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Italian Costume c.1500

1505 Donors in Adoration
I've been watching a lot of the show Borgia, and frankly loving it. The costumes are superbly done, both because quite a lot of research clearly went into them, and also because they express the characters very well. Extra points for the realism of people having a set wardrobe and not new outfits every scene. Remember, clothing took longer to manufacture than it does now, both because nothing was mechanized and because of the amounts of fabric and level of time-consuming detail-work required.

It's easy to forget when talking about costume history that unlike England or France or Spain during this period, Italy was far from a unified country, and wouldn't be for a long time. One of the ways in which the divisions were expressed was in the variation in costume between the Italian states, and by contrast their intricately intertwined trade and politics and familial alliances expressed themselves by a relative similarity as well. Let's have some examples, shall we?

1500 Miracle of the Cross by Bellini
1502-07 by Carpaccio
These first two portraits are of Venitian women. You can see the voluminous camicia/chemise pulled through the openings in the sleeves, both of which tie onto the undergown (gamurra). The gamurra was typically laced tightly at the bodice either under the arms, or in front, with a full skirt pleated to the waist. In both images the sleeves match the gamurra, but they didn't have to. Over both gowns is an overgown called a cioppa which was much less fitted and cut to show off the gamurra in the front. It could be either sleeveless or have hanging sleeves. In the picture to the right you can just see the woman kneeling at the bottom right-hand corner. She wears the final item called a mantello, which was basically just a long piece of fabric draped around the figure in whatever artistic way you deem appropriate.

1500-05 Lady with a Lapdog by Costa
1488 by Costa
Now let's jump to Ferrara circa 1500. The lovely lady to the left is wearing an outfit very similar to the venitians, with the camicia, gamurra, and tie-on sleeves, which in this version are striped and contrast with the gown itself. The notable difference is in the wide cuffs of the sleeves. Other earlier examples feature a short oversleeve attached to the gamurra, which seems to be particular to Ferrara as does a fondness for striping on the sleeves.
1505 Lady with a Unicorn by Sanzi
In Florence the cioppa was pretty well abandoned by 1500, and the tie-on sleeves were one solid unit without slits or sections. The gamurra sits far out on the shoulders, or even off the shoulders. Most of them feature a wide band of solid-colored fabric at the neckline, often repeated at the bodice straps and sometimes at the bottom of the skirts. This style was also popular in Rome.

1505-10 Portrait of a Lady by Carota
In Verona the wider sleeves of the gamurra are open at the bottom, but feature the slashing seen in the Venitian portraits.

1507 La Muta by Rafaello
This portrait from Urbino in Rome shows just how similar the fashions were between Florence and Rome, except for the addition of the very matronly apron.

I'm feeling a project coming on. First though I need to finish the gray Elizabethan outfit.


  1. Oooh, I do like this period! Thanks for all the terminology! I might have to make myself something Italian Renaissance soon.

  2. There's such wonderful diversity in color, shape, and decoration. It is really tempting, isn't it? I didn't even touch on all of the Italian states, or the extra articles of clothing which are sometimes seen in portraits. The hairstyles are particularly diverse.


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