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An agenda for future research: fashion outside the urban areas

In 1587 and 1588 Alessandro Vignarchi, a peddler in the Tuscan countryside, was traveling across the mountainous area northeast of Florence. Alessandro was selling a wide array of products: grains, wine, cheese, but most importantly, woolen and linen cloth. He was part of a family of retail traders, that had been operating in the area since at least 1570, with their main activity based in San Godenzo.

Figure 1. Morozzi Ferdinando, Vicariato di Pontassieve, 28 September 1780. Source: Cartografie Storiche Regionali, Regione Toscana.

Alessandro spent several years traveling throughout the different valleys, meeting people that not only came from the Tuscan Apennines , but also from the countryside of Lucca, from the nearby Emilia region, and from the Chianti area. With his activity he reached a few remote villages that still today are in the middle of the Apennine woods. 

Alessandro’s activity, and that of his family, is testified by a series of account books that are organized using single entry bookkeeping, which chronologically report the debts and credits of the peddler, recording the transactions in the name of the creditors/debtors.

These books will be the basis of my new research, which will focus on consumption patterns, information networks, and fashion culture among non-urban populations in the early modern period. The Vignarchi case study, besides being an interesting family saga by itself, deals with several historiographical issues. Firstly, fashion historians have showed how trends and fashions spread horizontally and vertically across social groups. However, it remains unclear which information networks and carriers were diffusing trends and fashions among lower social groups. Secondly, the peddler’s activity is also connected to more recent historiographical debates in mobility and migration studies. Thanks to this peculiar source, it will be possible to address issues related to the identity of buyers, the role of peddlers in the spread of fashion, and the influence of the city on the countryside. It also helps us to understand the role of geographical networks on habits of consumption. Moreover, peddlers played an important role in the creation of informal social relations, thanks to their action in settling credits and debits among their clients.

Figure 2. Gaetano Zompini, Le Arti che vanno per via nella città di Venezia (1746-1754).

The role and relevance of the itinerant trade has been well-studied, particularly for Northwestern Europe and Italy, mostly for the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Places such as the countryside and the mountains have been left behind in research, while a preference has been accorded to urban areas. While most European cities provide rich documentation of their retail systems during the ancién regime, the countryside and mountainous areas suffer from a lack of research, in particular for the early modern period. This is due to a lack of sources for several of these regions, but also the historiographical idea that the landscape of consumption in these territories was significantly less developed with respect to consumer culture.

However, understanding peripheral areas is as important as understanding the consumption patterns and retail trade of cities like Florence or Venice, since in this period the biggest share of the population lived in non-urban areas. And, at least in Italy, this demographic distribution did not change until the second half of the nineteenth century, when the country started to industrialize.

Peddlers and itinerant traders are figures that are always difficult to define precisely. It is difficult to find, including for urban areas, sources that may shed light on their roles, functions, and movements since they very often moved along the borders of the different economic systems that characterized the Italian regions. Despite the difficulties in following their exact activities and displacements, these traders had a fundamental importance as suppliers to non-urban areas, for the exchange of small goods and textiles, the circulation of news, and for the connections they created between areas. Interesting, for instance, is the role of itinerant traders in the labor market and work mobility described in the work of Laurence Fontaine.

The development of this professional figure was probably a result of a context characterized by people moving seasonally from one place to another, and in a situation characterized by rural pluri-activity (that was linked to the issue of subsistence in several areas of the peninsula).  A gradual process caused some of the rural workers to transform into itinerant traders.

Itinerant traders were, of course, involved on a more general level in regional and supra-regional trade, since they had strong ties with city merchants, the main suppliers for their goods. Peddlers not only sold their products to peasants in the most remote valleys of the Apennines, but also attended fairs and weekly markets that were held at the foot of the mountains, and directly supplied from the city’s merchants. In the case of Alessandro, because of his strong ties with Francesco Vignarchi, a cousin who was already a retailer of cloth, we can assume he infrequently needed to travel down to Florence to buy the merchandise himself.

Figure 3. Picture of a carta from the Vignarchi account book.

Peddlers, in the context of the Apennine area, had a strategic role since they connected different valleys and villages, spreading news (of different sorts) and products (particularly locally manufactured goods, as in Alessandro’s case pannibigi casentini– an heavy wool cloth from Stia – and wheat, which was insufficiently produced in the mountain area). In this sense, itinerant traders had a fundamental role in supplying the valleys with these vital goods. And, hopefully this research, now in its initial stage, will shed light on the activity of Alessandro Vignarchi and his family and help us understand what was happening in the mountains surrounding Florence, one of the most fashionable cities of the early modern age.

Finally, this research may show that peddlers were responding to the demand for flashy items by inhabitants of the Apennines.  It is unlikely that these rural people did not have any sense of fashion, sinceas a trimming master in mid-eighteenth-century Turin said: “Ama il contadino la comparsa, ma le facoltà non s’adattano al di lui desiderio”.[1]


[1]The peasant loves to appear, but his wealth doesn’t match his desire. 

CFP: Fakes, Fabrication and Imitation in Early Modern Dress

15 July 2019

Né buone, né finte o false: Fakes, Fabrication and Imitation in Early Modern Dress

Renaissance Society of America Annual Conference
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
2–4 April 2020
Panel submission deadline: 15 August


Traditionally, historians of dress have argued that those at the lower end of the social hierarchy did not independently engage in fashion, but rather sought to imitate the clothing and style of the elite.

And there was indeed the appropriation of fabrics, garments, trims and accessories normally ascribed to the wealthy by the lower social orders, hence part of the need for sumptuary laws. But people were not just looking up for fashion inspiration; they also looked across social groups, cities, regions and even to distant continents where they found new fibres, textiles, colours, production methods and styles of garments. Goods from afar were imported into different European cities for local consumption, but there were also attempts to replicate or imitate foreign materials, fabrics and finishes. These attempts often resulted in new and novel products, which spurred revisions to sumptuary laws and the need to stipulate that some items, regardless of whether they were ‘good or feigned or fake’, were intended to be off limits to all but a few.

This panel seeks studies of the use and function of fakes, fabrications and imitation in dress and fashion in the early modern world (c. 1500-1700). Papers that consider non-elite dress practices are especially encouraged, as are those by late-stage PhD students and early career researchers. Submissions may consider some of the following questions:

  • What role did imitation and/or appropriation play in terms of how, where, when and by whom trends were circulated throughout and beyond neighbourhoods, cities, rural areas, regions and continents in the early modern world?
  • What were the social, cultural, financial and/or political motivations behind mimicking the dress of others, whether from different social groups, cities or regions?
  • How did the desire to reproduce the look and feel of imported textiles/dyes/materials or to replicate the results of foreign production practices shape local dress and fashion?
  • What new and novel products, techniques or dress concepts emerged through attempts to imitate or make substitutions for more costly or difficult to obtain goods?
  • How did sumptuary laws, guild regulations and other types of rules and legislation encourage or deter fakes and imitations in relation to the production of textiles, garments and accessories?
  • What were the social perceptions of ‘fakes’ (i.e. precious metals, gems, luxury textiles, colorants) and how did these perceptions inform their use in clothing and accessories?
  • How can replicas and reconstructions of early modern textiles, dyes, garments, trims and other components of dress support academic research?

If you wish to apply, please send the following items to Michele Robinson (michele.robinson@aalto.fi) by 9 August 2019:

  • Paper title (15-word maximum)
  • Abstract (150-word maximum)
  • Curriculum vitae (.pdf or .doc upload, no longer than 5 pages)
  • Phd completion date (past or expected)
  • Full name, current affiliation, and email address

 

 

Director’s greetings: What have we been up to?

In June 2019, out team gathered in Copenhagen for our second ‘milestone’ meeting, where we reviewed our past results and made both short-term and long-term goals.  This meeting represented a moment of great joy and pride. Our team members have been working extremely hard, and I could all really see how much we have achieved during the past 1,5 years. 

So what have we been up to?

During the first year of our research in 2018, we all focused on identifying and gathering data. This phase is now complete and we have achieved two very important milestones. The first one of these is that the archival research, headed by our research fellow Stefania Montemezzo and produced in collaboration with our PhD student Anne-Kristine Sinvald Larsen, myself, and our research assistants Mattia Viale and Umberto Signori, is now complete and the data is ready to be uploaded on our brand new database. This database, created in collaboration with Jodie Cox from Wildside, will include clothing and textile items that belonged to ordinary families in the early modern period, and it will be the biggest early modern textile and clothing database created so far. It includes altogether nearly 30.000 items from Italy (Siena, Florence, Venice) and a further several thousand items from Denmark (Helsingør). This data will provide and important basis for our analysis, both in terms of our publications as well as our hands-on experiments, and the database will be eventually available online for anyone to use.

Refashioning the Renaissance database. Image copyright Refashioning the Renaissance Project.

The second important milestone is that our data on printed sources, headed by our postdoc researcher Michele Robinson, is also complete. Michele has been focusing especially on collecting cheap printed recipes that were intended for consumers at the lower end of social scale, and especially those that have to do with the care of textiles and clothing in the domestic context, such as mending, cleaning and dyeing at home. This data provides an important foundation for some of our experiments where we explore and evaluate the meaning of both the recipes and some of the domestic textile practices that might have been available for our artisans and shopkeepers.

Book of Secret in the Welcome Collection. Photo copyright Refashioning the Renaissance Project.

Dirty Laundry workshop, where we tested recipes from the printed sources Michele Robinson has collected. Photo copyright Refashioning the Renaissance Project.

During our second year, in 2019, we have moved on from exclusive focus on data to explore and analyse how various experiments, reconstruction and engagement with materials and textile objects can help us to better understand and access past practices. We have organized workshops on domestic dyeing and tailoring, and we have two further workshops on colour and imitation coming up. We have also been running our citizen science project where we experiment with early modern knitting, and we are growing dye plants in our green house. In addition, we have participated in several courses where we have learned about how historical recipes could be used in textile dyeing; how silk-, linen- and woolen-fibres were prepared in the early modern period; how tailors worked, and how both  precious and more ordinary fabrics and trims were woven in the early modern period.

One of our exciting projects is the reconstruction of an artisan’s doublet, headed by our second postdoc Sophie Pitman and created in collaboration with Jenny Tiramani and the School of Historical Dress. This experimental project allows us to explore all stages of doublet production, such as creating finished fibre from raw material, weaving, dyeing , and making and wearing the garment. We are also working with an animator Maarit Kalmakurki to produce a 3D reconstruction of our doublet. This research will eventually form one of the most important ways for us to analyse how digital and material reconstruction can be used as a method in cultural studies of dress. 

 

Fibre Analysis of the 17th century stockings from Turku Cathedral. Photo copyright Refashioning the Renaissance Project.

Stain removal test at the Dirty Laundry workshop. Photo copyright Refashioning the Renaissance Project.

Sophie Pitman reeling silk in Calabria. Photo copyright Refashioning the Renaissance Project.

Refashioning team learning to spin in Trelleborgen Viking Museum. Photo copyright Refashioning the Renaissance Project.

The results of our project will be presented in our final conference and exhibition at Aalto University, Helsinki, on 11-13 September 2020. More information will follow soon, but do not forget to reserve those dates in your calendar!