18th Century Quest: The Liberator (2013)

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I hadn’t heard of the film The Liberator until I came across that image of actress María Valverde (The Limehouse Golem, The Load, Exodus: Gods and Kings) — who I’ve recently developed a crush on — wearing a dress recycled from Marie Antoinette (2006) and a crapton of flowers on her hat… and once I saw that pic, I knew I had to check it out! I’m ashamed to say I didn’t actually know anything about Simón Bolívar, the Venezuelan military and political leader who led Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama to independence from the Spanish Empire. In the end, I think I enjoyed the film more for Bolívar (played by hottie Édgar Ramírez) and learning a history I didn’t know than for the costumes, but the costumes were nicely done, even if I have a few fabric and period quibbles.

The film starts with Bolívar meeting his wife, Maria Teresa Rodríguez del Toro, in Spain, then bringing her back to Venezuela. Sadly she dies not too long after their marriage, and then Bolívar travels to France and eventually gets politically and militarily involved in the independence movement. Everyone puts on good performances, there aren’t TOO many battle scenes, and all in all, it’s an interesting and enjoyable watch.

The costumes were designed by Sonia Grande (Magic in the MoonlightMidnight in ParisA Matador’s Mistress), and overall I thought they were well done.

The men are in late 18th-century/early 19th-century frock coats, with the giant collars of the era. There’s a nice range of classes shown on screen:

2013 The Liberator

Young Bolívar dressed up fancy, visiting Spain.

2013 The Liberator

I liked this take on hot weather wear, and I thought the high cut-out on the jacket and the shape of the hat were nicely done for early 19th century.

2013 The Liberator

When Bolívar starts getting political, the costumes get more serious.

2013 The Liberator

The lower-class characters — and Bolívar roughing it — are in a nice mix of weathered linen shirts and waistcoats.

2013 The Liberator

There’s shiny, embroidered military jackets.

2013 The Liberator

HOT collars and hot sideburns.

2013 The Liberator

I really liked what they did with this on-the-side-of-independence military leader’s look — the distressing of the fancy clothes, the rakish look with the military bicorn.

For the ladies, I definitely enjoyed what I saw on screen, with a few quibbles — the main one being that Bolívar goes to Spain in 1799, where he courts Maria for two years, and the two marry in 1802. Bolívar meets Maria AT court, playing tennis with the king, and the court ladies are dressed in 1780s costumes:

2013 The Liberator

And again, that pink dress…

2006 Marie Antoinette

Is from Marie Antoinette (2006).

What should they be wearing? Here’s a mix of various images of very late 1790s Spanish upper-class women’s wear:

Late 1790s Spanish women's costume

Various portraits of upper class Spanish women, 1796-97, all culled from Wikimedia Commons. Ok, so there’s still a few long waists in there, but Spanish women weren’t totally out of the loop, fashion-wise.

And what about that totally gorgeous, excessively floral hat?

2013 The Liberator
Gallerie des Modes, late 1780s

The flowers are awfully big, and there’d probably be some kind of sheer white fabric involved, but I suppose it sort of passes for 1780s | Gallerie des Modes, late 1780s

Journal des dames et des modes, late 1790s

It’s definitely not the right shape for late 1790s, however | Journal des dames et des modes, late 1790s

Here’s a few other extras, just to give you an overall look at the scene:

2013 The Liberator

Some more courting happens in what-is-the-same-time-period, and Maria wears an outfit that made me 75% happy:

2013 The Liberator

Because what she’s wearing is called “maja” dress. As I wrote in my review of El Ministerio del Tiempo, “The majo (men) and maja (women) were a very typical and unique look worn by the working/lower classes, particularly in Madrid. For women, there’s a lot of jackets, and details on the sleeves. It was an over-the-top look that was very swagger-y.”

Francisco Goya, A Walk in Andalusia, 1777, Prado National Museum

An example of maja dress: Francisco Goya, A Walk in Andalusia, 1777, Prado National Museum

As it became tied to a sense of Spanish nationalism, upper-class women and men sometimes embraced it, particularly for fancy dress:

Anton Raphael Mengs, Retrato de la marquesa de Llano, doña Isabel de Parreño y Arce, c. 1775, Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando

Anton Raphael Mengs, Retrato de la marquesa de Llano, doña Isabel de Parreño y Arce, c. 1775, Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando

The short spencer jacket over the longer corseted figure is something I’ve seen in southern French regional dress, so I can imagine it extending to Spain:

2013 The Liberator
Musee Provencal du costume et du bijou

c. 1820, from the Fragonard/Musée Provençal du costume et du bijou

What doesn’t work is the fabric, which is SO modern chinoiserie:

2013 The Liberator

Compare to the kind of patterns in the Musée Provençal image above. This image via the maker’s (Cornejo) site. The flowers are embroidered, which is cool. Just, not the right aesthetic.

The ball fringe snood is a current style of “traditional Spanish dress,” called a “mantilla madronos,” which appears to date to at least the late 19th century:

2013 The Liberator 2013 The Liberator

The ball fringe WAS a frequent design element of maja dress:

Jubón y basquiña - Goyesco, 1801-1810 - Museo del Traje

Jubón y basquiña, 1801-1810, Museo del Traje

Jubón y basquiña, 1801-1810, Museo del Traje

But all of the images I’ve looked at of late 18th/early 19th century show women in maja dress wearing bags made of fabric, not pompoms:

Francisco de Goya, The Straw Manikin, 1791-92, Museo del Prado

Francisco de Goya, The Straw Manikin, 1791-92, Museo del Prado

1922_spain_jarez_mantilla

An early 20th century version, using the pompoms | Jarez Mantilla. Probably from “1925 Spain Large Art Photobook 304 photogravures Espana,” 1922, via Wikimedia Commons

I have now spent way too long researching and writing this post, so now I’m going to get a little less in-depth. Bolívar and Maria arrive in South America, and suddenly Maria’s wardrobe has realized it’s the 19th century:

2013 The Liberator

Sheer white cotton

2013 The Liberator

LOVE the green sash, it’s so the right color scheme for the era.

2013 The Liberator

I’m always a sucker for a sheer hat, so this one made my toes twinkle.

2013 The Liberator
2013 The Liberator

Later she de-hats and has this very neoclassical ribbon wrapped in her hair.

2013 The Liberator
2013 The Liberator

Embroidery detail, not really seen well on screen.

Later she gets confused, wearing this sort of art nouveau number with yet another super-modern print:

2013 The Liberator 2013 The Liberator

Later in the film, Bolívar hooks up with Manuela Sáenz, an Ecuadoran revolutionary who seems pretty badass. She starts off in standard “Regency” wear, with a great shawl:

2013 The Liberator 2013 The Liberator

And later gets to wear a man’s suit, which looks fabulous on her:

2013 The Liberator

 

Check out The Liberator, you’ll be glad you did!

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

11 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    I had to drop all of my streaming services due to the pandemic bc I’m unemployed. Will do when I go back to work. Take care. Stay safe.

    Reply
  2. Frannie Germeshausen

    I feel as though I brought a cake to a GBACG event decorated a lot like that hat.

    Reply
  3. Alexander Sanderson

    What is going on with that ‘art nouveau number’ ???? Why those sleeves and that MASSIVE floral design???? Why ???? It is all so confusingly random my head hurts! It was a relief seeing the next image of her dressed in a correct, green regency gown… although I am not 100% certain that she is wearing the correct underpinnings underneath.

    Reply
  4. Sam Marchiony

    Am I the only one who thinks Édgar Ramírez looks like a hotter version of Mark Ruffalo?

    Reply
  5. Saraquill

    The lower class characters in the screenshots intrigue me. I want to see a movie about them.

    Reply
  6. RuRu

    That short jacket was done with an original antique mantón de Manila (19th century), it’s not that modern. Check Goya’s “La merienda” (The Picnic), “La cometa” (The kite) and “Baile a orillas del Manzanares” (Dance on the banks of the Manzanares)… you will see some “redes de madroños”.

    Reply
    • Andrea

      Funfact! A madroño is a fruit that comes from the madroño tree, a bushlike short tree that represents Madrid, where the Majas and Majos are from. The fruit looks exactly like the pompoms, small, round yellow in the inside and red orange in the outside. The flavour is slightly sweet and the texture is sandy and seedy, and you can pick them and eat them everywhere around the city (especially in the past when polution didnt make everything gross). Wearing madroño nets is part of the national reprrsentation that majas where obsessed with.

      Reply

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