1480s Florence – Commonly worn jewellery

In my last post I started talking about jewellery for my 1480s Florence costume. Here I’ll continue with some of the most commonly seen items in portraits & other references.

Large brooches

Large brooch on her shoulder – Portrait of a Woman by Ambrogio de Predis c.1490 Giovanni Ambrogio de Predis

In Glossary in Words & Pictures, Anéa calls an elaborate brooch worn on the shoulder a “Brocchetta di spalla”, worn on a woman’s left shoulder when depicted in portraits.  (She notes that the right side was ‘male’). This brooch could also be worn on the head, or suspended as a pendant. Specifically she notes laws dictating dress from Florence in the 1470s.

In Anéas other article, she writes that in the early Italian Renaissance, large brooches were often worn on either the left shoulder or on top of the head, or they were worn as a pendant. They often had both a pin and a loop she indicates.

In Glossary in Words & Pictures, Anéa also discusses a “Brocchetta di testa” or “Fermaglio”, which was an elaborate hair brooch worn on the top of the head, most common in 15th Century Florence and northern Italy. The brooch was attached into the hairdo with ribbons and strings of pearls.

Pearl necklaces

Finished necklace for my 1480s Florence costume.

Finished necklace for my 1480s Florence costume.

Pearl necklaces are seen in a number of portraits, and they are noted in the sumptuary laws listed above.

Anéa notes that pearl necklaces, “sometimes with a pendant, became dominant in most of the 16th century, in all Italian city states”.

In Women, Family and Ritual in Renaissance Italy there are many references to pearls, including a story of a man picking apart the jewels given to his bride and worn for the first two years, so that after three years of marriage, practically nothing remained. “This loving husband was soon top pick apart pitilessly, pearl by pearl, gem by gem, sleeve by sleeve, the various festive garments that in his ardor he had made during the two year period that spanned his wedding.” The author also quotes from another source where “a mother-in-law advises her  own son” “not to skimp on pearls” and that “if clothing is not decorated with pearls, it must be decorated with other trinkets”.

Pendant necklaces

Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1486-90: The Birth of St John the Baptist (detail) (Florence) The figure on the left has a necklace that looks like a black cord wrapped twice around the neck with a suspended pendant.

Anéa writes that gold chains and gold pendants were also popular, usually including gemstones.

Baroness Briana Etain MacKorkhill writes that “Also popular in the period is a simple black cord with a pendant suspended from it” for 1490s Italian Renaissance. This seems to be what I have seen in many portraits, and I find it very pretty personally….

Paintings such as The Birth of St John the BaptistPortrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni, and Detail from The Birth of Mary (all Florence, all in my desired time frame, and all by Domenico Ghirlandaio) all show the wearer with what looks like a simple black cord with a large, elaborate jewelled pendant.

Gemstones & materials


Pearls were especially popular during the Italian Renaissance, and are seen in a wide variety of shapes and sizes in portraits.

In Glossary in Words & Pictures, Anéa writes that pearls were highly sought after, and round pearls were usually used for necklaces, while tear-shaped pearls were used for pendants and earrings.

There are a few examples of necklaces with pearls alternating with another bead. In this example, the beads look like pearls alternating with coral beads.

In the article “A Short History of Jewelry in the Late Middle Ages/Early Renaissance” the author notes the prevalence of fake pearls during the Italian Renaissance. She references Joan Evans statement that in Venice during the 1400s lawmakers were ” so upset with the false pearl trade, which threatened their real-pearl trade, that they made it illegal to make them, punishable by the loss of the pearl-maker’s right hand and a ten-year-exile”.  She also shares a reference to a book from 1440 which taught individuals how to make fake pearls from fish scales and small shells, and how pearls were made by “mixing powdered glass, egg white, and snail-slime, then pressing it into molds and piercing them with holes before they hardened”.  I think that the artificial pearls I’ll be using in my costume might be even more authentic than planned!


Coral necklace with a gold pendant – Portrait of Giovane Donna Domenico Ghirlandaio


Anéa writes that red coral necklaces were popular, and are seen frequently in 1490s Florentine portraits. She also writes that in the 16th Century, coral jewellery is mostly seen on portraits of children and babies. Perhaps coral fell out of popularity for the fashionable woman, and these were hand-me-downs?

There are several paintings showing coral necklaces, like the one to the left of Selvaggia Sassetti, painted 1487-88. For a large version of this painting click here. Additionally there is the painting below “Portrait of a Girl” by Domenico Ghirlandaio, from 1490, and a 1485 painting by the same painter here. Lorenzo di Credi’s 1488 Portrait of a Young Woman also has a coral necklace with a pearl and red rhinestone pendant.

Portrait of a Girl by Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1490 Currently in the National Gallery, London

More on coral, in Imagining Childhood (Langmuir, 2006) the author writes that during the Italian Renaissance brides and new mothers are presented with their babies and “apotropaic coral necklaces or pendants”. Erika Langmuir goes on to describe a painting from Florence where a baby “swaddled and be-coralled” lays in the arms of a nurse. Further, she describes how many 15th-Century Italian paintings and alter pieces show the Christ child with a coral amulet; a symbol of good luck.

Lady Ydeneya de Baillencourt‘ writes in her blog about making a pearl and coral necklace inspired by those worn in Italian Renaissance, though she doesn’t note her specific references. However, she references Women, Family and Ritual in Renaissance Italy ( Klapisch-Zuber, 1985) and quotes ““The woman and babies were often covered with talismans, little crosses or ‘agunusdei’  pious medals but also the coral branch or coral bouquet”.

Gemstones & glass

In Dressing Renaissance Florence: Families, Fortunes, and Fine Clothing (Frick, 2002) the author reports gemstones when discussing a person giving “‘little rings,’ one with a diamond, the other with an emerald.”

Gemstones included rubies, emeralds, saphiers and diamonds. (Anéa notes that Eleonora di Toledo had diamonds in her jewels.) She writes that gemstones weren’t faceted like what we mostly see today, but rather they were polished and “wrapped with gold in their rounded or octahedral shape”.

In contrast, Baroness Briana Etain MacKorkhill writes that “Older rings tended to have cabochon stones, newest fashion incorporated the “faceting” of a stone. Unlike the faceting of today, the table was extremely broad and had very short sides” in her inventory of items for  her 1490’s Italian Renaissance ensemble. I have found it nearly impossible to find the square, octogon, or rectangular ‘gemstones’ as seen in many of the portraits without at least some faceting in modern (acrylic) rhinestones, so this minimal faceting approach opens up some possibilities for me for sure!

In the article “A Short History of Jewelry in the Late Middle Ages/Early Renaissance” the author also refers to evidence for other gemstones including carnelian, agate, chaldedony, lapis lazuli, jet, jacinth, amber, crystal, amethyst, carbuncle and chrysoberyl. She also writes about false gemstones, and how they were made by placing coloured foil behind a semi-transparent stone, or putting a “layer of glass under a thin veneer of real gemstone”. She shares Italian sources who give recipes for creating fake gems using ground alabaster and oil, coloured with ultramarine or verdigris, fire-hardened, cut to shape, boiled in oil, and then sun-dried to replicate sapphires and emeralds respectively. Diamonds were faked using rock crystal and glass.

Portrait of a Woman by Bastiano Mainardi, Florence, 1460-1513.

In a portrait of a woman attributed to Bastiano Mainardi, the woman wears a necklace which appears to be made of white oblong pearls, alternating with gold beads, but in this larger version of the painting, the white beads are clear – like clear gemstones or glass. The clear beads are elongaged bicones, while the smaller “gold” beads are amber-coloured glass beads very much like bicone beads easily available today.

In the article “A Short History of Jewelry in the Late Middle Ages/Early Renaissance” ‘Vangelista di Antonio Dellaluna’ writes that “craftsmanship using fake gems became good enough that laws began to be passed against falsifying a gem’s true nature” suggesting that fake gems (possibly made of glass, or inferior stones) were common enough to be considered for recreations as well.  She also writes that in the 14th Century  ‘entirely new techniques like enamelling” were developed and gained in popularity.


elaborate girdle – Tranzado 1493

The sumptuary laws noted above indicate gold girdles.

In Glossary in Words & Pictures, Anéa writes about a “Cinture”, which was basically an ornamental belt of gold (with gemstones or pearls), metal chain, or fabric. She writes that various items were attached to the hanging end such as “small bags, fans, and sables” along with containers of perfume, or decorative tassels or beads. While the majority of her research focus’ on the 16th Century, she also notes a painting circa 1370 “Saint Eligius in  His Shop” where a quantity of these girdles are shown for sale. (I couldn’t find this painting online.)

Silver belts are referenced in Dressing Renaissance Florence: Families, Fortunes, and Fine Clothing (Frick, 2002) as well, noting that from 1373 onwards, wearing “a silver belt and jewelled rings was reserved to engaged or married women.”


The sumptuary laws noted above indicate gold rings

In Dressing Renaissance Florence: Families, Fortunes, and Fine Clothing (Frick, 2002) there are several references to rings, though largely surrounding nuptuals, and no descriptions of rings.

In The History of Jewelry: Renaissance Jewellery, the author writes that during the renaissance rings were popular for both men and women, and that it “was not uncommon for both men and women to wear a ring on each of the ten fingers, as well as multiple rings on each finger.”


Very few of the portraits I’ve used as reference show the hands, and thus, don’t show the wrists. However, in A short history of jewellery in the late middle ages/early renaissance, Vangelista writes about gold, enamel, and gemstone bracelets in France, while in Dressing Renaissance Florence: Families, Fortunes, and Fine Clothing, Carole Frick writes that in Renaissance Florence “Modesty, however dictated that they cover the arm down to the wrist, for women and girls of all classes, except the most wretchedly poor”. This would suggest that even if women and girls wore bracelets, they wouldn’t be depicted in paintings.

I seem to remember comments that bracelets were worn in pairs – however I can’t find the reference to that now. I’ll opt to not wear bracelets with this costume (they wouldn’t be seen anyways with my long sleeves!)


Earrings are visible in a number of later Italian Renaissance portraits, however as I don’t have pierced ears (and wouldn’t wear clip-ons for this costume) I’m skipping earrings.

Anéa indicates that earrings slowly gained in popularity, and are seen more in portraits in the second half of the 16th Century rather than earlier. (Thus also outside of my desired time-frame.)

In the article “A Short History of Jewelry in the Late Middle Ages/Early Renaissance” offers a different perspective, and that in the 1400s they were a “very new fashion for Italian ladies” and that portraits usually show ladies wearing hoops with gems and pearls with pierced ears. She acknowledges that earrings existed long before the 1400s (noting them back to the 7th century) but that it was only in this time period that they came into more common wear in Italy, leading even to a sumptuary law in Sicily from 1425 forbidding wearing them.


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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