Who Wore It Best: A Renaissance Costume Party

While it might be a little late for you all to change your Halloween costume plans, the following woodcut illustrations from Habiti Antichi, et Moderni di Tutto il Mondo (1598) could still provide some last minute inspiration.

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Sixteenth-century sheet ghost. Member of the “shamefaced poor” of Venice.
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Inhabitant of Virginia in the New World.

 

 

 

 

 

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A Roman soldier.

Costume books became popular in the sixteenth century, as increases in travel, technology, and literacy fed the innate human curiosity to know about the dress and customs of people in other parts of the world.  Habiti Antichi, et Moderni di Tutto il Mondo features men and women from a wide variety of regions and social statuses. Everyone from the pope to the peasants are featured in often highly-stereotyped woodcut illustrations. As the book was published in Venice, there is a particular emphasis on the wealthy Venetian merchant class, but other people from as far away as Russia, China, and the Americas are also included.

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A wealthy Venetian.
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A woman in ancient costume.
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A Turkish fighter with some fierce headgear.

An interest in costumes of the world did not end with the Renaissance, as the popularity of sites such as The Sartorialist and other street-style blogs attest. “Who wore it best” polls are a common feature of celebrity tabloids, and the internet has made it easier than ever to know what people all over the world look like. On Halloween, most of us decide we want to be someone else for the night. Who knows, maybe you’ll see a dogalina antica wandering the streets this weekend!

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