About This Blog

I really like theatre, and I like writing and talking about it.

This blog is mostly about my relationship with theatre, the moments that make me fall in love with this art form, and the times when we don't always get along.

I'll be writing about things that I like, that I think are good and interesting and want to share. I will probably also write about things that I don't quite get, or think are wierd. I may also write about things that aren't theatre, strictly speaking, because it's my blog and I can.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Quick Fashion History Lesson: Italian Courtesans

I wanted to talk a little bit about historical reference in costuming, because I had some mixed feelings on the designs of the costumes I saw in Dangerous Beauty at the Pasadena Playhouse. There were some things that were really cool about them, but I found some designs to be inconsistent and overdone. 

The funny thing is, there's another representation of Venetian courtesans in current media which is much more period-accurate: the video game Assassin's Creed 2, and it's sequel, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. I know that sounds strange, but it's surprisingly well-researched. 

So let's start with the research they're referencing: below is the most famous period rendering of an Italian courtesan:

This is a sixteenth century engraving entitled "Cortigiana Veneza" - Venetian courtesan - by Pierto Bertelli. It is from Diversarum Nationum Habitus , 1591. There is a copy of it at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

These are courtesans from the video game "Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood". Modernized, but not too far off, right? They even got the horned hairstyle. In the game, they can be seen wearing the breeches you see under the skirt in the historical drawing (Unfortunately, I couldn't find a decent screenshot to post here).

Angel Reda
Angela Reda
Photo by Jim Cox, Pasadena Playhouse

One of the Ensemble Courtesans from Dangerous Beauty. This is a more modernized, runway-style on the look, with a very contemporary hairdo. These costumes were interesting, because they doubled as general women's ensemble costumes; they had a hood, and the bodice could be zipped for more or less modesty, and the skirts folded and fastened back to reveal the legs--and while the outer fabric was very beautiful, folding the skirt back revealed much fancier material on the inside. In the preview I saw, the bodice didn't have that pink ruffle on it. I think it may be too much.

In the film version of Dangerous Beauty, Veronica Franco has a release party for her first book of poetry, and shows up in a fashionable female twist on contemporary men's fashion:
Catherine McCormack and Oliver Platt

After being taunted by Maffio, Veronica rips the overskirt off and duels him, wearing something similar to the breeches costume shown at the top. However, I wasn't as thrilled with the overstuffed version of this costume in the musical, which involved a bizarre pair of skinny jeans, with rhinestone knee-pad details, a vine of flowers wrapped around one leg, and partial pumpkin breeches on top.

Bryce Ryness and Jenny Powers
Bryce Ryness and Jenny Powers
Photo by Jim Cox, Pasadena Playhouse

They did do a better job with their interpretation of period undergarments (the Italian women were the first to wear underwear)
Jenny Powers
Jenny Powers
Photo by Jim Cox, Pasadena Playhouse

  Caternia Sforza and Ezio getting it on. Are those boy shorts?

Assassin's Creed took some...umm..."creative license" here.

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