Women’s Headwear in 1490s Milan: Examination of the Coazzone and Trinzale

Portrait of Barbara Pallavicino by Alessandro AraldiFor the past year, I have been focusing on developing my persona.  In doing so, I began to study the clothing and accessories of the various city-states of Renaissance Italy.  When I found the trinzale and coazzone hairstyle, I knew that was the look I wanted to achieve.  This project was my first attempt at gaining such a look.  (Pictures to be added soon!)

This particular hairstyle is actually comprised of 3 separate pieces: the trinzale, the coazzone, and the lenza.  The trinzale is a fabric or metallic cap that fit onto the back of the head.[1]  This piece was held in place by the lenza, a black and jeweled band which was tied around the forehead.[2]  The back of the trinzale was tucked or tied into the coazzone, a hairstyle in which a ponytail or braid was criss-crossed with ribbon.[3]  In some portraits, the hair is also covered by fabric while in others, the hair is openly visible.  In addition to these three pieces, some portraits also contained a jeweled pendant which appeared to be pinned or tied on the side of the head.

Beatrice d’Este in Pala Sforzesca.

The coazzone and trinzale became all the rage in Milan in 1491, when Beatrice d’Este married Ludovico Sforza.[4]  Beatrice d’Este and her sister, Isabella d’Este, were considered two of the most fashionable women of the Italian Renaissance.  As the daughter of Eleanora d’ Aragona and granddaughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, Beatrice would likely have been familiar with the fashions of the Spanish court, and so would have imported this look to Milan, where it quickly took hold.[5]  Nearly every female portrait painted in Milan through the 1490s portrays this hairstyle.  It was, however, a short-lived fashion in Milan.  When Beatrice d’Este died in childbirth in 1497, this look began to fade out, and virtually no examples are found after 1499.[6]

Recreating this hairstyle was more difficult than initially imagined.  There is virtually nothing published on the creation of this piece; most of what I found included definitions of the pieces, but no real detail.  Additionally, there are no extant pieces.  Therefore, I began studying the portraits to create my own theories about how to make this piece.  The primary portraits I utilized may be referenced in the Appendix.

The Trinzale

Portrait of Bianca Maria Sforza, by Ambrogio de Predis

In studying the various portraits, it appeared as though there were a variety of methods and materials which could be used to create the cap.  It could be netted with a woven band around the edge, as portrayed in La Bella Principessa by Leonardo di Vinci, or in the Portrait of a Lady by Francesco da Cotignola.  It could be a heavily embroidered fabric cap, such as that shown in the bust of Beatrice d’Este and the portraits of Barbara Pallavicino by Alessandro Araldi and Bianca Maria Sforza Ambrogio de Predis.   Another portrait of Bianca Maria Sforza, also painted by Ambrogio de Predis, is currently housed at the National Gallery of Art, and included high-resolution photos; in zooming in, this trinzale appears to be metallic wire.  In short, there were numerous options.  I decided to start with a fabric cap to see if I could achieve this look, and wanted to make it heavily embroidered; I have never attempted any type of embroidery before, and wanted to take this as an opportunity to learn.  When examining the embroidery, I knew that I wanted to take elements of the trinzale worn by Barbara Pallavicino, particularly the goldwork.  In researching, I determined that the goldwork would likely have been couched, a method in which a thicker gilt thread would have been placed on laid across the fabric.  A thinner gold silk thread was then passed over the top of the thread to hold it in place.[7]  However, I also admired the look of the pearls in a trinzale worn by Bianca Maria Sforza.  Couching was also commonly used to do beadwork in period; the beads would be strung and laid on the fabric, and a couching stitch placed between each bead.[8]  However, from previous projects, I have learned that this method for beadwork is unstable; if the thread breaks, many of the beads are lost.  Therefore, I used a less common backstitch method, tacking single beads in place when necessary and applying rows of beads in sequences of 3-4 before passing my thread to the underside and back through the beads.[9]

La Bella Principessa, believed to be by Leonardo da Vinci

Next, I began choosing my materials.  Again, I had several options.  It is likely that an extant trinzale would have been made of either silk or silk velvet.  The silk industry was thriving in Italy at the time, and in the mid-fifteenth century, Filippo Maria Visconti invited Florentine and Genoese silk masters Piero di Bartolo and Giovanni Borlasca to practice their art in the heart of Milan.[10]  The industry thrived under the patronage of the Sforza family, and in 1467, the Sforzas hired 300 weavers to foster the production of silk velvets and brocade.[11]  By the 1490s, silk and silk velvet would have been easily obtainable in Milan, and so it seemed the most likely fabric used.  I had worked in silk before, and was eager to try something new, and so I determine that I would attempt to work in velvet for this project.  In hunting for materials, I found that true silk velvet (which would have had a silk pile rather than the modern rayon pile[12]) was exceedingly cost prohibitive.  Additionally, it does not provide as dense of a pile as would have been seen in period.[13]  Cotton velveteen, which is locally available and relatively inexpensive, also more closely approximates the velvet worn in period.[14]  Therefore, I made the conscious decision to substitute a modern fabric for the period equivalent.

When focusing on the embroidery and beadwork, I knew that I would not be able to afford actual gold thread and pearls, and so I began to examine modern alternatives to determine what would be closest.  In doing so, I found that in period, metallic thread would have been made by drawing heated gold or silver wire through successively smaller holes in a metal plate; the wire was then hammered flat into ribbon-like strips and formed into a long coil.[15]  The coil was then wrapped around a silk core to make thread.[16]  After examining several choices, I determined that Kreinik Japan appeared to be the closest modern equivalent to that which was available in period; it is made by taking a synthetic gold, flattening it, forming it into a coil, then wrapping it around a silk core.[17]  As for the jewels, I used glass pearls.  Imitation pearls were extremely common in Renaissance Italy.  In 1440, a book was published giving instructions for how to make false pearls using shells and fish scales.[18]  Techniques using ingredients such as powdered glass, egg white, and snail-slime were also common.[19]  Leonardo da Vinci even had a recipe for imitation pearls:

If you wish to make a paste out of small pearls, take the juice of some lemons and put them to soak in it, and in a night they will be dissolved… Then wash the said paste with clear water a sufficient number of times for it to lose all trace of the lemon juice. After this let the paste dry so that it turns to powder. Then take white of egg, beat it well and leave it to settle and then moisten the said powder with this so that it becomes a paste again. And from this you can make pearls as large as you wish, and leave them to dry. Then place them in a small turning lathe and polish them, if you wish, with a dog’s tooth, or if you prefer a polishing stick of crystal or chalcedony.[20]

Once I acquired my materials, I created several mock ups out of scrap fabric until I found the shape that fit my head and gave a similar appearance to the caps I observed in portraits.  After cutting my fabric, I sewed the piece together, flat-felling the center seam.[21]  Next, I freehanded the pattern onto the velvet using chalk in small sections.  I laid gold thread over my chalk lines and utilized silk thread to couch down the gold thread.  I attempted to use multiple threads in some areas to create a thicker line.  Once the couching was complete, I used glass pearls ranging from 2 mm to 4 mm to further embellish the piece.  After doing so, I determined that I wanted to add a bit of color, and so I added a few 3 mm garnets to help catch the light.  Upon completion of the embroidery, I lined the cap in black linen, whip-stitching the lining to the outer fabric with silk thread.


IMG_0957 IMG_0956

The Coazzone

IMG_0971IMG_0972Next, I focused on the coazzone.  The portraits, particularly the bust of Beatrice d’Este, indicated that the coazzone would have been tied with cord.  It appears as though the tail of the trinzale was placed on top of the coazzone; the cord was then wrapped around the hair and tail of the trinzale.  In experimenting with this, I found it incredibly practical; this method allowed the weight of the coazzone to be held at the base of the ponytail; this allowed the lenza to hold only the weight of the cap, not the weight of the hair.  To create this piece, I sewed the fabric into a tapering tube, leaving the top few inches open so that the hair could be easily placed inside the tube.  I then sewed a channel at the top and inserted a leather cord that could be tied around my hair.  To create the wrapping, I initially planned just to use premade silk ribbon; however, upon seeing a portrait of Bianca Maria Sforza, I noted that pearls were sewn onto the ribbon which wrapped her hair.  I felt that this gave the piece a significantly richer appearance, and so I decided to add pearls and garnets to the ribbon, applied in a backstitch method 3-4 beads at a time.

The Lenza

Once the coazzone was complete, it was time to focus on the lenza.  At first, I planned to again use a piece of silk ribbon.  However, I found that the ribbon became untied easily, which caused the trinzale to slide off my head.  Therefore, I opted to use piece of leather cord, which seemed to stay in place.  The lenzas shown in portraits show either evenly spaced jewels around the entirety of the head, or a single jewel in the center of the forehead.  I attempted to find set stones for this purpose, but those I found in my price range were very modern looking, often bedecked in rhinestones.  When I could not find appropriate beads, I attempted to create my own.  I created a rudimentary filigree using twisted brass wire, then formed the wire into an oval around a garnet.  I then tacked these to the cord using silk thread.

There are very few portraits showing where or how the lenza would have been tied.  Several portraits from the ceiling at the Lombard Palace indicate that the lenza would have been tied on the side of the head.  Further, it is also possible that jewelry began to be added to the piece to cover the tie, as shown in a portrait of Bianca Maria Sforza.  The jewelry is not always present, and so I determined that it was likely just there for decoration, and no necessarily a required piece to keep the cap in place.  I opted to create the jewelry for this piece.  I was fortunate to find the gold medallion as a part of a belt in a thrift store.  I disassembled the belt, and used brass wire to attach freshwater drop pearls by running the wire through the pearl and wrapping it back around itself.  I then used brass wire to create a hooked finding which would allow the jewelry to hang from the lenza.

Room for Improvement

In completing this project, I learned several new techniques.  This was my first attempt at any type of embroidery, and I found the goldwork to be extremely gratifying  In attempting to create various thicknesses of thread, I found that I could couch two threads side by side, but no more; when I attempted three threads, they tended to pile on top of each other instead of lying flat.  Additionally, I found it difficult to start and end the threads, bringing then through the fabric, in a way that blended and did not look overly obvious.  I also found that the thread worked best when used in gentle loops; it did not create sharp corners or turns well, and frayed easily.

The fabric I chose also frayed easily.  Although I allowed myself plenty of room for seam allowance, certain sections, especially toward the back of the piece, frayed to the point where there was barely enough fabric remaining to attach the lining.  Further, the fabric stretched a bit as I worked with it; while it fit my head perfectly upon starting, it was a hair large by the end.

In hindsight, I also believe I made my trinzale too short; I think there would have been more of a tail to tuck into the coazzone.  This, however, can be easily remedied in the next project.

Overall, I really enjoyed creating this piece, and I find it comfortable to wear.  The only real downfall is that it requires two people. While I can do most of it myself, a second person is needed to wrap the ribbon around the coazzone.  In the future, I would like to find a method that is a bit more user-friendly.

Works Cited

Clabburn, Pamela. Beadwork. Princes Risborough: Shire, 2001. Print.

Herald, Jacqueline. Renaissance Dress in Italy 1400-1500. London: Bell & Hyman, 1981. Print.

Murdock, David. Mystery of a Masterpiece. NOVA. 9 July 2014. Television. Information provided by expert Elisabetta Gnignera.

Landman, Neil H. Pearls: A Natural History. New York: H.N. Abrams in Association with the American Museum of Natural History and the Field Museum, 2001. Print.

Leed, Drea. “Period Fabrics for 16th Century Costume.” Period Fabrics for 16th Century Costume. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Apr. 2015. <http://www.elizabethancostume.net/periodfab.html&gt;.

Leslie, Catherine Amoroso. Needlework through History: An Encyclopedia., p. 120., Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2007. Print.

Pendray, Shay. Shay Pendray’s Inventive Needlework: Techniques & Inspiration for Gold Work, Painted Canvas & Shading. Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2004. Print.

Wake, Annabella. “Modern Substitutes for Sixteenth Century Fabrics – Venus’ Seamstress at The Realm of Venus.” Modern Substitutes for Sixteenth Century Fabrics – Venus’ Seamstress at The Realm of Venus. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Apr. 2015. < http://realmofvenus.renaissanceitaly.net/library/fabricsubs.htm>.

Ward, C. Fred. “The History of Pearls.” PBS. PBS, 29 Dec. 1998. Web. 09 Apr. 2015. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/history-pearls.html&gt;.

Footnotes

[1] Herald, Jacqueline. Renaissance Dress in Italy 1400-1500. London: Bell & Hyman, 1981. Print.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Murdock, David. Mystery of a Masterpiece. NOVA. 9 July 2014. Television. Information provided by expert Elisabetta Gnignera.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Pendray, Shay. Shay Pendray’s Inventive Needlework: Techniques & Inspiration for Gold Work, Painted Canvas & Shading. Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2004. Print.

[8] Clabburn, Pamela. Beadwork. Princes Risborough: Shire, 2001. Print.

[9] This method, while less commonly found in period, has proven sufficiently more stable.  Id.

[10] Herald at 70.

[11] Id.

[12] Wake, Annabella. “Modern Substitutes for Sixteenth Century Fabrics – Venus’ Seamstress at The Realm of Venus.” Modern Substitutes for Sixteenth Century Fabrics – Venus’ Seamstress at The Realm of Venus. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Apr. 2015. < http://realmofvenus.renaissanceitaly.net/library/fabricsubs.htm&gt;

[13] Id.

[14] Leed, Drea. “Period Fabrics for 16th Century Costume.” Period Fabrics for 16th Century Costume. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Apr. 2015. <http://www.elizabethancostume.net/periodfab.html&gt;.

[15] Leslie, Catherine Amoroso. Needlework through History: An Encyclopedia., p. 120., Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2007. Print.

[16] Id.

[17] I learned this information while speaking with a customer service representative at Kreinik.

[18] Ward, C. Fred. “The History of Pearls.” PBS. PBS, 29 Dec. 1998. Web. 09 Apr. 2015. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/history-pearls.html&gt;.

[19] Id.

[20] Landman, Neil H. Pearls: A Natural History. New York: H.N. Abrams in Association with the American Museum of Natural History and the Field Museum, 2001. Print.

[21] Note: all stitching on this piece was completed by hand using silk thread.

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