Historical dress should be understood as apparel or garments which are no longer in use, of which no photographic records exist due to their age and of which vestiges are either exceptional or non-existent.
When referring to Roncal dress in this light, we are talking about the attire worn by women up to the end of the 18th century. It should be borne in mind that the male attire has remained practically unchanged, most modifications centring on the form of the hat.
The earliest vestige of old, female, Roncal dress that has come to light is from the first half of the 17th century and is a painting portraying a woman from the valley. The original was found some years back in an antique shop by Mª Elena de Arizmendi Amiel, a lover of old paintings and author of the book Vascos y trajes (“Basques and dress”, Caja de Ahorros Municipal de San Sebastián, 1976). The artist remains anonymous and the picture shows a Roncal lady wearing headwear and a dress very different from anything we have seen since.
According to Mª Elena Arizmendi in the aforementioned book, six other paintings and prints, all from dates later than the picture painted in the first half of the 17th century, have also been found, showing different versions of the same costume; these are all reproductions of the original or new versions showing developments of or variations on the same attire.
The first painting, by an unknown artist, is the most similar to the original and was included in Juan de la Cruz Cano y Olmedillo’s Colección de trajes de España (Collection of costumes from Spain), published in Madrid in 1777.
The second version is a painting completed in around 1790 by an Italian painter and miniaturist by the name of Viero, and is entitled “Countrywoman from the Kingdom of Navarre”; none other than a lady from Roncal.
The third version is print 68 in the “General Collection of Costumes currently used in Spain”, a collection started in 1801 in Madrid by a certain Rodríguez.
The next version was painted in France in the 19th century by Saint Sauver. This version is registered as number 69 in the Museum Archive of the Spanish People in Madrid.
The fifth picture is a copy of the third. It forms part of the Lezama Leguizamón Collection in San Sebastián’s San Telmo Museum and was possibly made in the 19th century.
And the sixth and final version is an engraving by Juan D’Ivori and is the only portrait in which the woman from Roncal is shown head-on. The picture appeared in Vestidos típicos de España (Typical Spanish Dress), published in Barcelona in 1936.
It is not easy, on the basis of these pictures, to describe the garments that Roncal women wore back then. In addition to the headwear, covered separately in this encyclopaedia, we may suspect that the women wore a tunic-cum-dress, which covered them from the neck to the waist, with a loose, half sleeve. Beneath this garment came a long-sleeved blouse with a tailored cuff. Capping the entire costume, we can discern some sort of wide-brimmed hat, open at the front and gathered in at the bottom at the back. With the exception of the highly adorned bib, the most striking feature is the wide belt that draws all these garments in at the waist and from which a strange piece of fabric, measuring just a palm’s width across, hangs in the centre, draping in front from the waist to the ankles without reaching the full length of the dress. The pictures, however, are open to other interpretations and hypotheses regarding the composition of this costume which are just as valid as those offered here.
Everything would seem to indicate that none of the garments that made up this bygone costume remain in the Valley of Roncal any longer, although the researcher Claude Iruretagoyena does have a Roncal woman’s costume, which he has managed to reconstruct and reproduce using pictures from the time, in his private collection in the French Basque Country.