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Italian Renaissance Paper Dolls

 

by David Claudon

All pictures are ©2004 David Claudon

 

 
Imagine living in a world in which some of the greatest painters have just left their great works or are still creating new masterpieces-- Botticelli, Da Vinci,Del Sarto, Ghirlandaio, Lippi, Raphael, Signorelli, and Verrocchio. Sarah Dunant's best seller, The Birth of Venus, is set in just such a world: 1498 Florence (Firenza), Italy, home of the De'Medicis, the trade guilds, and Savanarola. At a time when great art was being created, religious conservatism was suggesting collecting such signs of wealth and intellectualism needed to be punished.

The plot deals with Alessandra, a young woman attracted to a painter her wealthy merchant father has hired to paint their private family chapel. When the city is threatened with invasion by Charles VIII of France, she is quickly married to a wealthy older art patron to escape being sent to a convent. Only later does she learn a secret her husband and her brother share.

Reading the book inspired me to research the Italian Renaissance and ultimately to create a paper doll set based on some of the characters. One of the pleasant things about doing the research was appreciating all the vibrant color palatte that the Renaissance artists used. The schizophrenic duality of the Baroque vs. Neoclassicism, echoes in the works of the great artists. Some portrayed somberly dressed patrons, while others seemed to burst into technicolor.

 

Alessandra's green snake tattoo becomes one of the mysteries of the story, mentioned in the prologue and finally explained by the end.

At center, she appears as Botticelli's Venus (1485) with her snake tattoo.

The costume at right is based on Leonardo da Vinci's Portrait of an Unknown Woman (La Belle Ferroniere), (1490).

 

At left, as a married woman, Alessandra wears a dress and headdress shown in a portrait by Correggio. Although the portrait is actually from a later period, 1519, it seems to capture the more mature view Alessandra has to assume after marriage.

The painter her father hired eventually tells Alessandra that she was his inspiration for all the Madonnas he painted.

The above is by an unknown painter of the period. Alessandra eventually ends up in a convent with her daughter, Plautilla, named after her sister. She is allowed to continue her painting and becomes the painter of the frescoes of the convent.

The Painter comes to paint the chapel of Alessandra's family. She is attracted to him partially because he draws as well as she wishes she could. He draws several pictures of her so that he can include her among the family portraits in the frescoes he has planned. Eventually during the book she realizes that the concern she feels for him has turned to love.

 

The African slave Erila is an important character in the book. In many ways she has much more freedom than the main character. The servant dress and fruit from Domenico Ghirlandaio's The Birth of John the Baptist, 1490.

Since the title is about the Birth of Venus, it seemed appropriate to quote the servant costume from Sandro Botticelli's Birth of Venus, ca. 1485.

 

 

 

 

Alessandra's mother knew Lorenzo di'Medici and was at his court. Her costume and her daughter Plautilla's is based on dresses from Domenico Ghirlandaio's The Birth of John the Baptist, 1490.

The bust of Lorenzo is based on one by Andrea del Verrocchi. Lorenzo died in 1492. A powerful ruler, his death is often seen as the end of the High Renaissance in Florence.

Plautilla's marriage at the beginning of the book is the reason the painter is brought into Alessandra's home.

 

 

Christoforo, Alessandra's husband at right is based on a portrait by Raphael, Portrait ofAgnolo Doni (ca1506). The coat with hanging sleeves was a popular medieval hanger-on into the Renaissance.

Alessandra's mysterious husband, Christoforo, is much older. A wealthy art collector he introduces her into a new world of freedom, where she can paint and study art without restriction.

 

With the Savanarola's moral campaign, everyone began dressing in more somber colors. Women were not allowed to attend Mass with the men.

 

Christoforo collects Roman sculptures--there's this very interesting conflict between art and the religion of Savanarola who believes all art is blasphemy.

One of the statues the husband collects is a figure of BacchusThe statue is loosely based on a Renaissance sculpture by Tullio Lombardo of Adam-- a wonderful statue that was destroyed accidently at the New York Metropolitan Museum--apparently the base it sat on was made of plywood and collapsed.

 

Tomaso, Alessandra's brother is handsome and vain. He and her husband share a secret life, one of the objectives of Savanarola's moral campaign.

At left, he wears a costume worn by one of the DeMedici's in Sandro Botticelli's the Adoration of the Magi, 1470.

Falconry was quite popular in Medieval and Renaissance Italy. The falcon is hood with a leather cap topped with feathers. At center, Tomasso wears a costume suggested by the work of Luca Signorelli (1490). Signorelli's Fresco Cycle in the San Brizio Chapel, Cathedral, Orvieto shows wonderful color schemes, with the damned, wearing bicolor and tricolor striped hose and vests in scarlet, grey, white, rose, mustard, moss green.

Boccaccio tells an interesting tale in the Decameron (1338) about Federigo's Falcon, remeniscent of O'Henry's Gift of the Magi. It seems appropriate for the mysterious Tomaso to practice falconry.

Doing the research I was struck by Andrea del Verrocchi's David (1470)--supposedly modeled for by a young Leonardo da Vinci--and here imagine Tomaso posing for Verrocchi.

 

 

 

Girolamo Savanarola was responsible for the Bonfires of the Vanities, where people were expected to throw in their art, books, jewelry... anything which stopped them from concentrating on God. Eventually he threatened the power of the pope, who promptly excommunicated him. When he continued to preach, he was tried and hanged. His body was [ironically] burned and the ashes were thrown into the Arno River.

A Dominican Friar, Savanarola wore the black robe and white gown of the Dominicans.

 

The Nurse wears a dress from Domenico Ghirlandaio's The Birth of John the Baptist, 1490.

 

This website created by David Claudon, August 10, 2004. All the paper dolls were redone July 18, 2006 .

 

[ Home ] [ Rich East ] [ The Cleopatra Costume ] [ Commedia dell'Arte ] [ Cyrano ]
[ Dressing for Shakespeare ][ The Iliad ][ Decorating Forties Style ]
[ Decorating for a Fifties Christmas ] [ To Kill a Mockingbird ]
[
A Rainbow Honor Roll ] [ Miniatures ]
[ Paper Dolls ] [ Santa Collection ] [ Clarence ]
[ St. Bernardine's Church ]