We are happy to welcome Dr Victoria Bartels to the Refashioning the Renaissance team. Victoria has done editorial and archival work for our project already for several months, but is now joining the project for six months as a full-time Research Fellow, transcribing some of our sources and carrying out research on dress, fashion and weaponry among Italian artisan classes.
Victoria holds a PhD in Early Modern European History from the University of Cambridge, where her doctoral research examined the cultural role of arms and armour in Renaissance Florence. Her current research interests focus on protective dress, weaponry, violence, and contemporary notions of gender.
Our Refashioning project is way over half-way through and it has come time to say farewell to the second member of our project, our postdoc researcher and dear friend Dr. Michele Robinson.
During her 2,5-year fellowship in our project, Michele has been leading our project work on prints and printed information of dress. She has identified and documented hundreds of early modern recipes that related to materials and making, such as recipes and instructions of how to dye fabrics or skeins of wool, remove stains from crimson silks and linens, and how to care for textiles at home. Many of these recipes were included in ‘Books of secrets’, also available for ordinary consumers in cheap printed media.
The dataset that Michele created, consisting of 677 recipes, many of them transcribed, provides an important basis for our material experimentation and reconstruction.
Paula Hohti Erichsen, Michele Robinson and Anne-Kristine Sindvald Larsen studying a recipe book at the Wellcome Collection.
We first tested these in 2019, when Michele organized an international two-day experimental workshop at Aalto University, titled ‘Dirty Laundry’. This allowed us and our guests to experiment with early modern recipes for stain-removal, home-based dyeing, and keeping textiles clean. Michele has recently written a journal article on the topic, which will be published Open Access in Costume.
In addition to providing important data for our project, Michele has carried out extensive research on early modern artisan dress and fashion, based on Italian sources. She has combined various archival sources in a particularly creative way to explore themes, such as cross-cultural influences in artisanal dress, and the presence and cultural meaning of pearls among artisan groups across Siena, Florence and Venice, 1550–1650. As part of this research work, Michele organized many important related academic events, including a workshop in London in 2018, where we discussed our documentary sources and studied early modern recipe books at the Wellcome collection, as well as an extensive four-panel session on lower class dress at the Renaissance Society of America Annual Conference in Toronto in 2019 where our project presented the preliminary results of our work for the first time. These events have offered us important platforms to discuss the use of our sources and contest our ideas on dress and fashion at lower social levels.
Michele has been the heart and soul of our project. Her extraordinary ability to continuously invent and introduce new ideas in a creative way, to carry out academic discussions in an intellectual, inspiring and constructive manner, and to produce research results of an extraordinary high standard, has shaped the direction of our work in important ways and given our project depth that it would have otherwise lacked.
In addition to her academic contribution, Michele has had an important management role in our project. Her amazing ability to be always prepared, organized, and on time meant that she not only assisted the PI in managing the overall project, but she also helped many other team members to plan their work and get things done.
Michele has been a wonderful team member. Her kindness and sense of humour has made it such a pleasure to work with her.
Dear Michele, we all thank you for your contribution and friendship. Our whole team wishes you all the best of luck for your future, and we hope to see you back in Europe very soon. We will miss you very much!
It has now been 40 days since our university ordered us to work remotely from home, due to spread of the coronavirus in Finland and elsewhere in Europe.
Despite all the challenges that these extraordinary circumstances have brought about into our private and work lives, our team is doing fine. By coincidence, we finished our entire experimental research phase just a few days before the coronavirus crisis unfolded, with our last major experimental workshop on Imitation in Early Modern Clothes and Accessories held at Aalto University in Helsinki in 10–12 March 2020.
Imitation in Early Modern Clothes and Accessories workshop at Aalto University on 10–12 March 2020.
Affects of the Covid-19 were already starting to show during our workshop. Most of the face mask had mysteriously disappeared from the Chemistry department.
We are now all working from home, in different countries, and spending our time analysing our project results, reading more about the context of our work, and writing up our results. However, although each one of us as researchers are used to working individually at home, it feels more important than ever to keep in touch and get together. We keep regular online meetings and virtual coffee hours in Zoom and Teams both with our current and previous team members as well as with our research assistants. This provides us an important platform to share our updates and thoughts, not only about work, but also about the experience of being in ‘quarantine’.
Refashioning virtual coffee hour.
Historically, the time frame of 40 days bears significance in the context of pandemic, because sources tells us that the term ‘quarantine’ refers to the Italian words quaranta giorni, 40 days, or quarantina. This was the number of days that all those who travelled to Venice from epidemic areas during the Black Death in the 14th-century were required to isolate.
The plague had devastating effects in Europe, killing from at least one third to a half of the European population in the fourteenth century, and outbreaks of plague continued to ravage towns and the countryside in the West up until the 19th century.
A mob attacking the Quarantine Marine Hospital in New York. Original Publication Harpers Weekly, 1858. Getty.
A series of major epidemics occurred also during the period of our study in the Refashioning the Renaissance project, especially during the years of Italian plague in 1629–1631. The shocking effect of the epidemic on Italian population is seen in our archival documentation. The graph below, presenting the number of post-mortem inventories drawn up for our artisans in Venice, shows clearly a high peak during these years, especially in 1631.
The number of post-mortem inventories drawn up for artisans in Venice 1550–1650. Refashioning database.
Venice was particularly vulnerable to the disease, because it was not only a busy trading port but also built upon a lagoon. But the plague ravaged also other Italian cities, such as Florence and Siena.
A detailed study of the inventories provides a window to the individual human tragedies during these years. One of the probable victims of the plague was our water seller Francesco Ristori, a resident of the gonfalone San Nicchio (Santo Spirito) at Oltr’Arno in Florence, who died prematurely at the beginning August 1631, leaving minor children behind. We are interested in the waterseller Francesco within out project because he was one of the aspirational artisans who connected with contemporary high fashions through wearing a range of clothing imitations.
His household goods, recorded on 12 September 1631 in the presence of his wife Maddalena and the witness Giulio di Silvestro Pagami, included, for example, a black, stamped doublet of mock velvet, made in imitation of a more expensive patterned velvet doublet, which our Refashioning the Renaissance project is in the process of reconstructing in collaboration with the School of Historical Dress.
Although we now live and work in special circumstances under many restrictions, our doublet reconstruction project continues and flourishes. It is exciting to see the progress of this interesting project, and it feels comforting to think that, at one point, sooner or later, life will be normal again and we will be able to gather together with our colleagues, friends and family to see what Francesco Ristori’s fashion imitation doublet may have looked like.
The inventory of Francesco Ristori, 12 September 1631.