As promised: Cesare Vecellio

Cesare Vecellio was a Venetian at just the right time. He lived from 1530-1600 and was the cousin of Tiziano Vecellio, better known as the artist Titian. Cesare helped his cousin as an assistant, and, it seems, Titian helped him out in return on a few woodblocks. In 1590 Cesare published De gli Habiti Antichi e Modérni di Diversi Parti di Mondo, a contemporary book of fashion, using a gloriously large amount of woodblocks by himself and his cousin so we can see every fashionable costume described in crisp detail.

This book is epic.

Thanks to digitization efforts, I got my hands on a pdf of a mid 1800’s reprint of a 1700’s French translation of the book. On one page, there is the woodblock print, and on the reverse a description in Italian and a French translation. This is helpful to me, as my French for reading is still pretty good and I can always google the Italian originals if I think the translation is suspect or has vocabulary I don’t know.

What makes Cesare’s book even better is that he took the time to cover a few different categories of clothing: Roman attire, common Medieval attire across Italy, Medieval Venetian attire, early Renaissance fashions in Venice, common early Renaissance fashions across Italy, the “modern” Renaissance fashions in Venice, and modern Renaissance fashions across Italy by city or region. The book has 500+ pages for a reason!

Sadly, the book does not have a picture of the Genovese coat I am so interested in for Diane. However, it does solve some issues for my own Medieval Venetian gown! Unfortunately, the book was digitized by Microsoft, so I couldn’t screenshot the images. Instead, I have included photos of the pages, which is not much more than I’d be able to do with a photocopier and another copy of the text. No infringement meant, personal use, Copyright Microsoft, etc, etc.

Here we go:

The first image is of what is termed a “Really Ancient Noble Woman” and has the Byzantine flair from the past images pulled up. It has some good confirmation on those styles. The second also has the same epithet but is slightly less ancient and is the wife of someone who runs a castle. One thing Cesare was very skilled at was making sure he covered every walk of life in Venice, from the Doge and Dogaressa on down to the prostitutes and orphans. There’s an excellent article called “Translating Fashion” on the social commentary this brings that I highly recommend. That brings us to the third image which is described as a noble woman dressing “in the style of the Dogaressa.”  (Dogaline.) This looks similar to a particular era in the Renaissance but is shoved nicely between the “Really Ancient” and the “Ancient” section of Venetian fashion. I’ll take Cesare’s word for it as the last two images I have for you are described as being the resulting fashions after “the style of the Dogaressa” was banned in sumptuary laws. Take a look:

Really Ancient Noble Woman

Really Ancient Noble Woman take II

In the style of the Dogaressa

Ancient Noble Woman

Ancient Noble Woman Take II

Here we are: sumptuary laws are enacted by the Venetian senate and ” women gave up the Dogaline and began to make use of other ornaments.” The first shows an embroidered skirt under a cut dress of true moire “or other fabric” that has “sides that open up under the armpits and is tightened with a belt and a veil wrapped around the neck. It should be noted that her sleeves are pinned up to show the lining, a way to get around sumptuary laws as the laws said nothing about your lining or your underskirts. This is where Renaissance slashing will eventually come from.

The second image has an upper part which “was loaded with pretty gold ornaments” and sleeves that “did not go past the elbow, and the rest of the arm to the wrist, was not covered by the shirt, but a rich embroidered trim adorned the bottom of this dress, which still had a long train.” (My best translation attempt.) So the main dress is plain, but the underdress has the showy brocade. Still, most of the wealth is displayed in the trim.

My goal is now to construct a design based off of these woodcuts and these notes, inspired by the painting that originally caught my eye. These give a greater sense of accuracy to the endeavor and give me some clues to their construction.

On the topic of sumptuary laws, I did some digging there to see what was out there in the 1300’s. Venice has a long history of sumptuary laws, but what is noticeable is that their original reasoning was economic: if women are spending money on outlandish fashions like the Dogaline, that is money that isn’t going back into the economy, which therefore hurts Venice as an up and coming economic powerhouse. Later laws would remark that it wasn’t in the Republican spirit when people look grossly unequal, as most the laws applied to everyone, not just people of a certain class. After a plague in the 1340’s, a new law was made that banned sombre colors in order to increase the “general happiness” of the Republic.

This is not to say that Venice did not use sumptuary laws to provide class or other distinctions (special badges, sashes, tassels or hats to mark  sub groups like prostitutes, Armenians, and Jews for example), but that the sentiment behind many of the laws have some uniqueness to them that sets Venetian ideals apart from, say, that of England at the time, or even other parts of Italy which were overtly about class. It says something about you when you’re writing about the general happiness of your nation back in the 1300’s.

For sumptuary law goodness check out these links:

A short but sweet blog post that’s a good intro to Italian sumptuary law.

A great thesis paper for download on sumptuary law and conspicuous consumption in Italy

To be Noble In Italy, an article by Nanci Lamb Roider that has a good mention of sumptuary laws.

I also recommend Rosalie’s Medieval Woman, a springboard for learning about women in the Middle Ages and a good rundown of your “basic” medieval clothing and primers for the re-enactor, as well as a good list of suppliers.


~ by glasslajora on May 16, 2011.

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