Italian Women’s Fashion in the Middle Ages

Ladies Playing on the Harp and Organ

Ladies Playing on the Harp and Organ

Costume in the west of Europe, during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, was not strikingly characteristic of difference of countries; its changes were frequent, and often remarkable, but the intercourse between England and France, and in some measure with the neighbouring states, was so constant, that these changes were nearly simultaneous in them all. When, however, we pass to the south, and enter the warm clime and free states of Italy, we find the dresses of all classes have an entirely different character. The costume of the ladies, in particular, was there extremely light and graceful. Our plate represents two ladies of Siena, in the costume of the beginning of the fourteenth century. They are both playing upon musical instruments. Music and dancing were the constant and favourite amusements of the Italians at that period.

The lady playing on the harp is taken from a picture representing the Triumph of Petrarch, preserved in the Academy of Fine Arts at Siena. It is the work of A. Vanni, a painter of that city who flourished at the period just mentioned.

The young lady with the portable organ, is also taken from a painting at Siena, by Domenico Bartoli, who lived at the beginning of the fourteenth century at that place, and who was one of the first distinguished members of a family in which artistical talent descended through several generations. This girl, whose dress is remarkably graceful, is one of those damsels who attended festivals and parties of pleasure to amuse the guests by their performances. She has on her head a characteristic crown or garland of flowers. The instrument on which she is playing with one hand, while she moves the bellows with the other, was very common in Italy at this period. A similar organ is represented in the celebrated picture of St. Cecilia by Raphael.

Source: Dresses and Decorations of the Middle Ages , Volume 1 by Henry Shaw F.S.A. (1843)

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