How Wealthy Women (Like the Mona Lisa) Got Dressed in Renaissance Florence




“The inhabitants of fifteenth-century Florence included Brunelleschi, Ghiberti, Donatello, Masaccio, Filippo Lippi, Fra Angelico, Verrocchio, Botticelli, Leonardo, and Michelangelo,” writes essayist and venture capitalist Paul Graham. “There are roughly a thousand times as many people alive in the U.S. right now as lived in Florence during the fifteenth century. A thousand Leonardos and a thousand Michelangelos walk among us.” But “to make Leonardo you need more than his innate ability. You also need Florence in 1450”: its community of artists, and indeed everyone of all classes who constituted its uncommonly fruitful society.

Florence’s cultural flourishing lasted into the sixteenth century. Above, you can see a morning in the life of one Florentine of the 1500s recreated in a video by Crow’s Eye Productions. Previously featured here on Open Culture for their re-creations of the dressing processes of the fourteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, they show us this time how a woman would put herself together — or by the help, be put together — in turn-of-the-sixteenth-century Florence, which, “like many other Italian regions, had developed its own distinctive fashion style.” The camurra gown, the separate golden sleeves, the informal guarnello over-gown: all evoke this particular time and place.

As each garment and accessory is applied to the model, she may begin to look oddly familiar. “In 1503, a silk merchant from Florence, Francesco del Giocondo, commissioned a portrait of his young wife to adorn a wall in their new home, and perhaps to celebrate the safe arrival of their third child,” the video’s narrator tells us. “The artist commissioned was Leonardo da Vinci.” His portrait of Madonna Giacondo is “an intimate portrayal of a young married woman,” expensively but modestly dressed, wearing a smile “that seems intended for Francesco’s eyes only.” Yet until Leonardo’s death, the picture never left his own possession — perhaps because he sensed it had a destiny much greater than the wall of the del Giocondos’ bedchamber.

Related content:

How Women Got Dressed in the 14th & 18th Centuries: Watch the Very Painstaking Process Get Cinematically Recreated

How Fashionable Dutch Women (Like the Girl with a Pearl Earring) Got Dressed in 1665

How Ladies & Gentlemen Got Dressed in the 18th Century: It Was a Pretty Involved Process

What Makes Leonardo’s Mona Lisa a Great Painting?: An Explanation in 15 Minutes

Original Portrait of the Mona Lisa Found Beneath the Paint Layers of da Vinci’s Masterpiece

How Did the Mona Lisa Become the World’s Most Famous Painting?: It’s Not What You Think

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.


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