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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