The Lace Gown of Empress Maria-Theresa
Maria-Theresa was the eldest daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles VI (1685-1740) - his only male heir died as an infant. He worked extensively to guarantee the succession of his daughter to the Habsburg Empire. Despite her elevation upon her father's death in 1740, Saxony, Prussia, Bavaria and France, which had previously agreed to femine rule under the Pragmatic Succession of 1713, repudiated their promise. Prussia went so far as to invade the Habsburg province of Silesia, initiating the War of the Austrian Succession, which lasted eight years. Other parts of the Empire, such as the States of Flanders, were eager to curry favor with the new monarch, and presented her with this magnificent gown in 1744.
All throughout its history, the Habsburg empire was centered in modern Austria, however the lace gown was made in Ghent. But there are enough sources from several different countries to warrant this subject as a Special Topic on this web site. Under the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) the Spanish Netherlands, comprising much of modern Belgium and Luxembourg, was ceded to Austria and became known as the Austrian Netherlands. It included numerous provinces, and Maria-Theresa became Countess of Flanders upon her accession in 1740. The States of Flanders was basically a 'parlimentary' body supporting the Counts of Flanders, and consisted of the clergy, nobles, and commoners. Bruges, Ghent, and Ypres were economically the most important cities in Flanders, and could well afford the expense of this gift.
Six of Maria-Theresa's sixteen children had been born by the time this dress was received, and she was around 26 years old when the seated portrait was painted. The standing portrait was painted around 1745, and is in the Schönbrunn palace near Vienna. Both paintings are attributed to van Mytens.
Mme Lucie Paulis, in "Le Passé de la Dentelle Belge" (1947) gives an account of the history of this gown, and I include an English translation in the following link: