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Refashioning the Renaissance team at the RSA Toronto

On the 17—19 March 2019, the Refashioning the Renaissance team took part of the the annual Renaissance Society of America conference, this year held in Toronto. The Refashioning the Renaissance project was very fortunate to get four panel sessions accepted into the conference program, focusing on different aspects of lower-class dress in Europe.

Before the conference, however, we had some time to explore the city of Toronto and some of the fantastic collections of The Bata Shoe Museum, together with Professor Pamela H. Smith, who leads the Making and Knowing Project at Columbia University. Senior Curator Elizabeth Semmelhack treated us with the behind-the-scenes tour to the museum’s storage, where we had the chance to study some of the amazing shoes they have in their collection. This included beautiful velvet chopines, elaborate 17th century silk slap-sole shoes, a collection of delicately-embroidered Chinese silk shoes for bound feet, early modern everyday leather shoes from Dutch latrines, and extensive collection of Indigenous North American and circumpolar footwear. Getting a close look at these wonderful objects, and a chance to discuss them together with Elizabeth and Pamela was a definite highlight of our time in Toronto! After our visit to the museum, we sat down with Pamela to record a podcast episode for our upcoming series, where we meet interesting scholars and discuss all aspects of research, experiments, and methods.

Senior Curator Elizabeth Semmelhack with a Spanish-Italian hybrid style chopines with silver lace, tassels, studs and decorated insoles.

Our four panels on Lower-Class Dress, Fashion and Identity in Europe, 1450–1650 took place on the first day of the conference, and included presentations from all the researchers of the team. Focusing on the Italian context, Paula Hohti presented the Refashioning the Renaissance project, and talked about fashion among artisans in Renaissance Italy, and how artisans were communicating how they wanted to be viewed by others. Stefania Montemezzo added to this by introducing an accounting book by Alessandro Vignarchi, and unspecialised trader who travelled in remote areas in Tuscan Apennines. She discussed the peddlers’ role as intermediaries between areas and markets in the spreading of fashion in especially rural areas in Italy. Furthermore, Michele Nicole Robinson examined cross-cultural exchange of dress and accessories seen in artisan inventories in Siena, Florence and Venice, with a particular focus on pearls.

We had a delightful turnout for our panels, and many stayed fro the whole day.

Focusing on England and Denmark, Sophie Pitman considered the urban dress among lower social levels of society, especially focusing on the social codes and attitudes towards fashion, as well as imitation materials. Lastly Anne-Kristine Sindvald Larsen discussed the influences of reformation in the dress of Danish artisans.

We were also were fortunate that so many scholars wanted to contribute to the discussion of dress of ordinary people, and present in our panels. This included scholars such as Joyce de Vries and Amanda Wunder, who focused on the clothing of women seen through Bolognese dowry inventories, and the clothing of the women who were admitted into the poor hospital, Hospital de la Pasión in Madrid, respectively. Francesca Canadé Sautman and Alisa M. Carlson touched on the role of hats and headdresses used by the lower levels of society, by discussing depictions of hats and headwear in the portraits painted by Hans Holbein the Elder in Augsburg, and the depictions of women’s linen head coverings in Europe, with an emphasis on Burgundy-Flanders.

Alisa M. Carlson, Francesca Canadé Sautman, Joyce de Vries, and Amanda Wunder.

After our own panels were successfully behind us, we were able to enjoy the rest of the conference. Some of our team members had been to previous RSA conferences, whereas for some this was the first time in a conference of this scale. The scope of the presentations and scholars from all areas of Renaissance studies made sure that there were at least three interesting panels going on in any given moment, and it was hard to choose where to go. It was a pleasure to meet some many old and new colleagues, engage in interesting discussions and enjoy the papers that shed light to so many various aspects of renaissance life. We look very much forward to next year´s conference!