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Category: Archival Research

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Research Trip to Milan, May 2018

16 July 2018
Michele Robinson

Before meeting up with the rest of the Refashioning the Renaissance team for our Italian study trip in May, I visited Milan to do some research on the print and visual culture related to fashion and dress. The city is of course known as hugely important in the world of fashion today, but it’s also the site of many sources related to fashion in the past. Of interest to me was the collection of early modern prints at the Raccolta delle Stampe ‘Achille Bertarelli’ in Castello Sforzesco and in particular their copy of Enea Vico’s Diversarum gentium nostræ ætatis habitus (Venice, 1558).

Title page from Enea Vico, Diversarum gentium nostræ ætatis habitus (Venice, 1558), Raccolta delle Stampe ‘Achille Bertarelli’, Castello Sforzesco, Milan.

This work is considered by some scholars to be the first printed costume book, and it survives in just a few collections in Europe and the United States.[1] The version in Milan shows 32 men and women from different parts of Europe and western Asia with detailed depictions of their clothing and shoes. Many of the figures that we find in later costume books are very similar to those featured in Vico’s Diversarum.[2] There is also a relationship with Vico’s work the figures in friendship books, which started prior to the production of costume books, as we can see through the comparison of the images below.[3]

‘Militis Germani Uxor’ from Enea Vico, Diversarum gentium nostræ ætatis habitus (Venice, 1558) (Image courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam).

‘Tedesche del campo’ from Bartolomeo Grassi, Dei veri ritratti degl’habiti di tutte le parti del mondo, intagliati in rame: libro primo …(Rome: [Bartolomeo Grassi, 1585]), p. 43. Warburg Institute, London.

Detail from Album amicorum of Nic. Engelhardi Argentin, 1601–1700. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris.

It was so valuable to see Vico’s small, beautiful book in person as well as to have the chance to meet the wonderful staff at the Raccolta Bertarelli and work in such a beautiful and historic place!

View of the reading room at the Raccolta Bertarelli in Castello Sforzesco, Milan.

During my stay in Milan I also went to the exhibition Dürer and the Renaissance between Germany and Italy at Palazzo Reale (21 February to 24 June 2018). This was a wonderful display of many famous and lesser known prints, watercolours and paintings by the German artist Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528), and others working in Italy, the Netherlands and Germany. The exhibition did an excellent job of showing how Dürer influenced so many other artists, but also how important his visits to Italy (1494–95 and 1505–06), especially to Venice, were to his work. One of the most beautiful, and famous, paintings on display was Dürer’s Portrait of a Young Venetian Woman(1505). Although this work was created before the timeline for the Refashioning the Renaissance project begins, it offers us an incredible view of a Venetian woman’s clothing from the early-sixteenth century. For example, we can see the fine embroidery on her hair net and sleeves, the bows tied on the silk ribbons on her shoulders and the soft folds in the full sleeves of her gown.

Albrecht Dürer, Portrait of a Young Venetian Woman, 1505. Oil on panel, 35 x 26 cm. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

At this time, portraits with a three-quarter view of the sitter were more common in Northern Europe and Dürer and other artists helped to introduce this format to Southern Europe; however, Dürer was also inspired by the work of Italian artists. For example, he created his own designs after Leonardo da Vinci’s famous series of knots. These are beautiful and intricate works in their own right and show one of the ways in which exotic designs spread throughout Europe via print culture. But Dürer’s engravings also relate to the Refashioning the Renaissance project in that they were influential on patterns for embroidery. For instance, Giovanni Antonio Tagliente’s early embroidery pattern book, Essempio di recammi(1530) boasts the inclusion of exotic patterns, such as ‘moresques’.[4] Though not based directly on da Vinci or Dürer’s works, books like Tagliente’s show how print helped to popularise these kinds of designs, and to make them accessible them to non-elite Europeans. For instance, the wives of artisans could use the patterns in these kinds of books to embroider gloves, handkerchiefs or parts of their clothing to make themselves and their family members more fashionable without breaking the bank.

Circle of Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), The Fifth Knot. Knot design, with a central shield inscribed ‘Academia Leonardi Vin’, ca. 1490-1500. Engraving, 29.8 × 21.2 cm. British Museum, London.

Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) (After Leonardo da Vinci or workshop), The Fifth Knot. Interlaced Roundel with Seven Six-pointed Stars, before 1521. Woodcut, 27.3 x 20.8 cm. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Giovanni Antonio Tagliente, Essempio di recammi(Giovanni Antonio di Nicolini da Sabio e i fratelli: Venice, 1530).Woodcut, 19.8 x 15.7 x 1 cm. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

The few days that I spent in Milan were full but rewarding. I had the chance to see some beautiful and important printed sources, meet some wonderful archivists and get to know an amazing city. I hope to return to Milan soon to make more of the great resources on offer to researchers interested in the history of fashion and dress.


[1] See, for example, Bronwen Wilson, “Reproducing the Contours of Venetian Identity in Sixteenth-Century Costume Books,” Studies in Iconography25 (2004): 221–74.

[2] For more on the visual similarities between sixteenth-century costume books, see Jo Anne Olian, “Sixteenth-Century Costume Books,” Dress3, no. 1 (January 1, 1977): 20–47.

[3] For more on the relationship between friendship books and costume books, see: 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.

[4] For more on these ideas, see Femke Speelberg, “Fashion & Virtue: Textile Patterns and the Print Revolution, 1520–1620,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin73, no. 2 (2015): 4–48.

Did Dress and Fashion Matter in the Poor Neighbourhoods?

15 January 2018
By Paula Hohti

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!

Make invisible, visible. News from Venice’s Archive

6 November 2017
By Stefania Montemezzo

Studying material culture for those social groups that weren’t part of the elite has always proven difficult. Lesser documents were indeed produced by artisans, workers and poor people, even in societies, as the “Italian” ones, that historically proved to be particularly inclined to the use of notaries and courts to certify relationships and exchanges.

How can we spread the light on the standard of living of working classes then?

One of the most important sources in order to make invisible people a bit more visible are probate inventories. These documents were usually a list, more or less precise, of the possession of a person at a certain moment of their life.

Archivio di Stato di Venezia.

But why someone would feel the need to write an inventory? Well, the reasons are different, since inventories had different purposes.

Firstly, they were the main tool to estimate an inheritance. When a person died, no matter how rich they were, the heirs or their guardians (called commissari) asked to list all the items that could be inherited, as well as to evaluate them. This process could involve several people, from the notary who registered the documents (testaments and inventories) to the person charged to estimate the value (usually a haberdasher or another artisan). These inventories show all the objects that these people were able to accumulate in their life and, often, also those of their entire family, giving us the possibility to understand how consumption evolved within specific social classes.

Secondly, an inventory could be asked from creditors. In these cases, a court was usually involved and the inventory listed all the objects that were present in a home or, more often, in a workshop, that could be used to refund the petitioner.

Lastly, inventories could be written to certify a dowry. Young women were granted a certain amount by their father when getting married, that could be paid in money, objects or estate properties (an amount that scholars more recently started to identify as an anticipation of the inheritance). Even if this dowry was usually managed by the groom’s family, once the husband would eventually die, women had the right to get it back. In order to refund the widow of her dowry (that she could finally start managing herself), an inventory was usually requested by a court, in order to identify the suitable objects to be returned.

Probate records from Venice.

These documents of course don’t just show us a list of possession. Inventories present indeed not only the precise origin or position of houses and workshops, but also the names of the commissari appointed by the deceased. Inventories will tell us not only what these artisans were wearing, using and accumulating, but also will give us a glimpse into the social world of these people.

In the future we will share more detailed glimpses into these interesting documents.

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