Frans Hals, what's that thing around his neck?

Have you ever seen one of the old Dutch Masters paintings in a book or at a museum and wondered about the unusual neckwear? Frans Hals (1580-1666) lived in Haarlem, in the Netherlands, and painted portraits of wealthy merchants. Hals is considered one of the greatest portrait painters of all time, and many of his subjects wore these items in their pictures. What exactly are these things?

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We've found several names for them, such as "ruff collar" and "millstone ruff." These decorative collars were made out of linen and were very fashionable in the 1600's. At the time, linen from Holland was highly prized throughout Europe, and so these collars were highly valued.

white collars worn by subjects in Frans Hals portraits

Above left: Frans Hals, Portrait of Tieleman Roosterman (The Laughing Cavalier), 1624. Above right: Frans Hals, Portrait of a Man holding a skull, c. 1610-14

The collars required several yards worth of linen, and had to be starched and ironed into pleats, or even supported on wires, in order to achieve this look. The amount of fabric and time needed to create these collars made them very expensive, and therefore owning and wearing such an item reflected upon one's wealth and sophistication.

Frans Hals portrait subject wearing a white collars

Frans Hals: Portrait of an unknown man, c. 1612-16

ruff collars worn by Jacob Pietersz Olycan in Frans Hals portraits

Frans Hals: Portrait of Jacob Pietersz Olycan, 1625

FRANS HALS SAYS: "Hey, I'm not always a serious guy, I like to have fun too. Do you really think I just sat around the studio painting these formal folks all day long? Why don't you try my favorite studio game, The Frans Hals Ring Toss Game!

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