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Girdle

  • Place of origin:

    Lucca (made)
    Venice (woven)

  • Date:

    ca. 1450 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Tablet woven lampas with gilded and enamelled metal, nielloed silver and stamped brass

  • Museum number:

    4278-1857

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 10a, The Françoise and Georges Selz Gallery, case 4

Girdles, or belts, were worn by both men and women in the Medieval period. From the mid-fifteenth century, fashionable women wore broad and short girdles like this one high on the ribcage, over a houppelande, a full-skirted, long-sleeved outer robe. Girdles owned by the wealthy were made of fine and costly fabrics and often embellished with silver or gold decorative fittings along their length. The elaborately-worked buckles and strap ends were usually decorated with enamels or niello, often with a family coat-of-arms and/or inscriptions. The textile used for this girdle incorporates gilded silver threads, and would have been woven by a single weaver working on a small tablet loom. The buckle and strap end appear to be gold, but in fact are gilded base metal, with applied plaques of enamelled and engraved silver. This is a rare example of a fifteenth-century cloth-of-gold girdle complete with its original mounts.

Physical description

The girdle is tablet-woven lampas, the ground is 5-shaft satin and the pattern is 1:2 S-twill. The warps are silk, pink threads without a visible twist, 60 per cm. The binding warp appears to be yellow silk. The ground wefts are cream silk, without a visible twist, 32/33 cm. The pattern wefts are strips of gilt silver wound in S around a yellow S-twist core, 32/33 per cm. It was originally completely reversible but in one area on the reverse (the section worn next to the wearer's body) the gold thread has been snipped away to leave only the plain satin ground.

The buckle and strap end are cast and gilded, the flower-shaped mounts round the belt-holes are stamped brass.

Place of Origin

Lucca (made)
Venice (woven)

Date

ca. 1450 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Tablet woven lampas with gilded and enamelled metal, nielloed silver and stamped brass

Marks and inscriptions

VIRTUS VIN[CIT]
Latin, 'Virtue Triumphs'
Nielloed on a semi-circular silver plaque set into the buckle.

AMORE. VOL
Italian, 'Love wants'
Nielloed on a semi-circular plaque set into the belt end.
The words are the start of a saying popular in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Italy (and perhaps earlier), which states that 'love wants (or needs) fidelity' (see Musacchio: 2008, p.101).

'SPERA. IN DIO'
Italian, 'Have faith in God'
Nielloed on a semi-circular plaque, set into the belt end.

Unidentified coat of arms in an eight-pointed shield, nielloed on a silver plaque set in the centre of the belt end.

Dimensions

Length: 154.5 cm, Width: 6.6 cm woven textile, Length: 12 cm buckle, Width: 9.5 cm buckle at fastening point, Width: 7 cm buckle at point where it joins girdle, Length: 10 cm strap end from tip to point where it joins girdle, Depth: 0.6 cm back to front of strap end at flattest point, Depth: 2.2 cm strap end at widest point of cylindrical part

Object history note

This girdle was almost certainly commissioned as a gift, but the context in which it was given is not known. The inscriptions that refer to love, faith and fidelity suggest it was a betrothal present, although there is only one coat of arms (unidentified, on the belt end). By comparison, a girdle now in the British Museum is more clearly associated with a marriage. It has two different coats of arms on the buckle and strap end (probably connected to the Malatesta family of Rimini), and facing profile heads of a man and a woman flank the arms on the buckle (see Herald : 1981, p. 180).
Three other girdles with similar metal mounts to the V&A example, but woven with the arms and family device of Pope Julius II, were diplomatic gifts. Between 1494 and 1512, Julius presented the belts to James I of Scotland, Ladislaus II of Hungary and the Confederation of Swiss Cantons. These girdles are preserved at Edinburgh Castle, the National Museum of Hungary, Budapest and the Landesmuseum, Zurich.
No documentation exists to explain the circumstances behind the creation of the V&A girdle. It was purchased by the Museum in 1857 for the sum of £40. The V&A is grateful to Dr Lisa Monnas for sharing her expertise (in 2004) on the techniques of weaving used to make this girdle.

Descriptive line

Girdle of silk and silver-gilt thread, the buckle and strap end of base metal, gilded, enamelled and set with nielloed silver plaques, the flower-shaped mounts of brass, Italy, ca. 1450

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Ajmar-Wollheim, Marta and Flora Dennis, eds. At Home in Renaissance Italy. London: V&A Publications, 2006. [Catalogue of the exhibition held at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 5 October 2006, to 7 January 2007]. ISBN 1851774882
Campbell, Marian. Medieval Jewellery in Europe 1100-1500, London, V&A Publishing, 2009. ISBN 9781851775828
Flury-Lemberg, Mechthild. Textile Conservation and Research. A Documentation of the Textile Department on the Occasion of the Twentieth Anniversary of the Abegg Foundation. Bern: Abegg-Stiftung, Bern, 1988. ISBN 3-905014-02-5
Bistort, Giulio. Il Magistrato alle Pompe nella Repubblica di Venezia. Studio Storico. Venice: 1912; facsimile reprint Bologna: Forni, 1969.
Fingerlin, Ilse. Gürtel des hohen und späten Mittelalters. Munich: Deutschen Kunstverlag, 1971. ISBN 3422006451
Lightbown, Ronald. Mediaeval European Jewellery, with a catalogue of the collection in the Victoria & Albert Museum. London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 1992. ISBN 0948107871
Musacchio, Jacqueline Marie. Gifts and Furnishings for the Home (catalogue entries 32a to 32c). In: Andrea Bayer, ed. Art and Love in Renaissance Italy. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art; New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2008. [Catalogue of the exhibition held November 11, 2008 - February 16, 2009 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and March 15 - June 14, 2009 at the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth.] ISBN 9780300124118.
Devoti, D. L'Arte del Tessuto in Europa, Milan, Bramante, 1974.
Sebregondi, Ludovica and Tim Parks, ed. Money and Beauty: Bankers, Botticelli and the Bonfire of the Vanities. Milan: Giunti Editore, 2011. Catalogue of the exhibition held Florence, Palazzo Strozzi, 17 September 2011 - 22 January 2012. ISBN 9788809767645.
Herald, Jacqueline. Renaissance Dress in Italy 1400-1500, The History of Dress Series, 2. (London : Bell & Hyman ; Atlantic Highlands, N.J. : Humanities Press, 1981). ISBN: 0391023624.
Kovács A., Tibor. [Catalogue entry]. In: Péter Farbaky, et al. Mattia Corvino e Firenze. Arte e umanesimo alla corte del re de Ungheria. Catalogue of the exhibition held at the Museo di San Marco, Florence, 10 October 2013 - 6 January 2015. Florence: Giunti Editore, 2013. ISBN 978-88-09-78750-6

Labels and date

The girdle was a powerful symbol of chastity within marriage and a treasured fashion accessory. This made it a popular gift for brides at all social levels. It was worn around the waist with one end hanging down in front. This one, with its original cloth of gold, has amorous and religious inscriptions on the buckle. [05/10/06- 07/01/07]

Materials

Lampas; Enamel; Silver; Brass (alloy)

Techniques

Woven; Engraving (incising); Gilding; Casting; Stamping (forming); Niello

Categories

Jewellery; Metalwork; Europeana Fashion Project

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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