Wednesday, July 20, 2011

La Galleria del Costume

Collections:  If you have the opportunity to visit Florence, you must make a point of setting aside some time for the Gallery of Costume at the Pitti Palace.  This collection of clothing is an often overlooked gem  in a city of notable collections.  My best advice to you, is to visit the palace ticket office at your earliest opportunity to check on the opening times for this gallery.  Access to the collection is sporadic at best.  I have been able to visit numerous times and the one thing you can count on, is that you can't always count on seeing this collection.  If you are lucky enough to gain access, you will probably have the collection all to yourself!  Unlike the Victoria and Albert museum in London, you won't have to fight for a good view.  I particularly like their arrangement of floating display cases.  It allows for the exploration of the garments from all sides and if you happen to be sharing the space with others, it disperses the crowds nicely.  Unfortunately, catalogues on the collection are no longer available.

Galleria displays

The collection is located on the 3rd floor of the Pitti Palace, in a series of salons which enhance and contextual the costumes.  Usually the rotating exhibits are displayed in a chronological order reflecting the evolution of dress, along with anterooms of specially themed exhibits on accessories or particular periods.  The costumes represent a wide range of manufacturing centers.  Naples seems to have been a preferred shopping source for many in the second quarter of the 20th century and what surprised me most was the large collection of 19th century dresses labelled "C. Donovan" New York.  Interestingly, I have yet to see one Worth on display in their collection but Fortuny and Ferragamo are well represented.

Black Chantilly lace over yellow silk satin, circa 1865

Yellow and cream striped silk over pale blue underskirt, circa 1878

Roller printed cotton in pale grey, circa 1837

Black silk, circa 1915
Silk Tulle embroidered in gold thread, circa 1823
Recollections:  Of special note, on my last visit, was an exhibition on the exhumed costumes of Eleanora of Toledo, Cosimo I de'Medici and their son Don Garzia.  These dated circa 1562.  Mounted on large flat sheets of foam core, they were angled within their cases for easy viewing by the public.  Heavily stained with the remains of body fluids and with large areas of the silk missing due to disintegration, the display relied on the drawings of costume historian Janet Arnold to "flesh" out what the viewer was studying.  Portraits of the three added to our understanding of how these garments were worn and the importance of dress at the time.  Notice the bodice and details in the portrait of Eleanora of Toledo below and compare them to the remaining fragment removed from her tomb in the 1850's.  They are so strikingly similar it poses the question, "Is this the actual dress she wore when she was buried?"  It would not be unusual for many women to be buried in their best clothing or even wedding apparel.

Eleanora of Toledo

Satin & Velvet bodice Fragment, 1562
Janet Arnold, Patterns of Fashion, 1560-1620
Ambitions:  To re-visit this collection in May of 2012.

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