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Refashioning the Renaissance team at the RSA Toronto

On the 17—19 March 2019, the Refashioning the Renaissance team took part of the the annual Renaissance Society of America conference, this year held in Toronto. The Refashioning the Renaissance project was very fortunate to get four panel sessions accepted into the conference program, focusing on different aspects of lower-class dress in Europe.

Before the conference, however, we had some time to explore the city of Toronto and some of the fantastic collections of The Bata Shoe Museum, together with Professor Pamela H. Smith, who leads the Making and Knowing Project at Columbia University. Senior Curator Elizabeth Semmelhack treated us with the behind-the-scenes tour to the museum’s storage, where we had the chance to study some of the amazing shoes they have in their collection. This included beautiful velvet chopines, elaborate 17th century silk slap-sole shoes, a collection of delicately-embroidered Chinese silk shoes for bound feet, early modern everyday leather shoes from Dutch latrines, and extensive collection of Indigenous North American and circumpolar footwear. Getting a close look at these wonderful objects, and a chance to discuss them together with Elizabeth and Pamela was a definite highlight of our time in Toronto! After our visit to the museum, we sat down with Pamela to record a podcast episode for our upcoming series, where we meet interesting scholars and discuss all aspects of research, experiments, and methods.

Senior Curator Elizabeth Semmelhack with a Spanish-Italian hybrid style chopines with silver lace, tassels, studs and decorated insoles.

Our four panels on Lower-Class Dress, Fashion and Identity in Europe, 1450–1650 took place on the first day of the conference, and included presentations from all the researchers of the team. Focusing on the Italian context, Paula Hohti presented the Refashioning the Renaissance project, and talked about fashion among artisans in Renaissance Italy, and how artisans were communicating how they wanted to be viewed by others. Stefania Montemezzo added to this by introducing an accounting book by Alessandro Vignarchi, and unspecialised trader who travelled in remote areas in Tuscan Apennines. She discussed the peddlers’ role as intermediaries between areas and markets in the spreading of fashion in especially rural areas in Italy. Furthermore, Michele Nicole Robinson examined cross-cultural exchange of dress and accessories seen in artisan inventories in Siena, Florence and Venice, with a particular focus on pearls.

We had a delightful turnout for our panels, and many stayed fro the whole day.

Focusing on England and Denmark, Sophie Pitman considered the urban dress among lower social levels of society, especially focusing on the social codes and attitudes towards fashion, as well as imitation materials. Lastly Anne-Kristine Sindvald Larsen discussed the influences of reformation in the dress of Danish artisans.

We were also were fortunate that so many scholars wanted to contribute to the discussion of dress of ordinary people, and present in our panels. This included scholars such as Joyce de Vries and Amanda Wunder, who focused on the clothing of women seen through Bolognese dowry inventories, and the clothing of the women who were admitted into the poor hospital, Hospital de la Pasión in Madrid, respectively. Francesca Canadé Sautman and Alisa M. Carlson touched on the role of hats and headdresses used by the lower levels of society, by discussing depictions of hats and headwear in the portraits painted by Hans Holbein the Elder in Augsburg, and the depictions of women’s linen head coverings in Europe, with an emphasis on Burgundy-Flanders.

Alisa M. Carlson, Francesca Canadé Sautman, Joyce de Vries, and Amanda Wunder.

After our own panels were successfully behind us, we were able to enjoy the rest of the conference. Some of our team members had been to previous RSA conferences, whereas for some this was the first time in a conference of this scale. The scope of the presentations and scholars from all areas of Renaissance studies made sure that there were at least three interesting panels going on in any given moment, and it was hard to choose where to go. It was a pleasure to meet so many old and new colleagues, engage in interesting discussions and enjoy the papers that shed light to so many various aspects of renaissance life. We look very much forward to next year´s conference!

Refashioning the Renaissance Citizen Science Project: Voluntary knitting initiative

Several times over the past two years, students and enthusiastic craftspeople have contacted us, asking how they could be involved in our project. Having thought about this with the rest of our team members, we decided to set up a voluntary knitting initiative, the ‘Renaissance knitted stockings’ project. Following our call  at the start of this year, we now have about thirty-five voluntary craft experts in our project to create different types of Renaissance stockings for our project, from more simple artisanal ones to the fine and rare seventeenth-century silk stockings that survive in Turku Cathedral Museum.

The project started officially in February 2019. Assisted by the textile conservator Maj Ringaard from the National Museum of Denmark who is an expert in historical knitting, our voluntary knitters first made test samples. We provided them with very fine 0,7mm, 1mm and 2 mm knitting needles, as well as fine wool that resembled the original historical yarn as closely as possible.

Volunteer knitters testing out needles and yarns.

Our volunteers then had to decide what they wanted to start working on, choosing from several alternatives. One option was to reconstruct a coarse and a simpler type of artisanal stocking, based on surviving examples at the National Museum of Denmark; another option was to try to reconstruct a stocking using the first known knitting hose recipe from England in 1655; and the third—and most challenging—option was to reconstruct a fine knitted stocking from Turku Cathedral Museum, either using fine wool or silk.

We are concentrating on three different stocking models in our project. Stocking pattern on the right courtesy of Maj Ringgaard.

It takes quite a lot of skill and patience to knit a Renaissance stocking. What makes this a challenging project is, first, that, as we do not have instuctions for any of the stockings, the group has to come up with the instructions and patterns for the decorations, and then solve the technical issues as they knit the stockings. It is also extremely difficult and time-consuming to knit on 1mm needles, as I discovered myself too during our test session. Another similar knitting project, Silk Stockings from Texel, led by Dr. Chrystel Brandenburgh, carried out at the Textile Research Centre in Leiden, showed that it takes about 200 hours to knit just one fine silk stocking, such as these ones seen below, which I saw in January at the ”Burgundian Black Collaboratory” workshop.

Silk stockings knitted for the Silk Stocking Project led by Dr. Chrystel Brandenburgh.

This type voluntary research initiative is called a Citizen Science Project. The aim of our experiment is not only to reconstruct Renaissance stockings, but we also want to investigate the process, such as, how long does it take to knit a silk stocking or what level of sophistication was needed to produce an artisanal stocking compared to a fine stocking. Therefore, our voluntary knitters are not only experts in knitting, but they also produce important scientific research data of the process of making for our project. 

You can follow the progress of the stockings on our website, from on our blog and in the future in our research section!

Sense and Matter in Early Modern Europe: A Conference in Honour of Evelyn Welch

Sixty is a very important birthday indeed. To mark that of Evelyn Welch, Professor of History as well as Provost & Senior Vice President at King’s College, London (not to mention advisory board member for the Refashioning the Renaissance Project), a one-day symposium was held on 9 March 2019. The event, ‘Sense and Matter in Early Modern Europe’, brought together speakers that have worked with Evelyn over the course of her career. The day was divided into three parts: Fashion and Textiles, Consumption and Body and Medicine, highlighting some of Evelyn’s primary research interests over the years. There was also a great round of lightning talks by early career researchers, intended to reflect Evelyn’s longstanding role as mentor to those at the start of their academic journeys.

Paula Hohti, Refashioning the Renaissance’s principal investigator, was one of the speakers featured in the session on consumption, where she presented her paper, ‘Did ordinary Italians have a ‘Renaissance’?’ Paula was able to draw on both past and current research to show that working people in Siena owned objects and garments usually associated with the wealthy and elite. She was also able to highlight the important contributions of members of the public, who are knitting silk and wool stockings for our project based on historic patterns and examples as part of the Citizen Science Project. Bruno Blondé and James Shaw also spoke on this panel; Blondé demonstrated the critical role of cultural value in shifting patterns of consumption, particularly around silver in the Low Countries, while Shaw suggested the complexities of valuing goods and arriving at final prices, which sometimes resulted in financial ‘lesions’.

Attendees were also treated to presentations on the history of dress and fashion by Ulinka Rublack, Maria Hayward and Lesley Miller, which highlighted the power of dress objects to represent social stresses (and even cause riots!) and to help wearers curry favour with prospective patrons. We also learned the incredible value of reconstruction as a research method and the importance of failure in such experiments. This is particularly important advice for the Refashioning the Renaissance team as we move deeper into the experimental phase of the project.

Jenny Tiramani and Ulinka Rublack with the reconstruction of a costume owned by Matthäus Schwarz. Photo © Graham CopeKoga.

The day was rounded out with a series of lightning talks by early career researchers Rose Byfleet, Abigail Gomulkiewicz, Anna Parker and Annie Thwaite, and presentations on the theme of Body and Medicine by Tessa Storey and Hannah Murphy, which encompasses Evelyn’s current area of research, Renaissance Skin. Finally, John Styles offered closing remarks that brought all of the sessions and papers together.

In addition to the fascinating research presented by all the speakers at this symposium, ‘Sense and Matter’ also demonstrated how critical collaborative funding is to the humanities – and the long-lasting results it can have; many participants in Evelyn Welch and Michelle O’Malley’s ‘The Material Renaissance’ project were present to share new research, support colleagues and celebrate a dear friend’s birthday. Happy birthday Evelyn!