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Summing up a year of archival research

After a year, with the last days spent in Siena in late October, the work in the Italian archives is complete. It has been a long and intense, but rewarding work, and it has given us great results.

An old picture of the Archivio di Stato di Venezia (copyright MIBAC, Ministero per i beni e le attività culturali).

The research work started in October 2017 at the Venice State archive, where it was possible to find a large number of documents. Here different collections were used: notarial and court collections contained post-mortem probate inventories that were requested by family members or appointed tutors in order to estimate the inheritance. In Venice I was able to find more than 600 inventories, of which 450 ca. will be included in the database (we are excluding mercers, goldsmiths and other high rank professions).

Origin of the inventories in the database.

At the beginning of 2018, the research focused on Florence. I spent there 3 months doing research at the archive, particularly in the collection of the Magistrato dei Pupilli. As for the Giudici di Petizionin Venice, this institution had the aim to certify inheritances. However, while in Venice the Petizion courtrecorded all the inheritances, the Magistrati dei pupillifocused in granting a tutor and the management of the inheritance for the children. Probably for this reason, Florence had consistently less inventories recorded for artisans. Here I was able to gather 206 inventories, of which 85 could be used in the final database. However, despite the lower number of inventories, Florence is precious for all the account books that are preserved there. From the medieval to the contemporary age, it is possible to find almost any type of account book produced by traders, artisans, hospitals and other institutions at the State Archive. In our case, I was able to find a few account books that will help us better analyze and understand the data from the inventories. These books are usually journals written by peddlers, shoemakers and mercers, and they record all the transactions made in their shops or stands.

The account books from Florence.

The final stage of the research was carried out in Siena. For this city, I could profit from the experience of Paula Hohti. Part of the material for the 16thcentury had indeed already been identified by Paula, and my work here consisted of continuing the analysis of the collection, the Curia del Placito. The Curiain Siena had the same role as the Magistrato dei Pupilliin Florence. However, Siena was more fruitful from the point of view of the artisan’s inventories, since we were able to gather 203 inventories of which 185 were used for the database. To these, it is possible to add the auction records of the cases where the Sienese government had authorized the tutor to liquidize some of the assets of their underage protégés. These lists of goods—despite being very often partial—are particularly useful in understanding the value of items, since they report the selling price, as well the items that were chosen for being sold, thus considered as a reserve of value.

A page from the auction records of Bartolo macellaio from Siena (ASSi, Curia del Placito, Vendite di immobili dei pupilli, reg. 1334, c. 1r, 10 January 1630).

As it is possible to see from Chart 1, the distribution of the inventories is not equal, and this is of course due to the typology of the collections, to the role of the institutions that recorded the inventories, and to the population and size that characterized the cities, all of which will be considered when comparing them. Not equal is also the temporal distribution of the artisan’s inventories, which are of course linked to health issues among the population, as well as to local events or to problems related to the preservation of the documents. (see Charts 2, 3 and 4).

 

Temporal distribution of artisan’s inventories.

What’s next?

After this first phase of archival research, it is time now to implement the database! The inventories from Siena and Florence have been already transcribed, but Venice is still an open field. So…let’s get out the reading glasses and make sure that by next spring also the inventories from the Serenissima will be fully transcribed. Stay tuned!

Datini Conference 2018: “Maritime Networks as a Factor of European Integration” (13-17 May 2018)

Official panel of the Settimana at the City Hall

In May I had the possibility to participate to the 2018 Datini conference, or “Settimana”, in Prato. The theme of the conference – which is named after a 14th century merchant Francesco Datini, and celebrated its 50th anniversary – was “Maritime Networks as a Factor of European Integration”. The aim was to promote comparative analysis and to go beyond the isolated study of single economic systems, and understand the integrative role played by maritime connections around Europe and the Mediterranean, taking Fernand Braudel’s concept of Méditerranée as a starting point.

Official opening of the Settimana at the City Hall.

My paper, titled All roads lead to Venice. The role of public navigation in the Renaissance, discussed the system of trade which Venice developed from 13th century onwards, and which was based on the integration of private and public navies. This integrated system, which reached its apogee during the 15th century, helped Venice to become one of the main gateways for the long-distance trade between Asia and Europe during the medieval and early modern period. Thanks to the severaltrade routes that crossed the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean, Venetian merchants were able to import oriental spices, expensive textiles, and other Asiatic goods to Venice and Europe. Equally, European manufactured goods were exported to the Middle Eastern ports, where they were transported to continental Asia.

Beside all the academic events, the conference is also a meeting point for European economic historians, and offers the possibility to attend social events, such as concerts and dinners. An interesting side note is that in 2020 the focus of the conference will be “Fashion as an economic engine: process and product innovation, commercial strategies, consumer behaviour”. 

 

Exploring Northern Italy: Team Training Trip

Our Team in Venice.

On 6–12 May, the entire Refashioning team took part of a training trip in Northern Italy. The aim of this trip was to deepen our understanding of the production and use of textiles in Italy during the Medieval and Early Modern period, and to do so, we had decided to move across Tuscany, Emilia and Veneto, the main centres of Italian textile production.

Our week consisted of several formative activities that supported the aim of the trip. We started the week in Florence, one of the European capitals for the wool production in the Renaissance period. On Monday, we took a weaving course in Fondazione Arte della Seta Lisio, where our teacher, Angela Giordano, thought us different regional weaving techniques from Tuscany, Sardinia, Lombardy and Marche. We were excited to learn about the mechanics of different loom types and about the weaving process, and enjoyed the day of concentrated weaving.

Weaving workshop at Fondazione Lisio.

Hard at work.

On Tuesday, after visiting the Museo del Tessuto in Prato, we travelled to Bologna,where on Wednesday we visited the Museo del Patrimonio Industriale. The museum showcases the long industrial history of Bologna, such as the history of local silk production, which made Bologna one of the main European centres for silk production, specialising in in the manufacturing of veils, already during the medieval period. The museum retains a functioning copy of the Bolognese silk mill, one of the first examples of proto-industrial production, and it was fascinating to study the mill and afterwards see the canals that powered the silk mills.

1:2 scale silk mill model at the Museo del Patrimonio Industriale.

Bologna.

Moving North, Padova was our next stop. On Thursday we had a joint seminar with the Department of Historical and Geographic Sciences and the Ancient World (DISSGeA) of the University of Padua on Fashion and Popular Groups in Renaissance Europe. We met local scholars Andrea Caracausi, Salvatore Ciriacono, Mattia Viale and Francesco Vianello, who talked to us about the production and consumption of silk ribbons, the budget of Venetian artisans and the consumption of textiles of the Veneto women.  This opportunity to engage with other researchers and exchange ideas was one of the highlights of our trip, and presented interesting possibilities for possible future co-operation.

Professor Andrea Caracausi giving a presentation on ribbons.

Our team with local scholars in Padova.

To properly conclude our visit, of course, we stayed for two days in La Serenissima: Venice. On Friday, we visited Tessitura Luigi Bevilacqua, one of the oldest – and still active – weaving factories of the city.  We had the possibility to see weavers and looms (once used by the Silk Guild of the Republic of Venice) at work,producing the refined soprarizzo velvet, and to touch with our own hands fabrics made following ancient techniques. One of the most striking feature of the workshop was that many of the looms and tools were old, some even from the 17th century, and this gave us some kind of idea what a 17th century weaving workshop might have looked and sounded like.

At Tessitura Luigi Bevilacqua.

At Tessitura Luigi Bevilacqua.

Velvet in the making.

Pattern samples at Tessitura Luigi Bevilacqua.

Besides silk, we learnt a lot also about lace. We started our “lace journey” in Burano, at Museo del Merletto, where the production of lace concentrated in the 19th century, and concluded it at Palazzo Mocenigo, with a backstage visit to the museum collections. There our expert guide, Paola, showed us extant examples of Venetian lace from 16th to 20th century, and explained us in detail the history and the manufacturing process. As an extra treat, we got to study and actually hold a 15th century pianelle platform shoe, which had just returned from exhibition in Canada.

Unfinished piece of Venetian lace with it’s original pattern at Museo del Merletto.

Paola showings us details of a 16th century Venetian lace.

Paula was over the moon to hold this 15th century platform shoe in her hands.

In addition to this stimulating programme, we thoroughly enjoyed spending quality time with our team. And of course, our learning efforts were eased by Italian food, culture and lovely weather. After the week we reflected on everything we had learned, and got many ideas for our future events.