Drawing of a Venetian lady by Albrecht Durer, circa 1495 - what IS that on her head?

A Crowning Glory
Hairstyles and Headwear In Venice

(Revised November 19 '03)

"Loosen your golden tresses, lovely Venus,
And Crown your head with myrtle and with laurel..."
(Veronica Gambara 1485-1550, Brescian Noblewoman and poet )

There is no getting around it - on the whole Venetian ladies of the sixteenth century did not take to wearing headwear well - especially not any style that would completely cover their crowing glory! For historical re-creationists this can be a good thing ("Thank goodness I don't have to wear a hat in this heat"), or a not-so-good thing ("Look at her - she's got that gorgeous gown on and no hat! What a pity...") Yes, it is unfortunate, but not everyone is aware of the Venetians' love for simple elegance in everything, including their heads. Nonetheless headwear was worn, from the simple garlands of turn-of-the-century maidens, to the "wonderful bulbous balzo" of the matrons of the Venetian provinces in the 1530s, and finally the long, flowing veils that were more often than not worn to frame the face, neck and breast of the women wearing it. In attempting a discussion of sixteenth century Venetian headwear and hairstyles, the question is not so much "what was worn?", as "when was it worn?"

It can be seen in many frescos, woodcuts and paintings that throughout the sixteenth century women often wore nothing on the head at all, except their up-styled, often beautifully braided hair. There was a time when this was the exception, rather than the rule. The beginning of the Carpaccio era is one such time. During the years 1490 to approximately 1500, it is difficult, though not impossible, to find an image of a Venetian woman who is not wearing something on the head, be it a simple 

velo or veletto da testa  (veil)...
..or a ghirlanda   (a garland or circlet of varying style)

...or a reta (a netted head dress or hair net)

or a scuffia (a cap, coif or caul of varying style)

It must be noted, however, that most of the images I have collected of this time period show women engaged in activity outdoors. This is an important point, because there is some indication that going outdoors, out into the public arena, was a time for donning one's best outer garments - including headwear. Despite this though, I have seen depictions of women outdoors with no head covering - notably Ursula, in the Cycle of St Ursula by Carpaccio, who wears her hair down, and an older (presumably married) woman in The Departure of Ceyx, also by Carpaccio, who wears her hair in one braid wrapped around the top of her head, as well as a few others.

After 1500, we start to see images of uncovered braided hair, or even uncovered hair pieces! These appear to have started as a length of hair entwined with ribbon which was worn coiled at the top of the head, as seen in Carpaccio's painting "Courtesan", circa 1510 (left), and also in a more solid form in "Two Venetian Ladies" (also known as "Two Venetian Courtesans", circa 1505 (right). These hair pieces appear in scenes within the home, or in portraits.


After this time we start to see ladies wearing a fabric caul or scuffia. Sometimes very little hair shows from beneath the "bag" scuffia, sometimes hair frames the face at the sides, with only the ends tucked into it. Sometimes it is worn outdoors, sometimes indoors.

Click on an image below for more information and larger picture.

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2001 - 2010 Anabella Wake (Known in the SCA as Bella Lucia da Verona) I hold copyright on all information on these pages, and on all images of clothing/costume that I have made. You are allowed to make one facsimile copy for your own use provided that this notice is included on each page. Please ask permission to copy, disseminate and/or distribute my work - I would like to know when and how you are finding this information of use.