A 15th Century Florentine Gamurra
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Description: A black wool gown with pewter lacers, and black and gold detachable velvet-like sleeves, lined with cream colored silk dupioni. The design is inspired by the gamurras commonly used in Florence, Italy, around 1475 to 1500. It also includes a linen camicia or chemise, based on designs from the same period. The entire ensemble has been hand-stitched with either cotton or silk thread.
History: The gamurra was the type of garment commonly used by Florentine women in the Quatroccento. It was designed to denote modesty, which was a desirable quality for a woman of that era. This garment consisted of square or round neckline, central opening closed with lacing (accordellata), straight cut, slightly raised waistline, and a gathered skirt. It could be as simple or as elaborate as the occasion demanded.
Gamurras were worn alone – usually at home – or with either a cioppa or a giornea, which were two types of rather elaborate overdresses, as it can be seen in Figure I. Saint Bernardino made the point through hyperbole: at home women dressed like “baker-women, wearing rags”; outside, they went to the other extreme (he thought) wearing “crimson overgarments and fine linen undergarments, of cloth so soft and fine that [your] flesh stays smooth and fat.” I have not made a cioppa or giornea for this dress yet.
Sleeves could be partly or completely sewn to the bodice, or they could be detachable. Detachable sleeves were very practical not only to ease arm movements, but also to enhance the dress. The more important the dress, the more elaborate the sleeves could be. They could also be cut in one or two pieces, with decorative slits, either completely or partially at the elbow, down the length of the arm, or just below the elbow to the wrist, as it can be seen in Figures II and III. Detachable sleeves were often fastened to the bodice with ties ending in aglets, which would pass through eyelets (Figure IV) or rings in the sleeve.
Front lacing (accordellata) was usually done through metal rings or lacers (See Figure V). Most paintings show rings, but there are some that show small gold lacers as well (See Figure VI). The undergarment, or camicia, was made of fine linen and often embellished with embroidery.
For this gown I selected black wool, and I have lined the bodice with black linen and interlined it with cotton canvas. The lacers are pewter.
Florence was one of the most important centers for the production of wool clothing,  and there is also pictorial evidence that supports the use of black in garments of this kind (see Figure VII). Fine black wool would have been appropriate since it is a material that would have been used for this type of garment.
I have no knowledge of any extant garments of the Quatroccento, but if one is to judge by extant garments of a later period, such as that of Don Garcia de Medici (1562), it is conceivable that linen was used as a lining and probably as an interlining of garments. The black linen that I chose was consistent with what would probably have been used in period. However, I had cotton canvas handy for an interlining and it did a good job of providing the support that the piece needed.
The hand-made lucet cording for lacing the bodice is made of a silk/wool blend, whereas the hand-braided cord used to point the sleeves is a combination of DMC No.5 cotton and DMC Lurex cords. The aglets are chrome. The silk/wool blend used for the bodice cording is consistent with materials used in that period in that area. As for the black and gold braid for the tying the sleeves, cotton for cord was not unusual while gold cord would have been used instead of the modern Lurex. The aglets would have been silver, not chrome.
The sleeves are a black and gold tapestry fabric with a velvet finish, and they have been lined with silk dupioni. I don’t have any way to figure out what would have been used in period to line the sleeves, but since silk was produced in Italy, particularly Venice, and it was available, a second-grade silk like dupioni could have conceivably been used for this purpose.
The thread used to put the ensemble together was Gutterman silk (gown and sleeves), and Gutterman cotton (camicia). Silk thread may have been used, but instead of the cotton it is more likely that linen would have been employed. Last but not least is the use of two small plastic bones in a cotton casing, which helped to avoid the bunching up of the front lacing. In period, either reeds or whalebone would have probably been used, and some people have even suggested hemp cord. In fact, we have no evidence of whether boning of any kind was used in this type of bodice, but it works very well.
Overall Design and Construction:
The design is based on some pictorial evidence such as the portrait of Lucrezia Tornabuoni, by Domenico Girlandaio (1475), where one can see the square neck and also the use of the color black; A Young Woman, by Domenico Girlandaio (1485), which shows a similar cut and also the use of lacers; Portrait of a Young Woman by Agnolo or Donnino del Mazziere, which shows the laced sleeves; as well as one of my favorites, the Portrait of a Young Woman by Alfonso del Pollaiuolo (1475), which shows the fancy sleeves on a gamurra, with a design similar to my black and gold sleeves.
The gamurra, sleeves, and camicia have been completely hand-stitched. The skirt is box-pleated, which is consistent with pictorial evidence, which shows either gathering, box or roll pleatings. The later look very similar to cartridge pleating. The stitches used in the construction of this gown and the camicia are described in the book Textiles and Clothing 1150-1450, by Elizabeth Crowfoot et al, a Museum of London publication.
Eighteen pairs of pewter lacers were attached to the front. Pictorial evidence shows smaller, gold lacers. There is no pictorial evidence of silver or pewter lacers, but that does not provide definite proof that those lacers did not exist at all. At any rate, they looked right and they were at the right price, so I decided to use them.
The only modern material in this gown are two, prefabricated, small plastic bones encased in cotton and cut to size. The bones have been sewn inside the bodice, on top of the lining. The reason for this is that I did not realize that I needed two small bones until the bodice was finished and the lacers attached. I then tried it on and noticed that the fabric was bunching up in an unsightly manner. Said bunching could be solved by adding some light boning but, in order to slide it in the inner lining, I would have had to pick apart the entire bodice and re-stitch it again, hence the little bones on top of the lining instead of inside. Next time, I will know better.
The design for the camicia was based on pictorial evidence as well, particularly the portrait by Sandro Boticelli, Woman in a Window (possibly Smeralda Brandini) (Figure VIII); and the sculpture by Andrea del Verrochio, Lady with a Bunch of Flowers (Figure IX) As previously mentioned, it has been hand-stitched in fine linen and cotton thread. The neck has been pleated in very tiny stitches, very similar to cartridge-pleating, and gathered into a band, which gives a smocked effect. The sleeves are very oversized, more like the Boticelli painting, which is necessary if one wishes to “puff” them out from the slits in the sleeves.
Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion, c. 1560-1620. London: MacMillian London Limited, 1985.
Brown, David Alan, Virtue and Beauty: Leonardo's Ginevra de' Benci and Renaissance Portraits of Women, Princeton University Press, October 2001, Princeton and Oxford.
Crowfoot, Elizabeth, et.al. Textiles and Clothing, 1150-1450, pp. 154-159, 164, 170, 174. Museum of London. Medieval finds and excavations in London. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 2002.
Mola, Luca. The Silk Industry in Renaissance Venice. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 2000.
A Festive Attyre: Jennifer Thompson’s Webpage.
 Brown, David Alan, Virtue and Beauty: Leonardo's Ginevra de' Benci and Renaissance Portraits of Women, pp. 90, Princeton University Press, October 2001, Princeton and Oxford..
 Brown, David Alan, Virtue and Beauty: Leonardo's Ginevra de' Benci and Renaissance Portraits of Women, pp. 65, Princeton University Press, October 2001, Princeton and Oxford.
 Brown, David Alan, Virtue and Beauty: Leonardo's Ginevra de' Benci and Renaissance Portraits of Women, pp. 64-65, Princeton University Press, October 2001, Princeton and Oxford.
 Brown, David Alan, Virtue and Beauty: Leonardo's Ginevra de' Benci and Renaissance Portraits of Women, pp. 64, Princeton University Press, October 2001, Princeton and Oxford.
Arnold, Janet, Patterns of Fashion: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women c1560-1620, pp. 14, figs. 74-75, pp. 52. Quite Specific Media Group Ltd., 7373 Piramid Pl., Hollywood, CA. 90046.
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