol. 100v), beginning of the 15th century
- Workers in an illustration of Minerva (fol. 13r), and Turia hides her husband (fol. 123v), in Boccaccio's De mulieribus claris (BNF Fr. 598), beginning of the 15th century
- Fol. 115r in the Comedies of Terence (BNF Latin 7907 A), c. 1400-1407
- Circumcision (fol. 24v) and birth of the Virgin (fol. 331v) in a missal of Saint-Martin-des-Champs (Bibl. Mazarine MS 0416), 1408
- Tacuinum Sanitatis, 15th century (BNF Latin 9333), 15th century:
onions (fol. 22v),
spinach (fol. 24),
celery (fol. 27),
dill (fol. 29),
millet (fol. 45v),
panicum (fol. 46),
chickpeas (fol. 47),
beans (fol. 48v),
autumn (fol. 52v),
fresh cheese (fol. 58),
butter (fol. 59),
white cheese (fol. 60),
bread (fol. 62v),
mutton (fol. 70v),
goat (fol. 71),
pork (fol. 72v),
veal (fol. 71v),
animal feet (fol. 76),
heart (fol. 76v),
liver (fol. 78), and
conversation (fol. 97v)
- September, Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, 1412-1416: Two women (lower left) wear aprons with narrow waistbands
- Cisti (fol. 171) and Giannello Scrignario (fol. 187v), The Decameron (BNF Fr. 239), second quarter of the 15th century
- December (fol. 12) and a border (fol. 135), The Hours of Margaret of Orleans (BNF Lat. 1156 B), c. 1426
- Cisti in front of his oven, The Decameron (BNF It. 63, fol. 196v), 1427
- A shepherdess in the Rohan Hours (BNF Lat. 9471, fol. 85v), c. 1430-1435
- A laundress in the Decameron (BNF Arsenal 5070, fol. 51v), 1432
- A woman carrying a pitcher, The Hours of Catherine of Cleves (PML M.945, fol. 140v), c. 1440
- Arrival of Alexander at Pheson (fol. 69v) and Construction of Bucephalia (fol. 185), History of Alexander (BNF Fr. 9342), mid-15th century
- Sergius Orata in his bath, Facta et dicta memorabilia (BNF Fr. 287, fol. 181), third quarter of the 15th century: A servant wears a white apron over a laced kirtle; the apron-strings are tied in front.
- Allegory of Delight, The Twelve Dames of Rhetoric (BNF 1174, fol. 31v), second half of the 15th century
- The Martyrdom of St. James, The Book of Hours of Étienne Chevalier, ca. 1455: The executioner wears a simple apron, a rectangle (or perhaps a trapezoid?) of white linen tied at the corners at his back.
Midwife’s Apron (?)
This particular style of apron appears primarily on midwives in 15th century from Germany and Austria; the aprons' strings come up to the woman's shoulders, and it seems to cover both the front and back.
- Abraham sends Hagar away (BNF Fr. 50, fol. 44v), The birth of St. Nicholas (BNF Fr. 51, fol. 117v) and the story of St. Germain (BNF Fr. 51, fol. 431), Speculum Historiale (BNF Fr. 51), 1463
- Man in an apron reveals his posterior to a seated woman with a distaff, Historia Alexandri Magni (Laud Misc. 751, fol. 173v), c. 1470-1480
- Libro de componere herbe et fructi (BNF It. 1108), c. 1471:
eels (fol. 51v),
cabbage (fol. 54),
beans (fol. 54v),
spinach (fol. 55),
onions (fol. 55v), and
veal (fol. 58)
the Hours of Charles d’Angoulême (BNF Latin 1173, fol. 1), c. 1475-1500
- Campania, Secrets of natural history (BNF Fr. 22971, fol. 11), c. 1480-1485
- The Golden Legend, c. 1480-1490:
the birth of St. Nicholas (BNF Fr. 244, fol. 14r);
Mary gives Jesus a bath (BNF Fr. 244, fol. 24r);
the birth of St. John the Baptist (BNF Fr. 244, fol. 174r);
Mary and Martha (BNF Fr. 245, fol. 12v);
St. Saturnine is put into a shroud (BNF Fr 245, fol. 193r)
- Preparation of a medicinal drink from Quart volume de histoire scolastique, 1475; or is it really the Blinding of Tobit (British Library Royal 15 D I, fol. 18)?
- Frontispiece, Livre des symples medichinos, autrement dit Arboriste (BNF Fr. 9136, fol. Av), c. 1480
- The servant, De proprietatibus rerum (BNF Fr. 9140, fol. 107), 1480
- Birth of St. John the Baptist, fresco in the Cappella Tornabuoni of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, by Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1486-90
Easier to see in this detail, a servant in the background wears an apron over her gown. It appears that the apron is pleated into a waistband, which is tied at the level of the high waistline of the gown.
- February, June, and September, in the Grimani Breviary, c. 1490-1510
- Birth of Mary by Benozzo Gozzoli, 1491
- Archery Festival, 1493
- De mulieribus claris (BNF Fr. 599), 15th-16th centuries:
Pamphile of Kos (fol. 40),
Thamyris (fol. 50),
Iaia (fol. 58),
Paulina (fol. 77v), and
Epicharis (fol. 79v)
While the costumes in this version of De mulieribus claris are a bit more fantastical than those in BNF Fr. 598, there is a wider range of colors of aprons exhibited. Thamyris' black apron, for example, would be eminently practical for a painter.
- Book of hours (BNF Latin 886, fol. 9v), 1500
The butcher's apron looks to be a cloth tucked into his belt.
- Several illustrations in a book of hours (British Library King's 9), c. 1500
- Birth of the Virgin, Choir Breviary (Laud Misc. 93, fol. 144r), beginning of the 16th century
- The Great Book of Hours of Anne of Brittany, c. 1500-1508 (BNF Lat 9474)
March (fol. 6r) shows a peasant woman wearing an unusual apron; the sides slope towards the ties, and that there is a pocket in the center front
August (fol. 11) shows a man winnowing wheat from chaff, wearing a conventional apron over his doublet
- Dance of death, Danse macabre (BNF Fr. 995, fol. 34v), c. 1500-1510
- Portrait of a Woman (La Donna Gravida) by Raphael, 1505-06
- Portrait of a Woman (La Muta) by Raphael, 1507
A pleated apron; if it is attached to a band, the band is covered by a silk sash.
- Melencolia I by Albrecht Dürer, 1514
Melancholy's pleated/smocked apron is draped over the side of her leg.
- The Da Costa Hours (PML M.399), c. 1515
Aprons worn by men and women in
January (fol. 2v),
March (fol. 4v),
April (fol. 5v),
July (fol. 8v),
August (fol. 9v), and
November (fol. 12v). (See also the books of hours linkspage.)
- Harvesting aloe; extracting antimony, The book of simple medicines (BNF Fr. 12322, fol. 168), c. 1520-1530
- Die Augsburger Monatsbilder, 1520s
A few different styles of aprons appear in the murals, especially in the June and autumn sections.
- Old Woman speaks to the Personification of Welcome, Roman de la Rose (PML M.948, fol. 128r), c. 1525
- Portrait of the artist’s sister-in-law by Bernardino Licinio, c. 1525-1530
- Pyramus and Thisbe by Hans Baldung Grien, 1530
Thisbe seems to be wearing an apron or white overskirt with some sort of embroidered or cutwork ornamentation at the waist and bottom hem.
- Roman Courtesan (Antea) by Parmigianino, c. 1530-1535
Horizontal ornamentation could be embroidered or a form of brocading.
- Fols. 1v, 7v, 8r, 8v, 9r, 10v, and 13r in the Hennessy Book of Hours, c. 1530-1540
- A seamstress (by Edward Schoen, 1535) wears an apron which appears to have honeycomb smocking at the waistband.
- The Lamentation of Christ, 1538
The woman at lower right wears a narrow pleated apron.
- Ecce Homo by the Brunswick Monogrammist, c. 1545
- The Fountain of Youth by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1546
Women wear narrow pleated aprons in details of clothed women leaving a tent and old women being brought to the fountain. (Maybe the aprons are a symbol of the youth of the wearer?)
- Entertainers in a Brothel, 1550s
- Children's Games by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1559
Several of the girls wear aprons. This is one of the few examples of colored aprons – blue, green, yellow, etc.
- Netherlandish Proverbs by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1559
- Christ and the Adulteress by Pieter Aertsen, 1559
Two women in the foreground wear aprons; one woman's apron the same pink color as her sleeves.
- Peasants by the Hearth by Pieter Aertsen, 1560s
Two women walking in the door are wearing aprons.
- The Harvesters by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565
Several of the women wear aprons. Some of the aprons seem to be wide enough to wrap all the way around at the top.
- Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Joachim Beuckelaer, 1565
The kitchen workers in the foreground -- two women and a young man -- all wear aprons of different styles.
- Detail from The Banquet by Giovanni Antonio Fasolo, c. 1565
A young girl wears an apron while playing with a dog.
- Lady with a yellow flower by Adriaen van Cronenburg, 1567
The apron strings wrap around her waist and tie in the front.
- Peasant Dance by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1567
- Peasant Wedding by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1567
- Fête at Bermondsey, 1569
- Englishwomen in dress of the Elizabethan era: a country-woman by Lucas de Heere (Britih Library Add 28330, fol. 33r); see also A Group of Englishwomen
- Portrait of Mette von Münchhausen by Ludger Tom Ring the Younger, 1572
- Portrait of a young woman wearing a lace-trimmed apron in the Portrait-Book of Hieronymus Beck von Leopoldsdorf, c. 1575-1585
- Antonius Anselmus, His Wife and Their Children by Marten de Vos, 1577
Both children wear lace-trimmed pinafore-style aprons over their fine clothes.
- Habitus praecipuorum populorum by Hans Weigel, 1577
Several of the women wear either narrow pleated (and sometimes embroidered) aprons, or else plain aprons which are wider at the top.
- Portrait of Frau Katharina by Ludger Tom Ring the Younger, c. 1580
- Cutwork apron (V&A T.87-1917), made in England c. 1580-1600. “An apron made of a width of linen (with selvage at either side) and embellished in cutwork in simple oval, squares and circles, with white linen thread in an overall lozenge pattern. It has a narrow hem at the bottom. At the waist, the linen is gathered and bound by a narrow linen tape which extends at either side into the strings for tying around the waist.”
- Cutwork apron (Met 36.130.13) made in 16th century Italy
- Women (and a few men) wearing aprons in 1580s paintings by Vincenzo Campi -- including The Fruit Seller, Kitchen, and Christ in the House of Mary and Martha -- all are simple aprons, hung from the waist, but some are dark blue.
- Portrait of Anna Kale by Ludger Tom Ring the Younger, 1583
- Otto Venius painting, surrounded by his family, 1584
- Several examples of aprons (pleated, unpleated, embroidered, etc.) in Im Frauwenzimmer Wirt vermeldt von allerly schnen Kleidungen, 1586
These aprones white of finest thred
So choicelie tide, so dearlie bought,
So finely fringed, so nicelie spred,
So quaintlie cut, so richlie wrought,
Were they in worke to save their cotes,
They need not cost so many grotes.
Stephen Gosson, Pleasant quippes for
upstart new-fangled gentlewomen, 1595
- Countryside scene with hunters by Gillis van Coninxloo
- Apron with blackwork embroidery
- Embroidered apron (MFA 43.1034), late 16th-early 17th century
- Apron (Met 38.19.8), Italy, 16th century-17th century
- Apron (Met 38.19.9), Italy, early 17th century
- Apron (Art Institute of Chicago 1976.332), 17th century