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Fashionable Artisans? A Study of Renaissance Dress and Textiles in Urban Denmark 1550–1650

Anne-Kristine Sindvald Larsen

European fashion from 1500 onwards underwent significant changes. Due to the increased trade and rapid developments in printing technique, both fashionable goods as well as information about fashions spread widely, even from one part of the continent to another. Already in the 17th century one could speak of an all embracing European fashion that were set in European courts, such as in Italy, Spain and France. The wider diffusion of fashion also had an important cultural impact on Nordic countries at the fringe of Europe, that were only to some degree delayed in encountering impression from abroad. However, from the 17-century onwards, the town populations across Denmark and Sweden began to contest the court-based prerogative in taste and fashion. Recent studies have shown that they were acquiring sumptuous silks and fashionable items that even sometimes were forbidden by sumptuary laws.

This PhD-project explores the diffusion of fashion across artisan orders in urban Denmark 1550-1650. This group consisting of skilled artisans, such as tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, smiths, dominated the urban centres in Denmark. Yet, we lack detailed information about what kind of lifestyles they led, how they used fashionable dress, and how they understood fashion.

In detail, this project aims to identify and discuss changes in fashion in this period, focusing especially in Copenhagen, Helsingør, Malmø, Odense and Aalborg being the largest and wealthiest towns in the 16th and 17th century Denmark-Norway. The objective is to understand how fashion among artisanal groups developed in comparison with the local elites, and how different the developments in Danish artisanal fashions were compared to other parts of Europe. The aim is to understand what inspired and informed fashions among artisan groups; how geography, religious or moral aspects, national regulation and economic initiatives affected ordinary people’s dress; what fashion meant to people at the lower levels of Danish society; and how dress fashions influenced by other European or elite fashions.

The main research questions for the project are:

  • How did fashionable dress and textiles reach down to the artisan orders of urban Denmark 1550-1650 and influenced their dress?
  • What was considered fashionable and what did it mean for artisans to be able to dress fashionable?

 In order to gain an understanding of the Danish artisan fashion the project use methods and theory from history, art history, archaeology, cultural and social history. Although material from this period is sparse, mapping and combing different documentary, visual and material evidence from different towns makes it possible to discuss the fashion aspect of artisan families.

Picture credits:

Thumbail picture of Shoemaker Jens Pedersen, 1583: Odense Bys Museer


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