1480s Florence – Gamurra (gown/undergown)

Sneak peek of my Gamurra during some lacing trials...

Sneak peek of my Gamurra during some lacing trials…

This is the undergown, but is also worn just as the gown itself. (Ei, the Giornea isn’t necessary.) I’m repeating some of my research here just to keep it all on the same page.


Birth of Mary detail

In The Birth of Mary portrait (detail), the underdress has a (slightly above natural) waist seam, pleated or gathered (?) skirt attached a the waist (the image is unclear). The bodice laces closed with ladder-lacing (black cord) in close, close, far, close, close pattern. The bodice appears to only have side seams, and there is a wide v-neck/opening where the bodice laces. The neckline seems low, wide, and exposes the darker coloured fabric beneath it. In the large detail, it looks as though the sleeves are a different colour, but looking at a different photo of this – they’re the same fabric.

Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni

Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni

In the Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni the Gamurra is less visible because the woman is wearing a Giornea over it. The front opening is ladder-laced, and the width between the lacing appears to be even. I’ll presume that the opening is a V-neck, though it’s not clear to see.  The top of the Gamurra is bound in black or very dark brown trim, and the lacing is medium-dark brown. The camicia peaks through at the armsyce, and within the sleeves, and between the front opening and laces. No eyelets (metal or otherwise) are visible in the painting. (Click to get a very large version of this image)

The sleeves may be attached at the shoulder, but are certainly only laced on at the front of the armsyce, as camicia fabric peeks through there. The camicia also comes through the sleeve at multiple places, though I suspect that if this is painted as the example actually was, this may be false puffs to be so even and.. puffy. There is a row of slashing down the outside of the arm, as well as the sleeve is open at the back of the arm and the elbow. (This appears to be a slash at the elbow, rather than a two-piece sleeve. The slashes appear to be held together with gold cord over red buttons – though on the outside of the arm there is the appearance of two red stripes under the gold cord… I wonder if perhaps there are two cords, wrapped around the button, tied off under the button and the “gold cords” are actually the tails of those cords? The sleeves are the same fabric as the gown.

The Visitation (detail)

Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1486-90: The Visitation (detail)

Next I looked at Domenico Ghirlandaio’s “The Visitation” detail, dated 1486-90 and referenced as in the style of Florence fashion on the Realm of Venus. Looks familiar, right? Here the length of the dress is more apparent as being ankle length or just above the floor.

The Birth of St John the Baptist

In The Birth of St John the Baptist the figure on the left has uneven lacing closing a deep (waist long) opening that is a narrow V shape. The fabric is white/off white with an overall floral large floral pattern with round gridded things. This appears to be pre-printed fabric rather than embroidered, as the embellishment gets cut off in certain areas (or perhaps the fabric was re-used from something else!) There is a thin green trim around the edges of the bodice. The sleeves appear to be attached at the shoulder, though this is mostly hidden under the over gown, and are slashed at the elbow front and back, and in several uneven rows along the bottom of the lower arm. The sleeves are the same fabric as the gown.

There’s no indication how long the primary figure’s Gamurra is, however the rightmost figure wears a white/grey underdress (not in the Gamurra style) which is about ankle length, and trimmed in gold embroidery or open work lace.

Allegory of April: Triumph of Venus

Francesco del Cossa – Allegory of April – Triumph of Venus (detail)

Finally, I looked at a detail of the “Allegory of April: Triumph of Venus” by Francesco Cossa. Now.. this was painted between 1476 and 1484 placing it time-wise close to what I’m looking at. (Large size here) but in the time frame when this painting was done, he was in Ferrara and Bologna, Italy, rather than Florence. Some of the costume elements are familiar, while some lack the traits I’m learning to look for from other painters. What I did note were a few details though – for example, the woman in the yellow dress clearly has deeply box-pleated skirt attached to a bodice with a center back seam, low rounded back neckline, and a waist belt (slightly above natural waist). Her yellow skirt also appears to be lined in white and have white trim on the hem (or perhaps the lining pulled around to the front?) The woman at the back in the red dress, has side-lacing on her skirt (and presumably the bodice as well) which has gaped open exposing her camicia below.

In another part of the painting (see the large detail here) the woman in the blue-green dress near the bottom right corner has a front-laced bodice, and a skirt open at the center-front. The figure in the white at front appears to have a cord belt (with a tassel on the end, hanging down to low-calf length) and her garment appears to be belted under the bust, while the figure in white further back also appears to have her belt worn under the bust, but it is a wide decorative gold band.

Costumers’ interpretations

  • Premysl Polasek‘s gamurra is blue brocade. I can’t really see the details like sleeves or opening.
  • Kristyna Lagova made a dark red gamurra that does not have a centre-front opening. Over this she wears a second gown with front lacing and a waist seam with a pleated skirt.
  • Kristiina Prauda used heavy linen for the interlining of her Gamurra, and boned it lightly at the front edges, side seams, and centre back. She also added guards to the centre front and neckline which adds extra stability. She used the eyes from sets of hook-and-eyes to lace the centre front closed.  Her skirt is straight and three meters wide. The skirt is knife-pleated to the bodice at the natural waist.
  • Bernadette lightly boned and fitted her gamurra, making it in changeable silk taffeta.  It is closed using brass lacing rings to allow for spiral lacing.
  • Jen Thompson opted to cord her bodice, rather than bone it. The neckline at the front is shaped, as is the center-front opening. The back neckline is V-shaped. She gathered her skirt to her bodice, and used lacing rings made from jewelry toggles!

In Glossary in Words & Pictures, Anéa defines the Gamurra as a basic woman’s gown. Other words for this garment she says include “gamurrino, camora, zimarra, camurra, zottana, gonella or zupa” and in 15th Century Florence she suggests “gamurra” was probably a generic word for dress, and was worn by all levels of society. She notes that up until the 1450s the garment could be worn alone, “and the sleeves were of the same fabric as the dress, but later on it was custom to wear an out-of-doors garb overneath, and the sleeves could be separate and of a richer fabric” or not worn at all. She also writes that in the 15th Century the garment was usually unlined,  and took between “10-15 braccia” – the equivalent of 6-9 meters of fabric in length.  However, fabric widths varied greatly, and another source records that one woman’s gown with a small train took “an enormous amount of fabric, some thirty-five braccia” (Frick).

“The changing width of these fabrics also contributed to their expense. Up until 1450, Italian silks measured 115-120 cm” from “selvage to selvage”. “From 1450 on however, the width of silk fabric was reduced to only 60-70 cm” which “allowed for greater control of fabric tension.” “The stricture on the width could have been caused by the demands of weaving the increasingly complex velvet and brocade designs.” – Carole Collier Frick

Anéa also describes a “Cotta” – a summer, or lighter version of the Gamurra – a basic gown, “often with sleeves of another fabric than the dress”. She describes it as a bit fuller in cut, possibly because thinner fabrics are used and more fabric is needed to achieve the same visual fullness. She doesn’t indicate a location or time frame for this garment.

Portrait of a lady,1440s by Fra Filippo Lippi This is what the alternate dress looks like.

In Survey of Historic Costume, the author discusses two different cuts for the common dress in Italy between 1450-1500; a straight dress and one with a bodice section attached to a skirt section. (Based on portraits, I would suggest the style might be dated earlier, as in the 1440s painting to the left.)

They describe the straight dress as “straight from shoulder to hem with a smooth-fitting, yokelike construction over the shoulder, which opened into full pleats or gathers over the bustline. These full gowns were generally belted.” In contrast, the other dress variation is described as “with a bodice section joined to a full gathered or pleated skirt. These dresses usually closed by lacing up the front and sometimes at the side”.

The authors also discuss the evolution of necklines, stating that at mid-century, necklines were relatively high and rounded, but towards the end of the century necklines tended to be lower, some more square than round, or had deep Vs “held together by lacing that showed off the upper part of the chemise”.

Gamurra Summary

Colour: green, pink, gold, rust, blue, teal, grey, red, black… it looks like any colour would be fine.
Fabric: most of the paintings show either tone-on-tone large jacquards/brocade, low contrast large brocades, high-contrast  geometric brocades, medium-sized florals on a solid background (possibly embroidery) and solid fabrics. Costumers have chosen satin, brocade, taffeta, linen, cotton, silk and other fabrics.
Neckline: deep and either wide or narrow V-necklines allowing for the lacing. Backs seem to be either rounded or V-neck, and much lower than modern clothing.
Sleeves: Tie-on sleeves are mostly slim-fitting on the arm.
Cuffs: largely it appears that the cuffs are narrow or have a slight flare, and are clean-finished without a ruffle, band, etc. In some portraits the camicia peeks out.
Length: All of the portraits show ankle or floor-length garments.

In What People Wore And When they describe dress in Florence, Venice, and Mantua by indicating that women’s fashions from 1450-1500 tended to show more influence from other parts of Europe than their southern counterparts, and showed more extremes of fashion. They describe Venetian fashion at the time as being “nothing like what was being worn in the rest of Italy” due to their isolation, and mentions their high-waisted, low-cut styles. The book also notes that the “split and slashed sleeve” is from circa 1485-90 and uses the portrait of Giovanna degli Albizzi by Domenico Ghirlandaio as an example of this look. Giovanna is noted as a member of a prominent Florentine family.

A case for stripes

“Portrait of Beatrice d’Este” (possibly), ca. 1490, Piero della Francesca, (Palazzo Pitti, Florence).

As you’ll see in my version to come, I used a striped fabric for my dress. Very, very few portraits show stripes – brocades, damasks, and lots of plain fabrics are the most common – but I had this beautiful fabric that I really wanted to use – and this just seemed like a perfect match.

In “Colours in Italian Dress“, Anéa writes: “A third aspect is that many dresses were two coloured. The most extreme examples have stripy bodices and skirts in two contrasting colours.

On this page, she shows a 1530 portrait showing a dress with four narrow stripes, and a wide stripe repeating in tone-on-tone orange. There’s also another portrait with a golden plaid, a green dress shown in portrait where it looks as though yellow or golden trim was added into a stripe pattern, a portrait where the sitter has cream sleeves striped with gold, another with white sleeves with golden crossed stripes in a diamond pattern, and a similar with crossed stripes in black on white sleeves. So, while some of these examples are much later in the Italian Renaissance, I still think there are enough examples of stripes to enjoy the fabric I selected for this purpose.

It’s notable that the crossed stripes are a less embellished version of the Giovanna Tornabuoni portrait too, and on the Visitation undergown. The portrait of Beatrice d’Este also features striped fabric – a golden background with an alternating black and grey stripe.

The Portrait of Paola Bonanome Gualdo (featured on Anéa’s Facebook page) has striped red and white fabric for two of the daughters in a 1560 portrait, and in an additional post, she examines a number of portraits including children – all of which shown are also wearing stripes of some kind. From this she speculates that during the period she’s looking at (1540s-1570s) perhaps stripes were in fashion for children, but not for adults.

Less reliably, is an illustration from The “History of Costume” or “Zur Geschichte der Kostüme”. Originally published as plates in a magazine from 1861 to 1880 in Munich by the publishing firm of Braun and Schneider, these illustrations are a Victorian-era viewpoint on historical fashion. The plate shows a bias-cut undergown, sleeves, and snood/headscarf.

My version

If I tried to include my version along with my inspiration/research, this would be a REALLY long post, so stay tuned; I’ll be posting about my own gamurra soon!

Additional references:

Frick, Carole Collier. Dressing Renaissance Florence: Families, Fortunes, and Fine Clothing. 2012. Accessed Via Google Books.

Leventon, Melissa, editor. What People Wore And When. 2008

2 comments on “1480s Florence – Gamurra (gown/undergown)

  1. Reblogged this on La Bella Donna and commented:
    More information on the gamurra!

  2. kitmercer says:

    Your gamurra looks great! You can try ladder lacing, if you want the horizontal lacing lines seen in some of the paintings. Your lacing rings are so pretty, but they look like they are pulling. Even though the rings have a loop you can stitch to, I alway do one stitch over the edges of the ring itself. Here’s a picture to demonstrate: http://www.kitsclothingcollection.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/20170314_140603.jpg. Also, if you’d like to see another dress diary, I made a gamurra and gioppa: http://www.kitsclothingcollection.com/?p=468. Have fun with your project!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.