Forbidden Fashions: Invisible Luxuries in Early Venetian Convents


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By Isabella Campagnol


As a costume historian, I jumped at the chance to review this book, especially since the nuns I knew while attending Catholic school were so unlike the women portrayed in this fascinating study.

The custom of Renaissance and Baroque Venice was for families to make a spectacular marriage for one daughter and lavish a huge dowry on her to raise their standing in the eyes of the city’s rich and powerful leaders. All other daughters were relegated to convents, even if they had no religious vocation. Young women who had dreamed of being wives and mothers found themselves locked behind tall stone walls and closely held under the control of the church.

The well-researched study gives us insight into how dress and accessories played a part in brightening the lives of the hundreds of these reluctant cloistered nuns, and also acted as reminders to the people around them that these women were ladies of rank. The grille screens that separated them from not just the populace of that great city, but their families, allowed these women a modicum of independence and the ability to make decisions that they never would have been permitted in the worldly life from which they had been torn.

This book, filled with unexpected gems, make it a fabulous, informative and entertaining read. Recommended highly.