Quattrocento Fabrics

What types of fabrics were worn in Italian City-States during the quattrocento? Where were they made?


Carpaccio (1495) “Meeting of the Betrothed Couple” Detail. Think of all the luxurious fabrics depicted!


Cotone is Cotton

Cotton was imported into Italy from Greece and Egypt as early as the docento. Sicily was also “a major exporter of unprocessed cotton and an importer of finished cloth.” The fabric was worn by all social classes, with distinction being made for coarse or fine woven varieties (Mazzoui). Cotton was used as padding and stuffing in garments (Arnold). Blends of cotton were also available.

Fustian, a cotton/linen blend, originally came from Fustat near Cairo. In England fustian weaved fabric was “used for undergarments and linings” (Textile Dictionary). Italy also loomed its own fustian, perhaps more than we commonly think because one historian states that “…all cotton fabric made in Europe was woven with linen warps as people felt cotton was not strong enough for warp threads”.

Lana is Wool

Wool is a strong, warm fabric that wicks water away from the skin. Venice produced and exported wool from land holdings on the nearby terra firma. Venice has been known as a wool producer since the quattrocento. Blends of wool, cotton, and linen were also produced in Italy and sold under many names such as stametto, trafilato, tritama, taccolino, and saia cotonata” (Munro). The Arte della Lana was the wool guild of Florence during the Late Middle Ages and in the Renaissance. It was one of the seven greater Arti , or trades, of Florence, separate from the Arti Minori, or the “lesser trades” (Medieval Sourcebook).

Lino is Linen

Linen is a strong fabric that dries quickly and feels cool to the skin. The fabric is durable and bleaches when left to dry in the sun, which makes it perfect for use as underwear. It was also used for towels, napkins, and tablecloths in the quattrocento and cinquecento (Grove). Beginning in the docento a linen/cotton blend known as fustian was in vogue. Then later brocatelle,a linen/silk blend, was also used for linen (Landini).

Seta is Silk

Silk has always been a highly desired and luxurious commodity. It has been around for a long time, as “near Eastern and Byzantine silks have been found in European tombs dating from the ninth century onwards” (Grove). The manufacture of silks in northern Italy is documented in the charter of the Samite weavers guild, the Capitulare Samitorium, of 1265 (Moronato).

Italian silk velvets, plain silk weaves, and figured silk weaves were especially sought-after during our period (de Marinis, Tilton).



*Arnold, Janet. 1985. Patterns of Fashion: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women c1560-1620. Macmillan.

*de Marinis, Fabrizio. 1994. The Realm of the Senses, Velvet: History Techniques Fashions. Ed. Fabrizio de Marinis. Idea Books New York.

*Florio, John. 1598. A Worlde Of Words: A Most Copious and Exact Dictionarie in Italian and English.

*Landini, Roberta Orsi. 1994. The Triumph of Velvet: Italian Production of Velvet in the Renaissance. Ed. Fabrizio de Marinis. Idea Books New York, 1994

*Mazzoui, Maureen Fennell. 1981. The Italian Cotton Industry in the Later Middle Ages 1100-1600. Cambridge University Press.

Medieval Sourcebook: The Arte della Lana & The Government of Florence, 1224

*Moronato, Stefania. 1997. The Art of Weaving; Venice: Art and Architecture Vol II; Ed Giandomenico Romanelli. Konemann.

*Munro, John. 2000. The West European Woollen Industries and their Struggles for International Markets, c.1000 – 1500. University of Toronto.

*Tilton, John Kent. Textiles of the Italian Renaissance: Their History and Development. Scalamandre Silks Inc.

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