My target years for living history are the same years of the Italian Wars (1494-1559). The Italian Wars were a series of violent conflicts for control of the Italian peninsula fought between France, Spain, the Papal Armies, England, and the Emperor in the North (of the empire that was neither Holy nor Roman). They began with a French invasion led by Charles VIII in 1494 and took a series of twists and turn that makes the Game of Thrones’ political maneuvering looks like child’s play. The Wars subsequently involved Maximilian I, Louis XII of Spain, Pope Julius II, Francis I, Charles V, Pope Clement VII, and Henry VII. Things wound down after Charles V sacked Rome in 1527 and then signed the Treaty of Cambrai (1529). The officially ended with the Peace of Cateau-Cambresis (1559). You can read a synopsis on the battles and alliances from the Encyclopaedia Britannica here.
Of course, being friends with some Forlivesi who only reenact 1380-1410 also calls for me to have done a little earlier research that I will also present here. Since during the 16th century things get really crazy every 10 years I will save that for another post.
When I think about the clothing aspect of my living history endeavors, I start with paintings and current professional research on ricostruzione di abiti storici (dresses of historical reconstruction) as well as sartoria storica (historical tailoring) in case I end up commissioning from a clothier that does not have a background in 14th and 15th century dressmaking. When that happens I don’t require them to get a PhD in historical clothing… I fill them in on the basics and we shoot for the right look. Even though I do not sew I make sure I understand history and techniques of the styles I prefer. I wanted to take some time in this article and introduce you to the Italian names for the styles you have likely seen at reenactments already, and give you a starting point if you want to do more research for yourself.
I’ve used information from the experts in the field of historical Italian dress and their books are listed at the end of this article under SOURCES. The material is organized by subheadings of materials, biancheria (underwear), 14th century, 15th century, and shoes. I cover vesti (underdresses) and then sopravvesti (overdresses) in the two centuries I discuss here. I also try to give you the English and Italian names for everything. Remember that across the Italian city-states the language was not standard and nor were the customs, so what the experts report may be correct for Ferrara, but not for Milan, and they perhaps had the same garments with completely different names. Discovering these gems is part of the journey. Please contact me with any questions.
Of course, historical clothing is made with only natural materials: lino (linen), canapa (hemp), cotone (#yescotton), lana (wool), and seta (silk). Specialty materials for upper-class Italians like velluto di seta (silk velvet), broccati (brocade), and pelliccia (fur) are also found. We find information on clothing of 1400-1600 by studying deeds, inventories of estates or shops, sumptuary laws, and legal documents regarding bequests and wills.
All of the folowing abbigliamento (clothing) in the article is layered over biancherie (underwear). The first layer, next to your skin, is a base layer called a camicia (chemise, pronouced cah-mee-chee-uh). This layer was made of linen and, for the upper classes, embroidered with silk. In the inventory of Bianca Maria Sforza there were hundreds of camicie embroidered with green, black, and gold silks, as well as wire (gold/silver) lace. Your camicia neckline should be flat to match your dress in the 14th century. Towards the end of the 15th century the plain collar began to ripple in gathers at the neck and eventually became a separate garment called the gorgiere (ruff).
Calze (socks/stockings) were usually white or red and in the case of upper class women they have been found to be embroidered with silk. Paola Fabbri reports that female stockings were cut in a single piece with only one seam in the center back. In the inventory for Drusiana Sforza there are ‘velvet ribbons woven with silver’ listed as garters for her socks. Soled socks seem to be only for the upper class, as sumptuary laws in the 1460s forbade wet-nurses and maids from wearing them.
14th Century Clothing
This century is called the trecento or XIV secolo. The basic vesti (dresses) of this period are gonella and the cipriana.
The gonella is a semi-fitted dress with no laces or side laces as found in the frescoes of Memmo di Filippuccio and at Palazzina Marfisa d’Este.
The gonella can be made in due colori (particolor, dated to the second half of the century) and is constructed based on the Herjolfsnes excavations with 8 gheroni (gores).
Another veste found in the trecento is the cipriana, a fitted dress with buttons also dated to the second half of the century and found in the dell’Oratorio di Lentate sul Seveso frescoes. Cipriane are described in Enciclopedia della moda: Storia del costume in Italia, vol. II, 1964 by Pisetzky as a dress with a wide neckline and a line of buttons made of silver or pearls going from the neckline to the hem.
Paola Fabbri calls this last one a vesti (underdress) as well. It is a cottardita, and I have also included in in the next section with the overdresses because the pictoral evidence seems to support it being worn over gonelle. This is her version as an underdress with affrappata (dags):
The sopravvesti (overdresses) of the trecento are the guarnacca, the cottardita, and the pellanda.
The guarnacca can be found in the Cattedrale di Trento, Museo di Santa Caterina di Treviso, Mons de Bononia, Storie di San Giuliano Ospitaliere, and the Storie di Santa Orsola. It is an overdress with what we call tippets in English. The Italians call them manicottoli affrappati, as they are “dagged tippets/sleevelets”.
Another sopravveste (or veste according to Paola Fabbri) is the wide-sleeved cottardita found in many colors in both the Tacuinum Sanitatis and Theatrum Sanitatis. My favorite is the one with affrappata (dags). As I study these I wonder why they had a different name than the pellanda… perhaps because of the neckline? The one in the Tacuinum below is clearly an overdress… but if worn solo (during the summer)… perhaps that is the appropriate time to call it a cottardita?
The pellanda was an overdress worn during the trecento and into the quattrocento.
There are examples of pellande in the Libro d’ore del Maestro di Modena, Santo Dorotea, and the Biblioteca Estense. Below are some examples compiled by Vestioevo.
This century is called the quattrocento or the XV secolo. The basic vesti of this century are the guarnello and the gamurra.
The guarnello is a working class front laced dress comprised of a smooth bodice and pleated skirt. It can be found in frescoes at Pellegrinaio di Santa Maria della Scala and the miniatures of Commentarii in Sphaera Mundi. This dress was also used by middle class youth at home as a sort of robe. It is made of cotton, hemp, or wool and could be unbleached. Guarnelli were listed among the biancherie (underwear), the calze (socks), the asciugatoi (towels), and the scossali /grembiuli (aprons) in household inventories. For the ones that were not unbleached mentioned in Rimini inventories in pignolato azzurro (light blue), and berrettino (ash grey). This dress was usually sleeveless and made with simple eyelets for a string to pass through. Often, for ease of walking while working the skirt was shortened by being pulled up through a belt.
The gamurra is a THE dress that was worn by all classes of the quattrocento in many different colors, fabrics, and sleeve styles. Gamurra can be found in paintings by Ghirlandaio, Crivelli, Piero della Francesca, in the portraits of Ginevra Benci and Simonetta Vespucci, and iconography of the 15th century.
The gamurra for the middle class was simple unlined wool in a dark color (brown, black, purple, red). They are open in front and closed by rows of buttoni (buttons) or cordicelle con aghetti (silk cords with metal tips). The cords would be strung through ochielle (eyelets), or lacing rings, or on maiette (hooks?).
In the last quarter of the 15thcentury the fashion of showing the camicia through finestrelle (graceful cuts in the sleeves) did away with the need for an outer garment if the wearer so chose. The sleeves began to almost always be different in color or texture from the bodice, and they were embroidered and decorated with pearls. One sleeve given to Bona of Savoy by Ludovico il Moro decorated with a phoenix in diamonds and pearls was valued at 18,000 ducati.
According to Paola Fabbri, a cotta was a dress similiar to the gamurra but made of lighter weight fabrics (e.g. silk, brocade) that were lighter colors. For example, Nannina de Medici owned a white damask and gold brocade Cotta sfarzosissima. They were worn during the summer months and were sometimes worn without any overdress outside of the house, as evidenced by a letter that Fiametta Adimari’s husband wrote stating that she didn’t need to pack her cioppe because of the heat. When an overdress was worn, since it was summer, it was the giornea.
The pellanda was the winter overdress of the quattrocento and is found in the frescoes of Piero della Francesca and the paintings of Ghirlandaio. Instead of the high neckline found in trecento versions, the quattrocento version has a crew neckline and bag sleeves. This garment was lined and richly ornamented with pearls and fur around the neckline, edges, hem, and cuffs. The breadth of the dress was gathered into folds and held in place with a belt placed above the waist. Dags were commonly found on the side sleeves.
The giornea and the cioppa were the sopravvesti of the late quattrocento and are found in varying styles in Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, the Veneto, and Lombardy.
The giornea is a sleeveless, sideless surcoat found in Ghirlandio paintings. It is worn over the gamurra in a contrasting color. The cioppa has sides and attached sleeves, is worn over the gamurra as well, and can be found in Carpaccio paintings.
Poulaines went out of style in the 1400s, but the shoes worn by the Italians retained the same basic outline with a less exaggerated pointed toe. Women’s basic scarpe (shoes), pianelle, were flat and made of cloth or soft leather. Inside the home they wore these slippers alone. To be lawful, if pianelle (to be worn outside) were not flat they could only be high enough to keep the top of the shoe out of the mud, but some reached heights of 50 centimeters.For those familiar with chopine, they are simply an especially tall type of pianelle.
Zoccoli were used by both men and women to protect shoes from the mud and dirt of the streets. The resemble pattens, but only have one strap across the front in most depictions.
Fabbri, Paola. La Moda Italiana Nel XV Secolo: Abbilgiamento e Accessori.
Facelle, Amanda. Sumptuary Law and Conspicuous Consumption in Renaissance Italy.
Herald, Jacqueline. Renaissance Dress In Italy 1400-1500.
Muzzarelli, M. Guardaroba Medievale
Pisetzky, Rosita Levi. Enciclopedia della moda: Storia del costume in Italia, vol. II.
Sugar & Gamurre http://www.geocities.ws/kamillavh/01.html
Festive Attire Florentine Dress 1475 – 1500 http://www.festiveattyre.com/p/florentine-dress-1475-1500_1.html
Sophie’s Stitches Italian Gamurra & Giornea http://sophie-stitches.weebly.com/italy-gamurra–giornea-1470-90s.html AND http://sophie-stitches.weebly.com/italy-florentine-gown-1500-25.html
Sunny Buchler Florentine Dress http://realmofvenus.renaissanceitaly.net/yourgarb/2008/Sunny.htm
Costuming Diary Florentine Dress http://www.costumingdiary.com/2008/08/gamurra-ala-ghirlandaio-1490.html
Christy Lee Florentine Dress http://realmofvenus.renaissanceitaly.net/yourgarb/2006/Christy.htm