Italian Renaissance CLOTHING & FASHION

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Page Symbol Fashion in Renaissance Italy Renaissance Fashions
during the period 1475 - 1575
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"A lady's complete costume would consist of a long under garment of fine and costly linen, then a 'doublet,' a linen bodice to which a white full skirt was sewn. A long-waisted, stiff bodice of stout cloth was worn above this, and by means of lactes or hooks a pair of long, closely-fitting sleeves of rich material could be fastened on, and changed to suit the outer dress. This was a long robe sweeping the ground, tight in the bodice, and sometimes without sleeves, but usually with loose hanging sleeves lined with ermine or some other costly fur. The girdle would be studded with gems on great occasions. Outside this long mantle (albernia) of costly satin or velvet lined with fur, would be worn out-of-doors. The choice of nets, cauls, hoods, and hats were determined by season, occasion, and latest trends." [1]

On his arrival at the French court at Blois to meet his bride and deliver the papal bull allowing the French king Louis XII to marry Charles VIII's widow (Anne of Brittany), "Cesare was mounted on a superb warhorse that was all empanoplied in a cuirass of gold leaves of exquisite crafstmanship, its head surmounted by a golden artichoke, its tail confined in a net of gold abundantly studded with pearls. The duke was in black velvet, through the slashings of which appeared the gold brocade of the undergarment. Suspended from a chain said by Brantome's poet to be worth thirty thousand ducats, a medallion of diamonds blazed upon his breast, and in his black velvet cap glowed those same wonderful rubies that we saw on the occasion of his departure from Rome. His boots were of black velvet, laced with gold thread that was studded with gems. [2]

1. Christopher Hare aka Marian Andrews, The Illustrious Ladies of the Italian Renaissance, 1904 (page 1) 2. Rafael Sabatini, Cesare Borgia: Duke of Valentinois and Romagna (page 182-83).

Every region in Italy contained many, if not all of the styles seen in these images; no one region was distinctly unique. Fashions were borrowed, adapted, and disseminated throughout Italy. The portraits found in the above pages are thought to be very typical of their region.

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The Fashionable Elite
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The sitter is wearing a velvet gown with a low bodice commonly seen in the Roman or Neapolitan portraits, with over-sized, slashed sleeves popularized by Roman fashions of the early 16th century. Adorning her ensemble is a "turban style" headdress made fashionable by Isabella d'Este, Marchesa of Mantua.

This kind of headdress was known as a 'stuffed roll' (balzo)and was popular throughout Europe from about 1450 to 1550. They were often bound with ribbons and adorned with pearls and other jewels. They were sometimes worn with veils underneath and sometimes with the hair loose. Some Italian examples were almost a foot thick. Alternatively, it may be a wide-brimmed hat.

Royal Fashion
Isabel de Requesens was the wife of
Ramon de Cardona, Viceroy of Naples, who was widely rumoured to be an illegitimate son of Ferdinand of Aragon. Other sources identify the sitter as Giovanna of Aragon, a descendant of Ferrante I King of Naples.

Portrait of a Lady, attributed to Raphael
Portrait of a Noblewoman, probably Dona Isabel de Requesens, c. 1518 (Attributed to Raphael).

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Italian Fashion Facts
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  • Italian fashion for the elite classes in 15th century Italy was an extravagance for the eye.
  • Hats were increasingly important to the Renaissance fashionista. Hats, snoods, cauls, hoods, and headdresses were swagged, draped, jeweled and feathered.
  • Gowns, some were called 'houppelandes' had sweeping floor length sleeves along with other more practical sleeve lengths. Wool (winter and northern climes) was the most popular base material followed by fine linen (summer), and of course velvet and silk for state occasions and court activities.
    Wool and linen were available in a wide variety of ways. There was undyed fine-weave cloth dyed in rich colors and fine brocade (embossed weave, creates two-toned raised appearance) . The favorite colors were reds, greens, blues and golds. Lace of all kinds was used by both men and women.
  • Furs were worn by those who could afford it. The favorite furs in Court were the grey and white squirrel furs. New fashionable furs during the Borgia period were dark sable and martin furs. and gaining in popularity were the 'wild furs' such as lynx, etc. Ermine remained the 'fur hallmark' of Royalty.
  • Children's fashion (of the elite) mimicked adult clothing. Until they were six or seven, boys wore gowns nearly identical to those worn by girls.
  • Italian Renaissance fashions greatly influenced fashions and fashion trends in other European countries.
  • In France the imports of Italian Renaissance Fashion dates back to the expedition of Charles VIII into Italy.
    Francis I and Henri II of France adopted the Italian Renaissance fashions. Catherine de Medici helped
    evolve the Italian Renaissance Fashion during her reign as Queen of France. It is thought that she introduced the high heel to the courts of France.
Below are portraits and frescoes showing Italian Renaissance fashions by region (Lombardy, Florence, Rome, and Venice) that had the most prolific range of extant portraits. However, every region shared many style features with the others. For example, all areas used embellished sleeves, and most 15th century bodices were fairly similar.

Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni (Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1488)
Bianca Maria Sforza (Ambrogio de Predis, 1493)
Clarice Orsini
Portrait of a Young Woman (Carpaccio)
c. 1493
c. 1475
c. 1490
The dress is complex and decorative, indicating the vast wealth of the merchant Tornabuoni family. Her orange-colored giornea (sleeveless outer-gown that drapes over her bodice) is also elaborate and luxurious. The bodice is an exquisite example of "large" brocade, probably made of cloth woven with gold silk thread. Her belt covered in large gems, and there are several hundred large pearls in her coazone (caul/cap that wraps the hair) and braid. The hair and shoulders are completely covered, as dictated by early Renaissance fashion in Rome. The portrait was made in the 1480s, based on fashion of a decade or so prior. The head-dress is a softer version of the Burgundian horned head-dress. The hair and garb are typical elite Venetian fashion. Her sleeves are made of rich, patterned brocade, the bodice is laced in the prevailing style, and her jewel pendant creates a nice focal point to bring the colors together.
Lady with a Unicorn (Raphael, 1505) sometimes called Giulia Farnese
Portrait of a Lady with a Lap Dog (Lorenzo Costa, 1500-05)
A Young Roman Woman (Sebastiano Del Piombo, 1512)
Two Venetian Ladies (Vittore Carpaccio, 1490)
c. 1505
c. 1510
c. 1505
The Tuscan styles are thought to be more austere than other fashions such as those found in northern Italy. Notice her lack of headdress. Ribbons and multi-colored designs such as the above lady from Mantua were very fashionable during the turn of the 15th century. Rome and Naples styles tended to be layered, flowing, and fabric-rich, consisting of luxurious silks (many layers signified wealth and prestige). Many bodices revealed the shoulders, as seen above, and reflected exotic eastern styles imported from the Ottoman Empire.
Lady in Red (1530s) Pontormo
Portrait of a Lady (Bartolomeo Veneto, 1520-30)
Portrait of a Noblewoman (attributed to Piombo, 1520)
La Bella (Titian) 1536
c. 1530
c. 1520-30
c. 1520
This Tuscan noblewoman is wearing the brightest red possible. Her hair is done in a style popularized by Eleanora of Toledo, Duchess of Florence. Notice the covering of the chest, a fashion popular in the 1530s and 40s. This Northern Italian lady is wearing an enormous stuffed roll popularized in the 1450s, which stayed fashionable for decades. Her gown is luxurious and the sleeves profuse - large sleeves were prevalent in all regions. This Roman noblewoman, thought to be Vittoria Colonna, is also sporting wide sleeves. Her style may be more simple than other regions but the richness is unmistakable. This Titian - one of his most famous - is a portrait of an unknown lady, possibly a courtesan. She looks to be in the garb of a noblewoman or wealthy courtesan. Both groups of women could afford the clothing and accessories shown here.

It was not just the Italians who loved sumptuous fabrics and fashionable clothes. The Duchy of Burgundy was a major leader of fashion in the fifteenth century. Increased trade and technogical advances in weaving and dyeing fabric meant that the wealthy could vie with each other in the sumptuous clothes that they wore.

Mens clothes were every bit as elaborate as those of the women. In a new book, ' Dressing Up: Cultural Identity in Renaissance Europe', historian Ulinka Rublack uses German archive sources to explore the importance of clothes in the Renaissance. One of her more striking examples is Matthaus Schwarz (1497 - 1574), who was not a prince or nobleman but the chief accountant of the Fugger company, bankers to the Holy Roman Empire.

Mr. Schwarz was clearly an efficient businessman - he wrote a book on accountancy - but his real love was dressing up. He was such a dedicated fashionista that he commissioned artists to paint him every time he bought some smart new clothes! In all, 137 miniature portraits on parchment survive, together with a few larger paintings. The examples shown below give some idea of his extravagant style.

Matthaus Schwarz
Matthaus Schwarz
Matthaus Schwarz 4

Matthaus Schwarz 3
Matthaus Schwarz 1
Matthaus Schwarz 5