Today we took over a three-hour bus ride to Florence and toured the city. I was amazed that our bus could get through the narrow streets of Florence. After checking into our rooms, we were ready to begin our walking tour where we saw the Duomo and other historical buildings. We spent the majority of our time in the Uffizi Gallery studying the impressive art of centuries past.
I was astonished by the numerous busts, sculptures, and paintings in the Uffizi Museum’s collections. Many of the busts/sculptures were of nude men and women posing with great confidence. The majority of the paintings were of religious background and our tour guide noted that at times the artists would depict their girlfriends in the faces of the women they were painting. Paintings and visual art are vitally important to historians because they provide accurate depictions of how people dressed throughout time, especially those with wealth or higher social status. This is very evident in the portrait of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino by Pierro della Francesca. The Duke was intentionally painted in profile because he lost an eye. His wife, the Duchess Battista Sforza is richly dressed, with her hair styled in coils, ribbons, and jeweled accessories. She was from Milano, her hair was bleach blonde (by using urine as a hair bleaching agent), and her skin was very white because rich people did not stand in sun (unlike members of the lower class who labor outdoors). Her dress was made with richly styled sleeves and enhanced with layers of jewelry around her neck. There was another group of paintings that represented different characteristics such as charity and justice with woman adorned in thick satin dresses and other luxurious fabrics. Each of the women were also pregnant representing love and fertility.
When considering the differences in fashion designs as depicted in the Uffizi Gallery art pieces, styles for men and women had subtle differences. I noticed that many of the men and women in sculpture forms were not wearing any clothing. Many of the paintings from early historical periods showed both men and women in robes in similar colors and fabrics. There were no specific distinctions based on gender. However, at times men had opened robes with their chests exposed. In later paintings of the Renaissance Era some men were depicted wearing tighter fitting clothing (similar to leggings), whereas women were still dressing modestly in heavy pieces of full-length dresses. Women’s sleeves were always long and their gowns were long enough to cover the ankles. Overall, their clothing style seemed to be more modest than styles of today. The patterns were simple and colors were limited to the basic colors of the rainbow. The fabrics seemed to be more expensive ones, such as silks and heavy wools. The tour guide mentioned that back then, they would only bathe a few times a year, so perfumes were necessary to keep smelling as fresh as they could. The women could change their sleeves out since they wore quite a few layers, but not their bodices. Today, in mainstream fashion women traditionally wear dresses or pants and there is no social stigma in exposing the legs. Typically, the fashion staple for men is pants. However, in couture fashion today there is a resurgence of the blurred gender lines. Androgyny and dresses for both sexes has become common on the runway.
As I noted earlier, both men and women dressed modestly, but men had a bit more utility in their clothing style as time progressed. The women were always wearing dresses of some sort, which makes me think that it was very common for these women to be thought of as housewives who were expected to bear children and not gain any real independence. The men had more social freedom as was seen with the advent of men’s tights during the Renaissance, giving them more flexibility and freedom. Since women did not have the socially accepted option of pants and their versatility, it would be harder for women to be as active as men (wearing pants).
In today’s modern world, women and men dress to express their own unique style. Women are not restricted to wearing just dresses, and the clothing choices of our generation are not as “modest” as past generations, especially those of the men and women featured in the art of Uffizi Gallery. Our clothing today, seems to be made of fabrics that are lighter and more comfortable than the heavy fabrics depicted in the artwork. Modern clothes have more prints and designs and are available in a variety of colors (more so than the ones of early centuries). This is most likely because it was harder to produce more complicated colors for fashion with the limited options for dye colors.
I would not say I have had any individual or personal issues on this trip, but I have been so surprised at the Italian’s ability to distinguish our group as Americans so quickly, since I have been asked multiple times if I was American while touring the city. The biggest issue I have had so far is trying to communicate to Italians who do not know very much English. One time while stopping at a restroom, a woman looked at me and began speaking very quickly in Italian for a while before I could spit out, “No parlo Italiano,” and then she began explaining in English that she would like to use the restroom before me because she had to catch the bus. It is times like that that remind me of how useful it is to know a second language – especially the one spoken where you are studying abroad.
Tomorrow we are visiting the Florentine Leather School and I could not be more excited to learn even more about them since our group researched the leather school before we began our trip!
|| Alaina All’Estero – “Alaina Abroad” ||