Renaissance Fashion of the Public Domain

The Renaissance was more than art and discoveries. It was style too! Check out the best of Renaissance fashion and some of the earliest costume books ever made.

De gli Habiti Antichi e Modérni (1590)

One of the most famous costume books of the Renaissance is De gli Habiti Antichi e Modérni di Diversi Parti di Mondo (Of Costumes, Ancient and Modern, of Different Parts of the World) published in 1590 by Cesare Vecellio. The 420 illustrations created by woodcutter Christoph Krieger features a variety of European, Ottoman, Arab, Persian and Moor fashion styles. In 1859 a French translation was published with upgraded illustrations. The images are remarkably similar to their originals, but are more beautiful and detailed than the original woodcuts. For this reason, we chose to showcase works from the 1859 edition.

The first image below shows a costume of an ancient upper-class Venetian man wearing a “dogalina” cloak and an unfortunate looking hat. The central image showcases the fashion style of ancient Romanian women. The costume on the right is from Galicia, Spain. The woman is wearing chopines, a type of platform shoe.

Chopines were a popular Renaissance style that evolved from Europe’s fascination with middle eastern styles. In Spain, women wore dresses that stopped just before the feet, so that their chopines were always displayed. In Italy, wooden chopines were worn in the manner of undergarments, hidden beneath long dresses.

Wealthy Venetian women wore chopines that ranged in height, often by rank, up to TWENTY inches. Originally this was done for the practical reason that Venetian streets were often flooded. Venetian women towered over their male companions, and wore voluminous dresses with extremely low necklines, bedecked in jewelry. Courtesans of the time dressed so similarly that wealthy women often found themselves receiving inappropriate proposals. Eventually Venice passed laws that banned prostitutes from wearing silk dresses, pearls or other jewelry.

Ancient Dogalina Costume

Habitus Variarum Orbis Gentium (1581)

Habitus Variarum Orbis Gentium (The costumes of the various peoples of the world) is another one of the earliest fashion books in the world, featuring 67 illustration plates of 182 costumes from many different cultures. The book was published by French antiquarian Jean-Jacques Boissard (1528-1602), and engraved by Julius Goltzius.

We really enjoyed the female Venetian costumes from the book, especially the nobles, courtesans and widows. In the below image the three women depicted are a new bride, a noblewoman and a courtesan. Isn’t it fascinating how similarly styled they are, from hair to dress to jewelry. The woman at the left is depicted holding a ventuolo. This flag shaped fan was a popular accessory at the time for Venetian men and women. Hidden beneath these dresses are most likely the chopine footwear mentioned above.

Habitus Variarum Orbis Gentium

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