This design was possibly created by Jules Marre for Charles Frederick Worth. The subject shows a woman in a deep red skirt with crossed daggers upon it and an enveloping sheer black veil that is caught up at the side of the waist, with a white bodice and a green snake coiled several times around her waist. She holds a dagger in one hand, and holds the veil together under her chin with the other. There are several possible subjects which this costume may represent, including Cleopatra and the asp, or Medea, who in Greek mythology was a sorceress who had a chariot drawn by serpents.
During the 1860s, Empress Eugenie of France threw a number of extravagant masquerade balls which required the guests to wear elaborate and inventive costumes that were made up by Worth and other Paris dressmakers. Worth, a relative newcomer, became the Empress's favoured couturier at the end of the 1850s. This made him extremely fashionable, and the rest of the ladies of Eugenie's court also bought gowns from him - and so too did their husbands' mistresses, and anyone wealthy enough to afford Worth's very high prices. As a result, Worth was under great pressure to produce vast numbers of unique, one of a kind costumes and gowns, often at very short notice. This is one of a large number of similar designs and sketches that were given to the V&A as part of the archive and reference collection of the House of Worth, making it extremely likely that it was originally designed for a guest to wear to one of the Empress's magnificent balls.