Magdalena Elselena’s dress

Reconstruction of a child’s dress from the late 18th century.

  • Borgerskap og embedmenn 1600-1914 på Norsk Folkemuseum (Foto/Photo)
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    The portrait of three-year-old Magdalena Elselena Wensell (1782-1786) and the dress she is wearing in the portrait. Anne-Lise Reinsfelt/Norsk Folkemuseum (Bilde 1 av 8)
  • Magdalena ElselenaS kjole (Foto/Photo)
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    The dress after many years as an exhibit in the museum collection. Textiles are highly light-sensitive and should not be exhibited for long periods at a time. Haakon Harriss / Norsk Folkemuseum (Bilde 2 av 8)
  • Utstilling i bysamlingen på Norsk Folkemuseum 1952 (Foto/Photo)
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    The dress and the portrait as displayed in the old “Urban Collection” in 1952. Norsk Folkemuseum (Bilde 3 av 8)
  • Tegning av pikekjolen til Magealena Elselena på Norsk Folkemuseum (Foto/Photo)
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    The drawing made by Eli Holtsmark in 1970.One of several pattern drawings she did of this dress. Eli Holtsmark/Norsk Folkemuseum (Bilde 4 av 8)
  • Detalj av rokokko pikekjole på Norsk Folkemuseum (Foto/Photo)
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    Detail on the inside of the dress, where the colour is intact and not faded Anne-Lise Reinsfelt/Norsk Folkemuseum (Bilde 5 av 8)
  • Analyse for rekonstruksjon av rokokko pikekjole på Norsk Folkemuseum (Foto/Photo)
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    The expert has arrived! Silk weaving expert Julie Holyoake from Florence has come to analyse the dress in order to investigate the possibility of recreating the fabric today Haakon Harriss/Norsk Folkemuseum (Bilde 6 av 8)
  • Fargeprøver for rekonstruksjon av pikekjole på Norsk Folkemuseum (Foto/Photo)
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    The colour of the dress is examined and compared to colour codes. It is difficult to estimate the exact colour of the end result since silk is a transparent fibre. Warp and weft in various colours complicate matters further. Haakon Harriss/Norsk Folkemuseum (Bilde 7 av 8)
  • For rekonstruksjon av pikekjole på Norsk Folkemuseum (Foto/Photo)
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    Work is under way! Here are two samples of weave with the original fabric in the middle. It is the density of the weave rather than the colour which is being tested here. The sample on the far right shows a good density, and is the one we have approved for production. All we need to do now is to agree on the shade of pink to use. Sample display created by Julie Holyoke. Norsk Folkemuseum (Bilde 8 av 8)

This dress belonged to Magdalena Elselena Wensell from Trondheim, who died from illness in 1786, only three years old. Her parents had her portrait painted, probably after her death. The portrait and the dress, both in the museum’s collection, help us understand topics like childhood and child mortality, as well as the history of art and fashion in this period. 

The dress, along with other artefacts from the Wensell family, will be displayed in the upcoming major exhibition “TIMESCAPE – 1600-1914” which is due to open later this year.

The silk dress, which is not only old, but very faded and fragile after many years on display in the old “City Collection” at the museum, can no longer be exhibited. It was therefore important to create a copy - a costly project which has been made possible by the generous support of Friends of Norsk Folkemuseum.

As shown in the picture series above, the work is now well under way