But What Do I Do With Those Dress Pins Part 2

So last time we discussed a little about dress pins and started looking at portraits that show pins in use as a dress accessory. One of the most important things that we have to look for when researching the use of pins is artists who do very precise and detailed portraits.

Rogier van der Weyden is definitely one of those artists. He painted a portrait known as Lady Wearing a Gauze Headdress (1445) that shows at least two pins being used for a complex headdress.

He also painted the Braque Family Triptych (1450). The right wing of the triptych shows Mary Magdalene, and it also clearly shows the use of a pin to hold a sleeve in place.

Another Rogier van der Weyden painting, also known as Portrait of a Lady (1455), shows several pins being used to anchor a fine veil to the top of a tall cap.

And this Portrait of a Lady by Rogier van der Weyden (1460) shows pins being used on both her headress to hold her veils in place and to anchor the sheer fabric of her neckline.

You may have noticed all of the paintings entitled “Portrait of a Lady” – all that means is that the name of the person in the painting has not been determined.

Ercole dé Roberti painted a portrait of Ginevra Bentivoglio (1480) that shows exactly one pin at the very top of her bun. You will definitely need to hit the “200%” button, but it is clearly there.

This portrait of Mary of Burgundy (1490), by Michael Pacher, shows a pin being used to attach a decorative pendant to her headdress.

Quentin Massy’s portrait, The Moneylender and His Wife (1514) shows a pin used to hold a veil in place under a hat.

Lucas Cranach the Younger painted a portrait of Katharina von Mecklenburg (1545), that shows a number of pendants or earrings hanging off the bottom of her hat. Unfortunately it is impossible to tell how these items are attached, but there are other portraits that show pins holding the pendants/earrings in place. My friends and I used to joke about the Italian women sending earrings to their cousins in Germany, but they didn’t have pierced ears, so they would just hang them on their hats. There is no way to know if this is true or not, but the lack of women in German portraits without earrings is notable.

A Portrait of Martha Thannstetter by Bernhard Strigel (1515) shows a pin being used to hold a wrapped veil.

And of course there are tons of portraits where we assume that there is a pin being used, but the artist has not painted them. Pieter Aertsen’s and Joachim Beuckelaer’s paintings of women working in the marketplace show several examples of what appears to be pins in use to hold on sleeves and partlets, but there are no actual pins showing in the paintings.

And then this post 1600’s painting by Louise Moillon shows two women in a marketplace. Both of them have pins holding their partlets in place.

We know that pins could also be used to pin the front plackets into women’s dresses. I could not find any portraits that show this, but records show that they were still doing this in Colonial America.

People used dress pins to close or decorate their clothing the same way that we would use safety pins, or velcro, or even a zipper.

But What Do I Do With Those Dress Pins?

For anyone who follows me on Facebook, my Etsy shop, or in my actual shop, you probably already know that one of my big selling items is dress pins. I have been getting enough questions about these pins lately that I decided it was time to write another blog about them. I originally wrote a basic blog about dress pins a couple of years ago, called Pins, Pins and More Pins, and another called Authentic Dress Pins about the fact that we make spiral headed dress pins.

Now I do make the early period dress pins that are three to five inches long – the kind that are usually used to clothes shawls and brats and such. But right now I am talking about the small wire spiral headed dress pins that appear in the archaeological record in the 1200’s and are made the same exact way solidly into the Victorian era.

For those who may not be certain exactly what I am talking about, here is a picture of the two sizes of dress pins that I sell in my shop. In pre-1600 Europe they came in a virtually infinite selection of sizes, from really short (about 3/4 of an inch) to ridiculously long (three or four inches long), but these two sizes seem to work for most people.

two pinsAnd here is a link to some pre-1600 pins that were found in Great Britain. They find thousands of these all over Europe.

So the most common question that I am asked is, “what are they used for?” And my semi-wise-guy answer is: holding your clothes together. This is actually an understatement, since they are used for holding clothing, hats, veils, and just about any other dress accessory that you can think of in place.

How do we know what pins were actually used for? Well, they show up in inventories, but they also show up in a fair number of paintings and portraits. The earliest portrait that I could find is dated to about 1410 – A Portrait of a Lady. If you zoom in on her head coverings there is no attempt to disguise the use of pins to hold everything in place.

I should mention, that several people have told me that men also used these dress pins to hold their clothing in place. I have not spent a lot of time actually looking for pins in men’s portraits, but so far I have not found any. This does not, of course mean that they did not use pins, only that they did not either show, or that the artists did not paint the pins into the portraits.

The Portrait of Marie de Pacy (1425) also clearly shows the use of pins, a fancy one in the middle and many smaller pins on other parts of her headcovering.

The Master of Flémalle painted the Merode Alterpiece in 1427 and this detail of the left wing of the alterpiece shows a woman with several pins in her headpiece. A couple of years later he painted a Portrait of a Woman (1430) which shows several pins being used to hold a lady’s complex, multi-layered veil system in place.

Next time we will look at a couple of very prolific artists and some of the things that they showed pins being used for!

What size were brooches in the Middle Ages – Part 5 – Fibulae, Dress Pins and Miscellaneous Brooches

So, the first thing I should probably do is describe a fibula (singular). Think safety pin without the safety. Fibulae (plural) appear on the scene by about 1,000 BC in Mesopotamia, and we still use their descendents today, in the form of kilt pins and safety pins. Pre-1600 fibulae can be made of bronze, iron, silver, or gold, They can generally not be made of lead or tin because these metals are too soft and will break when flexed repeatedly. Fibulae can be plain and functional, or large and ostentatious. This gold Etruscan Fibula shows just a hint of the type of complexity and beauty that was put into crafting some of the ancient fibulae. And this winged fibula from Panonia (an area that bordered the Danube) is an exquisite example of the jewelers art.

But on a practical level, most fibulae were relatively plain and functional. This picture shows a selection of fibulae and pins that I own. The left hand column is a 1500’s pin, a Celtic fibula (3rd to 2nd c BC), and a Celtic fibula (from Yugoslavia 1BC to 1 AD). The large dress pin on the left is a Roman silver hairpin pin (found in Yugoslavia 1st to 3rd c BC – and yes, that is a duck on top), and the large pin on the right is a silver reproduction Viking dress pin that I use for closing my shawl. The right hand column contains reproduction pieces from The Treasury. Three sets of two: dress pins – 1200’s to the Victorian Age. The top set are small brass pins, the middle are large brass pins, and the bottom are large nickel silver (looks like silver). The bottom of the column is two small fibulae, one in brass and one in nickel silver.

Fibulae and PinsAnd what about dress pins? I personally believe that dress pins are probably one of the oldest types of closures that were used by mankind. A large thorn, a sharpened stick, and eventually sharpened pieces of metal were used by almost every culture to close a cloak, hold hair in place, or close a more complex garment. The size and complexity of construction of dress pins varies dramatically depending on the available materials used, and the technology available to the maker. Earlier dress pins were generally (always a dangerous word!) larger, usually three to six inches long. Later period dress pins could be much smaller, often only 1 to 1 1/2 inches long, but larger specialty dress pins, in the form of hair pins and hat pins are still in use today.

And then there are the “miscellaneous brooches”. Different shapes, different sizes, different metal alloys, and we often find them out of context. What were they used for? Were they decorative? Were they functional? Were they both?

It is known that in Roman times there were specific large brooches awarded to certain men of rank. This bow brooch, which is a specialized form of fibula, is an excellent example of this sort of brooch.

And some of the huge ring brooches that we find in Scotland and Ireland, certainly fall into the “I am obviously important” display category. This brief article on the Tara Brooch has a couple of great pictures.

There are also tons of brooches shaped like animals, hearts, flowers, and geometric shapes, just to name a few. But going back to our possibly long forgotten original point – most don’t lay flat, and while they may work well on an outside layer of clothing, they don’t work well on an interior layer.

Next Time: Buckles!