The practicalities and the social political implications of the colour of dress.
1540 - 1600
variety of colours used is great, from pastels to bold, rich colours.
Admittedly the perceptions of colours used are affected by what we see
in portraits. These colours may
be affected buy things such as:
of the portrait.
lacquers applied to the portrait after completion.
restorers used in their work.
conditions of the artwork.
to existing textiles how do the colours compare.
quality of the reproduction you are viewing be it online of in hard copy.
Searching through period dye books and examination of existing textiles from Venice support the visual records that purple and its variants were the least used colours. There are no sumptuary laws that I am aware of that prohibit this colour, nor is there any other reason that it should be excluded from their colour chart.
Visual evidence though portraiture and frescos of the time, would indicate that colours were linked also to social status, and political statements. One possible explination for the lack of purple lay within the Venetian Republics previous connections with the Byzantine Empire.
was the colour chosen as the imperial colour in the Byzantine Empire.
This is not as straightforward as it seems.
Purple could be achieved by various means.
Mixing of various red and blue dyes such as madder and indigo does give
a variety of purple (Muthesius 1997, 30).
The imperial colour purple was very specific and kept a highly guarded
secret (Muthesius 1997, 27). Purple
dye extracted from the murex mollusk was the highest quality purple dye
available, and almost prohibitively expensive to produce (Muthesius 1997, 27).
The use of the varying shades of purple obtained from other sources was
not restricted, however the unsanctioned use of this specific shade carried
with it heavy penalties (Muthesius 1997, 27).
Citizens of Constantinople were reported to be dressed in silk of
purple and gold (Geijer 1979, 129). Psychologically
the effect this would have had on any one entering the city who knew of the
significance of the colour purple in textiles, yet not the relevance of
specific shadings, would have been staggering.
Diplomatically the message this would have sent to foreign ambassadors
would have been enormous. While no specific reference was found, control of
production of the imperial purple dyeing process with in the palace walls as
an extension of the imperial silk workshop would have highly been likely.
As previously mentioned the method for achieving the imperial purple was a highly guarded secret. Also guarded was the sale of silk. Foreign merchants were not permitted to stay within the city walls. There was an area set aside for them in which they could stay. Their business had to be concluded with in three months as that was as long as they were permitted to stay without special dispensation. Foreigners were only permitted to purchase cheap fabrics of narrower loom widths (Geijer 1979, 129).
colour that was widely known was Venetian Red.
That being the case red could be considered a safe colour when planning
As can be seen from this colour chart, derived from Venetian art,
red is a dominant colour.
Red was also a colour worn in senatorial robes, making this a
politically powerful colour.
Red was also a colour worn in senatorial robes, making this a politically powerful colour.
the most expensive of dyes for Venetians at this time, and divers colour range
1999, 174), was the most adulterated by mixing of cheapening dyes.
1243 a statute was passed forbidding the mixing of expensive dyes with
cheaper dyes such as brazilwood, also known as verzino without special
permission. Reds ranged in shade
form an orange red to and deep purple red.
Scarlet and crimson enjoyed prominence in the Venetian palette.
A Venetian dyers manual of the 15th century lists no fewer
than 109 of the 159 chapters as dedicated to varying reds (Hills
1999, 174). Of the six different
pigments used to obtain the various shades of red, all were imported into
Venice. These dyes were derived
– oricello, and
were of vegetative origin, while
of mineral origins.
was cultivated within Italy and Flanders and was the cheapest and most
available of the reds. Once used
the resultant cloth was usually called rosa.
Verzino and lacca, were imported from the East.
Rana and cremisi, were obtained from insects and were the two most
expensive of the red dyes (Mola
2000, 108 – 109).
this colour chart would seem to indicate a veritable rainbow of colours, what
may appear green in the colour chart is say, viewed as white in the context of
the original artwork.
The lack of purple in Venetian dress code could have been a reaction against
the regime of the Byzantine Empire of the past. Red in its vibrancy was
undoubtedly linked to Venice's political system, and as such could be viewed
as a political statement on a grander scale. The political head of the
Venetian government was the Doge. The three main colours seen on the
Doge in order are; red, gold and white. Is is any wonder then that these
colours dominate the Venetian dress palette! Another observation from
images of the time is the colour green. While it is seen worn buy some
noble women it is seen more often on servants. This could be
coincidence, but it could also be a reflection of the status of this colour.
The lack of purple in Venetian dress code could have been a reaction against the regime of the Byzantine Empire of the past. Red in its vibrancy was undoubtedly linked to Venice's political system, and as such could be viewed as a political statement on a grander scale. The political head of the Venetian government was the Doge. The three main colours seen on the Doge in order are; red, gold and white. Is is any wonder then that these colours dominate the Venetian dress palette! Another observation from images of the time is the colour green. While it is seen worn buy some noble women it is seen more often on servants. This could be coincidence, but it could also be a reflection of the status of this colour.
While the chart is a good reference, you should still consult
the original art works if possible.
Failing that, a good reproduction that has not been altered or colour
enhanced. Access to original accounts of dyeing processes and sumptuary
laws governing their use are important considerations if an authentic looks is
what is aspired to.
All intellectual content, composition, layout, designs and photographs copyright 2007 to Deborah Lane © , 2003 to Deborah Murray © or Mistress Oonagh O'Neill ©. All Original renaissance art works and artefacts are not copyright to Deborah Lane, and are shown for educational use only. If you see something you'd really like to use, please contact me!