On July 11th, 1807, whilst Anne “Went to Mr Knights” for some Greek, Isabella Norcliffe would likely have been attending her sister’s wedding.
Mary Dalton Norcliffe (1790-1837) married Dr. Charles Best at the church of Saint Michael-Le-Belfry, York. The occasional dress is now part of the Victoria and Albert permanent collection, having been acquired from a private collector in 2013 for 3,000 pounds. It must have cost a pretty penny in 1807 too.
“White muslin wedding dresses were particularly fashionable from 1790-1810, helping to establish white as the most appropriate choice for well-to-do young women marrying for the first time. This dress was worn by a seventeen year old bride, Mary Dalton Norcliffe who married Dr. Charles Best at the church of Saint Michael-Le-Belfry in York on 11 June 1807.” (V & A)
Their daughter Mary Ellen Best (1809-1891) would become a celebrated painter.
“Although the cut and construction of the dress follow standard practice, its decoration is striking. The asymmetrical embroidery on the front of the skirt recalls the drapery of a toga reflecting the current interest in classical antiquity. In May 1808 The Lady’s Monthly Museum featured a formal dress, also made of muslin embroidered with cotton, with a similar decorative feature, suggesting that the decoration of the wedding dress was very up-to-date.” (V&A)
The dress is similar but not identical to that found in a pair of portraits of the young couple (Davidson, pp. 10). There are notable differences in the fringe at the neckline, and the trim and manner of attachment at the sleeve panels; the museum notes there has been alterations but these differences are not mentioned. When the Davidson reproduction is inspected closely one does notice a length of trim at the neckline that matches proportionally that of the wedding dress, it would be nice to think these are wedding portraits and that the dress above is that worn on both occasions. It is not improbable that the original unknown artist, whom it is implied Best copied these after, took artistic license and omitted some details within the costume while focusing on Mary herself. It was popular to have portraits drawn of young couples to commemorate new unions, as one might have a wedding photographer today, but as the V & A points out the style was not uncommon so it is also probable that Mary owned more than one delicate white dress, they suit her.
UPDATE (2021-03-13): Having gone on to actually read Davidson, it confirms my suspicion in regards to the portraits being commissioned for their wedding, however she states this is probable without a definitive confirmation. Additionally it is noted there are a variety of known copies of these portraits in existence – all reproduced by their talented child Mary Ellen Best.
Wedding Dress of Mary Dalton Norcliffe, 1807, Victoria & Albert Museum, T.12-2013