Monday, April 30, 2012

Remembering Ribbons: Medieval Times ~ Reformation

Portrait of a Young Woman (In Detail) by Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, 1490

As we continue our Remembering Ribbon Series, we are reminded how versatile they have been in history. We last read in Biblical Times, how God himself utilized these brilliant bands in Numbers 15:38 (then called ribband). Now we find them in the Middle Ages and through the Rennaissance, with a completely different use.

Peddlers in the Middle Ages sold ribbons throughout Europe and the Medieval and Renaissance generations were able to purchase some that were strewn with gold and silver threads.  They also offered lovely silk ones which were obtained from the Orient. The ribbons sold at the beginning were made with raw edges since the modern day ribbon with selvedges (finished edges) were not created until the 1500's. In the 16th Century, ribbons were associated with luxury to the point that the English Parliament tried to make laws stating only nobility could wear them.

Young Maiden Reading a Book by Pierre-Auguste Cot
Ribbons in the Medieval Times and Rennasiance era were sometimes worn as a headband across the forehead with hair loose and long. However, you would rarely see a married women with that sort of flowing hairstyle. It was solely for the young maidens and girls as females in that time wore a covering of some sort because of their Christian faith (which does bring some interesting thoughts to mind). During these periods, most of the hair was covered using hats, veils and nets of various styles with ribbons utilized as decoration underneath these items.

Windflowers by John William Waterhouse
Ribbons were also wrapped and tied around the sleeves which produced the romantic look we see in all the Victorian Era paintings (as shown above) which depict this chivalrous time period where men were remembered as knights and women were considered ladies, damsels or maidens.

Portrait of a Young Woman by Sandro Botticelli, 1485
Italy however, seemed to be an exception when it came to hair visibility (the claims are because of the warmer climates) and in the wealthier population, ribbons were worn in a more ornate fashion, wound around and through braids. The Italian women also wore two long braids with ribbon woven through and then coiled them around the head while some covered these loose braids with a linen cloth.

Beatrice d'Este by Ambrogio de Predis, 1490
We can see that the Renaissance women embraced these lovely strands of silk as they managed to wear them as a fore-band while still covering the head with some sort of net or fancy snood.

La Belle Ferronniere by Leonardo Da Vinci (Fashion 1490-1496)

Ribbons were also worn to attach the sleeves to the rest of the dresses in the later styles.

Huguenot Lovers on St. Bartholomew's Day by John Everett Millais

During the closing of these magnificent eras, there was great tumult in Europe over Biblical beliefs. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the French Protestants (known as Huguenots) were being persecuted by the powerful Roman Catholic church. Many were killed, while others fled to safer countries to worship freely. France at that time was a major supplier of silk ribbons to Europe and when these persecuted people left their homes, they took with them their skills of weaving and ribbon making which afforded countries like Switzerland and England (where many relocated), to have their own manufacturing of ribbon goods just as fine as they had in the past, purchased from France. 

One of the most tragic display of ribbons occurred during the bloody slaughter in 1572 of the Huguenots which is now known as the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre. Those sympathetic to the Roman Catholic cause were told to wear white ribbons or bands on their arms while the rest of the crowd of over 5,000 French Protestants were to be slaughtered for their faith. The famous painting above by the sentimental, Victorian Era painter, depicts the woman trying to protect her loved one by attempting to place the white band on his arm. We can see his loyalty to his God as he embraces her while keeping the ribbon sash from making its mark.

The Huguenots created a ribbon of their own to signify their devotion and faith (with some historians claiming it entered the scene as early as 1562) which is called the Huguenot Cross. It is traditionally dangled from a ribbon of white, edged with stripes of French blue and gold, though today it is now commonly found as a piece of jewelry in pendant form. 

And so, the ribbon continues to reveal itself as a historic symbol as it is woven through the ups and downs of history while carefully adorning women at the same time.

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