A Crowning Glory continued...

"The hair...should be fine and fair, in the similitude now of gold, now of honey, and now of the bright and shining rays of the sun; waving, thick, abundant..."
(Firenzuola, 1548, Dialogo delle Bellezze delle Donne)

By 1540 - 1570, it is more common to see depictions of a woman of Venice wearing nothing on her head at all. Of all of the images I've collected of Venetian women during this period (which doesn't amount to a great deal it must be said), less than ten per cent feature a woman wearing a hat or other head covering. Instead, the hair is often beautifully and artfully braided and adorned, pearls intertwined in their hair, as can be seen on the lady to the right. Again, it should be noted that portraiture and fresco often depicted people indoors, whether it be for the formal portrait, or for more informal scenes in fresco, so it is possible that this applied only indoors. Despite this, there are a few examples of head wear worn indoors. It seems that the balzo (or capigliara) had by this time reverted to its smaller, worn-further-on-the-back-of-the-head version.

In the first picture, the balzo's high, firm structure gives height to the wearer. This balzo appears to be embellished with pearls or beads. The headwear in the second image could be called a balzo, although it appears more like a caul to me - it is neither high, nor does it appear to be firmly structured. It looks to be made from a figured fabric (perhaps cloth of gold), rather than embellished.

There are two other items of head wear seen during this period - the velo (veil) and "virgin's crown". On the left is a detail from Giorgio Vasari's Pope Alexander III receiving the submission of the Emperor Frederick I (1560s). The woman at the top of this trio can be interpreted as either a servant, or a widowed friend or relative of the other two ladies. She wears a velo (veil) which matches her gown in colour, and appears to be scalloped on the edges. Vecellio shows scalloping like this on many of his Venetian noblewomen in his costume book of woodcuts, later in the century.

The woman in the lower right may also be wearing a veil, but this time it does not perform the function of covering her head and shoulders - instead it hangs behind, apparently semi-sheer, dependant from a point on the back of her head, on which is also what looks like the "virgin's crown" described by contemporary Venetians such as Pietro Aretino, and seen in other Venetian artworks. The lady on lower left merely has her hair artfully braided. The important thing about this picture is that is demonstrates the range of suitable head attire worn outdoors, and it gives us the option of wearing nothing but braided hair if we choose - great isn't it?

Overwhelmingly, when shown indoors, Venetian women are depicted with simple to very artful arrangements of braided hair, which pearls occasionally adorn.

(top, left to right) 1545, 1553, 1560
(bottom) 1565


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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.