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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”. 

 

Research Trip to Milan, May 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.

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.