1500 Stitches: diverse arts of Margaret Wolseley

Dressing a Venetian Nobleman in 1500

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I amassed these notes, observations, ideas, and experiences while attempting to recreate the clothing of a Venetian gentleman living in the year 1500. The model is my husband, known in the Current Middle Ages as Lord Giovan Donado. It is his desire to be, and to dress as, a patrician residing in the city of Venice.

I founded my reconstruction on the work of Stella Mary Newton, whose book Dress of the Venetians 1495-1525 I cite extensively. Her study frames the time period of my interest, and the internet, especially Web Gallery of Art, provided me with color versions of nearly every artwork she referenced. Newton "greedily fed on the rich evidence provided by the diaries of Marin Sanudo"[1] and I am deeply indebted to her for translating these and other contemporary writings, as I do not read Italian. When I use Italian terms I retain Newton's spellings, which, being from sources with a Venetian dialect, sometimes differ from traditional Italian.

I recreated fairly standard items of Italian Renaissance clothing, but in distinctly Venetian forms and fashions. Although I aspire to clothe a nobleman, I used many images of servants and slaves, especially when dissecting the layers of clothing. The clothing differences among classes and professions in Venice is surprisingly small:

In his essay in praise of the city of Venice, Marin Sanudo explains that the male population was divided into three categories: gentlemen (often referred to as patricians), citizens, and the common people – artisans and other manual workers. He then provides what must, at first sight, seem the rather surprising news, that the gentlemen cannot be distinguished from the citizens by their dress because both wear the same style, that is to say a long black gown reaching to the ground, a (normally) black cap – bareta, and a black cloth or velvet stole. [2]

As a Lord in the Society for Creative Anachronism, Giovan can safely assume the rank of patrician, and thus be clothed in a black vesta. Unless he chooses a career as a doctor of medicine, a member of the clergy, or a knight, this will most likely not affect the appearance of his dress, since "in Venice the actual profession of the gentlemen apparently counted for little; it was his position as a member of the government that was important."[3]

Because gentlemen were required to appear in public always dressed in this uniform, surmising what lies underneath requires that we look beyond the mature patricians to the less completely draped young men and the gondoliers. Newton describes the basic undergarments:

Under the gown the togati were required to wear ordinary black hose, a silk zipon (that closely fitted waist-length jacket better known outside Venice as a jupon) and, on their feet whatever the weather, zoccoli, sandal-like shoes with thick wooden soles, very familiar from Burgundian paintings of the middle of the fifteenth century and suitable for Venice's frequently flood-washed lanes.[4]

Because "Sanudo's almost obsessive interest in the dress worn by his contemporaries"[5] applied to the ruling classes, not to young men, children, women, or workers, his descriptions give us the clearest picture of the standards required of the outer garments of a patrician. For all other people, and for the invisible aspects of clothing worn by the patricians, we must look to contemporary art. When selecting visual representations, Newton attempted to confine herself to "paintings commissioned for a church or a Scuola in the city itself or to portraits of known sitters"[6] and I have likewise limited my selections, as much as possible, to those which art historians judge to be thoroughly Venetian in dress.

One additional twist to my research is that Giovan, while firmly established as to the location and time period of his persona, still harbors a minor alter-ego: when he lifts his blades and takes to the rapier field, he is still a young man. For this reason I also look for garments that I can adapt to rapier armor, and recreate clothing that would be far too young for Giovan if he were to act his age in Renaissance Venice.

Using this Website

Images on this site link to the Referenced Artwork pages, listing the name of the work, the artist, the date, the current location, and possibly some notes about the piece. These thumbnails link to the largest image that I can find, which opens with zoom and scroll bars for you to view the pieces.

This site represents an ongoing project. I can research and speculate about clothing much faster than I can design, cut, and sew clothing. I seldom finish a garment without deciding that some aspect is incorrect, or would be better done another way, or with other materials. If you know of resources that would further my studies, please let me know! Whether it is an image from another country or another time period that, while not Venetian, might shed light on a question I have posed; a text reference; a book that I may not have read; or just that your observations and interpretations of a work of art differ from my own, I would love to know about it. You can contact me always at my gmail.com address: margaret.wolseley. I look forward to learning from you, and hope that you have learned of value something from me.


1. Stella Mary Newton, The Dress of the Venetians, 1495-1525 (Aldershot, England: Scolar Press, 1988), 1.

2. Newton, 9.

3. Newton, 149.

4. Newton, 11.

5. Newton, 1.

6. Newton, 153.