Artibus et Historiae no. 60 (XXX)

2009, ISSN 0391-9064

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JANET COX-REARICK - Power-Dressing at the Courts of Cosimo de' Medici and François I: The "moda alla spagnola" of Spanish Consorts Eléonore d'Autriche and Eleonora di Toledo

At the courts of sixteenth-century Europe clothing was worn to declare the wearer's political allegiance, and the dominance of Emperor Charles V after 1520 led to a widespread adoption of Hispanic court attire. The Spanish consorts, Eléonore d'Autriche, Queen of France, and Eleonora di Toledo, Duchess of Florence, projected the message of imperial allegiance by wearing Spanish attire after their marriages in 1530 and 1539. This article argues that the "Two Eleonoras" represented two sides of the Imperial coin: Eléonore's power-dressing alla spagnola was an assertion of her imperial pedigree and political connections as a player in the rivalry between her husband, King François I, and her brother, Charles V, while Eleonora di Toledo's power-dressing alla spagnola supported the imperial loyalty of Duke Cosimo de' Medici, an ambitious vassal whom the emperor had elevated to the dukedom of Florence in 1537.

Eléonore's Spanish clothing was disapproved of by her husband as expressing imperial loyalty and she was forced to abandon it about 1536. On the other hand, the courtly style worn by Duchess Eleonora for official events created and communicated her public image as a Spanish duchess of Florence and it would play a leading role in Duke Cosimo's cultural politics for two decades. Her style was widely imitated and the cycle of Spanish influence on Florentine court dress thus continued beyond her lifetime and into the next century.

At the heart of this study is a rich variety of visual evidence, with close attention given to the painted and drawn portraits of Eléonore d'Autriche and Eleonora di Toledo. Literary evidence analyzed here includes new archival documentation about Eleonora di Toledo's clothing, chroniclers' accounts of entrées and other public appearances, and comments in conduct literature. Drawing extensively on modern studies of Renaissance court costume, this essay reveals for the first time the contrasting ways in which the French queen and the Italian duchess fashioned their public images through their Spanish-inflected dress.

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