1480s Florence – Sumptuary laws & jewellery

I was originally going to write a seperate post about jewellry for my 1480s Florence costume, but there was so much research available, I’ve decided to break this up into a series of much shorter (and faster loading!) posts, followed by posts where I’ll share some of the items I made or altered for my costume.

In Dressing Renaissance Florence: Families, Fortunes, and Fine Clothing (Frick, 2002) the author relates a story of a man spending “over 560 florins on his counter-trousseau for his bride Caterina.” Along with gowns, a cloak, and a cowl, in fabrics dyed (red) with the expensive kermes dye, he also acquired “two headdresses, a brocade belt worked with silver and gold, a pearl necklace, and brooch”.

In the article “A Short History of Jewelry in the Late Middle Ages/Early Renaissance” the author writes a great deal about various jewellery, but adds that clothing was significantly embellished as well, and comments “in a way, jewelry almost seems superfluous when one is wearing hundreds of pearls and golden decorative studs on one’s dress”.

Sumptuary laws & jewellery

In “Dressing the Italian Way” Anéa writes that wearing precious items during the Italian Renaissance was strictly regulated, both in terms of quantity, quality (and cost). For example, she notes a 1562 Florentine law that regulated that noble women could only own one string of pearls “with a value not exceeding 500 scudi” along with regulating how many rings, the cost of a gold necklace, the cost of a gold girdle, etc. She also notes that fake jewels, and adornments made of gilded copper or silver were also prohibited. She notes that a Venetian law from the mid 16th Century regulated how long a bride was allowed to wear her bridal jewellery.

Looking further back into the 15th Century (when I’m more interested for this costume!) she writes that the laws around wearing of jewellery was more of a taxation than a prohibition; women could wear their precious items, but they had to pay for the privilege.

Large brooch shown in the background of the portrait – Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni – Domenico Ghirlandaio. (1489)

In Glossary in Words & Pictures, Anéa writes that 1470s Florentine sumptuary laws forbade women from wearing more than one brooch in total, so many brooches were used as pendants instead. 

She also writes about jewellery: “Florentine sumptuary legislation limited the time she was allowed to wear it. A newly-wed Florentine girl could wear all her jewellery for 1-2 years after her marriage, and for the next two years she could wear a limited amount of them.” “Once a ‘matron’ she was expected to show modesty in dress and adornment, wearing plainer clothes and little or no jewellery. This is why portraits sometimes show a fairly plain-dressed woman with jewellery laying on a shelf or table in the background. It shows that her status as newly-wed is over. She might own precious jewellery, but they wouldn’t be socially acceptable to wear.”

In Glossary in Words & Pictures, Anéa writes that sumptuary legislation passed in Venice in 1562 forbidding women to wear pearls more than 12 years after their marriage (or giving their hand – which I guess is like getting engaged?). She also notes that in Florence the time span was even shorter – sometimes pearls were reserved for unmarried women, brides, and newlyweds.

Since this is for a SCA event, and we’re allowed to play nobles in the SCA, Anéa also notes that “First ladies, queens and various nobility were more often than not excepted from these rules, and exceptions could also be made for large public celebrations.

Bring on the bling!

In my next post I’ll start with some of the commonly worn jewelry from evidence and portraits from the era. Keep reading!


Along with the websites noted, I also referenced the following books:

Frick, Carole Collier. Dressing Renaissance Florence: Families, Fortunes, and Fine Clothing. 2002 (Referenced via Google Books)

Langmuir, Erika. Imagining Childhood. 2006  (Referenced via Google Books)

Klapisch-Zube, Christine. Women, Family and Ritual in Renaissance Italy. 1985 (Referenced via Google Books)


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