Our tour of Italy continued on with day 5, starting with our 3 hour bus ride from Milan to Florence. For the small portions that I was awake, it was interesting to see a part of Italy that wasn’t quite so urban as Milan. That said, the difference in the two urban areas we had traveled in between was almost just as stark. This city looks to be straight out of the Renaissance era, with intricate windowsills and other decorations on almost every building in it.
Soon after we arrived, we embarked on a tour of Florence, which took us into the Uffizi Gallery, an expansive collection of art including paintings, frescoes and statues from the era of the Renaissance, with works of art from some of the most renowned artists from the time, including Botticelli, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael. Our tour guide explained to us that these artist’s incorporations of certain characteristics of realism in their paintings, such as depth, dynamic lighting, and more extensive detail, helped to define paintings of the Renaissance. As we progressed through the gallery, it became clear that we were not just surrounded by a huge amount of art history. These paintings, in place of photographs and other means of image communication, provided a great look into the culture of fashion in the time of these artists, providing great contrasts and comparisons to the fashion today.
These painting provided insights especially into how differently the upper and lower class dressed, revealing fashion as a clear indicator of wealth and status. As noblemen and women were the most frequent subjects of these great artists’ brushes, multitudes of paintings of noblemen in flowing, luxurious robes were present in the gallery. When commoners were depicted, they were dressed in much more basic clothes, at best wearing simple tunics and at worst wearing dirty smocks, showing evidence of just how far below these people were compared to the nobility of the cities in which they lived. Comparing this to modern day fashion, this concept of using clothing to signify status is still very present in culture today. In fact, it seems that the high-end fashion that we have been studying throughout our stay in Italy is the very tool that the modern upper class use to display their wealth, but the concept is applied is very different. Nowadays, much less emphasis is but on the types of clothing so much as the level of quality the clothing has to display wealth. For example, an ordinary modern man can buy a low-cost suit jacket made from low quality polyester. However, only an individual from the upper class has the money to afford high quality, hand-made, suit jacket that may come from designers such as those housed in the Galleria in Milan. The quality may be vastly different, but in definition both articles of clothing are still suit jackets. Back in these paintings’ era, it seems that a commoner couldn’t possibly have the funds to afford even the lowest quality of the types of robes that nobility wore. One could see this as a result of the huge advancements production methods that have occurred in between these two time periods, as the cost of actually constructing the clothing has dropped, bringing a much wider selection of clothes to the lower class.
One could also see that the level of functionality in clothes differed greatly in this time. It doesn’t take much reasoning to see that the robes of nobility were not those used for doing much, other than looking luxurious. Commoners wearing their more tight fitting tunics, sans the flowing fabric of their superiors, had an article of clothing which reflected the fact that even a commoners daily life was much more labor intensive. Transitioning to the modern day, in which our lives require much less physical effort, neither the upper or lower class seems to be restricted by a need for functionality. In fact, the only type of clothing with a strictly set function that seems to have made its way from the renaissance to the modern day, is maternity clothing. All throughout the Uffizi, were paintings of pregnant noblewomen, each one wearing a belt that was located above her belly instead of at her waist, so as to secure her dress without putting any undue pressure on her stomach. Though the methods of support and comfort have changed for these types of clothes, it is interesting that it takes something as ubiquitous as pregnancy for a clothing category to stay constant in its basic concept.
Overall, seeing the progression of the fashion industry from these famous painters’ subjects to the modern day has revealed just how much the advancement of technology has affected fashion, through making peoples’ lives easier overall, as well as breaking down the exclusivity of certain classes clothes that previously were reserved for nobility. We will continue our stay in Florence tomorrow with yet another relaxed day of tours and good food.