My 15th Century Gamurra Project I

Giata’s Late 15th Century Gamurra Introduction

My post on early renaissance fashion covers the technical terms for the dresses of the 14th and 15th centuries here. Now, I want to talk more about my first foray into making an outfit entirely on my own. I have never had formal sewing instruction. I walked the path to my Laurel based on my research on the sociocultural anthropology of the Italian Peninsula. I have collaborated with costuming artisans in the past to provide them my research so they can use their expertise in garment construction to make a finished project. However, all my former clothing “dealers” have moved to Kingdoms far and wide (An Tir, East Kingdom, etc). For my elevation I helped Mistress Martha Effingham of Stewart Kepe and THL Esperanza de Navarra work on this exquisite front-laced brocade gamurra and silk-lined brocade giornea based on Ghirlandaio portraiture:

elevation photo

I think we did a fabulous job!

resurrection - ghirlandaio 1480s

I watched each step trying to learn from Martha Effing Stewart… as we like to call Mistress Martha Effingham of Stewart’s Kepe 🙂 and THL Esperanza.


Gamurra, Giornea, and Cioppa Research

To start, here is some information from Daria Monteferrante’s research:

The gamurra was an Italian dress worn throughout the 15th century. It was a very basic, functional garment worn by women of all classes and ages. Kind of like the jeans and T-shirts of the Quattrocento. Regionally, its name varied and it was also called cotta, camurra, camora, zupa, zipa or socha . In its day, it was considered a long lasting, practical dress. Many inventories include older, worn gamurre that were still considered useful for wear at home only. In A History of Private Life: Revelations of the Medieval World, Duby interprets two contemporaries of the time and their recommendations on dress. Leon Batista Alberti, who says (quoting Duby) “new clothes are for holidays; slightly used clothing is for everyday business; and really worn clothing is for the home”. Palmieri says (again quoting Duby) “for everyday home use, wear only the same clothing that everyone else wears. Two types of clothing were thus declared fit (and probably worn) for private use: simple clothes and fancy but worn or outdated costumes inherited from an ancestor or purchased from the ragpicker.” Later Duby states “A woman at home, no matter what her station, was likely to wear a gonnella (fourteenth century) or gamurra (fifteenth century, also known in Lomabardy as a zupa)… So dressed, she could go about her household chores and even run errands or make informal visits in the neighborhood.”

The materials from which the gamurre were made varied according to class and purpose. Most likely, the predominant fabric used was wool, although Brown describes Ginevra de Benci as wearing a fine brown wool reflecting her modesty. In warmer climates and seasons it could also be made of silk damask, brocade or satin and embellished so that it was more appropriate for wearing alone even in more formal, public settings. There are references to several gamurre owned by Beatrice d’Este, which were made of wonderfully sumptuous fabrics, woven with metal threads and heavily embroidered, one with the Sforza device. According to Herald, in these cases, the gamurra was called a cotta, –although interestingly enough, Birbari uses the word gamurra in the translations of letters written by Beatrice to her sister, Isabella and her mother Leonora, in which these dresses are described. In Figure below, Beatrice d’Este wears a gamurra made of silk satin that is appliqued with liste or strips of contrasting color fabric. The sleeves were tied on, a style popular later in the century. It is decorated with aghetti, a term stemming from the word for the metal aglets sometimes adorning the ribbons, but eventually came to refer to the entire lace and not just the tip.

The gamurra was THE veste (dress) worn by all classes of the quattrocento (15th century) in many different  colors, fabrics, and sleeve styles. Gamurre (pluralcan 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). For the upper classes they could be of any color fine fabric (including fine cotton!). They are open in front and/or on the sides 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 many of the Carpaccio paintings that I have seen the gamurra has smooth laceless front ( e.g. under the v-neck cioppa in the center photo below). There are also Ghirlandaio paintings showing a smooth front gamurra.

The giornea and the cioppa were the sopravvesti (overdresses) of the late quattrocento and are found in varying styles across 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. Colors from portraits are green, gold, pink, red, brown, black, rust, orange, and blue.

So, my aim is to make several of this style gamurra in varying materials (linen, silk, silk brocade, cotton/linen blend) to see what works for me in deep south heat and humidity but retains the historical components as best I can. From March to November where I live the temperatures are in the high 80s to high 90s (Fahrenheit) with 50% or higher humidity. It is stifling. So, historical accuracy is important but dehydration from sweating must be avoided. I appreciate that even the Renaissance Italian Este sisters dealt with the heat by adjusting their formal clothing:

“In warmer climates and seasons it could also be made of silk damask, brocade or satin and embellished so that it was more appropriate for wearing alone even in more formal, public settings… in these cases it was called a cotta” (Herald).

I’m starting with the basic shape I’ll need to match the paintings. Using dress diary information from the talented historical costumers from Realm of Venus as well as dresses constructed by historical tailors (subject matter experts on 15th century dress) in the US and Italy I have started with a two panel version using mock up fabric to adjust as needed. This fabric will eventually serve as the pattern.


Again, from Daria Monteferrante:

“Another accessory worn with the gamurra was the poste or the sottoposte. These were lightweight silk veils produced in Venice and exported all over Europe. They were worn around the waist like a belt… Birbari speaks of a “veil, kerchief or scarf” which was an important accessory in a woman’s wardrobe, being worn on the head, or over the shoulders. Traditionally regulated to be two quarte wide (about 12 inches), there was a growing movement to produce a narrower version. This new sottoposte which eventually gained government recognition in the early 16th century, were only one and one half quarte wide (about 8 inches). The popularity of these sottoposte is undeniable with more than 24,000 bolts being exported annually into the early 16th century. I have yet to find any documentation about the length of the poste, although based on some of the examples in this document, they seem to be two or three yards long. There seem to be different lengths depending on the style of wear. Earlier in the century, they seem to be longer for that drapey, flowing effect, while later they seem to be shorter, just long enough to wrap twice around the waist…  I have found many examples of white poste, and I have also found examples of black poste, however, most of these have been from later 16th century paintings. However, there is one example of an orange poste in The Adoration of the Magi, by Botticelli (Figure 8). Anderson talks about Infanta Isabel, in 1483, having a faja or sash made from green, crimson and black silk. Anderson also discusses sashes made from velvet, and additional colors of mulberry, blue and yellow.”

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 pianelleZoccoli 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.

Frick, Carole Collier. Dressing Renaissance Florence: Families, Fortunes, and Fine Clothing.

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 (Daria Monteferrante)

Dawn’s Dress Diary

Festive Attire Florentine Dress 1475 – 1500

Sophie’s Stitches Italian Gamurra & Giornea–giornea-1470-90s.html AND


2 thoughts on “My 15th Century Gamurra Project I

  1. That is a Stunning gown! It suits you perfectly and you wear it very much as clothing and not a costume, well done! That’s what I always struggle with.

    (and ooh, I do see our previous Queen hiding in your background there 🙂 )

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