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19.06.13 Netherton and Owen-Crocker, Medieval Clothing and Textiles, Vol. 13

19.06.13 Netherton and Owen-Crocker, Medieval Clothing and Textiles, Vol. 13

Volume 13 of Medieval Clothing and Textiles, edited by Robin Netherton and Gale R. Owen-Crocker, offers once again the sort of excellent scholarship associated with this successful and long-running (since 2005) series. While aimed largely at specialists--those interested in late medieval footwear in Lucca or fabric armor in Germany or elements of dress depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry--the information and descriptions found in this volume remain invaluable for many researchers. Anyone working on commercial records involving the shipping or purchasing of textiles in Britain will value Mark Chambers' explanation of units of measurement, while Jane Bridgeman's discussion of domestic furnishings and the role of fabrics will interest many. Essays span Anglo-Saxon and late medieval England, three authors consider late medieval and Renaissance Tuscany, and one author considers fifteenth-century Lübeck.

Gale Owen-Crocker opens the volume with her detailed and well-illustrated essay, "The Significance of Dress in the Bayeux Tapestry." A well-known scholar who has published before on this important textile, Owen-Crocker here challenges the widespread suggestion that the Bayeux Tapestry depicts authentic dress of the period. Among other objections, she notes the presence of scenes that clearly copy older models; points out inconsistencies in color, hair, and dress details; and reminds readers that multiple artists worked on the embroidery, many of whom eliminated details of tailoring or manipulated elements for effect. Only King Edward is consistently identifiable, based solely on appearance. Her essay, "an examination of what the Bayeux Tapestry shows and a discussion of the choices made by the designer, artists, and embroiderers" (2), goes on to focus on contested issues within the work. Thus following a careful analysis of male Anglo-Saxon dress, she considers the "foreign" dress of the French captors of Harold, including the unresolved question of are they wearing long slit tunics or some sort of culottes. She considers armor, which again ambiguously appears as seemingly trousered garments. Sections of the essay focus on the dress of tonsured figures, on the three clothed women in the embroidery, and nakedness. She concludes that dress clearly distinguishes gender, sometimes identifies ethnicity, and sometimes indicates status. Perhaps more importantly she notes examples of secular dress that now seem to date earlier than scholars had previously believed, e.g., women's wide sleeves and gores in tunic skirts.

Mark Chambers' "How Long Is a Launce? Units of Measure for Cloth in Late Medieval Britain" examines terminology used for measuring and weighing cloth and fur in late medieval Britain and the gradual national standardization of these terms. Participant in the Cloth and Clothing in Britain Project c. 700-1450 (see their public database at, Chambers in this essay analyzes the multilingual lexicon of measures in post-conquest Britain--involving Latin, Anglo-French, and Middle English--as found in a variety of documents during this period of increasing commerce and growing governmental and commercial regulations. Following discussion of both linear measures (e.g., inches, feet, yards, but also the more important ulna and ell) and non-linear terms for weighing or groupings (e.g., bales, pieces, beasts), he discusses several problematic terms, including "wings" of cloth and launces. He concludes with three tables based on the Project's lexis database as of 31 January 2017: the first lists examples of and uses for terms of linear measure for cloth and related goods; the second for units of weight or capacity for cloth and related goods; and the third for measures of furs, skins, and hides.

Ana Grinberg's "Robes, Turbans, and Beards: 'Ethnic Passing' in Decameron 10.9" is a very different sort of essay, one focused on literary examples of characters who--based on dress, facial hair, and demeanor--conceal their true characters and alter not just their social statuses but also their ethnic identities. Using Giovanni Boccaccio's novella 10.9 from the Decameron, she focuses on the interactions of Christian and Muslim identities and their use of textiles, producing what she refers to as "in-between" subjects (69 and passim). Her analysis reveals how the Muslim sultan Saladin's alteration of dress allows him to successfully "pass" in terms of his altered ethnic identity but cannot conceal his true, noble character; his incognito dress in merchant's robes and participation in the realm of commerce allow this ethnic deception. Using textiles, the Christian Torello similarly disguises himself in order to increase his social mobility, as he, too, moves through this merchants' world of "in-between" subjects. Grinberg concludes that Boccaccio does not criticize such transitory cross-dressing but instead recognizes similarities between Christians and Muslims that allowed such deceptions as the Other.

Christine Meek's "Calciamentum: Footwear in Late Medieval Lucca" offers a revealing look into how shoes were manufactured, purchased, and worn in late fourteenth- and early fifteenth-century Lucca. Exploring both images and many documents with references to and regulations concerning footwear, Meek offers an extensive overview of the world of footwear. Shoes, perhaps surprisingly, were generally not expensive items and thus, for example, were only rarely listed in death inventories; their purchase was frequent, with even lower classes acquiring three or four pairs of shoes annually. By contrast, commonly worn soled hose specifically and dress purchases in general were infrequent and much more costly. Documents reveal much about shoe manufacture and trade. For example, Meek notes shoe makers were not localized to one district but were found city wide, and shoe manufacture remained an urban occupation, not rural. Her discussion of the Libri de' Sensali (brokers' books) reveals detailed information regarding local businesses, their suppliers, and customers. Shoes were produced extensively as ready-mades, with shoemakers maintaining a large stock on hand, though some unknown percentage of sales was bespoke; shoemakers relied to a great extent on credit; and some leather and even ready-made shoes were imported to keep up with demand. While Meek concludes she cannot offer a "full picture" (104) regarding Lucchese footwear, this essay provides an informative and important overview of documentation and practices.

Jane Bridgeman, in "'Bene in ordene et bene ornata': Eleonora d'Aragona's Description of Her Suite of Rooms in a Roman Palace of the Late Fifteenth Century," discusses a letter written by the newly married Eleonora d'Aragona, now Duchess of Ferrara, to a high-ranking member of her father's court at Naples. The letter confirms the nature of her extravagant welcome by Pope Sixtus IV in Rome and her stay there with her entourage at the Palazzo Colonna in a sumptuously prepared suite of rooms. Eleonora was certainly perceptive regarding the quality and nature of textiles, as she describes in detail the furnishings of each of the rooms. Bridgeman enhances Eleonora's description by offering further information and analysis of the items noted. We learn of truckle (trundle) beds and mattresses, floor rugs and carpeting, canopies and embroidered armorials. Following description of this lavish "theatre of display" (115), as Bridgeman terms it, is an appendix with both a transcription and the first English translation of the letter.

Jessica Finley, in "The Lübeck Wappenröcke: Distinctive Style in Fifteenth-Century German Fabric Armor," offers a detailed and well-illustrated analysis of one of two nearly identical examples of fabric armor from the early-to-mid fifteenth century, today found in Lübeck; these items are so rare, the contemporary name for them remains unknown. Likely originating as part of Lübeck soldiers' uniforms, the garments were erroneously believed to have been worn by King Gustav Vasa I of Sweden in 1520 as he escaped Denmark; this legendary association with the Swedish king likely accounts for their survival. The skirted fabric armor was likely worn with a Kastenbrust (box-breast breastplate) over the chest, had dagged skirting all around the lower torso and thighs, and was painted for both decorative and functional purposes: Finley proposes the paint plasticized the fabric, stiffening it and even somewhat waterproofing it. Finley's analysis of the paint, the garment's manufacture, its fabrics and fibers, and construction methods offers an in-depth understanding of the armor. She concludes these garments importantly reveal construction methods of fifteenth-century quilting and offer evidence of the widespread use of cotton for padding and as a fabric. Possibly such garments--here so similar in form and construction, though different in size--were produced en masse, a question that should be explored through further study.

The volume continues with a section "Recent Books of Interest," which includes reviews by a variety of scholars of nine books concerning medieval textiles published in 2015 and 2016, followed by a short list "Also Published." It concludes with "Contents of Previous Volumes," a convenient listing of authors and essays published in the series between 2005 and 2016.