ERC EU logo

Blog

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.

 

Album Amicorum: Fashion, Friendship and Foreign Travel in Renaissance Europe

Michele Robinson

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, university students – especially those from Germany – often travelled to different institutions throughout Western Europe and documented their experiences in album amicorum, or friendship books. At first, these books were simply filled with mottoes and signatures from students’ friends and important people they met during their studies; overtime, though, the books featured inscriptions paired with images such as coats of arms, emblems and local people from the various cities visited. These images could be drawn by the person writing the inscription, painted by a local artist or taken from a printed book or single leaf, meaning that each album was as unique as its owner.[1]

Coat of arms and emblematic image with inscriptions from the autograph album of Johann Joachim Prack von Asch, 1587-1612. Getty Research Institute Collection, Los Angeles.

Along with revealing fascinating information about the experiences of German students, these books are also, perhaps surprisingly, useful for historians of dress. The representations of people included in the albums typically show men and women from different social classes wearing local dress. And, unlike most contemporary costume books, these representations are in colour, often still vibrant after more than 400 years, and the clothes are perhaps more up-to-date than in costume books, a sort of distant relative to the albums.[2] These books are useful for the Refashioning the Renaissance project not only because they represent dress, but often the dress – and scenes of daily life – of the lower-class inhabitants of Venice and the surrounding area. One of the most common ‘types’ of person from humble social origins depicted in the books is the female peasant from Padua, carrying two baskets of fruit, flowers or fowl over her shoulder.

Peasant woman (fol. 024r) from the Album Amicorum of Jan vander Deck, after 1592. Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS. Rawl. B. 21.

Peasant woman from Padua (fol. 032r), Album Amicorum of Paul van Dale, c.1569-1578. Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS. Douce d. 11.

Although these images come from different albums and neither is an exact replica of how such a woman would have looked or dressed, when we consider them closely and carefully, we can begin to reconstruct what a lower-class woman from Padua or other towns in the Veneto might wear. For instance, both images show the women with their skirts slightly puffed out around the waist, wearing quite long aprons and a garment draped around their shoulders and tucked into the front of their bodices.

Matrona Veneta [Venetian Matron], from Jan Baptist Zangrius, Album amicorum of habitibus mulierum omnium nationum Europae, tum tabulis ac cuneis vacuis in aes incisis adornantur, 1605. Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Estampes et photographie, Paris.

These kinds of representations also help to remind us that working people needed to have clothes that were practical and functional, though this does not preclude them from looking good. Unlike women from wealthy and elite families with floor-length (or longer!) gowns and towering platform shoes, working-class women had to be able to move themselves and perhaps their wares from place to place quickly and efficiently. The bunched-up skirts of Paduan peasant women may have created a distinctive look, but this was also a means of lifting the hem line away from the dust and dirt of the road on the way to market, and probably also prevented tripping on or ripping the garment. Thus, the images in album amicorum give us a sense of what people were wearing and encourages us to think about why they made these choices – both for fashion and function.

 


[1] For a general overview of the different types of albums and their chronology, see Max Rosenheim, “The Album Amicorum,” Archaeologia 62, no. 1 (1910): 251–308
https://doi.org/10.1017/S0261340900008158.

[2] Margaret F. Rosenthal, “Fashion, Custom, and Culture in Two-Early Modern Illustrated Albums,” in Mores Italiae: Costumi e scene di vita del Rinascimento = Costume and Life in the Renaissance: Yale University, Beinecke Library, MS 457, ed. Maurizio Rippa Bonati and Valeria Finucci (Cittadella (Pd [i.e. Padova]): Biblos, 2007), 79–107.

Did Dress and Fashion Matter in the Poor Neighbourhoods?

In November, during my recent research trip in the state archives of Siena with our researcher Stefania, we decided to take a walk in the Sienese neighbourhood of Onda. This central contrada south from Piazza del Campo, originally called San Salvatore, used to be a popular neighbourhood among Sienese artisans in the Renaissance period. By 1531, nearly two thirds of San Salvatore’s inhabitants consisted of artisans or small local entrepreneurs, including painters, innkeepers, musicians, tailors and mercers to smiths, carpenters, masons, shoemakers, and weavers.

Street view in San Salvatore

One of the inhabitants of San Salvatore was the shoemaker Girolamo di Domenico who lived here in the first half of the sixteenth century with his children and wife Calidonia. His story invites us to think of the harsh economic conditions of many of the lower ranking artisans that we are studying in this ERC project. Tax records tell us that, in 1531, his taxable wealth was a modest 175 lire and the family’s economic circumstances did not improve in the following years. Girolamo died in 1547, leaving behind minor children. While there is no trace of what happened to the family after the shoemaker’s death, we can only hope that Girolamo’s brother Giovanni and someone named Girolamo di Bartolomeo Salvestri, described as Girolamo’s ‘relative’ (parente), both shoemakers, protected the widow and her children from falling into complete poverty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As Stefania and I walked along the narrow, twisting streets of San Salvatore, looking at the original architectural features of the buildings that revealed where shops had originally been located, we were wondering whether clothing and fashion mattered on these streets, where many families struggled to provide just the basic living for their families.

While questions of cultural meaning and value in the absence of artisans’ own words are difficult to evaluate with precision, archival evidence, such as household inventories, allow us to access individual’s personal wardrobes and gain knowledge about ownership of clothing at most levels of society.

The shoemaker Girolamo’s inventory was drawn up a few days after his death on 14 September, 1547. The list of clothing that belonged to him and his wife included 26 dress items (pairs of hose, hats, shirts, skirts, jackets, under- and over-dresses and cloaks) that were stored in five chests. This indicates that the shoemaker Girolamo and his wife both had two or three sets of clothes.

Page from Girolamo di Domenicos inventory

Although a fair number of their garments were modest, often described as ‘sad’, ‘old’ or ‘worn out’, the shoemaker Girolamo and his wife Calidonia owned some garments that made it possible for them in special occasions to strip off their work clothes and dress up. The five chests of clothing in Girolamo’s house included relatively fine dress items, such as a white men’s doublet, a pair of black woollen breeches, a woollen cloak and a black satin beret, as well as a pair of black detachable women’s satin sleeves, a woollen cloak and two purple skirts described in the document as ‘fine’.  Furthermore, some of these clothes were decorated and made from fine materials. One of the shoemaker’s wife Calidonia’s purple dress, decorated with a black velvet band and large puffs in the upper part of the sleeve, was made from pavonazzo-coloured cloth.  This purple colour, obtained from valuable kermes dyestuff, was preferred also by patrician men and women, not only because it was expensive, but also because it was also a symbol of power and authority. Pavonazzo became forbidden from lower classes by sumptuary law in Siena in 1588.

Such garments were treasured objects among artisan families and may have been acquired in connection with marriage. Yet, the presence of fine garments such as Girolamo’s white doublet and black woollen cloak, or Calidonia’s satin sleeves and pavonazzo dress demonstrates that Renaissance dress and dressing up mattered at all levels of society, even among the poorer quarters of the city. Everyone wanted to look good in festive occasions and on Sundays at Church!