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An Example of 16th Century Artisan Self-Fashioning – Master Shoemaker Jens Pedersen from Odense 

Shoemaker Jens Pedersen, 1583. Photo credit: Odense Bys Museer

In the process of gathering source material for my PhD research I came across a beautiful and decorative glass window in the shoe makers guild house in Odense, dating from 1583. Jens Pedersen had commissioned and donated the stained-glass window, picturing himself with his wife and two other shoemakers, probably a journeyman and an apprentice.

I was immediately caught by the details in the illustrations, and how the stained glass gives insight into the workshop of a shoemaker. Then I became intrigued by the variety of fashions and styles of garments that Jens Pedersen and his wife are wearing. They are each portrayed with three different outfits, showing off many kinds of decorative and colourful fashions and styles. The glass window shows different styles of hats and caps, and the construction of the clothes is also quite clear.   

A work scene from Jens Pedersen’s workshop is depicted in the middle of the frame. He as the master artisan, is sitting at a table wearing a black doublet and hose with some kind of linings, together with black stockings. On his head, he is wearing a black hat. The two working men are wearing white, probably linen shirts, black hoses and yellow stockings. They are all wearing ruffs around their necks. The workshop scene shows how the master artisan is cutting leather, and the journeyman and apprentice are sewing leather shoes together. The depiction not only gives insight into the working environment of the artisans, but also reveals a social hierarchy through the clothes worn by the master artisan and his workers. Were these the actual clothes shoemakers wore, when they were working in the workshop? And does this paint a realistic picture of an early modern artisan workshop?

Jens Pedersen must have had an agenda and an interest in showing himself off in the best possible way, and he is clearly aware that fashion can be a tool for promoting his own role as a prominent master shoemaker and burgher in the city of Odense. Especially the depictions outside the workshop signal honour and respect, and he is clearly using fashion as a tool for making himself stand out, and to shape his identity as a prominent and important burgher. His way of establishing himself as an important burgher can also be seen in the way he is using symbols, his wife with a wine jug and himself with a spear symbolling his participation in the city defence work.

His donation to the guild house shows that he proudly associates himself with the tradition of shoe making and of the guild. But at the same time, he distances himself from the coarser work of making shoes through his dress. Perhaps he also thought that the public placing of the window in the guild house could help shape an understanding of shoemakers as being fashionable, and in this way getting more patronage and additional commissions. No matter what, this is an excellent example of artisan self-fashioning, and I look forward seeing if there are similar examples out there.


Andersen, Vivi Lena: Between Cobbles, Bunion, Shoelast and Fashion. Shoes from 1300-1800 from Archaeological Excavations in Copenhagen, phd-dissertation submitted for University of Copenhagen, 2016.

Troels-Lund, Troels: Dagligt Liv i Norden: i det Sekstende Aarhundrede. vol 2. Gyldendalske Boghandel: Copenhagen, 1914.

Sumptuary Laws in Denmark: Om Drecht och Klædebon, 1558

In researching fashion and textiles in the artisan groups of Scandinavia, sumptuary laws are both important and interesting in terms of looking into what kinds of restrictions the king and the nobility found necessary to implement in society to maintain the social hierarchical order. Dress and fashion were ways people could signal their place in the social hierarchy, and the need to implement sumptuary laws, one might argue, was a response to a perceived threat from the masses of society.

In working with fashion among the lower groups of society, these laws are excellent in getting a glimpse into the social hierarchy of the Danish renaissance period, and especially how the society elite perceived the lower groups of society. Many sumptuary laws were issued in Denmark in the period of 1550-1650, but to what extent the over excessive consumption was an actual problem in the population, we do not know.

Christian III of Denmark, from the Bible of Christian III, 1550.

In considering the laws, I am especially interested in what kinds of restrictions were laid upon the ordinary people.  One of the first laws in the beginning of the period under investigation is a law from Denmark. In 1558 Christian III of Denmark issued a law called the Koldingske Recess. Within the law is the section called Om drecht och klædebon, where regulations on dress and textiles is stated. These regulations give information on what types of textiles the elite considered as luxury, and what kinds of textiles were in circulation in society, but they also tell what lower groups of society were restricted from using.

In general, the law prohibited all people from wearing luxury textiles such as gyldenstycke and sølfstycke (silk embroidered with gold and silver threads) and blyant silk (a valuable kind of silk together with any other kinds of silk embroidered with gold or silver thread). The law also prohibited the usage of embroidered hair pieces, pearls on headwear or neckwear, gold trimmings, silver trimmings, together with gold and silver lace.

Concerning ordinary people, it is stated that no unfree people, burghers or peasants, or the unfree man’s wife or their children, are allowed to wear velvet, damask, or silk. However, an honourable not noble woman, presumably an unmarried woman, was allowed to wear a plain silk or velvet ribbon around her head. Does this mean that the king and his servants had actual experienced these groups of lower stand wearing these kinds of textiles? And is this a sign that these people had access to these kinds of materials? These are some of the question that are interesting to look further into.

What the regulation also tells us, is that it was the responsibility of the hospital to collect the fees of people who broke the law. Working with these laws, however, we have to take in consideration that we do not know whether people ever were prosecuted for wearing forbidden items, or whether they might have adapted or rearranged their need for luxury, so they would not get prosecuted.

Even though there is a lack of knowledge on how these laws were enforced in this period, and we do not know how effective they were in real life, these laws offer great material when working with fashion and textiles, and can be used to accquire information on many different aspects on early modern Scandinavia.


Dalgaard, Hanne Frøsig: Luksusforordninger – 1558.1683,1736,1783,1783 Og 1799. Tenen – Dansk Tekstilhistorisk Forening 2015.

Secher, V. A. Forordninger: Recesser Og Andre Kongelige Breve, Danmarks Lovgivning Vedkommende 1558-1660. Vol. 1: Selskabet for Udgivelse af Kilder til Dansk Historie, 1887-1888.

Make invisible, visible. News from Venice’s Archive

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.