Friday, December 30, 2016

The Accessories Make the Outfit! (The Lady in White project)

Sometimes it's easy to get so caught up in the garment, that i forget about the look. And nothing is more true (except perhaps that you won't look period without period undergarments) than that you can't have a good historical look without the little details, specifically accessories. No Viking is complete without her brooches, no 14th century lady without her wimple and veil, no cavalier without his plumed hat.

Titian, 1555, Lady in White
Returning to our lovely lady in white She has a pair of matched bracelets, gold clasps holding her sleeves and gown front, a set of pearl drops, with matching necklace, and an amazing flag fan. She also has a sheer partlet which appears to be rouched and possibly worked with gold thread.

In this slightly earlier portrait by my new favorite painter, Giovanni Battista Moroni, we see Isotti Brembatti, in her gown of fabulous gold and green brocade, wearing several beautiful necklaces (one held up by a brooch) paired bracelets, and a girdle of what appears to be worked gold beads, either enameled or perhaps set with jems. Attached to the trailing chain end of the girdle is a beautiful zibalino with a gold mask. She has a sheer partlet with a tall standing collar worked with scarlet (probably silk) embroidery in a manner reminiscent of smocking. She holds an ostrich feather fan with a gilded handle, and also wears earrings, sundry rings, and gold hair ornaments.

Of course these are only two of thousands of portraits available for perusal, but they show the main themes of the era and area very well I think. I had already determined to match my jewelry to the Lady in White (albeit with black not white pearls) and decided to attempt making something like her awesome flag fan. Although I covet the pairs of bracelets both women wear, which were frequently a lovers gift (Lu Emily Pearson "Elizabethans at Home" pg 334) or sometimes a betrothal present (Jeffery Forgeng, "Daily Life in Elizabethan England" pg 65),  They are beyond my skill as a jeweler and out of my reach as a purchase. instead I chose a girdle and a zibilino, also common accouterments of the well to do lady.

The Armada Portrait, Queen Elizabeth, 1588
Woburn Abbey
First I would like to defend my choice of black pearls, not white, with this portrait of that icon of fashion, Queen Elizabeth herself, pictured in front of the demise of the spanish armada, wearing ropes of both white and black pearls.

Mary Queen of Scots, ca 1559, after Francios Clouet
Victoria and Albert Museum.
 And here's Mary Queen of Scots, also a period fashionista, wearing a long strand of them knotted at her throat.  Supposedly they're the same strand of pearls, which Elizabeth absconded with after Mary's untimely demise. Scandalous.

Bianca ponzini anguissola, with a zibellino
by sofonisba Anguisola, 1557
Gemäldegalerie, Berlin
The zibellino is the most interesting of the remaining accessories. I've been fascinated by them since I first saw them mentioned in one of my costuming groups. I don't know why I'd never noticed them before, but now that I know what they are I see them everywhere. Funny how that is. I think the idea of anyone carrying a small dead animal around as an accessory is so odd to the modern mind, that I'd just always assumed that they were a fur stole draped over the arm, or an odd bit of fur trim. But no indeed, it was exceedingly popular in the 1500's especially in the Italian city states, to carry the pelt of some smallish weasel family member about with you, draped over your person, or hanging from your girdle. The style spread north and west fairly slowly, but they can be seen in some very late elizabethan period portraits. The style for carrying them seems to have died out in the beginning of the 17th century.

jeweled marten head in the collection
of the Walters art Museum.

Carved rock crystal Marten head
mounted as a snuffbox
Private collection
The Zibellino was typically the entire fur of some small animal, most typically a sable or marten (although sometimes other furs were used, most notably a lynx!) carried over the shoulder, or arm, or attached to the girdle. They could have jeweled collars and leg bands, pearl drops in their ears, gemstones for eyes, be mounted with jeweled muzzles, or have their heads and feet completely replaced with ornate gold "masks" or even carved semi precious stone. The most typical way of carrying them seems to have been via a chain attached to a ring in the mouth, especially on those that had full replacement heads mounted, however some portrait references do seem to indicate that they could be carried from a collar on the neck as well, although the clearest of these is dated 1522. (Portrait of Lucina Brembati, Lorenzo Lotto) .

The most popular theory currently (via wikipedia) is that persons carried these items  thinking the fleas would be attracted to the pelt instead of them, and secondarily as a status symbol, because of the cost of the fur, not to mention the embellishments. This theory was started in the 1800's by Wendelin Boeheim,  but has since been rejected by other researchers (Fleas, Furs, and FashionsKather Kerr of the Hermitage etc)  
Rock Crystal head with jeweled collar
and muzzle.
Thyssen Collection, zurich
Certainly they were a both a status symbol, and a method of displaying your personal fortune, nothing makes that more clear than the sumptuary laws written limiting their use and form (it seems to me, as a novice fashion historian, that nothing marks anything as fashionable or symbol of status and wealth so quickly as being regulated by sumptuary laws, or being blasted by the church. Bum rolls, farthingales, and boned corsets were all blasted by the church, and women who wore them were threatened with excommunication! [1] which clearly didn't stop people from wearing them any more than the sumptuary laws impeded people from carrying tricked out zibellini) It does seem to me (and a number of others) that the common conception of them as flea attractants may be flawed. The Walters art museum states in their blurb about the head in their collection:

 "The animal was associated with childbirth, and wearing its fur was believed to increase a woman's fertility and protect her during pregnancy. Since antiquity, the marten had been thought to conceive through its ear or mouth (and therefore chastely). "
And in The muff in 16th century dress:
Mart[e]n and sable Zibellini were connected to fecundity and were popular wedding gifts, and featured in dowries.  Lynx Zibellini were associated with chastity. Artist[s] of the time used the symbolism of the Zibellini in their work for patrons to convey messages.
Of course zibellini could have been popular as wedding gifts and dowries because of their opulent nature, and desirability as a symbol of status and wealth, but I think it unfair to rule out the symbolism of the item as part of its popularity. It is probably equally unfair, and perhaps a little egotistical to think that the elizabethans were so unobservant as to not notice fleas weren't attracted to lifeless furs. In the end we may never really understand the popularity of the zibellini, any more than future historians may be able to explain mullets, macrame jewelry, or jeggings. 

For my own personal zibellino, I followed the example of others, and acquired a vintage stole in good
conditions from the goodwill auction site. This was partially a cost consideration, and partially an ethical one. My costuming endeavors do not need to support the inhumane factory farming of fur! I took this apart carefully, and had THREE lovely little minks waiting be zibelenized. I used a broken vintage gold and pearl bracelet for the collar, and a piece of gold chain from the broken jewelry stash to attach it to my girdle. I got some small faux pearl charms at the craft store and put them through its ears for earrings.

I hope later to have time to replace his whole head with one crafted from paper mache paste and painted with gold leaf (since I am not a metalworker) 

In order to have something to suspend my zibellini from (and for more conspicuous display of wealth) I needed a girdle. Now this is a bit tricky. as costumers we see a LOT of beaded girdles with pearls and sparkly glass beads. This is the most accessible form for most of us to be sure, the materials are readily available at your local crafting supply store, and it doesn't require special tools or special skills to make. But I'm not sure that this kind of girdle is well historically supported. Most portraits I've looked at, and I will grant you it's not been an exhaustive study, seem to show three types: 

Type 1: Goldwork linked with clusters or strings of pearls, much in the style of the girdle seen here on a young Mary Tudor. 

Type 2: Chains, linked goldwork (including settings) or a combination of the two. The lady in green and gold at the beginning of this post has a girdle of this type. So does the lady in gold with the zibellini, and so does the Duchess of Norfolk, Margaret Audley, and Moroni's "Lady with a fan."

Type 3: single strands of beads, either in precious metals, or precious metals and pearls. Seen here on the Lady Mary Grey wearing pearls with a jeweled clasp, and Camilla Gonzaga de'Rossi, Countess of San Secondo with what look to be very large gold beads strung, not linked. 

Sometimes you do see a combination of the linked and beaded styles, where a linked belt of goldwork or goldwork set with jewels, has a beaded piece falling down the front of the skirt, as seen here on Mary Stuart, although hers is a double strand of beads

All this preview to say that I give my girdle about a 50% historical accuracy rating. Yes, it does have metallic elements linked with pearls, but the metallic elements aren't really a period shape. But darn it the enameled roses were so pretty, and (by themselves) they aren't historically inacurate! (Cheapside hoard). That is to say, I could have done better if I wasn't lured astray by the pretties in the bead aisle.

I held it shut in the front with a large worked metal brooch that is very much in a period style. Which is probably more accurate than the girdle....  However since the event my children have helpfully deconstructed said girdle (don't ask me how they managed that, but they did) so I may try to put it back together in a little bit more period way, Or I may just leave it as it is, because it's pretty, darn it!

I didn't get the fan finished before the event, although I have all the bits to make it, but I feel like the overall effect with the pearls, zibillini, and girdle was very good. You can't see the end of the girdle, it's hiding in my skirt, but it has a large scarlet tassel on it. I would like to eventually get a pomander for it, but that's a later upgrade.

A couple good reads on Zibellini:

1) Corsets and Crinolines, Norah Waugh, pg. 23

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