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High Renaissance

c. 1485 - 1520
Russell, Douglas Costume History and Style; chapter 11, pp. 176-194


It is one of those peculiar coincidences of history that one of the major fashion attributes of the Renaissance was born out of the death of the famous northern fashion center‑the court of Burgundy. In 1477 when the forces of Charles the Bold (the last of the rulers of the dukedom of Burgundy) were overwhelmed by Swiss forces in Nancy, their camp was pillaged by the conquering Swiss who cut up the tents, the gorgeous banners, and the sumptuous costumes that they found and thrust them through the rents and tears in their own clothing. Out of this bizarre effect grew a new style known as slashing in which seams were left open and. colored linings thrust through, or cuts were made in an entire costume and contrasting material puffed _ out of the cuts. This style became one of the most characteristic fashion motifs of the later Renaissance and a key way of identifying clothing dated after 1485. But it was the landsknechtes, or mercenaries, of the emperor whose clothing style grew to the most bizarre and wildly exaggerated expression, making them among the most colorful and fanciful fashion figures in the history of Western dress.

Another element that characterized Renaissance costume after 1485 was the use of points, or laces, to hold a costume together. On both men and women, points, which for years had been used to secure male hose to a belt or pourpoint, were now used to lace parts of a sleeve together over a shirt or chemise and to secure that sleeve to a doublet or bodice. Thus the typical male costume from about 1485 to 1500 was dominated by a loose, low‑necked shirt under a doublet laced over it with sleeves laced together to show the shirt at the elbow, the back of the arms, the shoulder, and the waist. The hose, now sewn together except in the front where a triangle known as a codpiece tied over the opening, were laced with points to this doublet. The general effect, suitable to the new Renaissance admiration and acceptance of the body with all its physical sensuality, was loose and casual, as if when the lacings were untied, the outer costume would casually fall off, an effect clearly seen in Durer's Self‑Portrait. Overgowns were also loose, casual, and either quite short, calf‑length, or ankle‑length, with wide lapels and cuffs and a square look. The headgear alternated between the various caps of the earlier Renaissance, some with turned-up brims like a sailor hat, and wide‑brimmed hats turned up on one side and decorated with plumes, the latter frequently worn over a coif. The young men's hair was usually worn quite long, whereas that of older men was somewhat shorter. Shoes were still like the slipper‑shoes of the late Gothic Period, without the exaggerated toes, and sometimes with slashing.



This period of the High renaissance marked the rapid assimilation of Italian styles into northern fashion after the first French invasions of Italy and the changed in Italian fashion from the loose, youthful look of the last decade of the fifteenth century to the full, rounded, relaxed fullness and maturity of the first two decades of the sixteenth century.  In Italy it was one of the great golden ages in the history of the west, comparable in its balance and idealism with the Golden Age in fifth-century Athens.  All of its arts, including costume, were dominated by the artistic ideals projected by Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci--the great geniuses of the time.  That artistic ideal was to use circularity, unity, balance, and dignity to achieve a noble grandeur and maturity; clothing styles also reflected this idea.  In the north  this rounded fullness and mature dignity was less apparent as Italian ideals and motifs were integrated with late medieval silhouettes and forms.

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