1480s Florence – Giornea (surcoat/over garment)

My finished Italian costume... done with the Fresco filter :)

My finished Italian costume… done with the Fresco filter 🙂

The Giornea is a tabard-like overgown. In The Birth of Mary portrait (detail) this  garment isn’t worn, but I really LIKE this garment, so I might make one anyways.

I’m repeating some of the research here from my original inventory post – with some additions.


Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni

Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni – Domenico Ghirlandaio. (1489) Florence

In the Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni the Giornea appears to have  a very low V-neck.  The garment is completely open at the sides, and is worn un-belted. The garment is sleeveless. The same outfit seems to have been recreated in the Visitation painting. This version doesn’t appear to have any trim at the neckline or along the sides, and the hem is unseen. The fabric seems to be a white and yellow brocade/damask.

Resurrection of the Notary’s Son

In the Resurrection of the Notary’s Son the woman on the left is wearing an over-garment that has a v-neck down to the waist. It’s sleeveless as well.  The skirt is very full, with what looks like additional gathers/pleats creating fullness at the back of the skirt. The garment also appears to be trained, with the train having been pulled up – as the hem doesn’t hang even all away around the garment. The woman in the pink on the right seems to have one of a similar cut, though she has a clear band at the waist which might be a belt, or showing the distinction between the solid bodice and the gathered skirt. Notably, both garments are cut in two pieces – top and skirt, rather than one-piece, which “feels” very much unlike a lot of the other over garments. With this I suspect this is not exactly what I’m looking for. Neither of the garments appear to have much in the way of additional embellishment (bands, beading, etc)

The Birth of St John the Baptist

In The Birth of St John the Baptist the figure on the left has a sleeveless Giornea is pink with a gold print of small flowers/pomegranates. There’s also a gold band (lace or embroidery?) around the neckline, and perhaps a similar lace or gold embroidery along the armscye, but much narrower than the embellishment at the neckline. The garment is sleeveless, and appears have a very, very low front neckline to the waist (which is hidden by her arms).  The edges of the back panel appear to be dagged quite ornately, or perhaps have some additional trim on the edge (they are pink, but I don’t see any of the gold, suggesting it might not be cut as part of the material). The fullness of the garment appears to hang throughout the garment – not just at the front or sides. I don’t see a center-front opening, but there is a line there that I can’t quite make out. The garment also appears to be trained, with the train having been pulled up – as the hem doesn’t hang even all away around the garment. The garment is sideless – but it appears to tuck neatly under her arm… The hem seems unadorned.

The middle figure may be wearing a similar garment, though the sides are unseen, and it appears to fit smoother against the bust than the figure on the left, suggesting either it’s a 2-piece sewn garment, or a similar garment worn with an unseen belt. The garment hangs as though the neckline is low to the waist, and not worn open at the front.  The garment also has elbow-length sleeves which may have some hanging panels behind the elbow.

Although the figure on the right is wearing an entirely different garment, what I find notable is that we can see the lining of the cloak-skirt-garment. The garment itself is a peach-pink, with gold trim or embroidery at the hem, while the lining is bright green-teal (and dark blue-teal in shadow). The length is also notable – her under-dress is about ankle length, while her over-garment is nearly floor-length.

Saint Justina of Padua

Saint Justina of Padua by Bartolomeo Montagna

Next, I wanted to see what kind of BLING I could find, so looked to another region and slightly later, and found this portrait dated to the 1490s, from a painter from Vicenza.

In this case, the over-gown (green) looks fitted to the bodice, as if belted or sewn in one piece to the under-dress, and the sleeves match the overgown. The sleeves have open cuffs – decorated with multiple lines of golden embroidery. The sleeve edges are similarly trimmed. The over-gown has at its outer edge a line of pearls, then a band of woven decorative ribbon, embellished with small pearls or beads, and then a line of decorative golden embroidery. Her sleeves are tied in the same way as the Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni (above) with what appears to be gold-tone eyelets on the dress, two-loop decorative ribbon-holders on the sleeves, and red ribbon looped through without dangling. The green fabric looks a bit like velvet or something with a bit of a nap, while the golden gown beneath looks like a damask or brocade.

Portrait of a Woman

Portrait of a Woman by Ambrogio de Predis – probably c.1490 Giovanni Ambrogio de Predis

Finally, another portrait that is outside of my area is Portrait of a Woman by Ambrogio de Predis – probably c.1490 from Milan. Her over-gown appears to have drop-shoulders, a low waist-deep V-neck neckline, and the armsyce of the black over-gown is bound with gold (bias?)  fabric, then embellished with large looped trim. The size of the loops to me suggests a looped wire rather than embroidery. The shoulder tip is decorated with a brooch with a small green faceted gem in a rose-shaped setting, a larger red rectangular faceted gem in a larger floral setting, and a dangling tear-drop shaped pearl topped with a bead cap. Two golden dots connect the two gem elements.

I’m mostly noting this for the colour scheme – I love the black and red!

Other costumer’s work

  • Premysl Polasek’s Giornea is gold jaquard, and is worn unbelted. It appears to have open sides.
  • Bernadette made a Giornea of pumpkin and bronze jacquard. She used a silk brocade ribbon edged in shot (?) fabric and secured with an enamel clasp.
  • Kristiina Prauda made her Giornea out of jacquard fabric. The hem at the back is the full width of the fabric (150 cm) and curved, while the front is similar. She made hers open at the sides and front, and it can be worn belted in a variety of ways or unbelted. It has a deep (waist deep) V-neck in the front, but is high to the neck in the back.
  • Jen Thompson made her Giornea out of a lovely fabric, bound the edges with bias linen strips, and made the garment reversible.

In Glossary in Words & Pictures, Anéa describes the Giornea as a long, sleeveless overgown, often open in the front and down the sides. She writes that it was often elaborately trimmed and decorated, and the open sides and front allowed the underdress to show through. (Much like the open-front underdress (Gamurra) allowed the camicia to show through.) She notes that the Giornea often had a train, and that there were sumptuary laws regarding the length and extravagance of the trains. She reports from Jacqueline Herald’s “Renaissance Dress in Italy 1400-1500that the Giornea was a summer garment, and more popular in Florence than in northern Italy. However, she reports that the Tuscan version “could also be lined with fur and worn in the colder months“, and that a 1465 law dictacted that “a woman was allowed to own two outer garbs of silk, be it a giornea or a cioppa; one for summer wear and one for winter wear“. She also notes that the Giornea was a garment for “the young” by fashion, rather than any law.

Anéa  also discusses the Cioppa – as it was known in Tuscany and Naples. This same overgown was known as a Pellanda in Northern Italy, and a Veste or Sacco in Bologna and other places. These could be gathered, flat pleated from the neckline (like knife or box pleats versus cartridge pleats), be long and narrow, or have a high neckline for older women. It could have long hanging sleeves, unlike the giornea which was sleeveless, in a variety of shapes, but like the giornea was also worn over the gamurra.

In Survey of Historic Costume, the authors write about the ‘outer dresses’ and describe them as “sleeveless, seamed at the shoulders, and open under the arm to display the underdress”.

Giornea Summary

Colour: black, gold, green, cream, pink, red, blue, rust, yellow.. it seems as though any colour would be fine.
Fabric: Portraits suggest brocade in either tone-on-tone, low contrast, or medium contrast large designs, velvet and solid fabrics.
Neckline: All necklines are v-neck – either low to nearly the waist, or possibly open at the front.
Sides: I’ve seen versions with open sides and closed sides.
Sleeves: none or matching
Length:Floor length

Additional sources

Scott, Margaret. Fashion in the Middle Ages. 2011. In conjunction with the J. Paul Getty Museum exhibit of the same name.

Stay tuned

In my next post I’ll share with you how I made my Giornea and the final result!

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