Degli habiti, antichi et moderni di diversi parti del mondo (Of Costumes, Ancient and Modern, of Different Parts of the World)
Printed by Damian Zenaro in Venice, 1590
Opening: Woman Blonding Her Hair
Purchased with the Toovey Collection, 1899
Vecellio initially joined the workshop of his famous cousin Titian, but by 1570 was primarily active as a publisher. This book contains woodcut illustrations of costumes—exotic and domestic—and marks the culmination of a trend that began with the increase in travel during the mid-sixteenth century. Highly popular, this most famous example of costume books became a model of the genre.
The woman shown here is assiduously trying to make her hair a lighter shade of blonde with the help of different liquids. Her pianelle, high platform shoes, stand nearby.
In 1469—some fourteen years after Johannes Gutenberg printed a bible using movable type—this transformative technology arrived in Venice, and the city rapidly became Europe's preeminent center for book publishing. During the last few decades of the fifteenth century, a new kind of volume appeared: the hand-illuminated printed book. Trained scribes and artists carefully added chapter headings, initials, borders, and lavish frontispieces to the printed text. These luxury items were created for a wealthy and prominent clientele—predominantly Venetian nobility.
The impossibility of hand decorating ever-increasing numbers of books led Venetian printers to adopt mechanical means to embellish their printed texts. From the 1490s, it became common to illustrate books by incorporating woodcuts. As the market for printed material flourished, artists such as Titian and Battista Franco produced masterly woodcuts and engravings to enhance their reputations.