by La Signora Onorata Katerina da Brescia
Popular colours over the entire first half of the 16thC, appear to be reds/oranges, gold, black, white,
Black showed wealth being expensive to dye. Brown was the colour of mourning.
Purplish-violet was a colour recorded to be worn by Eleanora and her handmaidens (*)
Reds were the most popular colours with Kermes being a very expensive dye, showing wealth.
Though there are many greens here, they are mainly from 1500s-1530, with
one in 1540. Green was not as popular with Eleanora (only 3 items)
Pictorially, blues were more common up to the 1520's and then towards
Sky blue (3 items), is recorded as being worn by Eleanora (in later
years flower blue and aquamarine were recorded) and by her
daugthers; this can be
seen in the Maria d'Cosimo portrait by Allori.
Greys were common colour in Eleanora's time (1538-1562). White was also
a favourite of hers. (which was an expensive and prized colour for
The Colours of Eleanora d'Toledo
The following is recorded in her Gardaroba; (La Moda a Firenze,
pp 88, 100, 112)
She preferred the play of texture, not
contrasting colours.: velvet/satin, wool/velvet, wool/satin. Though, in
her later years, she did use contrasting colours, such as red-white, white with
grey or brown.
red (chermisi) mainly with di grana (a less precious red)
In her final years, mauve, aquamarine and gilt were also recorded.
crimson and black
(gowns worn over petticoat in winter, for warmth)
black and brown
Later years: aquamarine, sky blue, flax, flower blue, amaranta (a purple), wallflower.
the 1600's names for red included: penna d'angelo (angel wing), rosso ciliegia
(cherry), la fiammetta (flicker), incarnato (wounded), il pulmone (lung), zecca
(tick). By 1629, there were more than 29 names for red. (Dressing Renaissance Florence)
Green: 33 names -
verde pappa-gallo (parrot green), festichino (festivity), verde lauro (laurel),
verde botta (toad green), verde della borraccina (mossy green).
also many names for blacks, whites, violets, yellows and blues:
Pre 16thC Florence:
- neutrals and
darks: scuro (dark) cenerito (cinders), gigio (gray), morello (purplish black),
- neutrals: terra d'Egitto (egyptian earth), fango do Parigi (mud of
Dressing Renaissance Florence lists some colour names from the 1400's
on. The colour names given by merchants was not always what was recorded in
'family records. Also, wool colour names were apparently more conservative, with
the silk dye colours being more imaginative:
rosa di zaffrone (pink
sapphire), giaggiolino (gladiiolus), persichino (peach blossom), rosa, rsina,
bianco, tane, schizzo d'oca (goose dung), pie di cappone (foot fo the capon).
The Colour Purple in and out of Florence:
Though purple does not seem to be a commonly used colour in Italy, (in
Venice they appear to be non-existant - see Oonagh's Own.), there
is written documentation in Eleanora d'Toledo's Gardaroba that she
dresses in purplish-violet. There is also a recorded stomach bands
in the same colour tafetta. It is also recorded that her handmaidens
often wore dresses of the same colours and materials.
Also there is the following portrait, (*) Bronzino's Portrait of Lucrezia
that shows a purple-violet looking sleeve (again colour rendering can
be variable ) Lucretzia was a wife of a Medici Official. This
is visual evidence to support the written documentation stated in La Moda a Firenze.
Sumptuary Law in Italy 1200-1500 also has mention of a gown of purple
silk worn by Nicolosa Sanuti, wife of the Count of Porretta (mid 1400's) from
e Porretane by Sabadino degli Arienti (p125). This also gives evidence of
purple being worn, earlier than 1500, in Bologna. (just North over the Alps from
Florence). Elizabethan England (where sumptuary laws strictly
prohibited the use of the colour beyond the very high rankings).
I have found two (so far) of extant examples of purple used in Italy around 16th
C, though it cannot be confirmed which part of Italy they originated from.
The first is housed in the The State Hermitage Museum Digital Collection -
violet material with Pomegranite pattern - 16thC.
and a brocade textile fragment from Italy (1615-25) from LACMA, in gold and
Materials Used in Florence
- Agnes Geijer ,A history of textile art, London. Pasold Research Fund in
association with Sotheby
Parke Bernet. Totowa, N.J. : distributed by Biblio
Distribution Center, 1979 (This was from the ANU library.- with scans from
- Kovesi Killerby, Catherine, Sumptuary Law in Italy
1200-1500, Oxford University Press. NY. 2002.
- Piponnier, Francoise & Mane, Perrine Dress in the
Middle Ages, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1997. ISBN:
- Crowfoot E, Pritchard F & Staniland K, Textiles and
Clothing 1150-1450, Boydell Press, Woodridge, 2001 (ed) ISBN:
- Arnold, Janet Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd, Maney,
Leeds, 1988, ISBN:0-901286-20-6
- Arnold, Janet Patterns of Fahsion, MacMillan, London, 1985.
- Frick, Carole Collier. Dressing Renaissance Florence.:
Families Fortunes & Clothing. John Hopkins University Press.
Baltimore. 2002. ISBN: 0-8018-6939-0
- Jones, Ann Rosalind & Stallybrass, Peter. Renaissance
Clothing and the Materials of Memory.
Cambridge University Press.
2003. ISBN: 0-521-78663-0
- Bruker, Gene A. Renaissance Florence. University of
California Press. Berkely. 1983 (reprint). ISBN:m0-520-04695-1
- Orsi Landini, Roberta & Niccoli, Bruna. La Moda a Fioenze 1540-1580.
Pagliai Polistampa, Firenze, 2005. ISBN: 88-8304-867-9
- The Art of Textiles by Alberto Tagliabue
- The Art of Textiles - definitions:
- The State Hermitage Museum Digital COllection
http://www.hermitage.ru or http://www.hermitagemuseum.org - search
- LACMA Collections online:
- All About Fabrics - Dictionary.
- Oonagh's Own: http://www.geocities.com/oonaghsown/
- Medici Archive Project: www.medici.org/ (1/06)
© K Carlisle, September,2006.