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Historically Accurate Merida

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Being the history geek that I am, I guess it is kind of surprising that I haven't really done a "historically accurate" animation series before, but after seeing that awesome Buzzfeed Disney Princess video, and of course all the amazing art on here, I was inspired to make my own.  I guess it is better late than never!

As I've said before elsewhere, from an artistic standpoint, I'm not at all bothered by the animated designs of the characters in Disney and Dreamworks films. They weren't documentaries after all so in most cases they didn't need to be accurate, and in animation in particular, it is more important to convey character and style in the designs.  I am not trying to "fix" anything because I don't think there is anything to fix!  That being said, it can still be fun to learn how your favorite characters might have looked if they had existed in real life.  :) (Smile)  

For my series, I am trying to be as accurate as I possibly can.  I'm taking the country of origin, the social class, the culture, and the specific decade into mind (instead of just a general sweep of multiple decades), and also adapting the colors and styles to fit what was available and worn everyday.  I will try to keep the characters recognizable where I can, but I want to make my pictures realistic and so some elements of the original designs might be altered in the process.

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Well time certainly does fly, doesn't it?  :blush:  It's already been three months since my last Historically Accurate Disney character!  Hopefully you will think this one is worth the wait. :)  I had a lot of fun researching for Merida.  I knew next to nothing about the medieval Scotland where her movie was set, I almost wasn't sure where to begin!  According to Disney, Brave takes place in "10th century Scotland," although you wouldn't know it to look at it, considering it is a mishmash of Scottish stereotypes from practically every century - kind of like Mulan's China.  But I was glad to have a concrete period to reference, so I was off to Google to see what I could find.

Just so you know, Merida's clothing in the movie is in no way from the 10th century - it isn't even Scottish!  Both her fancy and casual dresses seem to be based on the pseudo-historical dresses from John William Waterhouse's art.  Her casual dress in particular is a 19th century imagining of an Italian style.  So I had to fix that right away.  I found this article on Early Gaelic dress to be particularly helpful.  From roughly the 600s-1000s, Scottish clothing changed fairly little, and consisted of two important garments: the leine, which was a tunic or dress, and the brat, which was a cloak.  The leine is not that unique, it is similar to the dresses worn by the Anglo Saxons and possibly Vikings at the time.  Although fancier ones could be silk, I drew Merida wearing a more practical woolen one, with the narrow sleeves of the Scottish version.  You could often see the linen underdress peeking out at the sleeves.  It is trimmed with an interlace pattern similar to the one worn by the Virgin Mary in the Book of Kells.  The dress was usually belted with either a leather or woven belt.  I also gave her woolen stockings and leather shoes based on an archaeological find.

The brat is more uniquely Gaelic and was often as much a symbol of status as a method of keeping warm.  They could be solid, patterned, embroidered, or trimmed with fringe or fur.  As a princess Merida's probably could have been embroidered, but I couldn't settle on a design I liked, which was just as well considering how busy this design is anyway. ;)  Instead, I made it solid-colored with yellow trim, like the saints in the Book of Kells wear.  Women often wore their cloaks pinned in the center of their chest, so Merida's is pinned with a classic Celtic penannular brooch.

At first I didn't know what to do with Merida's hair, since it such an important part of her design.  In real life, she almost certainly would have been married by the time she was sixteen, and would have covered all her hair with a veil according to Christian modesty requirements.  I'm not sure if that is required of all "adult" Christian women or only the married ones, since there weren't many unmarried adults.  There's not much information on how unmarried girls wore their hair.  Gaelic accounts seem to describe a fashion of plaits among unmarried women, while some claim that unmarried girls could wear their hair loose with a bandcalled a "headrail", especially among the Vikings.  I sort of combined the two and did some locks with beads along with the headrail.

And lastly, the accessories!  The Gaelic peoples loved jewelry and adornments.  Necklaces, bracelets, pins, and rings were worn by both sexes, even soldiers, and certainly people of status.  I drew Merida wearing some silver rings, and a glass bead necklace with silver charms based on Viking finds (which she certainly could have gotten as a trade item, since the Vikings were well established in Scotland by the 10th century).  Her belt has some other important items, along with her quiver she has a knife with a bone handle, and a pouch which might have held a hair comb, as was typically carried by the Scots.  Her bow and arrows are also based off medieval examples, many of which you can see on the Larsdatter webpage.

Anyway, that's it!  I'd like to get back to a regular updating schedule for this series, so here's hoping I can get my act together in the next few weeks. :)

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Paige362's avatar

This. is. Amazing! I love her gown and the research involved. It surprised me to see 10th century too but thinking about it it’s probably the right time since that’s the absolute last time bears were seen in Scotland and fergus was killing all the bears! The only time period that would work is probably the 9th century when Scotland was being unified anyway lol.