The presence of feathers in fashionable European dress does not become apparent until the 16th century. When feathers appear they are not on the dress but in the form of accessories, in particular ladies’ fans. These feathers are testimony to the growing interest for exotic objects coming from overseas as well as the ever-increasing desire for public display of personal wealth. Luxury fashion taken to extremes both by women and men.
Metal (gilt brass) fan handle, probably made in Venice circa 1550, Victoria and Albert museum, London, UK
By the 1540s a new fashion trend had emerged as we can see from the portraits below, all from northern Italy (evidence of this trend elsewhere in the next post). Hand-held fans made out of a gold frame and large, soft exotic feathers. They were worn hanging from the waist on a gold chain and would be occasionally picked up and used. In the portraits of the period they were luxury statement pieces, attesting to the level of sophistication and wealth of the sitter. They were as important as the silk, embroidery and overall fashionableness of the dress worn. The feathers used tended to be ostrich, either black (see below) or white or dyed in other colours. At the same time as this trend is taking place we also have a strong presence of ostrich eggs being used by European craftsmen. Nothing wasted. Other feathers such as swan’s down were used – the important thing was the sensual tactile aspect of them.
Moretto da Brescia, Lady in white, 1540c, Washington National Gallery, USA
Lorenzo Lotto, Laura da Pola, 1543-4c, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, IT
A few years on and Italian artisans had become even more refined – producing two or three tone exotic feather fans for their demanding clientele
Gian Battista Moroni, Isotta Brembati, 1552c, Palazzo Moroni, Bergamo, IT
Bernardino Campi, Lady, 1560c, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA