A Crowning Glory continued...

We have seen how, in the Carpaccio Era (pre 1500-1510), most images depict women wearing some form of headwear, be it veil (velo, veletto da testa), netted headress or hairnet (reta) or cap or caul (scuffia). But in the next major period, the Palma Vecchio and early Titian era (1510-40), it was a little different, at least as far as the available art tells us.

The caul/scuffia continues to be the head wear of choice for women, but starts to develop into a larger, more bag-like item than in the previous period. As before, the caul is made from sheer to semi-sheer fabrics, either plain or figured. Image at left is Titian's "La Schiavona", circa 1511. Two more examples of similar cauls of the circa the same year can be seen below.



We cannot tell from most of these pictures how the caul managed to stay on the head. It was worn so far back, and were apparently filled with so much hair, that it seems impossible that they stayed on. Of course, we should all be familiar with the fact that pictures of the back view of a person are few and far between! However, there is a portrait by Venetian artist Gentile Bellini which may shed some light on the matter.

Seen on the right, Bellini's "Woman at her toilette", circa 1515, not only shows a very ornate, and very large caul being worn, but it also allows us, via the mirror on the wall, to see that there is what looks like a fancy clasp or brooch of some kind - perhaps a hair clasp which allows the wearer to pin through the caul into the hair beneath? It is also possible that it is placed over the spot at which a hair comb is attached to the inside of the scuffia. In the case of the two clasp-less cauls above, and others, it may be that the attachment point of the hair comb is not visible or is well disguised.

In most cases it appears that the caul's function is slightly different than previously - it no longer appears to cover braided, pinned-up hair, but loose coils, hence its larger dimensions, presumably. Often there is no visible means of fastening or attaching to the head, but in a couple of examples, the caul is kept in place by, as in a previous example, a lenza (decorative cord or ribbon) wrapped around the head at forehead level. In one example the role of the lenza is performed by the woman's own braided hair. See below:

The example on the left could be made from either a textured fabric, or it could be netted, whereas the example on the right is obviously a simple fabric caul. By far the most common example is a simple fabric caul, either plain, striped or otherwise figured. Both of the examples above are likely to be of women from the provinces of Venice, not Venice itself. From the same period, the 1520s, I have also seen one example of a style of head wear halfway between a fitted reta (netted head wear or hairnet) and the bag scuffia.This example by an unknown artist of the Venetian school, circa 1525, shows a netted caul embellished with what appears to be either jade or some other green stone bead, or, more likely from their appearance, green glass beads.

Note the way this reta does not seem to "bag" the hair completely, but does follow the contours of the hair closely. Nor is its edge visible at the front or top of the head - it is set far back on the head. How it is kept on is a mystery. The edge of the reta is braided gold thread, but the criss-crossing threads appear to be flat ribbons.

Another form of headwear seen in the Venetian provinces in the 1520s is the larger, bulkier, hat referred to variously as a balzo, or capigliara. These could be very ornate, and quite large, and are usually more structured than cauls. For a great article on the Balzo, see "The Wonderful Bulbous Balzo", by Maestra Damiana Illiara d'Onde.

In my mind it is likely that the term capigliara was used to indicate those items that had the appearance of a hairdo. Florio's Italian/English dictionary "World of Words", 1598, does not provide us with an entry for capigliara, but does give capigliare as "to dress, to tress, to plait, to curl, to frizz, to lace, to tie up hair." There is also some indication that there may be a difference between balzo (given in Florio as "a certain head attire") and balza, which is given as "a certain head attire for women".

There are a couple of provincial Venetian examples:

Both of these examples are from the 1520s - they were painted by Lorenzo Lotto, who is known to have been working in the Venetian provinces at this time.

In contrast, during this same decade, we very often we find portraits of women with completely uncovered heads, their hair almost completely loose on the shoulders, frizzed and restrained by nothing more than a couple of thin braids used, as in the caul examples above, in a similar fashion to the lenza.

I have collected many examples, but is noteworthy that all of them, to the best of my knowledge, are from artists who are known to have been working in the city of Venice at the time they were painted.

By the 1530s, the question of what to do with the hair becomes complicated indeed! This is mainly due to whether we are trying to re-create the style of Venice itself, or of the Venetian provinces, where the style varied somewhat from those of Venice proper. The fact that one of the most prolific portrait artists of this period - Bernadino Licinio - was known to have worked in both Venice and the Venetian provinces clouds the issue, which makes it a little difficult to separate the city fashions from the provincial ones. A lady may have worn her hair uncovered, but braided, as in Bordone's Portrait of a Lady (left),

...or she may have worn either a small plain balzo, as seen in the portrait by an unknown artist of the Venetian school, circa 1530 (right), or larger and more elaborate ones....

All of these examples are painted by Bernadino Licinio in the 1530s.


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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.