...Suggested for the study of Venetian chopines based on this exquisitely preserved pair held at The Bata Shoe Museum (in Toronto, Canada) :
1. First impression and reaction to the artifact. Why do you/don't you like this object? Jules David Prown states that we can enjoy different cultures through our senses thus our senses can make contact with the senses of the past. Thus, get a sensual reaction to the object. Do you enjoy it? Does it have clean lines? Is it graceful? Does the object have unity? Is it sculpturesque? Is there harmony in the whole? Proportion gives the object nobility and distinction...and people of the Renaissance period studied architecture to gain a sense of proportion. (Several of Montgomery's ideas have been incorporated in this first step; additionally, his 14-point analysis for the study of material culture has been incorporated into mine below, specifically in relation to footwear.)
I was originally attracted to this object due to its unusual three dimensional form, its elegant appearance, its complexity of design, and the numerous incorporated materials in its manufacture.
2. Make a technical analysis of the object in as quantitative of terms as possible. Some technical ideas here have been taken from June Swann's proposed scheme for the classification of footwear (from Costume, vol. 11, 1977) yet have been revised in order to apply specifically to the Renaissance. Also, Jules David Prown suggests that the first step to artifact analysis must be an objective description of the object. Additionally E. McClung Fleming's five properties and four operations all fall in one way or another into this careful analysis of footwear.
a) Name of the footwear artifact. Additionally, was the shoe an indoor or an outdoor shoe, or both?
Renaissance Chopines; indoor
b) What is the supposed date of the object? (A way of determining an accurate date for Renaissance footwear artifacts is not easy--dates can found by the discovery of similar looking shoes in dated paintings or references in dated literature --however, paintings are often undated, and literature, being verbal not visual, is often unreliable. Severa and Horswill (in their article entitled, "Costume as Material Culture") state, "there are few garments with enough documentation to know when they were actually made and how long they were worn; deductions must be made from the relationship of a garment to the ideal type of the period" (p.56) which can apply to footwear a s well--we can only know what the ideal type of each period was, which is not simple, due to constant change in Western fashion.
c) What is the color/colors of the upper? and of the sole/heel?
gold upper; gold heel
d) What materials make up the shoe? of the upper? and of the sole/heel?
the upper is made of gold-colored velvet which covers a strap of white kid, silver alloy lace, ruched ribbon, gold-colored silk lace, and a tassel; the heel is made of a wooden platform covered on the sole with brown leather and on the sides with gold velvet, silver lace and brass tacks.
e) Are the left and right shoes distinguishable from one another or are they interchangeable??
f) What is the shape of the toe of the shoe? (round, pointed, square, oval, open, etc.) What is the shape of the upper? (open, straight, winged, peaked, etc.)
rounded open toe; slightly open oval upper
g) What is the heel of the shoe like? Does it even have a heel? What is it's height? What is it's outer appearance like? Is it stacked leather, covered, painted, or lacquered? What is it's shape and thickness? Does it have a metal insert or other reinforcing insert?
the oval-shaped heel measures 8 cm in height at the toe of the shoe and 14 cm at the heel and is decorated with gold-coloured velvet and silver alloy lace, attached with circular brass tacks; no reinforcements observed
h) What is the sole of the shoe like? Is it worn or new? Is there evident scoring? What is the thickness of the sole or platform?
the sole seems almost new; the sole is a thick, rounded oval shape
i) How was the shoe constructed? Was it welted, riveted, cemented or molded? How was the upper made? Does any information apply to who constructed this shoe?
the different pieces of the shoe seem to be sewn together; the ruched ribbons are tacked to the wooden heel; there is no information remaining as to who constructed this artifact
j) Have any repairs been made to the shoe?
no subsequent repairs seem to have been made to this shoe
k) What is the inside lining of the shoe like? Of what material was it made?
the inside of the upper is made of white kid while the inner sole is a made of stamped brown leather
l) What are the physical dimensions of the shoe? (height, width, length, weight, 'shoe size')?
l) The height ranges from about 12 to 14 cm; width is about 10 cm; the weight is currently unknown
m) Try to analyze the artifact in two-dimensions--how are the lines and areas of the shoe? How do they divide it into parts?
the shoe is extremely unified due to its striking curves
n) Now, analyze the artifact in three dimensions--how is the organization of the forms in space?
the shoe is elegant and sculpturesque and the forms are proportionately well-organized in space
o) What is the texture of the shoe's upper? Is it smooth, rough, etc.?
the velvet is soft and smooth while the lace is brittle and is in fact missing on one of these shoes
p) Are there any special marks or inscriptions on the shoe that could indicate the maker's name, or the owner's name, for example?
no noted marks/inscriptions
q) Are there any special decorations or motifs on the shoe? What intellectual and symbolic power can be found in icons if they exist on the pair of shoes?
besides the stamped insole, no other motifs are repeated in the design
r) What is the overall style and design of the shoe? What is your personal feelings towards its aesthetic quality? Make an intuitive analysis. What is the full effect of the shoe?
overall high style and aesthetically appealing design; the full effect is one of beauty and refinement
s) What stylistic influences (from other artisans/other nations) could have shaped the design of this pair of shoes?
chopines supposedly have Eastern origins--they came from as far east as Turkey and possibly farther
t) What is the workmanship like? What is the level of skill like for the artifact as compared to other similar or different shoes? This implies that a comparison of the object with other similar objects must be made. (In the case of chopines, the Bata chopine could be compared with various pairs held by The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, for example; Chopines could be compared with other Renaissance footwear artifacts, or as portrayed in paintings; Finally chopines could be compared to Renaissance shoes in general or to shoes in general. Each object must be placed with a larger group of objects of the same, different and related objects in order to determine the above mentioned values.) Philip Zimmerman in "Workmanship as Evidence" states that the factual comparison of one object with others of its kind in quantifiable terms is necessary to understand the object, and applies well to the study of footwear. Additionally, where does the object stand in relation to its condition, and as a work of art in comparison to other objects? (This last question was taken from a step in Montgomery's analysis method) How theoretically complex is the object? Is the artistic expression self-conscious in the object?
high quality of workmanship--made by one of the most skilled designers of Venetian sixteenth century footwear; in comparison with other chopines, this is one of the most stylish and is certainly a strictly indoor model. The pair from the Bata museum seems to be identical to pair #44.770a at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and were probably made by the same Venetian hand. Most surviving Italian chopines, however, are made of punched leather designed uppers mounted on covered cork or light wood pedestal and seem to be wearable out-of-doors as well. In comparison to Renaissance shoes in general, the chopine is probably the most visually distinctive; If compared to Medieval shoes as well, the male poulaine or krakow is equally distinctive from more average shoes due to its exaggeratedly long pointed toe. When compared to shoes in general, the ladies' chopines are some of the most exquisite, intricate shoes ever made in any culture. This pair is also in particularly fine condition while many others covered in velvet have not survived as intact and many of the leather versions are torn and their bases heavily worn since they probably were taken outside as well.
u) What is known about the history of the shoe? the original maker? the original price? the original owner? the subsequent owners and collectors? Why was this shoe collected and why has it survived so long? The importance of studying the individual history of each pair of shoes, i.e. the changes of ownership of an artifact until the present time is emphasized by Adrienne D. Hood and David-Thiery Ruddel in their co-authored article entitled, "Artifacts and Documents in the History of Quebec Textiles." Montgomery also states that the goal of artifact study rests in determining the date, place and maker of the object. Additionally, who is the present owner of a Renaissance shoe? How was it acquired and how is it being kept?
this particular pair of chopines was probably saved and collected by a prominent Venetian family for several centuries until it somehow fell into North American hands. The sheer beauty of the form and the elegance of the design probably greatly helped this shoe survive. So far, I have not been able to determine the maker of the shoe--Venetian documents certainly exist regarding guild members and remain to be analyzed.
3. The final step in this methodology consists in approaching the meaning of the artifact. After an initial first impression followed by a technical analysis of the pair of shoes, it's important to answer questions in greater perspective, about the artifact as a reflection of its culture. We must now expand what we originally listed as the response to the very first question of analysis on this methodological list. Ideas taken from Jules David Prown's important article on the study of material culture, "Mind in Matter," lead one to many questions. For example, since material culture is the study of cultural beliefs (relating to values, ideas, attitudes and assumptions of a person or of a people) through the study of artifacts, what can we intuitively state about Venetian Renaissance cultural beliefs, for example, after having arrived at this step of this footwear methodology?
We can intuitively state that Venetian Renaissance culture was a complex, refined one in which visual and aesthetic models were prevalent in many objects--in costume in general and in built form as well. Apparently women demanded highly-ornate footwear as a possible reflection of style, art, wealth and status.
a) Approach the shoe itself as a symbol. What does the shoe stand for or symbolize? It is essential to know what objects meant for the people who made them and used them. (This step has been borrowed from Jacques MaquetÕs material culture model.)
a) The shoe stands for beauty, design, excess wealth, eclectism, repression, and sexuality.
b) What are the four levels of value of the shoe (as discussed in Prown's article):
1) What is the intrinsic (of the actual fabric, wood, leather, etc.) value of the shoe? What was it in Renaissance times? (does adequate information remain to answer this question?); What might it be today?
1) Silk, silver lace, brass, velvet, cork, and other materials were and continue to be expensive items.
2) What are the values attached to the object--by the original owner (here, a guess must be made) or by the present owner?; Since clothing, including shoes, is an extension of the body, it is the most personal of artifacts--what kind of 'facade' does one put on when wearing the particular pair of shoes? (question formulated based on Joan Severa and Merrill Horswill's article entitled, "Costume as Material Culture") According to Kenneth Ames, the way people hold their bodies and cover them with clothing [including footwear] is understudied; Thus, how would a woman hold herself and feel about herself when wearing chopines, for example? (as stated as a "personal comment" by Ames in "Costume as Material Culture") As a partnership of function and style, Prown also notes that intense reactions are evoked if someone criticizes a person's attire. This kind of criticism is taken personally which suggests a high correlation between personal identity and values.
2) the original owner probably felt proud and superior to have owned such beautiful chopines. The Bata Shoe Museum is also surely proud to have in their collection such a unique artifact from Renaissance Venice.
3) What was the original utilitarian value of the object when made? Does it have any utilitarian value today?
The shoes originally served as foot coverings and walking devices. Today the pair demonstrates to people of the twentieth century the complexity of Renaissance shoe production and gives us an object through which we can attempt to probe the Renaissance sense of fashion and beauty.
4) what was and is the aesthetic value of the piece of footwear?
Then as now the shoes have high aesthetic value.
c) Prown's penultimate next step in his scheme called deduction can now be applied: Imagine using the object and state what your emotional response to the object is.
Again, I admit how beautiful I find the form of these shoes to be. Wearing exquisite shoes makes one feel more beautiful.
d) Prown's step called speculation can be applied: Using your creative imagination, freely associate ideas and perceptions you have about the pair of shoes; generally sum up what has been learned to date about the artifact. What is your t otal interpretation of the shoe? The interpreter must use all his/her understanding of the historic importance and relate all information together for a statement of final analysis. (This is E.McClung Fleming's final step of analysis as well). Simi larly, Severa/Horswill note that clothing [read:shoes] has been intimately associated with a human life thus one cannot remain indifferent to the object. Thus, a kind of intuitive analysis can be added here to the final analysis--what Jo Paoletti calls & quot;impressionistic analysis" (in her article entitled, "Content Analysis: Its Application to the Study of Costume").
These shoes were probably one of many in the wardrobe of a wealthy, aristocratic Venetian lady who commissioned a skilled artisan to design something 'fashionable' for herself as a reflection of her wealth and class. She probably did not work and her servants certainly helped her walk when wearing such dangerously heeled shoes. On the other hand, a wealthy Venetian courtesan could have been the owner of such a pair of chopines. Venetian courtesans and aristocratic women wore identical clothing, footwear, and hairstyles They are quite indistinguishable in paintings (e.g. the dispute over the status of the women in Carpaccio's famous painting of two Venetian ladies). In any case, the chopine set the owner literally above the common people--her superior station in life was reflected in her superior physical domination. Additionally, the elitism of this project must be recognized--due to the fact that many men and women in this time probably did not own more than one pair of simple shoes at a time. The extravagance involved in owning such a beautiful chopine and then hardly ever wearing it (since most fifteenth and sixteenth century examples are in near-perfect condition) is quite elitist. The remains of poor peoples shoes are extremely worn and found in trash deposits while chopines (and poulaines, for example) were apparently stored and guarded for centuries and have survived until our times, possibly as a result of the originality of their appealing and beautiful forms.